February 28, 2005

4400

So we finally got around to watching "The 4400" compilation that SciFi aired last week. It was a two-hour pilot followed by four one-hour episodes aired over a total of three nights (six hours total). I can't believe for a "season" that it was so short, especially because it is a very high quality show. I really love the premise. The best speculative fiction is just a little touch removed from normal reality. I mean, I'm ok with the "Battlestar Galactica" space opera, too, but I really liked "The 4400".

It has a lot of the good components of "The X-Files", but I like the overarching premise a lot better. In "The X-Files", we slowly saw the big picture over a long time, and even then, you never really knew "the truth". In this show, we know the big picture pretty early on (by the end of the sixth episode anyway). And the first season itself makes for a good, complete mini-series.

I'm really excited to see that they are currently developing a second season of 13 shows that will run on USA starting in June. I do have one request ... if little Maia says something about the future one more time, will somebody please freakin' QUESTION her about it? I mean, if I knew this little girl had the gift of foresight and she said something like, I would be trying to find out as much detail as I could, trying to see if i could change the future, etc. But the characters in this show hear what she has to say and are just, "Oh, that's nice."

And the "cleric"? If I had that guy's power, I would head to the nearest children's hospital and get cracking. I'm looking forward to finding out what powers they think up for the other characters.

Posted by Observer at 05:57 PM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2005

Don't Be Stupid

Atrios points to a couple of different sources that summarize why Democrats should be done compromising, whether it is social security, homeland security or even designating a fucking national park. It makes for good Sunday reading.

Basically, the Democrats have this old habit of trying to compromise. It comes from running the government in a somewhat sensible fashion (relative to today's disastrous Congress) over the past few decades. These past ten years have beaten some sense into most Democrats and taught them that compromise is just another word for abject and total surrender. Unfortunately, not all have learned this lesson.

Every once in a while, Bush puts together some hare-brained scheme to reward his cronies (i.e. Medicare prescription drugs or in the current case, privatizing Social Security) and looks for political cover. He finds a Democrat or two (like Zell Miller, who is as much of a Democrat as I am a flying pig) who are looking for some kind of favor, maybe some pork for their district or they're just trying to survive in a red state (Tom Daschle's old problem). He convinces them that he'll give in to some sort of compromise on the Senate version of the bill, and then he'll proclaim that finally FINALLY he has found a Democrat he can work with (the rest are just too ultra-liberal and radical and out of the mainstream, of course).

Everyone in the "liberal" media tut-tuts the Democrats for not compromising more often, and they kiss the ass of whichever Democrat was stupid enough to compromise. The Democrat gets lots of face time on Fox, of course. Statesmanlike, they say ("Why are you willing to break with your liberal party and compromise on this issue that is so important to the American people, Senator?"), and the Democrat (e.g. Joe Lieberman) gets it in his head that maybe if he runs for president, he can reach across party lines and win. Yeah, right, even if nominated, who doubts Lieberman would be painted as an elite ultra-liberal Jew who hates family values?

What the media typically doesn't cover is the rest of the story after the brave Democrat crosses party lines to be by the side of our brave War President. Sure, the Senate bill gets passed because of a few stupid Democrats like this, and then the House bill (which contains no compromises, just as Bush wants) meets the Senate bill in conference committee, where various Republican goons turn it in to whatever Bush/Cheney/Rove wants. If the "brave Democrat" complains, anyone paying attention just brands him/her as another spineless Democrat "flip-flopper" or someone who got knocked back into line by ultra-liberal Democrat toughs.

It's a genius strategy, if the other side is stupid enough to keep falling for it over and over. Once it stops working, the well of political compromise runs completely dry, making it virtually impossible to get anything significant and positive accomplished. Which, for Republicans, is part of the plan. Even if they pass bad laws, it works to their advantage, because it plays into their argument that government can never do anything right.

The people in charge of our government aren't really interesting in governing. Just looting as much as they can until the music stops. And the Moron Americans, too proud to admit that they've made a horrific mistake, too naive to think that an aw-shucks guy like Bush would ever lie to their face (hey, at least he didn't waggle his finger and act all "slick"), retreat into a patriotic security blanket, branding any dissent as treasonous when they even bother to listen. We'll all pay for it, sooner or later. I'm just trying to get my "Fuck you"'s handed out in advance before the usual suspects start writing long articles about how all this bad stuff could have happened to such a great country.

Posted by Observer at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2005

Clear and Present Whiner

I've had a lot of time for reading lately, so I'm back to tearing through books again. I recently finished Phil Hellmuth's "Bad Beats and Lucky Draws", and I have to say that for an author, Hellmuth makes a great poker player. Yes, it's a poor book, even compared to other poker books, but I'll tell you this much ... if I had to choose between being a successful author and one of the top 10-20 poker players in the world, poker pays a hell of a lot better.

It is hard to put my finger on why I didn't like this. I mean, sure, Hellmuth whines a lot about his bad beats, but he is also very critical of his own play when that's justified. So he's honest. It's not like he's this egotistical I-do-no-wrong jerk. But even self-critical whining is still whining, and it gets old after about 10 pages. He allows a few guest-stories in a later chapter, and those all have the same problem, pretty much. Most of his anecdotes are profoundly uninteresting, and I get the feeling reading this book that I was invited over to someone's house for a poker game and some overly earnest guy started trying to sell me some Amway products or something. Hellmuth is trying to sell himself instead of just talking about the game.

I also don't think he did a good job of reconstructing a lot of the hands. They were too hard to follow. He needed to use some set-apart graphics to show the hands, then go step-by-step. His style of describing things was a little too jerky. Compare to some of the other poker books I've given good reviews to, like Alvarez's, Brunson's ... hell, even McManus' book with all of its flaws, told a much clearer story when it came to individual hands, and that's always the best part of the poker book to me.

Posted by Observer at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

February 25, 2005

Great Captions

Bob Sturm points me to this funny photo diary with captions describing some of the characters at a Star Wars convention. This makes me feel so much more normal.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 AM | Comments (3)

Good Players Emerge

"Survivor" was a welcome distraction last night after a long week.

Ok, I didn't understand the rules of the reward challenge at all. Maybe it's just from the lack of sleep. First I thought there were two separate pathways for each team, but then it showed just one in places. Then I thought everyone had to go, but some people went twice. Did the people swinging the sandbags have to go? Boy, those sandbags sure seemed ineffective. I guess Angie has gone from last-picked to Power Player in a few short days. Right now, my favorite in that tribe is Bobby Jon, who always has a good, concise quote about what's going on and is very level-headed. Ibrehem is also very common-sense in a funny way, from what little I've seen so far. Even James ("Hey, Vern!") is growing on me a little bit, just because he's an amusing character. They have the ability to edit him to make him look good or bad, just like anyone else, I guess.

In the immunity challenge, Tom rocked. How can this average-looking old guy kick everyone's ass? He must be built like a piece of iron. That guy almost single-handedly pulled a heavy crate across 50 feet of sand while the other team could barely budge theirs. Tom is also very smart, and I would like to see him go far. Geeky Ian is also a funny character, kind of like James. I was very thankful not to see any more of Coby in this show. Maybe he'll get voted off before he makes any more stereotypical catty remarks. I'm like Seinfeld when it comes to gays ("Not that there's anything wrong with that!"), but certain personality types in guys and girls rub me the wrong way.

As for the vote, again, the tribe is too big to keep track of the shifting alliances and various conversations, and most of the time, I can't keep track of who's going back on their word, who is lying when, etc. That part is more fun after the 5th or 6th show. Maybe it is worse this time because so many of the characters have been very forgettable. Don't know if that is the fault of the producers/editors or the contestants. I was very impressed at the way the older tribe (Koror) was able to go out and retrieve the flint. That couldn't have been easy.

Oh, and before I forget, don't these people know about layers? They showed some girl in a tiny top shivering during a rainstorm. Duh, wear a sweater over that top when you get off the boat, even if it is hot! They usually let you bring the clothes off your back, so wear a few extra. Maybe even some coke-bottle glasses so you can start a fire (why does no one seem to think of that who is wearing glasses ... I don't think it is that hard to start a fire that way). Also, why did Ulong come back to camp so desperate to find hot ashes to get the fire going again? Once you have flint, isn't it pretty easy to just start over?

Ulong was smart to dig some giant clams up off the ocean floor. I've never seen anyone do that in Survivor before. A lot easier than catching fish, if you like clams ok. People seem to be learning some things about living on tropical islands as the seasons go on (or they hire former contestants as consultants, I bet). Not everything, though.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (5)

February 24, 2005

Update Pointer

Just fyi, Michelle and I are home, Daniel is doing well, and she posted an update about the whole ordeal over on her blog, with pictures.

Posted by Observer at 10:05 PM | Comments (7)

Maternal Instincts

I already had a very healthy respect for Michelle's instincts when it comes to the kids (not to mention haggling for a good deal), and these past two days have only confirmed it. She could sense right away that something was very wrong, even though to me, Daniel only seemed to be fussy at first. By the time an hour passed, I could see the difference in his behavior, too, and I was the one trying to scramble us out the door to the hospital.

Michelle is also very talented at dealing with hospital staff, which is one reason Daniel stayed an extra night in his own private room to be on the safe side and to get us further training on how to deal with a child in a bilateral long leg hip spica cast (for picture, scroll about halfway down and look on the far right of the three types). Fortunately, they didn't have to cut him open to put a pin in or anything. Surgery just consisted of putting him under so that they could set the leg and put the cast on.

Daniel and Michelle are coming home this morning, due to be discharged around 10am. Caring for Daniel at home is going to be very challenging, at least until we get some practice. He's very heavy and very awkward, and we really have to be careful to avoid putting him under strain from the weird weight distribution when we pick him up or sit him down or lay him down. Feeding and changing is going to be fun. Michelle will have all the photos once she catches up on (at least) two lost nights of sleep at the hospital.

Posted by Observer at 07:41 AM | Comments (2)

February 23, 2005

Bad News

Daniel is in the hospital with a broken femur (right thigh, spiral fracture). We were stupid. We allowed him to run around on the trampoline with his brother. We tell Cody over and over not to bounce, and he's usually pretty good, but even if he's just running around, sometimes you get a resonance and Daniel buckles. This time he buckled over backwards at an odd angle, and I guess the stress broke his thigh bone. We were stupid to let him on that thing with another kid in the first place, or maybe even altogether. But what's done is done, and future rule changes banning trampoline activity aren't going to fix him now. I can't believe we have a house *filled* with spanish tile flooring (and he loves to climb on things like kitchen chairs, the couch, etc), and *this* is how he gets his first major accident.

Daniel isn't suffering. He's fine if he doesn't move, and they're giving him pain meds anyway. Getting the IV in him was probably the most gut-wrenching thing I've ever been through in my life. He just doesn't understand what's going on, but I do think the worst part is over for him. I can't sleep anyway, so I figured I might as well fill people in on the news here.

Michelle is spending the night there with him. I just got back from there (it's 2am) so that I can get a few hours of sleep, see the kids off to school in the morning, and get a suitcase packed for us to stay with Daniel at the hospital until Thursday while grandparents come down to watch the other three here at home.

After this is over, Daniel is going to be in a big cast that is basically like a cast-iron pair of pants that goes up to his waist. It is the only way to immobilize the thigh bone. There will be a way to keep him clean, we're told, but it won't be easy, and the little guy will be in that for at least three weeks. I'm about to bust into tears again just thinking about the whole situation, and I know Michelle is even more of a basket case than me right now.

We've been blessed with little Daniel, and we won't ever forget it. It will definitely help the whole family get through this, him being such a trooper.

Posted by Observer at 01:46 AM | Comments (15)

February 22, 2005

Vast Right-Wing Incompetence

Paul Krugman (ok, I'm avoiding the NYT registration-required link) writes today about how the Boy King has managed to cover all the bases of incompetence, which would make it easy for critical voices to make their arguments. If the corporate media would let them:

The campaign against Social Security is going so badly that longtime critics of President Bush, accustomed to seeing their efforts to point out flaws in administration initiatives brushed aside, are pinching themselves. But they shouldn't relax: if the past is any guide, the Bush administration will soon change the subject back to national security.

I don't know about this. I think they are still fighting the social security battle, just beneath the radar. For example, Josh Marshall continues to cover the various ConservaBorg tactics. The latest is to try to use the same kind of Swift Boat campaign (even the same people) to discredit the AARP, which is so ham-handed that it is actually pretty embarrassing (no guarantee it will fail, though, because you cannot overestimate the stupidity of the Moron American). Another tactic for representatives who are feeling the heat from their constituents is to pretend they oppose Bush plan using word games (e.g. "I support personal accounts and strengthening social security, but I oppose privatization schemes." when both are actually the same thing, just called different things by Republicans and the fear-of-looking-biased media).

They'll talk a good game so they can get out of town-hall meetings alive, but then they'll reliably vote for Bush's plan, explaining with a heavy heart to their constituents that they just didn't have a choice because, you see, it was in a crisis and Democrats just wouldn't propose any reasonable alternatives (because Republicans wouldn't let anything out of committee and the media wouldn't report on Democratic proposals which had no chance anyway because of Republican tactics.) No, destroying Social Security is a scheme that is far from dead.

And make no mistake. Destroying (not saving) Social Security is what this is all about. It won't be over until Democrats are back in charge.

The political landscape today reminds me of the spring of 2002, after the big revelations of corporate fraud. Then as now, the administration was on the defensive, and Democrats expected to do well in midterm elections.

Then, suddenly, it was all Iraq, all the time, and Harken Energy and Halliburton vanished from the headlines.

Someone forgot to tell the "liberal media" to keep the heat on the Bush administration, apparently. Suddenly, they all became war cheerleaders and patriotically correct Bush-supporting shills. You can really only get a sense of the absurdity of the media's behavior with regular viewing of Jon Stewart.

I don't know which foreign threat the administration will start playing up this time, but Bush critics should be prepared for the shift. They must curb their natural inclination to focus almost exclusively on domestic issues, and challenge the administration on national security policy, too.

I say this even though many critics, myself included, would prefer to stick with the domestic issues. After all, domestic issues, particularly Social Security, are very comfortable ground for moderates and liberals. The relevant facts are all in the public domain, voters clearly oppose the administration's hard-right agenda, and Mr. Bush's attack on Social Security stumbled badly out of the gate. It's understandable, then, that critiques of the administration's national security policy have faded into the background in recent months.

But a president can always change the subject to national security if he wants to - and Mr. Bush has repeatedly shown himself willing to play the terrorism card when he is losing the debate on other issues. So it's important to point out that Mr. Bush, for all his posturing, has done a very bad job of protecting the nation - and to make that point now, rather than in the heat of the next foreign crisis.

The media is even more reluctant to report Bush's disasters in foreign policy, because it carries with it the double-whammy of criticism of the Frat Boy Who Can Do No Wrong along with an undertone of "America screwed up". The media has a tough time separating the failures of American leadership from the failures of America as a country, so the best thing to do is ignore it and talk about Brad and Jen.

The fact is that Mr. Bush, while willing to go to war on weak evidence, hasn't taken the task of protecting America from terrorists at all seriously.

Consider, for example, the case of chemical plants.

Just days after 9/11, many analysts identified sites that store toxic chemicals as a major terror risk, and called for new safety rules. But as The New York Times reported last fall, "after the oil and chemical industries met with Karl Rove ... the White House quietly blocked those efforts."

Nearly three and a half years after 9/11, those chemical plants are still unprotected.

If a chemical plant or some other vulnerable point in our infrastructure were attacked today, there is no a shred of doubt in my mind that the blame would fall squarely on the shoulders of the Democrats. It truly is Bizarro World.

Other major risks identified within days of the attack included the possibility of terrorist attacks on major ports or nuclear plants. But in the months after 9/11, the administration flatly refused to allocate the sums that members of the House and Senate from both parties thought necessary to secure these sites.

And when the administration does spend money protecting possible terrorist targets, politics, not national security, dictates where the money goes. Remember the "first responders" program that ended up spending seven times as much protecting each resident of Wyoming as it spent protecting each resident of New York?

Well, it's still happening. An audit of the Homeland Security Department's (greatly inadequate) program to protect ports found that much of the money went to unlikely locations, including six sites in landlocked Arkansas, where the department's recently resigned chief of border and transportation security is reported to be considering a run for governor.

Nor are Mr. Bush's national security failures limited to nonmilitary policy. The administration appears to be in a state of denial over the effects of the endless war in Iraq on U.S. military readiness, particularly the strains on the reserves and the National Guard.

The ultimate demonstration of Mr. Bush's true priorities was his attempt to appoint Bernard Kerik as homeland security director. Either the administration didn't bother to do even the most basic background checks, or it regarded protecting the nation from terrorists as a matter of so little importance that it didn't matter who was in charge.

My point is that Mr. Bush's critics are falling into an unnecessary trap if they focus only on domestic policies, and allow Mr. Bush to keep his undeserved reputation as someone who keeps Americans safe. National security policy should not be a refuge to which Mr. Bush can flee when his domestic agenda falls apart.

The stuff about Homeland Security being loaded with pork: that doesn't bother me, really. I mean, yes, it is wrong, but Democrats are equally guilty of this nonsense. That level of corruption/incompetence in government is not going to be fixed anytime soon by either party. But for Democrats, it is a stupid line of attack, because it is one of the few where the media can genuinely say with a straight face that both sides are equally bad. Put together enough stories like that, and people stop listening, assuming that both sides are equally bad about everything.

No, for Democrats to win at this point, they need to emphasize their distinct differences with Republicans. That's why I continue to think Dean is a good choice because he was one of the few brave enough early on to make a public stand against the Iraq War. Once it started, of course, he knows we need to finish it, work out all the problems, etc. But Dean is unconventional. He's not "Republican light" or what Republicans stood for 20 years ago before lurching violently to the right. He's a genuine moderate, even liberal on some issues.

Americans have liberal viewpoints on a whole lot of issues, as Michael Moore has pointed out repeatedly (i.e. a majority favor expansion of the social safety net, more progressive taxation, less "preemptive strike" foreign policy, etc). Democrats need to make it clear that they wholeheartedly endorse the liberal positions on these issues, and they need a media that will play fair and provide them equal time to make their case.

That's not going to happen any time soon, of course, but it's nice to have goals.

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

February 21, 2005

Long Day

A back-and-forth drive to a 7am track practice. A meeting that went about a half-hour over. Three classes. Several students not happy with poor grades on the exam (to which I always happily invite them to my office so we can look over their notes and so forth, find out what they're doing wrong, etc., but they never show up because they know I'll see big blank pages). A mildly interesting talk in which I learned a few useful things (very rare for departmental talks, but the speaker was an educator, not a researcher, so that explains it). A very yummy supper, paid for by the department, along with a 90-minute conversation that I basically sat and listened to because a few old friends dominated the conversation amongst themselves.

Then 30 minutes of technical problems. Then a fairly bad talk that left me disappointed because I was very interested in the subject. Long day to top off a long weekend of grading. I'm going to veg out for the rest of the week. I guess I have to pretend I have a real job once in a while. Hey, at least I updated. Heh.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2005

Distractions

Been a busy weekend of grading without much motivation, but now I'm in the home stretch. This blog entry is about the last reasonable distraction I can think of before I absolutely will have to go back in there and finish the rest of the grading.

I just got one answer on the exam (it's a short answer test) to the effect of: "1) I don't know this one, but I'm writing some stuff here hoping that you don't really read it and will give me credit. 2) I know this answer is supposed to have two parts, so here's something else." I wrote in the margin, "I tried that with my high school English teacher. It didn't work then, either." No credit.

Daniel (our 18-month-old) scribbled all over a couple of exams with red pen when I left the pile unattended. Oops. That'll scare the hell out of those two when they're flipping through their graded exams tomorrow.

Michelle has been using her time more constructively, finishing her new blog, which I will now update my link for in the sidebar. If Word Press works out well for her, I may switch over, too, depending upon what the next version of MT has in store. Transferring archives has to be done manually, though, and I really want to avoid that.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, I'd like to add good comments about the ongoing Sci Fi series "Battlestar Galactica". So far, it is developing very well. Some of it is kinda slow-moving, but with each episode, they're building in a little more background and raising the stakes. This has real promise. It's a hell of a lot better than the first season of ST:TNG or Babylon 5, both of which eventually became very good, in my opinion. But I still miss the music of the original series.

I'm also looking forward to the (Sci Fi) miniseries "The 4400" this week, which follows the stories of some of the 4400 alien abductees (from various times over the past 50 years) who are suddenly returned to Earth without having aged. Sounds like a neat premise.

Posted by Observer at 04:19 PM | Comments (8)

February 19, 2005

Carter Bashing

In the neverending race to the bottom of the scumbucket, the ConservaBorg is bashing Jimmy Carter for old times' sake. The occasion? A new nuclear attack/surveillance submarine has been commissioned with the name USS Jimmy Carter:

"The USS Jimmy Carter?!? My mind is starting to explode with all of the comedic possibilities. What, will the sub break down in the middle of the ocean on its way to rescue operations? Will everyone on the sub have to wear sweaters? Instead of a morale officer, will the boat feature a "malaise official?" What if the sub comes across a rabbit in the water? Will there be a "moral equivalent to combat operations" on this sub? These jokes just write themselves."

"Will the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter be hammered together by weekend volunteers?"

"I'M JUVENILE but I can't get over how ridiculous a the sound of a Jimmy Carter attack sub is."

Kevin Drum responds with a little bit of a history lesson about real heroes vs dress-up heroes:

Jimmy Carter, of course, is an actual Annapolis graduate who served on board submarines for seven years. During that time he served on one of the first nuclear submarines, the USS Seawolf, which makes it all the more fitting that the last of the Seawolf class of subs should be named after him. This contrasts with, say, Ronald Reagan, whose closest connection to an aircraft carrier was on a Hollywood sound stage.

Suck it up, guys. I know you don't like Carter, but he was a fine naval officer, a president of the United States, and has done more good in his post-presidential career than probably any president in history. Show a little respect just this once. You can go back to your usual bellyaching next week.

Kevin is pissing into the wind here. These guys have no class. They say they respect the military and support the troops, but when it comes to real people, genuine combat heroes like, say, John Kerry, Jimmy Carter, Wesley Clark, etc. the don't hesitate to spit on 'em just to get the day's blog comment in between coffee breaks.

Posted by Observer at 07:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2005

Comment Stability Update

I made a detailed comment about the server's problems over in my wife's blog this morning, and I figured I would elaborate on that a little bit here. After further discussions with the very helpful support person at Verve Hosting (I've rarely been disappointed with their support and time turnaround, by the way, only one long wait out of maybe 10-15 questions/requests), I now know more.

First, it may not matter which type of blog publishing software we move to. It seems the spam attackers pretty much attack everyone equally, and failed spam still can screw up the server if enough of it comes in. So even switching to Word Press or Expression Engine gives us no better odds of avoiding future comment shutdowns. The rumor is that the next version of MT helps prevent blog spam, too, but does it completely discourage blog attacks or just make them fail more often? If the latter, that doesn't help my situation. MT-Blacklist doesn't yet work with the next version (v3.15) of MT anyway, so that's a moot point for now.

As I implied above, the frustrating part of this all is that we actually do a great job of blocking spam, better than most MT websites (part of that is due to restrictions on strings like "-holdem", "sex-" or "-pics" and the like rather than just restricting certain URL's). The problem is that MT-Blacklist apparently generates as much of a load on the server for failed comments as for successful comments. And the same would be true with the spam blocking features of any other blog hosting software.

So even if we never see the spam, our hosts have to deal with the bandwidth/processing power. In this case, it wasn't even OUR blog that was the problem. Some other blog on the same server was getting bombed, so they shut down comments on all blogs on that given server (and we just happened to get caught in the crossfire).

Another thing I may try is to rename our comment script from mt-comments.cgi to something random that rotates on a weekly basis. I think if the spammers can't find the comment script and it fails for that reason, that doesn't use up as much processing power as when a comment script is executed that then has to filter things. But do spammers go out and snoop for the names of comment scripts and store them in some database, or do they just snoop the script names on the fly, in which case changing the name won't be worthwhile?

The last (nuclear) option that I would like to avoid would be outright IP denial, which I believe is much less server-intensive than spam-filtering software. I could just block off the whole range of IP's that originate from that Australian place or that place in the Netherlands, which seems to be the range of IP's for about 80% of all spam. The rest of the spam comes from IP's of home (or office) computers that have likely been unwittingly hijacked by spyware/bot/virus programs.

Even then, though, if other bloggers on the same server aren't as diligent as I am, then I am at the mercy of spammers attacking them, which would trigger a shutdown of my comments again. Blech. I suppose I could blame all of my woes on Verve, but I'd have a hard time believing that any other potential host isn't facing the same issues (and would implement similar solutions). I guess for now we'll wait and see just how often they have to shut our comments down, if it gets better or worse, if they offer any other solutions for us, etc.

Posted by Observer at 03:49 PM | Comments (5)

Stupid Intellectuals

Comments are working again. I'm still trying to figure out how to avoid future server shutdowns. If I'm getting "noticed" for the server load even if I successfully block 100% of spam attempts, then I'll have to just switch to something else that allows registration, I guess (which would still be 100% successful but wouldn't generate so many useless attempts).

Kevin Drum is as disgusted by Bush-supporting "principled intellectuals" (such as those in "The Economist") as much as I am. There is a certain class of people, often called "whores" or "Fox Democrats" in polite company, who are basically willing to take up for the wrong side just to demonstrate that they are willing to think outside the box, to be a maverick, to be "independent", to get paid lots as a frequent talking-head guest, whatever. These are people who, for example, think the principle of preemptive attacks by America is deeply stupid but somehow found it in their hearts to (reluctantly with a big sigh) support the Iraq War.

Now we're getting the same kind of crap on social security:

As good a magazine as the Economist is, its editors are schizophrenic when it comes to figuring out what they think of George Bush. The entire thrust of the piece is that Bush's privatization proposal might be OK as long as he listens to criticism and changes it in nearly every particular — even though this is something they know perfectly well won't happen since they've editorialized about this shortcoming of Bush's repeatedly over the past four years.

The last paragraph gives the game away:

Note that changes such as these — delaying the retirement age, raising the payroll cap, and so on — are the ones that will actually stop Social Security going bust. In that regard, Mr Bush's new retirement accounts are no help. Yet this misses the point. Giving people greater control of their savings is desirable in itself: that is why private accounts deserve their place in this reform. It is wrong that in the world's most advanced economy so many retirees should rely so heavily on the state. That idea is at the heart of Mr Bush's “ownership society” — and it is worth supporting.

In other words, there's no real crisis, the details of Bush's plan are all wrong, and it does nothing to rescue Social Security anyway. But we support it for the same reason George Bush does: because it's one of our ideological hobbyhorses.

And if it eventually becomes law as one of his usual bloated, policy-free, crony friendly monstrosities, they'll be able to point back to this editorial and piously say, We'd never have supported doing it that way. We endorsed the proper version of privatization.

And then they'll move on to enthusiastic support of his next plan.

Exactly. I read the same kind of thing in our local "liberal" newspaper's endorsement editorial of Bush this time around. We reluctantly support this great man, they say, because we are hoping he will do all these things that we want him to do (but probably won't), and we could never support a fire-breathing, fringe, pro-terrorist ultra-liberal Vietnam war criminal liar like John Kerry, after all. And now that everything continues going to hell, the paper can wash its hands of the matter and say, "Hey, we tried to warn you."

What a bunch of spineless whores.

Posted by Observer at 07:06 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2005

Palau

Still no comments, but I guess I'll keep posting anyway. Michelle is already bolting to Word Press. I'd like to try to hold out and see if MT can be made to work on this server, if only so I don't lose all of my archives and so I won't have to register commenters.

We watched the first episode of the new "Survivor" tonight. The first few shows should probably be longer, if only so we get a chance to see more of what's going on. As it is, the first hour is basically pure chaos, and you only have a feel for what might happen if the editors decide to give you some meaningful foreshadowing.

I felt sorry for the big blond-headed guy, Jonathan, who was the only guy not picked, along with Wacky Wilma. Wilma is one of those people about which you think, "Bless her heart, but I can't stand her for two seconds." She seems good-natured and fun, but they only showed us about 20 seconds of singing that probably went on for many minutes at a time, and it grated like nails on a chalkboard. Jonathan must've been a real ass to people to be on the boat home with Wilma.

I thought it was a pretty good surprise when the flaming gay guy got all chummy with goth chick Angie, then wouldn't pick her to join his group. I would've liked to see him explain that one. I guess he figured she'd be too weak or something. Without knowing anyone yet, it's hard to care about who gets voted off.

Oh well, first exam in my big class is tomorrow, so there will be a lot of grading this weekend. I have 180 students combined, which I think is a record high (old record was around 165). I tried to write the exam in such a way that it would be easy to grade, but we'll see.

Posted by Observer at 10:25 PM | Comments (2)

Spammed (?)

Apparently, our comment script was shut down by our hosts because we were getting too many spam attempts, even though they get blocked. Apparently, the server still takes note and shuts down comments automatically if the spam volume crosses a certain threshold.

Not sure how we'll be able to get around this. Even if we make it even harder to comment on our blogs (by, say, adding a little script that makes you type in a number in a graphic window), it seems like we'd still be "noted" by the server for failed spam attempts just as we are now.

The only alternative may be to switch to Word Press or something, which would require commenters to register (blech). I'm still waiting to see what our hosts advise for us. Not sure when comments will return, but it is out of our hands for now.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 PM | Comments (0)

Comment Problems

I have no idea why comments suddenly stopped working sometime between last night and this morning. I'll post something here when it is fixed, I guess. I'm guessing it is a problem with our hosts since we haven't done anything to our blog configurations lately.

Posted by Observer at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

Scalp Collecting

Atrios has a couple of good comments lately about all the "scalp collecting" that has been going on. Some liberals have wondered if it is worthwhile for us to go after ConservaBorg personalities with as much zeal as they go after, well, normal people (or liberals, doesn't matter which). They go after people like Dan Rather or Eason Jordon or (name your favorite Clinton administration official), even though such people have spent plenty of time kissing up to Bush or at the very least have been fair and professional for the majority of their careers. So if we do the same to idiots like Brit Hume (lately) or Rush or Hannity or so on down the food chain to JD Guckert, aren't we lowering ourselves to their level? Atrios responds (here and here):

If Dan Rather had grossly and deliberately misrepresented something that Ronald Reagan had said, here's what would have happened:

It would be all over AM radio.

Howard Kurtz would write several columns in the Post and discuss it frequently on CNN.

The New York Post would headline "Rather Kicks Reagan's Corpse!!"

The New York Times would run a prominent feature about it,

Editorial boards from around the country would weigh in on this travesty.

Every columnist - conservative and liberal - would be falling all over themselves to condemn Dan Rather.

It would for years to follow become the reference point for "bad journalism."

Now we have Brit Hume clearly deliberately distorting something FDR said, and several other Foxmonkeys following suit. Will any of the above happen? No. Brit Hume has no standards. Fox News has no standards. And, none of the usual suspects even tries to hold them to any standard.

So, when people ask why the "left" can't collect any scalps, that's why. You can't shame people who have no shame.

I don't see how anyone with a half-developed sense of shame could vote for Bush with a clear conscience or with any sense of pride. The simplest explanation I can imagine is that there is just a straight cognitive disconnect among the nutball set. You know...

Don't touch my gun rights, they are enshrined in the Constitution! Oh, but you want to take away all the other rights using the Patriot Act, please go ahead with my permission.

Affirmative Action is un-American. No "special rights" for minorities or gays! Oh, but if you vote against our Hispanic attorney general, you are a horrible racist.

"Clinton gutted our military," they scream. Then as a result of a needless war of choice, our military becomes dangerously unprepared for any new conflicts, thanks to Flight Suit Georgie, who is our hero.

Deficits are horrible and all the fault of Democrats in Congress, but hey, if the Boy King is in charge and wants tax cuts for the rich, then we're fine with deficits. They must be the fault of the terrorists.

And on and on and on. I have to admit nothing from the right-wing surprises me any more. I'm just disappointed that so many people have been suckered into blithely going along for the ride, figuring both sides are equally bad. We've overcome Moron Majorities before in America. The history books are rife with great examples. I'm just not so optimistic we'll get out of this one without a lot more pain.

Athenae at First Draft has more on the role of the press in rooting out wrongdoing. When you investigate and uncover something that's wrong, that's not "scalp collecting". It's good journalism. Something the corporate media doesn't do very often (if you leave out Seymour Hersh).

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

February 16, 2005

Radical Professors

Most of you have probably heard of the Ward Churchill controversy. This is the prof from the University of Colorado who wrote an essay after Sept 11 to the effect of "Hey, we had it coming." At the time, nobody was paying attention because, honestly, it was a time where (thankfully) the advice and commentary of nutballs on the left and right was more or less being ignored.

But the ConservaBorg are always looking for a juicy new target. Now that they got CNN exec Eason Jordan to resign over nothing, they need a new distraction so we won't pay attention to national security issues (like granting clearance to what looks like the King Nutball, JD Guckert, so he could disrupt press conferences with softball questions). By the way, where is Gary Aldrich on all this? You remember that joker? He was the former Secret Service agent who slimed Clinton with a book about how they were sloppy with security clearances, had low moral character (I imagine Guckert's apparent role as a gay male prostitute puts him a shade below, say, the TravelGate players), etc. He's got himself a columnist gig with some ConservaBorg outlet. I wonder if he'll use it to criticize Bush over something like this?

Ok, ok, I'll stop kidding.

Anyway, back to Churchill. Recently, lots of right-wing nutballs have been trying to get Churchill fired from his tenured position, and there's a big hubbub on the right over how horrible academia is for letting guys like this speak out. How this is just another example of the Marxist/Communist/Liberal/pro-terrorism people in control of developing the minds of our young people, etc. Well, David Neiwert over at Orcinus offers some background.

It seems there are a lot of crazy academics out there spouting off theories that are downright offensive to most Americans regardless of political affiliation. Yet for some reason, the right-wing noise machine doesn't seem to care. Hmmm, see if you can spot the pattern here:

-- James Everett Kibler, a University of Georgia English professor. A founder of the secessionist and white-supremacist League of the South, Kibler is mostly noted for his outspoken admiration for defenders of slavery and white upper-class rule.

-- Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola College in Baltimore, who promotes a historical view of Abraham Lincoln as a wicked man "secretly intent on destroying states' rights and building a massive federal government."

-- Clyde Wilson, a University of South Carolina history professor. Wilson is another League of the South founder, and remains an unapologetic neo-Confederate. He says the only thing wrong with The Birth of a Nation is that it was too sympathetic to Lincoln.

-- Donald Livingston, a philosophy professor at Emory University. He has recently been focusing his work on "the philosophical meaning of secession." According to the SPLC, at a 2003 "Lincoln Reconsidered" conference, "he said that 'evil is habit-forming' and no habit is as evil as believing that Lincoln acted out of good motives."

And that's just the currently active neo-Confederates working in Southern universities. Some of those no longer active in academia include Grady McWhiney, now retired as a University of Alabama professor;

Outside the South, there are a number of problematic professors of various kinds, notably eugenics sympathizers and Holocaust deniers.

These include Kevin MacDonald, a Cal State-Long Beach evolutionary psychologist who testified on behalf of David Irving at his libel trial in London. MacDonald has argued "that anti-Semitism can be understood as a natural byproduct of a Darwinian strategy for Jewish survival," and insists that "Jewish behavior must be part of any adequate explanation of the recurrent persecution of Jews."

Then there was Glayde Whitney, a Florida State University psychology professor who liked to teach his students the basic precepts of white supremacy, i.e., that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Whitney also was a subscriber to Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Most notably, he was closely aligned with David Duke, the notorious white supremacist, and wrote the foreword to one of his racist screeds. Whitney died in 2002, much to chagrin of right-wing extremists everywhere.

As Neiwert points out, it is interesting how right-wingers are quick to call us liberals racists for opposing the nomination of Alberto Gonzalez (aka "Mr. Torture"), but they let all these nuts off the hook. Quite the opposite, they support and provide for these idiots. At least when a liberal like me sees someone like Churchill, we just shake our heads and move along. We don't sign them to fucking book deals, pay them to be members of our think tanks or quote them in our research ("Bell Curve" bibliography, anyone?).

Posted by Observer at 02:26 PM | Comments (11)

February 15, 2005

Play Big, Win Big

I stopped off to get gas the other day and thought I would surprise my sweetie. I found out a couple of months ago that she used to play the scratch-off lottery Bingo game back home, so I thought I would get her one. The way these things work is that you scratch off an area of the card with a bunch of bingo numbers. As each number comes up, you can mark it on one of six player cards on the big game card. Lines, "X" or four corner patterns are worth different amounts on each card.

Mathematically, of course, it's a loser. It's just a fancy way of paying out about 80 cents for every dollar spent on the cards. As the saying goes, the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. Then again, you don't just play it to try to get rich. You play for the fun of trying to get rich, even knowing it doesn't work. I buy lottery tickets once in a while, just to pay for the fun of hoping that my life gets ruined by a $20 million lump sum payout.

The payouts on scratch off games are more frequent but worth much less. I had bought a few $2 bingo cards for the kids to stuff in their stockings, which is how this all started. Well, off those three cards, the kids won $24. So now they're all hot for more bingo cards, but I'm severely limiting those purchases. I think they can learn the lesson of expected value in this case without actually losing all that money. Once in a while, maybe one a month, fine.

So when I went to the store to buy a $2 ticket for Michelle, they were all out. So Apu behind the counter tells me they have the $5 bingo card. It plays the same as the $2 card, but it has bigger payouts. "Play big, win big!" he said. I got a good laugh out of that, because I swear he sounded just like Apu from "The Simpsons", and that sold me. So I brought it home, and Michelle won $10 off the card.

Now I abhor Valentine's Day. It's a commercialized pressure-cooker of crap that has caused me endless suffering when I was without a significant other and no small amount of suffering otherwise. But Michelle is cool with it. I don't wait for V Day to do something nice for my sweetie. But today I decided to get her a "bouquet" of bingo tickets.

Well, we scratched them all off. What an unholy mess of silver shavings. We only won $5. So in total, we've probably bought about $35 in bingo cards now and we've won about $41. Probably time to call it quits (actually, the time to call it quits was when we spent $6 and won $24, but it's so easy to play when you're "ahead").

Posted by Observer at 07:05 AM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2005

"Sleep" Over

Cody had a friend over for a sleepover on Saturday night. It's tough for the boys to be quiet because they share a room. Add another 11-year-old to the mix, and it's bedlam. When Michelle and I went to bed at 11 or so, I told them it would be nice if they could plan to getting to sleep sometime around 1 or 2am, maybe after they watch another movie or play another round of "Soopahsmashbruhs".

You can imagine how that went over.

So at 1:30am, after being awakened briefly a few times over the previous couple of hours by loud bangs and yells, I finally had enough. I have a hell of a time getting back to sleep if I'm awakened within an hour or two of going to sleep in the first place (my body treats it as a "nap", and I normally don't take naps even in the middle of the day because I can't fall asleep later that night), so I was pissed. And I was right to be pissed, because I didn't get back to sleep until 2 hours and about 200 pages of Piers Anthony later. ("Well, there's your problem! Fucking Piers Anthony!" Yeah, yeah, shut up, I know.) Still, you've got to be nice to company, and I know I was a hellion during those all-night slumber party Ping Pong tournaments when I was Cody's age (my mom was *such* a trooper, I have to say).

So I walked to the boys' room and opened the door. As angry as I was, my first reaction was genuine "What-The-Fuck?". Remember "Lord of the Flies"? The movie where all the kids get stranded on a tropical island and eventually revert to savages due to a lack of parental supervision? I frequently reference this movie to the kids. For example, "No, you all have to go into the store with me. If I leave you all out here in the van for five minutes, it'll be 'Lord of the Flies' in here when I get back."

At the end of the movie, a tribe of murderously savage spear-carrying boys is chasing our young hero through the jungle. The young boy stumbles and collapses on the beach, right at the feet of a very bemused marine, whose outfit has just landed for some sort of operation there without knowing the kids' predicament. The marine watches in amazement as the scene unfolds. First the kid stumbles at his feet, then the screaming and yelling and more and more painted freaky kids come running up carrying spears.

I felt like that marine when I opened the door to the boys' room last night and got blasted in the face with Three-Sweaty-Boys Odor and a hurricaned room, and I gave them shit for it. Justin (15), as usual, reverted back to Cody's age (10) for the evening, so I had to remove him from the situation and put him in the office. He enjoyed our little female pug jumping all over him at 8am Sunday morning when we let her out of her crate. Cody and his friend got the Stern no-more-sleepovers-if-this-keeps-up Warning, and that seemed to work. Hell, they were so tired, all they needed to do was sit still for five minutes and they'd pass out.

It was a total coincidence, but "Lord of the Flies" was showing on TV on Sunday, and Cody caught the last half of it. Justin caught the last half-hour. "Oh my God, they killed him with a rock!" and other assorted expostulations were coming out of the living room, much to my amusement. And now both the boys know what I mean when I say "Lord of the Flies".

While I'm thinking about it, most of you already know the backstory of the kids and our family pretty well. After Michelle and the three older kids moved down to here from Canada 3+ years ago, Justin was pretty quickly diagnosed by our school district with Asperger's (mild form of autism). Oh, and it wasn't that they're all wonderful ... it's just one of those things that school districts are often looking to weed people out of their formal lists of test-takers so that their percentage of passing scores will improve. Often there are beneficial side-effects of such behavior, and I can really appreciate that now.

We've been dealing with it with some success, and Justin is making great progress on his education (especially reading, where he is pretty much caught up with his peers after getting here 2-3 years behind at least). Still working on the social skills. He seems to get on fine with his teammates on track/cross country, but he doesn't have any close friends that he invites over or goes to the game with, etc. Sarah also has had issues, and we finally got some professionals to look at all the data. Michelle has the details, if you are interested (motor and speech dyspraxia is the best four word summary I can give).

Oh, and little Daniel probably has an ear infection. Michelle is probably taking him in this morning to get it checked out if he's still feeling bad. We've been super lucky. I think this will be only the third one for him. Other kids his age and a little older in our extended family seem to never be well, but they're in day care a lot more (with more kids), I guess.

Posted by Observer at 07:09 AM | Comments (5)

February 13, 2005

Pick Your Battles

As I've said before, I'm not all that impressed with the whole oil-for-food scandal. It looks like a lot of dirty bureaucrats (yes, including people in Bush's administration) did some bad things at the UN related to Iraq's oil revenues. Ok, fine, let's have the investigation, let's prosecute, let's clean it up. Fine. Count me in.

But where is all the outrage of the ConservaBorg over the order-of-magnitude-greater corruption at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq?

Also, while I'm thinking about it, I didn't give James Wolcott's book a glowing review a wihle back. It was just too much snark to sit and take in all at once. And it was a little thin. I like a good smackdown, and I like it to be backed up with lots of facts and references I can go check. A book can really only do that with endnotes, which are really hard to follow up. I guess I'm spoiled by the nature of the web and the quality of the blogging in the liberal side of the blogsphere.

Anyway, Wolcott's style translates perfectly to the web, and his web site is a daily update of funny liberal observations and outside-the-beaten-path links (though "The Sideshow" still takes the cake for the highest quality collection of links you've never seen before on a given day while everyone else is just linking to the same four or five things). The snarkiness is there, but in small bites, it is just right.

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

February 12, 2005

Dream Park

Wow, it's been a while since I've done a book review. Ok, so today I'll review a fairly significant book in terms of SF history, "Dream Park" by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. This is significant not because it's all that good (it's good for maybe high school or college age readers who don't have the experience to see through all the gaping plot holes or dated references), but rather because it was the spark that started the IFGS (International Fantasy Gaming Society), which was modelled after the same fictional organization in this book.

In the book, a high-tech amusement park puts on live-action fantasy role-playing in a holodeck-style environment. It's popular television entertainment all over the world, so the funding is there to not only make for a lengthy, elaborate game but also so that there is plenty of prize money. Good role-players are paid like professional athletes (1970's salaries, anyway), which may be the hardest thing to suspend your disbelief over.

The book describes one game, which is a contest between two different groups to see who can play out a pirates-and-skeletons-and-treasure scenario more successfully. During the game, someone is murdered, and so rather than stop the game, the security chief enters the game to play, etc. So the plot is fairly busy and interesting enough. I would recommend this one for the setting, not the plot or the characters. It's a neat novelty story, and it goes by quickly. If you like it, there are two other novels set in the same world ("Barsoom Project" and "California Voodoo Game") that weren't quite as good but close.

When I was in college, I did some IFGS role-playing. I had a good-sized plywood-covered-with-foam shield and a bamboo (surrounded by pipe insulation) staff, and I played a Cleric (so I could advance faster and join the better groups ... few people wanted to play Clerics). I was a better fighter with my long staff than most of the fighters (remember, these are geeks we're talking about, myself included, though we weren't as bad as the SCA wackos, in our collective opinion), and I had a good time.

Within a couple of years, though, the game fees, membership fees, weapon costs and a couple of bad games (ruined by bad weather) dulled my enthusiasm. I stopped playing as a character and volunteered as an NPC for some games, and that was pretty fun, too. When I left college for grad school, though, I was done. It was a great experience because it provided an excuse for some fun road trips with several close friends.

Posted by Observer at 08:42 AM | Comments (10)

February 11, 2005

Blame the Nearest Liberal

Kevin Drum says what needs to be said about the way the media is treating the debate over social security:

As happens so often, the journalistic community has decided that they're required to say that both sides are being equally irresponsible, regardless of the facts. The way to do this, apparently, is to (a) condemn Democrats for opposing a plan they all acknowledge is a bad one, and (b) then condemn them further for not supporting their own favored alternatives, even though they know perfectly well that the obstacle to these alternatives is not Democrats but Republicans.

It's George Bush who's insisting on a private account plan that even his own people admit won't do anything to shore up Social Security's finances. It's George Bush who's insisting that the only cures he'll consider are ones that include huge — but quiet — benefit cuts. It's George Bush who has publicly refused to even consider proposals to increase Social Security revenue in any way. It's George Bush who has run up the unconscionable deficits that are far more responsible for our deterioriating finances than anything in the Social Security system.

The facts: Social Security has modest problems that are many decades out. They could be easily solved with small benefit cuts combined with small tax increases. A bipartisan solution could be hammered out in a few days if it weren't for one person: George Bush.

The problem isn't that Democrats aren't willing to negotiate. The problem is that Democrats don't have anyone to negotiate with. That ought to be the story.

This sort of nonsense reminds me of all the recent hubbub over the imminent election of Howard Dean to lead the Democratic Party. Busy, Busy, Busy summarizes the reaction of the New Republic, which is similar to most of the "liberal media":

The Democratic Party is on the brink of electing as Democratic National Committee chairman a shameless proponent of Democratic principles.

Dean is actually slightly to the right of Kerry on more issues than not, and Kerry, as I've explained before, has a career history of being a moderate in the Senate. But the corporate media has already painted Dean as the screamer, the radical liberal (a la Supertramp), etc. in response to a few of Dean's ideas that are more liberal than the median Democrat.

The thing is, though, even if Dean were the most liberal Democrat in the whole wide world, so what? Don't these Dean-bashers realize that Republicans are in a mode to bash Democrats as unpatriotic, terrorist-loving, Christian-bashing, freedom-hating obstructionists sight unseen? Why not have an unapologetic, hell, even proud, loud liberal who is well-spoken, telegenic and sharp as a tack. I'm looking forward to Dean telling Pumpkinhead Russert to stop being such an obtuse prick on "Meet the Press".

Posted by Observer at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

The Latest Distraction

From The Sideshow comes a link to Body and Soul, which explains in reality-based terms what's behind the nutball brigade's obsessive focus lately on Eason Jordan. Here's what the man is apparently guilty of:

CNN's chief news executive, Eason Jordan, apparently mentioned in a speech the 12 journalists and media workers who have been killed by coalition forces, and failed to insert the disclaimer that of course the deaths were accidental -- a mistake he later rectified.

Because of this, apparently, he must be terminated with extreme prejudice and maximum public humiliation.

The ConservaBorg are quite skilled at coming up with scandals that are basically meaningless or petty at their core (Whitewater, anyone? Oil for food? Travelgate? etc). They know how to get news coverage of these scandals (by accusing anyone who blows it off of liberal bias), and the lazy corporate media knows it sells papers and sells advertising for hair restoration, penis enlargement, erectile disfunction, etc.

And it's a great plan, because it pushes the equivalence meme, that both sides are equally corrupt, equally bad, equally untrustworthy, etc. And so you get voters who figure that might as well vote for Bush because at least he's the devil they know. Or that it doesn't matter who they vote for because the whole system sucks, etc. Until the editors and producers of newspapers and TV shows figure out what's really important (simple facts about social security, perhaps) and separate it from what the whiny nutballs want to hear (more Clinton blowjobs or Hillary's a lesbian or the UN is corrupt).

I love the UN corruption scandals. I mean, what a surprise, that there's corruption in a giant bureaucracy ... by the way, did I mention the federal government's bureaucracy has grown at a very healthy clip to record size in the past four years? Oh, and now they want to make the big new Homeland Security bureaucracy exempt from the law? Did I mention that one?

Look, I know that philosophically, there are people out there who favor getting the government off our backs, that favor a tax system that doesn't screw people over, that favor supporting and enhancing our military. The problem is that a lot of these people don't realize yet that they are really liberals. Or at least Democrats.

Posted by Observer at 07:16 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2005

What We Will Tell Our Children?

Via Atrios comes news of a scandal that should interest the ConservaBorg. We have a high profile anchor of a major network, and he is caught deliberately doctoring the quotes of a president to push his own personal agenda. Now this is actually worse than the whole Dan Rather thing. After all, the only thing Rather (or at least his producer) did wrong was fail to sufficiently vett the memos in his story (and it still hasn't been established that they're fake, by the way, but I think they probably are). The memos did not change the story, only added supporting evidence to an assertion that was already well established as fact, that Bush got special treatment, ducked his Guard duty, didn't show up, etc.

So who is this shameful anchor who has distorted and manipulated the news, who has given us even more reason not to trust the major networks? Why, it's Brit Hume of Fox News. Al Franken's blog (and one of his writers, Ben Wikler as well as Media Matters) has the story of how Hume is trying to lie about FDR and social security. I'm sure the ConservaBorg watchdogs who are still strutting over their dramatic "takedown" of the evil Dan Rather will be all over this one.

Right?

Hello? Is this thing on?

HelloooOOOooo?

Boy, first JD Guckert, and now Brit Hume. This isn't a good day to be a ConservaBorg cog in the machine. Who's next?

Pull!

Posted by Observer at 03:50 PM | Comments (1)

Mr. Guckert Goes to Washington

If you haven't been following the story of "Jeff Gannon" of the Talon News Service, he's the guy who basically just popped up at White House briefings starting a couple of years ago. He's allowed in because he was hired by a news organization created by right-wing nutballs for the sole purpose of putting out their stories with a tinge of media credibility so they would be picked up by real newspapers, etc. Just one of many cogs in the conservative media machine. Reading through daily press conference transcripts, his questions are always easy to pick out (e.g. things like "How do you respond to the unfair and hateful media attacks against our President's integrity?").

Well, for some reason, people started looking a little more deeply into who this guy is (aka JD Guckert), and the story just gets stranger and stranger. I'll just say militaryescortsm4m.com and leave it at that. Go follow the thread and be entertained.

Keeping in mind that this was all uncovered with some pretty trivial google work, and the story was broken by bloggers, not the lazy media.

Posted by Observer at 09:23 AM | Comments (1)

February 08, 2005

Still Falling...

First Draft notices a new turnout number being reported deep inside a NY Times article about events in Iraq. Previously, from ink-stained-finger ConservaBorg central, we had been hearing 80%, then 70%, then 60%, then 40ish%. Now it seems that eight southern, largely Shiite provinces, in which it was supposedly "safe" to vote, etc. are looking at turnout numbers of close to 20%.

Again, I note that it would be useful to hear a working definition of "success" from the 101st Fighting Keyboarders before all the results are in and the effects of the Iraqi election are seen over the next 6-12 months. Otherwise, we'll just get the usual bit of "success = whatever is happening in Iraq now". You know, "rising insurgent attacks just show they are getting more desperate", or "hey, that's pretty close to turnout numbers for typical American elections at the nat-, uh, sta-, uh, local dogcatcher bond initiative level". That sort of thing.

Posted by Observer at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

The Art of the Smackdown

One my more obvious personality flaws is my tendency to overargue. This is why I have been susceptible to trolls in the past. For example, one of the moron trolls who liked to throw around death threats once passed along a list that he inherited from some other know-nothing mouth breather about "liberal myths". I started off by picking off his stupid Clinton-era bullshit in a single post, but noooo, that wasn't enough. I took each one out, examined it, refuted it (or at least pointed out serious flaws) and put together a list of Stupid Conservative Myths of my own (see the sidebar).

Now you would think that by the time I was a few myths into this with a lack of any kind of substantive response from Captain Cocksucker the troll, I would just let it die, point made. Nope, I kept going. I kept baiting the poor bastard, and sure enough, it got him mad enough that he started making stupid threats. I banned him from my blog eventually because I finally found the self-control to realize that life is too short to suffer such immense stupidity. Even recounting the history of it, I'm sure the casual reader will see I'm going too far.

Oh well.

I've had other arguments, too, in newsgroups and in comments on this blog that have gone on about an order of magnitude longer than they should have. It's just that when I'm right, and when I know I'm right and the facts and logic are totally on my side, I just can't help but feel that I need to drive my opponent into the cool, deep embrace of mother Earth. So I just whack and whack and whack, and pretty soon, the other person sees the Dark-Side-of-the-Force madness in my eyes and pretends to save face, gracelessly abandoning the fray.

I assume if you are a regular reader of this blog, you enjoy that sort of thing, much like observing a car wreck as you drive by. I myself am a big fan of the liberal smackdown of the conservative fuckbrain. If you are, too, then by all means catch yourself up on Juan Cole pounding the holy hell out of Lucianne-spawn Jonah Goldberg over who is an idiot when it comes to Iraq. Some choice excerpts to date:

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not. [...]

If Jonah Goldberg had asserted that he could fly to Mars in his pyjamas and come back in a single day, it would not have been a more fantastic allegation than the one he made about Iraq being a danger to the United States because of the nuclear issue. He made that allegation over and over again to millions of viewers on national television programs, to viewers who trusted his judgment because CNN and others purveyed him to them.

Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue. And besides, he was just plain wrong about one of the more important foreign policy issues to face the United States in the past half-century. It is shameful that he dares show his face in public, much less continuing to pontificate about his profound knowledge of just what Iraq is like and what needs to be done about Iraq and the significance of events in Iraq. [...]

Let me propose to him that we debate Middle East issues, anywhere, any time, he and I. Otherwise he should please shut up and go back to selling Linda Tripp tapes on Ebay. [...]

If you saw an hour-long piece on al-Jazeerah about the reality of the United States, with English subtitles, and the reporter speaking on the U.S. had never been to America, had never read a book about America, did not know a word of English, and moreover said all kinds of things that were complete fantasy and altogether wrong, would that man be someone you would recommend to others as having an important opinion on the matter that millions of people should be exposed to on NPR and CNN every other day?

When questioned by a reader why Jonah didn't participate in the Iraq War he so valiantly endorses from his cushy office, Cole quotes Goldberg and responds:

"As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice."

Goldberg helped send nearly 1500 brave Americans to their deaths and helped maim over 10,000, not to mention all the innocent Iraqi civilians he helped get killed. He helped dragoon 140,000 US troops in Iraq. And he does not have the courage of his convictions. His excuse is that he couldn't afford to take the pay cut!

The reader himself responded, piling on with Juan:

Finally, I really appreciate your frankness in explaining why you are not currently serving in "the kill zone". It is the best and most honest display of chickenhawk hypocrisy I have yet to come across. It confirms my belief that the war in Iraq is little more than a game to you. Its fun to talk about on CNN and maybe debate with someone in "The Corner", but to expect you to put yourself on the line is out of the question. I have just one thing to ask: do you support the immediate dismissal from military duty of all over 35 fathers who request such a dismissal? If so, would you be willing to use your media pulpits to support such a policy? In theory, Professor Cole would have great praise for your so doing. In reality, its just one more time that you will show that you are simply an unprincipled coward.

And then in a recent lengthy summation:

Let us see what has been established. First, I alleged that Goldberg has never read a book about Iraq, about which he keeps fulminating. I expected him at least to lie in response, the way W. did when similarly challenged on his book-reading. I expected Goldberg to say, "That is not true! I have read Phebe Marr's book on modern Iraq from cover to cover and know all about the 1963 failed Baathist coup!" But Goldberg did not respond in this way. I conclude that I was correct, and he has never read a book on this subject.

I am saying I do not understand why CNN or NPR would book someone to talk about Iraq policy who has not read a book on the subject under discussion. Actually, of course, it would be desirable that he had read more than one book. Books are nice. They are rectangular and soft and have information in them. They can even be consumed on airplanes. Goldberg should try one.

That's a smackdown. Not that it matters who is right or wrong to the average Moron American. We liberals take our comfort where we can find it.

Posted by Observer at 07:26 AM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2005

Common Knowledge

Imagine Kerry had cheated during the debates. Imagine he wore some kind of communication device and an earpiece so he could get instructions from some political operative off-stage, etc. Now, imagine further that the evidence of this was clear cut and pretty much undeniable. And, finally, imagine that the "ultra-liberal" paper of record, the New York Times, spiked the story to "protect the integrity of the election" or some such about a week before election day.

Do you think the ConservaBorg might have just been a wee bit outraged? Do you think we might be seeing the whole Dan Rather fiasco raised to about the 25th power? Do you think some of the most gung-ho Republigoons in Congress might be making noises about passing a law and media content and oversight?

I'm just wondering why there's basically been zero coverage (except from FAIR) of Bush's cheating and the NY Times' role in covering it up. As Atrios would say, maybe it's time we had yet another hand-wringing discussion about those worrisome ethics in the out-of-control blogosphere.

Bitch all you want about the partisan shouting between liberals and conservatives, but hey, at least we liberals seem to know what the hell we're talking about. When is the last time a ConservaBorg Blogger's feet were seriously held to the fire by the mainstream media over a spectacularly wrong (and easily falsifiable) claim, outlandish statement (a daily occurrence) or stupid prediction?

You can watch a ConservaBorg factual train wreck in action if you know any of the basic facts about Social Security.

Posted by Observer at 07:09 AM | Comments (1)

February 06, 2005

Super Sunday

When I was a kid, one of the most fun things about the Super Bowl parties my parents used to go to was participating in the "grid". You know how it works, right? You make a 10x10 grid, and people pay whatever amount per square to put their initials in. They can pick any squares they want, all in a row, scattered, whatever. After the board is full, numbers are drawn at random out of a hat to designate each row and column. The numbers represent the last digit in a team's score.

So if you are on row "5" and column "3" where the rows are the Patriots, you check at the end of every quarter (sometimes double at the end). If the score is, say, 15-13 (or 15-3, or 35-23) in favor of the Patriots, you win a quarter (or a fifth or two-fifths at the end of the game) of the money in the pot (usually grid squares go for a dollar a square ... depends on how many people are at the party, whether it can be funded). For a kid, a $25 payoff is *huge*. It was exciting just knowing you had good squares, like 7-0 or 3-7, etc). That's 75 giant pixy stix (when I was 10, anyway). And since the Cowobys were usually in the Super Bowl, it seemed, it was even more fun.

We're not really party kind of people, but we'll have a little mini Super Bowl party for the kids tonight. Maybe I'll do up a grid at a dime a square or something for them, and we'll play games while the game is on. Cody keeps insisting on playing poker for real money like we did on New Years' Eve, and I keep telling him it wouldn't be fair, and he just thinks I'm trash-talking. Yesterday, while he was mouthing off about playing for real money, Justin and I cleaned him out in about eight hands of no-limit. I was up against Justin with a 9-J, and the flop came off 4-10-Q. Justin put in a little bet, and I called with my open-ended straight draw.

Next card comes off a King, so I'm pretty happy with my straight (though I would be happier with the A-J). Justin puts in a dollar very quickly (our total amount of chips adds up to about $15). I know Justin isn't quick enough on the uptake to be betting a straight. He has to think for a minute and look at the cards to figure out if he has a straight if the board is broken up like that. I put him on a pair of Kings. With my straight, then, I raised him up and eventually, he had me all-in. He had a little more than me because he and Cody always play aggressively against one another while I sit back and wait for a hand, so I'm often left at a disadvantage after one of the boys gets knocked out.

So we flip over the cards, and he sees my straight. Sure enough, he didn't realize a straight was possible out there. He just got really big eyes looking at his two pair (he had K-4, so with the board, he had Kings and fours). Since no flush was possible (he's good at watching for those), he bet big thinking I had queens or something. So the river card comes off, and it's a four. Gah, full house thanks to two running cards at the end beats me. First time I've lost to one of the boys in about the last ten matches. I tried pointing that out to Cody, but he just thought it was more trash-talking.

Maybe it's time for an expensive lesson, and I'll use any money I win from him to buy some math and reading practice books for him, because his teacher tells us Cody isn't getting his work done in class.

Oh yeah, my prediction is 38-17, Patriots.

Posted by Observer at 12:17 PM | Comments (7)

February 05, 2005

Credulous

I finished watching the recent Frontline show "The Secret History of the Credit Card" tonight (you can watch it online and/or find lots of neat stuff at the link). I watched it because I'm interested in the subject in general plus I always keep a sharp eye out for anything by Lowell Bergman, the producer who was portrayed by Al Pacino in the very good movie "The Insider". For the most part, I wasn't too surprised by what I saw. I mean, yes, the outrageous interest rates are unfair, etc., but it is hard for me to have sympathy for people who dig themselves into debt by choice.

We've got a little bit of debt, which is virtually unavoidable if you're basically starting from zero like we did a few years ago, but what we're not going to pay off quickly is going to go on a 0% card that we will pay off in a year or two (barring any unexpected consequences like another $4000 bill for windows, etc). I really hate paying interest, but I sure don't whine about it. People make choices financially, and even if they're stupid, well, they've got to live with it.

Now in cases of family tragedy or an unexpected job loss, that's the murky area, and I don't know of a good solution, at least nothing that could possibly be passed with the crony capitalists in power. No, the only way most sensible legislation will ever get to the table would be in an era of publicly financed campaigns, but that's yet another story.

Anyway, what was most interesting about the show was the part about the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Recently, many state Attorneys General (including ConservaBorg enemy of the state Eliot Spitzer) were threatening to initiate legal action against credit card companies based on consumer complaints of dishonest practices, etc. Well, the OCC stepped in and told the states to go to hell, that the OCC has jurisdiction, and they basically haven't lifted a finger against any of it since an action against Providian (and don't even *dream* that they took such an action while the Boy King was in charge ... it was in 2000).

So as long as the OCC isn't inclined to do anything, the credit card companies are basically free to do what they want. Pretty scary stuff, and yet another reason to be sad about the kind of people in charge of America for the next four years.

Posted by Observer at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2005

Misery Accomplished

Molly Ivins has some further thoughts about the elections in Iraq:

In Iraq alone, we've been through "mission accomplished," then the violence would end once we captured Saddam Hussein, then the all-important handover of sovereignty that would make all the difference and next the destruction of Fallujah that was going to break the insurgency. (Well, it did destroy Fallujah.) Someday, we will actually capture al-Zarqawi, and I bet we find that doesn't make much difference, either.

I really don't like accentuating the negative, but I also don't like spin, especially after what we've been through with this administration and the truth about Iraq. It isn't helpful to write off 175 terrorist attacks on the day of the election as "relative calm." It isn't helpful to claim there was a 72 percent turnout rate and then have it fall overnight to 57 percent. It isn't helpful to set low expectations, then boast about doing "better than expected." And we also still don't know what we've got here.

We're potentially looking at an anti-American Shiite government that signs right up with the mullahs in Iran. What do we do then, re-invade?

I have to say I find it kind of ironic that the Next Big Threat Hype is apparently Iran (what happened to Syria?), a country to which it looks like we are about to hand over effective control of Iraq via the Shiites. I mean, we want Iran to call the shots in Iraq so much, there's even noise of Ahmed Chalabi ... oh fine, let Molly say it:

I'm having a hard time believing this next one is true. Judith Miller of The New York Times, who was responsible for much of that paper's lousy reporting before the war, said on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that the American government is angling to get Ahmad Chalabi a top government post in the Iraqi cabinet. If true, someone not only needs his head examined, but should also be indicted for malfeasance. Chalabi is, of course, the noted crook and Iranian spy who fed this administration so much bad information before the war he should be considered a pariah for that alone.

Just as a reminder: You know, it's really good, all this navel-gazing that's been going on at CBS over the (still undetermined) credibility of the documents that supposedly (and redundantly) proved what we knew all along about Bush screwing around in the Guard. You would think there would be the same sort of outcry over all of the patently false stuff from Judith Miller (fed to her by Chalabi) that appeared on the front page of the "ultra-liberal" New York Times in the run-up to the war.

You would think that, wouldn't you? Poor, reality-based dupe.

That said, it was still pretty thrilling, wasn't it? God bless them. I hope they're going to make it after all. Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan -- which we dropped like a hot rock to go after a nation that not only had not done us any harm, but didn't even present the threat of harm -- all is not tickety-boo. Opium is once again the country's most important product, and the Taliban is still around. Al Qaeda, the people who did attack us, are also still around. Warlordism still rules in most of the country. And perhaps saddest of all, so little attention is paid.

We came in like gangbusters and promised the earth -- we were going to nation-build, put in infrastructure, all that good stuff -- and it got siphoned away to Iraq, including $700 million that had been appropriated for Afghanistan, according to Bob Woodward.

The good news (can't help myself) is that we did Afghanistan right, if you will recall -- went in with pretty much global backing and the support of all our allies. And they're still there helping out, 8,300 NATO troops, including the French, the Germans and the rest of "old Europe." Some of the country is secure enough for the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to function there. The commitments are starting to dwindle down now, but it's still more help than we had in Iraq.

Unlike Iraq, we've actually got some construction projects going (there was nothing to reconstruct in Afghanistan) and should be able to celebrate a highway opening before long.

I don't know whether these fairly dismal twin tales should be considered the alpha and omega of Bush's policy of exporting the shining light of liberty via military invasion, but at least we can learn from our mistakes -- and if there ever is a next time, we could try doing it right.

Huh? How is it the America-hating, freedom-hating, terrorist-loving French are helping us in Afghanistan? Weren't they somehow cheering after 9/11 happened to us?

You think I'm kidding. I put the over/under at 18 months before some ConservaBorg pundit tries to claim with a straight face that the French celebrated 9/11 instead of turning out for a well-documented and movingly photographed national period of mourning and sympathy.

And how the hell can we learn from our mistakes if the administration won't even admit any in the first place? Meanwhile, the Congressional cafeteria continues to serve freedom fries. We are truly in the grip of the Neanderthals. God help us.

Posted by Observer at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

Successful Vote

Tom Tomorrow has the story of the successful election in which the war-torn country's citizens showed up to the polls under the watchful eye of US troops to the tune of 83% turnout, risking the wrath of the insurgency in order to bravely cast their ballots, securing a victory for freedom. Culminating a process than began over a year ago, the new government finally had legitimacy in the eyes of its people.

It was Vietnam in 1967.

Posted by Observer at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2005

Yet

"Justin, give me the hackeysack."

"Awww, come on!"

"Justin, you and I both know that you shouldn't have it in the house, because you can't help yourself. You're going to throw it at your brother and lose it. Come on."

"That's not fair! I haven't thrown it at him yet."

Posted by Observer at 10:50 PM | Comments (5)

Short Sell

If the reported Iraqi turnout percentage (first 80%, then 70%, then 60%, now closer to 40%) were a stock, you could make a fortune short-selling it. I wonder what the final number will be. Along the same lines, what is the definition of a "successful election"? Could we please find out now, before all the facts are in, rather than defining "success" to be whatever the hell ends up being the final version of the facts?

Thanks to First Draft for the link.

Posted by Observer at 06:27 PM | Comments (3)

Confidence Game

I didn't watch the "State of the Union" address. Life is too short to purposely go out of my way to get irritated. But I've read enough of the text to know that it was just more of the same, which is to say more of convincing the majority of Americans to cheer loud and proud for things that fuck them over. You should go read The Rude Pundit's excellent review of the evening (shorter summary of the SOTU: "Suck it, fuckers."), which also puts the Democratic booing into perspective for all of the professionally offended Republicans out there. It's time for some perspective on just what makes their dishonesty so compelling for so many Moron Americans.

It's like a big confidence game. The secret to a good con is to not only make your mark feel like the final decision is his free choice but also to ensure your mark still feels good about the choice after having made it (at least until you can get away). The marks here are Moron Americans, and the con will last as long as it can, because every day it goes on, the rich get substantially richer, and it doesn't really matter if or when they are "found out" because they will never be held accountable (except maybe by history, which they don't give a rat's ass about). Digby talks about the success of the Republicans in framing the debate over government:

The Republicans have an economic framing model that's very successful and we can learn from it. They sell an optimistic, simple philosophy of "if only the government would get out of the way you can be successful." This means that if you aren't successful it's the government's fault. (And Democrats believe in government so they are actively working to keep you down.) Their frame is always, entirely, the frame of self reliance and self interest. They preach it as a moral good no matter what the situation. This is a notion that has a very long history in American culture and it's one that appeals to a very basic aspect of human nature. It has become the dominant strain in political discourse over the last thirty years.

Yeah, Reagan started this, but it has gotten a lot louder thanks to the Pill Popping ConservaBorg hypocrites of the talk radio world. It's not that self-reliance is a bad meme. Not at all. The libertarian part of my philosophy is very much in favor of it, but at the same time, I know that the whole idea of self-reliance is being abused by corrupt jackasses trying to convince people to agree to stupid things.

For example, they push the idea of self-reliance as a reason to reduce taxes. Ok, you want to reduce the tax burden on the average, hard-working American to reward their self-reliance, to starve the government, etc. I can sympathize, but then it's a bait-and-switch. 90% of the tax cut benefits go to the super-rich who don't need it (and are often decidedly *NOT* self-reliant, instead acquiring wealth through inheritance or good-old-boy networks). If you try to point that out, you get accused of being in favor of big gummint against the common man, etc.

So, sure, give me self-reliance, but don't use it as a mask to sell a steaming pile of shit to people.

However, they know that Americans are not that simple minded about their own personal self interest. Even if they sign on to the philosophy of self interest it doesn't mean that they don't understand that they have much to gain with a generous redistributional government. (Hence the "lucky ducky" strategy.)

The link points to a Krugman column in which he talks about how the ConservaBorg use the bait-and-switch to get taxes cut for the super-rich while leaving all the crappy regressive (payroll, property, sales, fees for licenses, etc) taxes and fees in place, when it is the regressive taxes that represent the lion's share of the burden on most people. When you're done reading this entry, you should do yourself a favor and go back to this link. It is a comprehensive and very readable summary of how the Republicans con people about taxes on a regular basis.

Americans like certain things the government provides. So, the Republicans hire guys like Frank Luntz and spend millions of dollars polling and focus grouping to find out how to market this "you're on your own" philosophy to make it sound as if they will be guaranteed a better result if they do it the GOP way. They choose words and phrases that denigrate government, make Democrats appear to be corrupt and enslaved by "special" interests and make it sound as if people will be giving nothing up and gaining much by signing on to the Republican philosophy.

But, even with all that they have not been able to completely destroy the liberal consensus. Therefore, they are forced to do things like sell social security destruction on two tracks. They are simultaneously trying to "save" something that poeple obviously value while at the same time convincing people that they will benefit far more if they sign on to the privatization bandwagon. But we have recently found out that after all this time they can't use the word "privatization" because people aren't buying it. People know enough to know "privatization" means they might lose money.

This is very telling It says that while the Republicans have been able to move self interest to the front and center of political discourse, displacing the values of community and altruism as things people feel they ought to say when quizzed about such things. But they haven't managed to make people believe that government is their personal enemy or that it is in their self interest to reject all redistribution of wealth so that they might have more "opportunity." Self-interested people aren't ideologues. They'll take the best deal from wherever it comes.

Therefore, I would submit that our rhetorical frames should begin to speak to the fact that properly run government is a good deal. Social Security is a guaranteed check that is always on time and comes every single month no matter how long you live. That's a good deal.

And I think that we have to acknowledge that the altruistic, moral case for government is (temporarily, hopefully) on the decline and we need to argue in a way that accomodates that. On a separate track we must enlist the liberal clergy and others to begin to build the progressive values arguments back up, just as the Republicans continue to build their case for laissez-faire. But in the meantime, we need to realize that we are in an era of marketing to people's individual wants and desires and needs. This is how they view the world.

I don't think we need to be dishonest, but I fear that we are going to be bulldozed over and over again, even if we win the battle for social security, if we try to hang our hats on the moral case for good government. Someday, perhaps, we can get there. But today I think that the singular success of the Republican era is persuading people that selfishness is a positive good. Little Aynnie Rand must be popping a Dexie and lighting a cig with satisfaction down in the third circle right now.

Unfortunately, as long as the media continues to cooperate with the ConservaBorg, we've got no chance. If the media reports "on the one hand, some say 2+2 may just equal 7" and the like, people are going to take from that whatever they want to hear, and talk radio/Faux news are going to make sure to push for the choice Republicans want. The best hope is for an expansion of things like Air America so at least people are exposed to some truth-based rhetoric instead of the mantra of the Hannitys of the world.

Posted by Observer at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2005

The Ten Suggestions

One of the most popular features of the First Draft blog is Holden's Obsession with the Gaggle, in which Holden excerpts his favorite questions and responses of the day. Usually, it is a case study in how the press is handled and how they don't do their jobs, but sometimes, cranky old Helen Thomas or maybe one or two other old-guard reporters gets to stand up and ask a nasty. Like this:

Scott, last night, in an amicus brief filed before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justice Department came down in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses and statehouses around the country. The question is, does the President believe in commandment number six, "Thou shalt not kill," as it applies to the U.S. invasion in Iraq?

Indeed. You know, I'm pretty sick of hearing from fundies about the infallibility of the Bible, about how we're a "Christian" nation, about how we should have the Ten Commandments and prayer shoved down everyone's throats. And it's not because that's an inherently invalid opinion. Sure, that's fine if you feel that way. I happen to disagree, and I have the writings of the founding fathers in my corner, and that's the beauty of this Democracy.

No, what pisses me off is that these same people turn around and "nuke the ragheads". Or they fuck with poor people. Or they cheer at an execution. Or support torture. Atrios has a good comment about torture, politics and Mr. pro-torture-memo Alberto Gonzales, who is set to be our next Attorney General:

It is not partisan for anti-torture Democrats to oppose Gonzales. It is partisan for anti-torture Republicans to support him.

Pro-torture Republicans, of course, love the guy.

They treat religion like it is some kind of carte blanche to believe whatever the hell you want, no matter how mean or hypocritical, because as long as you mouth the words "Jesus Christ is Lord" or something like that, you are automatically in that I'm-better-than-all-of-you club. It's the same kind of combination of holier-than-thou condescension and annoying gloating that gets 10-year-olds a time out in this house. But for conservatives, it guarantees a seat at the pundit table or, with the right amount of cash and a cooperative media, an elected office or at the very least a policy-making position with no accountability.

Posted by Observer at 12:51 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2005

Giving Them the Finger

Chris Allbritton has some thoughts on the recent elections in Iraq:

Bear in mind it was just one day. The hard part is still ahead of this country, and Jan. 30 marked not only the closing of one chapter, but the opening of another. It is still being written. To tamp down this insurgency, the country was placed on total lockdown for three days. And the insurgents still managed to cause mayhem, if not at the scale they promised. If that's what it takes to secure this country, there's still a big, big challenge ahead.

The insurgency is not over. The Sunnis and middle-class former Ba'athists are still resentful and suspicious. An old friend of mine who was a Ba'athist, but mainly so he could get a job, is bitter and morose, feeling that now there are two occupations. “One from the Americans and one from the Iranians,” he said. The Sunnis are terrified of their old enemy, and List 169, the Sistani-blessed list, does have a number of people on it with serious ties to Iran. The country is still a mess, with deteriorating services like water and electricity. This is not to say they can't be overcome, but this is not a time to declare victory.

Be sure and mention all this to the war-boosters, who are, dorkily, coating their fingers with blue ink as a sign of solidarity “with the Iraqi people.” Hm. I don't remember them doing that for Afghanistan... Why don't they just 'fess up and say they're giving the finger to us doubters? This is not solidarity; it's a taunt along the lines of, “We were right, nyah nyah!” instead of a celebration of democracy.

Oh, there's no doubt about this. The ConservaBorg are in Full Gloat mode, as if this one day has proven everything right. They say they're proud of the Iraqis and respect what they're doing, etc., etc. As Holden over at First Draft points out, these are the same people who were advocating various forms of carpet bombing (or turning the whole place into a radioactive parking lot) at various times within the past year or two. Allbritton continues:

Make no mistake: Sunday was not a validation of Bush's policies. Most Arab states would like to have democracy, yes, but not at the barrel of a gun, which is how it came here. If the choice is being invaded, occupied and force-fed controversial elections that might lead to civil war versus working at democratic reforms at their own pace and in their own way, I suspect most Arabs would choose the latter. And who could blame them? Iraq is not an example to emulate.

Regardless of what the media cheerleaders showed us the other day, there are still many unescapable and inconvenient facts. One is that the insurgency and the associated casualties are growing, not shrinking. Two is that the people set to take over the government are the exact sort of radical Muslims who have a bad habit of fostering terrorism (in Iran and Saudi Arabia), much worse than anything Saddam ever did. Third is that these same people seem to be pretty much taking marching orders from Iran, which is apparently the next target on our list. Fourth is that we're still building bases there, intending to establish a very large, permanent military presence, and there is no way that the average Iraqi is going to be happy with that, ever.

Posted by Observer at 02:40 PM | Comments (3)