March 31, 2005

Real Troopers

Via Atrios, a link to Brad DeLong, who points out what the editorial board of one of the so-called "flagship" newspapers of the great liberal media conspiracy is saying about Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the failed war, author of so many mistakes and false predictions, who is, of course, being promoted to head the World Bank:

Mr. Wolfowitz's critics, domestic as well as international, should now get beyond their dislike of his role in the Iraq war.... [T]he institution will have a hard time facing down the inevitable attacks on its decision if it is simultaneously having to defend itself against critics who dislike its new president.

Most people agree that the World Bank is necessary. There are few competent organizations that can help manage the challenges of globalization.... The World Bank brings big financial and intellectual resources to all of these challenges; it provides around $20 billion a year to developing countries and houses the largest concentration of development thinkers anywhere. People who care about this institution and its mission -- as many of Mr. Wolfowitz's detractors do -- should think carefully before they damage it by attacking its new boss...

Remember, this is the Post saying this. It isn't the nutball right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page. It isn't the New York Post. It isn't Fox News. It's the "ultra-liberal" (if you listen to any talk radio ConservaBorg blow-hard) Washington Post.

Essentially, all of us who have a problem with Wolfowitz's qualifications or mistakes in the past should just "get over it". Gee, where have I heard that before? Moreover, we should be quiet and not criticize our leaders.

Thanks a lot, liberal media! I don't know what we liberals would do without you fighting for us!

Posted by Observer at 04:59 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2005

Angels and Demons

After being impressed with "The Da Vinci Code" (unlike the current hierarchy of the Catholic Church, apparently), I've been reading Dan Brown's other books and so far been disappointed. "Angels and Demons", though, lived up to what I was hoping for. It's about as gripping as "Da Vinci", and it is clear this is what Brown is most comfortable writing about. The Robert Langdon character appears again, decoding symbols and delving into the history of the church. Supposedly, Brown's next book will continue in this line but be set in America rather than Europe and deal with the Masons (maybe it'll be a better version of what I heard was a crappy Nicholas Cage blockbuster from last summer called "National Treasure").

It's not great literature or anything. Lots of stock characters. Swarthy, fanatic bad guy. Standard sort-of exotic female sidekick/love interest (who becomes a damsel in distress at some point). Mad scientist. Nutty religious guy. Slimy media guy. Double-back but predictable plot twist. Even a bomb with a countdown timer, for crying out loud. But still, it works. Reads very much like early Clancy books, before he got all bloated and political, back when he was really focussed on what he was good at. But for a mindless page-turner, a good airplane book, it's fine and reads very quickly. The parts dealing with Physics and antimatter made me cringe a bit, but that's ok. I imagine I didn't have to suspend disbelief nearly as much as someone who is familiar with the way the Catholic Church is run at the highest levels.

I was interested enough in Brown's stuff that I am starting to flip through books like "Secrets of Angels and Demons" or "Secrets of the Da Vinci Code", which elaborate on the many different plot elements Brown brings into "Da Vinci" and "Angels". A lot of the material is boring, but skimming through, I am finding some neat stuff out about historical figures like Da Vinci, Galileo, the Illuminati and other secret societies, as well as some interesting insight into the real history of famous religious stories. Since I used to play the Illuminati: New World Order card game in grad school, I recognize enough stuff to make me curious to know more.

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (3)

March 29, 2005

Typical

Apparently, one of my problems as a liberal is that I am totally blind to the wholesale corruption going on at the United Nations. I'm supposed to be outraged that there is some back-scratching going on in which, gasp, there is corruption in a large international bureaucracy. I mean, Kofi Annan's son may have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars from all this because, God forbid, he got a plum job as a result of being well-connected.

Is it me, or isn't that basically the life story of Flight-Suit Georgie? Ok, I'll agree that both are awful. Let's fire Kofi Annan and the Worst President Ever. And while we're at it, all the other Republicans in Washington making millions collectively in patronage jobs. Deal?

Josh Marshall helpfully provides a similar example from the Reality-Based World of Washington lobbyists. I mean, imagine an administration in which the Chief of Staff's brother ends up with a plum political job worth probably millions (for which his qualifications are dubious, other than his connectedness, obviously).

Ok, it's not hard to imagine because it is one of many examples in the current "accountability" administration. That's the same administration, by the way, that is trying to quash hearings about the made-up reasons for the Iraq War because it just amounts to "people looking for someone to blame". Last I heard, that was pretty much the definition of accountability.

If you think the same ConservaBorg who will be pounding the drum about Annan and the United Nations are going to be outraged (or hell, even annoyed enough to talk) about any of this, then you are officially Part of the Problem.

Of course, what's really going on here is the never-ending two-pronged quest of the right-wing nutball power brokers. To keep their listeners tuning in, to keep their heads buried in the sand while the Powers That Be loot the country, two things are needed: a powerful enemy (Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Kofi Annan and when desperate Michael Shiavo or the ACLU will do fine) and victimhood status. Both of these combined give the conservative a good, clean conscience from which to hate with a whole heart.

After all, if they truly believe this shit, any amount of hateful crap they throw out there (e.g. Rush describing liberals with terms like "all the gloating, glee and happiness over her death" or Peggy Noonan saying "red-fanged and ravenous" hunger for death) must be ok because it is less than what the other side is doing and justified in the face of so many horrible problems. Who is cheering for death? Franken pointed out that if Terri's husband changed his mind and decided to leave the feeding tube in, we would be fine with that, too. You've got to be gut-wrenchingly evil and cynical to imply otherwise when you know better. It's disgusting.

Like I said before, it's a cancer, and the nutballs in front of the Florida hospice are just another symptom, like an annoying rash. The deadly, malignant stuff is in the federal government itself.

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2005

Core Principles

Ok, I'll admit I don't know what's right in the Shiavo case. The credible information that I've seen suggests that much of the woman's brain has dissolved and been replaced by spinal fluid. I've also seen that she makes enough random sounds that some of them are bound to be perceived as meaningful (the stopped clock is right twice a day sort of logic). So to me, it seems reasonable to suggest that there is no hope for recovery and that she'll remain in a vegetative state.

Given that, nobody really knows except for perhaps immediate family what her wishes would be. If I were in the same boat, I know I wouldn't want to be a burden. I'd want the plug pulled within a few months at least, just to give it some time to be very clear there would be no recovery. Terri Shiavo has been this way for, what, 17 years now? Still, no one can know what sorts of private conversations went on between Terri and her husband and family regarding this.

What I can criticize here is not the family but rather statements that don't make any sense. 3-4 times in the past few days I've heard or read "pro-life" conservatives say something like this: "They say starving Terri to death will be painless. Oh yeah, well I'd like to see them starve her husband to death so he can see what it feels like." This is just one of the most common expressions supporting lethal violence in regards to this case. It is usually coupled with a lack of recognition of the husband's extraordinary efforts on her behalf for all this time, as if he's been cynically plotting her murder all this time or something.

Shouldn't that end the discussion right there? I mean, this clearly isn't a discussion about life anymore, it's just a matter of who gets to "win". And this sort of thing is pretty common. Republicans claim to stand up for individual rights and/or state's rights then routinely trample them (Patriot Act, bankrupty bill, no-child-left-behind, Shiavo bill) when it is convenient. Republicans claim life is infinitely precious to them, but in the same breath, they support without reservation the war in Iraq or various right-to-die initiatives or actions (e.g. Bush as governor, Frist as doctor, DeLay as family member). Republicans claim to be fiscal conservatives. Enough said.

Exactly what core principles can Republicans be trusted to uphold, aside from gun rights?

The long history of the Democratic party successes show that they consistently stand up for the poor. They disavow discrimination (and don't tell me white males suffer from discrimination ... find me a white male willing to switch places with a black or hispanic male for all the "benefits" first). They promote the rights and equality of women. They support the people in the military (G.I. Bill), not just the military. And that's just for starters.

What history do Republicans have to be proud of in the past, say, 100 years? What major accomplishment (in the face of opposition from the other party, so Reagan's defense spending doesn't count because Democrats passed it, unlike civil rights legislation, for example) can they claim?

Posted by Observer at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2005

Random Easter Stuff

Too much depressing news today, and I'm too tired to dig for the links, but these stories are easy to find at the first few blogs in my sidebar. Let's see, turns out torture and abuse were (are?) more or less routine in Iraqi prisons, and the ok for that came down from on high. Nothing new there, but since there won't be any hearings, etc., then there's nothing making easy-to-broadcast news, so the networks revert to Michael Jackson, etc.

Turns out most of the Republicans making fanatic pro-life stands on the Shiavo case have a whole bunch of hypocrisy on that issue in their backgrounds (including Bush, Frist and DeLay). Again, nothing new there, Republicans are hypocrites on nearly everything, it seems, but about the only time it is reported, it gets the "but Democrats are just as bad" treatment. As if.

There's just so much, on some days, I'm just too overwhelmed to post about any one thing. That's just two of about ten stories I read about today that drained my energy and reminded me just how much the ConservaBorg are fucking up America. Bleh.

I will say, though, that Easter today worked out pretty well. Poor Michelle was not feeling well this morning (after being the Easter trooper last night and getting everything done for them while I was falling asleep), but she rebounded by about midday, and we got to see my dad and stepmom. They had some fun things set up for the kids, and the kids ended up with a lot of candy, a little money, and a few cool gifts today. They even behaved well pretty much the whole day, except for Cody throwing an empty laundry basket that hit Daniel accidentally, but no harm done, and he got the clean up the backyard for his trouble, which needed doing anyway.

This week will be busy, because it ends with an essay exam in my survey course. Going to be flooded with emails all week, then a weekend full of grading after that. Plus, we have two more candidates (the last of six) to interview for a position in the department. At this point, I really don't care who we pick, because they're all pretty much equally useless when it comes to teaching chops, and the department needs good teachers to recruit good students. Since they need research money and grant writing success even more, only the usual lip service will be paid to teaching skills, I imagine.

I got a little ego boost a few weeks ago when the faculty in our department all attended a meeting called by the upper division students (all 10-12 of them). First question on the agenda was why do I not teach more upper division classes. I told them mainly it is because I'm happy doing what I'm doing, and plus blah blah blah many other reasons that are good for the department. But what they were really saying is that they wish someone else in our department could teach in such a way that they didn't have to learn everything out of a book.

Not that they're all bad. I'm sure some of them teach their classes a lot better than I could teach the same material. It's just really hard, and the students are going to struggle with it no matter what. When I was taking the same set of classes, I didn't have any good teachers to write home about, so I ended up learning it from my peers. I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of smart people who were patient and friendly, and they wanted me to get done so they could have a seventh player for Diplomacy or another ultimate frisbee player or someone else to drive to the movie from the dorm, etc.

Anyway, we told the students they're stuck with the usual teachers for upper division, and they'll have to gut it out. Unfortunately for them, from what I've seen so far, the new faculty member we're going to get (if it is one of these six) is going to be a clear downgrade from the one we currently have, teaching-wise. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 PM | Comments (3)

March 26, 2005

Nothing's Sacred

Lewis Black usually does some very funny bits called "Back in Black" once or twice a week on "The Daily Show". At the library last week, I saw that he had put out a little comedy book called "Nothing's Sacred". It's kinda funny at first, especially if you are familiar with the comic and can read it in his voice. Most of it is sort of an autobiography of Black's first thirty years or so. There were three or four laugh-out-loud lines in the book, which is pretty short (lots of big margins, two-page chapters, etc), but not enough to make it worthwhile. I probably should've gotten the audio version.

The gold standard for comedian books, for my money, was Jerry Seinfeld's "SeinLanguage". I bought that before a flight many years ago, and the flight went by in about ten seconds. It was a very funny book, also improved if you can read it in Jerry's voice (which is easy if you've watched hundreds of "Seinfeld" episodes like me). If you haven't read it but are a "Seinfeld" fan, I'd recommend it.

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

March 25, 2005

Farewell II

I got to my nice round number of coins today, so I figured this would be a good a time as any to call it quits on Clan Lord. I threw a big orga bounty hunt and hit the library. It was more fun than I thought it would be but still has all the baggage of a real-time online game. I'm better off playing Heroes III or Diablo II when I have the time to play games. Was nice of Delta Tao to offer the free play window for a while.

Posted by Observer at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

March 24, 2005

Crumbled Cracker

The editors on "Survivor" can be brutal. James, the homophobic ne'er-do-well cracker, was never likeable, but they really put the target on his back last night. I couldn't figure out in the past why he got a free pass from his tribe after so many screwups, but I guess with so few left in the tribe, he could no longer hide. Him and his "Hey, Vern!" and his filthy boxer briefs are sitting out the rest of the show, and good riddance.

This show we got to see James as the only tribe member to contribute nothing to a rare Ulong win, the "navy knot genius" whose super knot got untied in about thirty seconds to lose the challenge for his team. We also got to see him talk about how "his God" wanted him to win instead of Ibrehem's God (Allah), and we got to see Jeff Probst chew him out for being such a dope in challenges while at the same time criticizing Ibrehem for one screwup (which James chewed Ibrehem out for at the start of the show ... no one has been chewing out James for screwing up so much, that's for sure).

I guess by making James such an obvious villain, it makes it easier for viewers to stomach the depressing reality of another Ulong loss.

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2005

Bad Data

I know this is going to come as a shock, but it looks like Bushco is lying about the environment. Again. "What will we tell the children?" Hell, that's easy. I tell them don't ever trust any Republican. Ever.

When the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a rule last week to limit mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, officials emphasized that the controls could not be more aggressive because the cost to industry already far exceeded the public health payoff.

What they did not reveal is that a Harvard University study paid for by the EPA, co-authored by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists had reached the opposite conclusion.

That analysis estimated health benefits 100 times as great as the EPA did, but top agency officials ordered the finding stripped from public documents, said a staff member who helped develop the rule. Acknowledging the Harvard study would have forced the agency to consider more stringent controls, said environmentalists and the study's author.

Maybe that explains all these moron ConservaBorg. Their moms must've eaten too much fish while the little fascists were in the womb.

You know it's hopeless arguing about global warming with these people. They've got a real, definite threat to public health staring them in the face with immediate, measureable consequences, and they won't even be honest about that. And why should they? Do you honestly think any Bush voter is going to change their mind just because of a silly thing like lying about Mercury in the environment? Hell, these fuckbrains were willing to swallow a whole war based on lies and come begging for more. Mercury's nothing!

Oh, and speaking of numbers and statistics, Eric Alterman points to this great numerical summary of the Boy King's Pre-emptive War About WMD uh Evil Dictators uh UN Resolutions uh Rape Rooms uh Al Qaeda and Iraq uh Spreading Freedom in the Middle East.

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

March 22, 2005

Faithful

With Spring Training upon us, I thought I would look back at the past season through the eyes of a winner, rather than as a typical Rangers fan, so I read "Faithful" by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan, two Red Sox fans who just happened to be writing a diary-style book during the season that Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino. Basically, these two start in Spring Training, trading entries (and short emails) back and forth (King's stuff in boldface to separate the two) and go all the way through the World Series in this fashion.

My first impression is that it must be nice to be rich enough to afford to live such a life of leisure that you can pretty much go to any baseball game (and get incredible seats) whenever you get the urge, including jaunts down to Florida for Spring Training. Anyway, these guys talk like a couple of pretty knowledgeable baseball fans, and I felt like I was overhearing a conversation between Toby and John back in grad school regarding the Mariners. There were lots of funny insider joke lines that really only work if you follow baseball closely, and there were several things that were clearly for Red Sox nuts only, no one else would understand.

So while the stories were entertaining, the middle of the book, describing May through August really dragged for me. The #1 rule of fantasy baseball is, to steal a phrase, don't talk about fantasy baseball. That is to say, there is only one person in the whole world who is interested in your team, and that is you. No matter how dramatic things are, it is still a fantasy league and no one else has the slightest inkling of concern for what you are going through. I felt similar at times about the Red Sox stories. Sure, I care in some sense, but I'm sure this book would be enjoyed much more by a real fan of the team, not just a generic fan of baseball who follows another team (especially if you are in the National League).

The last part regarding the playoff run, the meaningful Yankees games, the championship series and the world series were very entertaining, and the book's strength is clearly the first few and last few chapters. Stephen King's excerpts were more fun to read than Nan's simply because he's more approachable. King's writings are more for the generic fan while Nan is speaking to the hard core Sox fan. It's a good book, if a bit long, and if you are a Red Sox fan, I would imagine this is a must read.

Posted by Observer at 07:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2005

Different Perspectives

Those of you who read this blog regularly probably wonder about just how "balanced" I really am. After all, there are certain issues that I pay attention to that other liberal blogs pay attention to and certain issues I just don't care about (but are played up to the hilt over in the nutball right-wing blogosphere), like the Shiavo issue. In a sense, one problem with the two sides of the blogosphere is that we tend not to listen too much to one another.

I don't make a habit of visiting a lot of right-wing blogs myself. Life is too short to read that kind of crap. But I do keep up via memeorandum, and if they're talking about something I feel relevant, I'll go see what their point of view is. I'm open to different kinds of ideas, and I think it is important to expose yourself to the other side. I just don't think I need to immerse myself in it and/or grant it some kind of equivalent status or credibility compared to the blogs I usually read. Crap is crap, and that's just all there is to it.

But once in a while, this lack of perspective from the other side (which is really just an echo chamber where dissent is routinely linked to treason or at the very least unpatriotic behavior) really explains a lot. There are a lot of people out there who would do well to pay attention to some of what liberal blogs talk about, but they simply don't expose themselves to it. And it is their loss. Digby explains:

By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavo's because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family", the congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

Now there are those in the ConservaBorg sphere of influence who would read this and discount what is being said in liberal blogs purely out of habit. But if you go back and explore each of the factual points Digby is making, there's really no disputing any of it. And he didn't even go on to make the obvious connection between the rampant killing going on in Iraq on both sides and the absolutely unbending respect for life these right-wingers are supposedly displaying here. So at some point, wouldn't you think conservatives would actually look at some of the relevant facts instead of discounting them simply because they don't like the messengers?

Really just a rhetorical question. I know most nutballs gave up on listening to anything non-Rush-like years ago while simultaneously deriding liberals as closed-minded zealots. Still, it is useful once in a while to point out this basic fact, because I think most people forget that a large number of people in this country are complete and total fuckwits. And believe me, they are well-represented in our government. This is an example of why I treat them with contempt. And it is also a great example of the weakness of big media. They have a lot of manpower and can do some good reporting, but when it comes to emphasis, politics and the framing of issues, they are utter tools.

Posted by Observer at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2005

Museum of What?

This is a good example of why living in the Bible Belt can be a beating:

Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.

The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South. But because only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science documentaries, the decisions of a few can have a big impact on a film's bottom line - or a producer's decision to make a documentary in the first place.

People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including "Cosmic Voyage," which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; "Galápagos," about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor.

"Volcanoes," released in 2003 and sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and Rutgers University, has been turned down at about a dozen science centers, mostly in the South, said Dr. Richard Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer who was chief scientist for the film. He said theater officials rejected the film because of its brief references to evolution, in particular to the possibility that life on Earth originated at the undersea vents.

Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after showing it to a sample audience, a practice often followed by managers of Imax theaters. Ms. Murray said 137 people participated in the survey, and while some thought it was well done, "some people said it was blasphemous."

In their written comments, she explained, they made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."

On other criteria, like narration and music, the film did not score as well as other films, Ms. Murray said, and over all, it did not receive high marks, so she recommended that the museum pass.

"If it's not going to draw a crowd and it is going to create controversy," she said, "from a marketing standpoint I cannot make a recommendation" to show it.

You know, it's bad enough that these ignorant nutballs are voting this city, this state, this country into fucking oblivion, but they have to fucking control what we can watch at the SCIENCE museum?!? It's called the Museum of *science* for a reason, because they talk about *science* there, not your fucking fantasy or whatever interpretation of the Bible you happen to think is absolutely 100% correct and everyone else must be completely wrong and headed for hell.

You know, if they just say they don't want it because it's a boring film or poor quality or what have you, fine. Whether it offends a creationist just shouldn't be a criterion. Actually, though, I'm not criticizing the museum, I'm criticizing the society that forces the museum to have to think this way. I'm sure I would do the same thing if I were in Ms. Murray's shoes. There are plenty of good films out there, so why go through the hassle and risk funding, risk protests, etc.

You take a stand against these people and nobody is going to notice. The newspaper isn't going to care (and you better hope they don't draw attention to it or you'll be getting threatening phone calls in the middle of the night). You'll probably just get fired for the trouble and someone else will be hired who is willing to be cowed by the Church Lady crowd.

And of course, there are the ripple effects...

Some in the industry say they fear that documentary filmmakers will steer clear of science topics likely to offend religious fundamentalists.

Large-format science documentaries "are generally not big moneymakers," said Joe DeAmicis, vice president for marketing at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and formerly the director of its Imax theater. "It's going to be hard for our filmmakers to continue to make unfettered documentaries when they know going in that 10 percent of the market" will reject them.

Others who follow the issue say many institutions are not able to resist such pressure.

"They have to be extremely careful as to how they present anything relating to evolution," said Bayley Silleck, who wrote and directed "Cosmic Voyage." Mr. Silleck said he confronted religious objections to that film and predicted he would face them again with a project he is working on now, about dinosaurs.

Of course, a number of factors affect a theater manager's decision about a movie. Mr. Silleck said an Imax documentary about oil fires in Kuwait "never reached its distribution potential" because it had shots of the first Persian Gulf war. "The theaters decided their patrons would be upset at seeing the bodies," he said.

"We all have to make films for an audience that is a family audience," he went on, "when you are talking about Imax, because they are in science centers and museums."

He added, however, "there are a number of us who are concerned that there is a kind of tacit overcaution, overprotectedness of the audience on the part of theater operators."

In any event, censoring films like "Volcanoes" is not an option, said Dr. Field, who said Mr. Low, the film's producer, got in touch with him when the evolution issue arose to ask whether the film should be altered.

"I said absolutely not," recalled Dr. Field, who retired from the National Science Foundation last year.

Mr. Low said that arguments over religion and science disturbed him because of his own religious faith. In his view, he said, science is "a celebration of what nature or God has done. So for me, there's no conflict."

Dr. Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer, recalled a showing of "Volcanoes" he and Mr. Low attended at the New England Aquarium. When the movie ended, a little girl stood in the audience to challenge Mr. Low on the film's suggestion that Earth might have formed billions of years ago in the explosion of a star. "I thought God created the Earth," she said.

He replied, "Maybe that's how God did it."

There, see? Is that so hard? Can't people be satisfied and respectful of different interpretations? Hell, even the Vatican thinks the Big Bang, expanding Universe, etc., is a valid interpretation of the story of creation.

The thing is, I wouldn't be so upset with all these fundies if they would just be consistent. You know, I could live with the little inconvenience of having a contingent of batshit crazy people forcing silly beliefs down my throat if they would train that some literal microscope on the philosophy of Jesus Christ. Then they wouldn't support all these rich bastards, they wouldn't want to cut benefits on the poor or pass regressive tax laws, etc. Why is it that people are so infatuated with the idea of a 6,000 year old Earth (or that homosexuals are awful for that matter) but then turn a blind eye to the parts of the Bible they're not comfortable with?

BTW, I bash papers like the NY Times all the time about the political coverage, but credit where it is due. They have a legion of reporters doing lots of interesting things and keeping people educated as best they can. Without newspapers, political blogs would never function because bloggers rarely ever "make" news or do any reporting. We just repeat and comment, often only when we have something critical to say. It's important sometimes to recognize that newspapers have a valuable role to play. It's just a shame they are so flawed and corporate-minded when it comes to politics.

Posted by Observer at 07:32 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2005

Lost Bet

Sarah, our 12-year-old, has been on a mini-rampage these past couple of days. I'm not sure what, if anything, is stressing her out, but she has been snapping at everyone. If I ask either of the boys to watch Daniel for a little while, it's no problem. They're good as gold. If I ask Sarah to do that or any other chore, it's like I'm asking her to cut off her finger. I get the big sigh. The mutterings full of "why me? not fair. stupid. hate this." and so on.

Yesterday morning was the last straw for me. Sarah has toasting some waffles for breakfast, and Justin wanted to go over to that part of the kitchen counter to get some bread or something. Sarah starts guarding the area like it was the basket in the last two seconds of the tournament championship. Justin manages to get past her and grabs the bread, and he gets rewarded with a solid smack to the shoulder. He smacks her back and they start yelling at one another.

So I give Justin a small lecture about avoiding trouble and give Sarah a nice, loud one about *being* trouble. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, why she has to be so mean to all of us. I mean, I understand if she snaps at her brothers after they've been tormenting her. As I told Sarah, her 10-year-old brother Cody has complete control over Sarah's negative outbursts. He can provoke an outburst from her in 30 seconds flat if he wants to, and he can arrange it so that to the untrained eye, it looks like it is all her fault. He's such a little lawyer. I hope he uses his powers for good and not evil someday.

Anyway, Sarah responded that no, she's not a mean person, she's not like that, and she doesn't know why she lashes out. I told her that I doubted she could control it but that I would be willing to give it a shot. I made a $5 bet with her. If she can go 24 hours, starting at 10am yesterday, without treating someone else in the family in a rude or disrespectful way (including mean looks, fist-shaking, even if quiet), I would pay her $5. A single outburst and that bet's off, and she pays me $5.

I told her to think about it. Meanwhile, Cody overhears this and smells money. "I want to do it!" he insists. He tries to make some kind of bargain about how maybe he could make a bet that he could avoid being a pest for 24 hours or something. No deal, Mr. Lawyer. I know exactly how that would turn out. He would genuinely try his best and maybe win it, which would be the best outcome, but not surprising, because Cody has long streaks during which he avoids being a brat. I tried to explain to him that he didn't have anything to prove, but not surprisingly, he wasn't very satisfied by this.

The worst case would be that he would slip into "pest" mode accidentally, and I would call him on it, then we'd have a long Clintonian discussion of what constitutes "pest" behavior, whether he was provoked, whether he had good reason to be that way at that moment, what he really meant to say or do, etc. Then he'd be triple mad because not only would he be in trouble for being a pest, he'd lose out on five bucks (the money clearly the worst aspect of the whole deal).

So Sarah thought about it and agreed, and sure enough, for the rest of the day, she was a complete angel. She didn't hide in her room like I figured she might. She even played some video games with the boys, helped with Daniel, practiced with her baritone, brushed her teeth, cleaned her room, etc. without getting in a huff about any of it. Looks like she'll win her bet, so next time, maybe I'll extend it to 48 hours and so on. To be honest, as bad as she has been lately, 24 hours of cooperative Sarah may have been worth five bucks.

Posted by Observer at 09:12 AM | Comments (2)

March 18, 2005

Media Distractions


A world in which conservatives are satisfied with the media.
From Ben Sargent

You may not be aware of this, but Congress recently passed a gift to the credit card companies that screws over everyone except the super-rich. It goes without saying (doesn't it?) that Republicans supported this 100% and pushed it through. Some Democrats (like Joe Lieberman) pretended to vote against it and pretended to be outraged by it, but decent people weren't fooled, despite most of the media pretending to be too stupid to understand the difference between rhetoric and reality. Of course, these same media will turn around and pretend to be all post-modern when it comes to elections, wondering why people don't seem to care or why the heck politicians are just so slimy (big surprise, there's no one to hold them accountable).

Instead of talking about things that truly influence the financial well-being (and societal well-being) of most Americans, we are treated to hearings about steroids. Big fucking whoop. We are outsourcing torture to countries we supposedly abhor, yet we continue to pretend we are somehow morally or culturally superior to people we look down upon. We are losing brave men and women to a war that never had a purpose and has no end in sight. Every time we "turn a corner" (anyone remember the elections?), it gets worse, not better, and the casualty count accelerates just a little bit more.

We have top officials like Wolfowitz, on record, explaining how the Iraq war and reconstruction would pay for itself, how we wouldn't have (or need) that many troops over there, etc. One after another, they are wrong wrong wrong, so catastrophically wrong that I don't know how they show their faces in public except to assume they have ZERO shame. We have a president concerned about problems with social security (which he admittedly has no plan to address, yet Democrats are being bashed for not providing solutions, only opposition to stupid changes) when his own programs cause budget problems orders of magnitude greater.

But no, under a Republican regime in Congress, we finally have the first notable, heavily covered, Senate hearings since Clinton got his blowjob and everyone got all offended. Over what? Over social security? Iraq? Torture and Abu Ghraib? Treasonous leaks to the media? The deficit?

Nope, a dog and pony show about steroids. Hell, they don't even need to bother with the distraction, what with the Robert Blake/Scott Peterson/Michael Jackson saturation coverage by much of the media. And the Moron Americans lap it up and keep coming back for more.

I hear a lot of talk around college about leadership. All these students want to prove what great leaders they are. They take "leadership" classes or go to "leadership" seminars and retreats. Well, where the fuck is the leadership in the media? About the only leadership I see is the person "brave" enough to stand up and say, "Dammit, I don't care about anything else but our stock price and revenues!" Where is the person in the media world who will stand up and proclaim the need to serve the public interest and not just cover the latest trivial interest of the public?

Where is the person who will dispatch the lazy "on the one hand" reporting and start putting verified (and verifiable) factual assertions into articles unapologetically, without letting the other side try to cloud the issue or smacking them down when they do? A strong and vibrant press is crucial to the survival of our nation. What we have now is a cancer. Tumors like Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity or the rest of the ConservaBorg celebrities are just symptoms.

Posted by Observer at 07:22 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2005

Another Loss

Look, just merge the tribes, ok? Geez, this is just so sad watching Ulong get beaten down time and time again. It's not that I can find a way to really care about any of the Ulong members. I can't imagine rooting for any of them to win, but at some point, sheer pity takes over, even for James in his dirty underwear, you know? This week, having to go through two tribal councils that took up half the show, was brutal. Talk about piling it on, Ulong had to sit there and watch Koror chow down on their beef stew reward.

At least this time Koror had to vote someone off. Willard looked happy to go. I have a bad feeling, though, that the way alliances seem to be shaping up with Koror, Tom's little group is going to be on the short end of the stick if there are a couple more votes. And Tom is by far the most likeable character, kind of like a not-so-loopy, competent version of Rupert. I don't think there's any way Tom will make it to the end because he's just perceived as too big of a threat, but I'm sure we'll see Tom again if they have another All-Stars edition.

The big surprise this time, I guess, was that each tribe had to vote someone off. Not sure why. It shortens the show from its standard number of weeks, but then they could make up for it later by having a week in which no one is voted off. Maybe they'll do that after the merge or something. I wonder if they'll just put off the merge until Ulong has to vote themselves completely out of existence (who would cast the final vote?).

I know one thing the producers are trying desperately to do with "Survivor" is make the game less predictable. The most predictable element has been that after the merge, the dominant tribe picks off the smaller tribe so that the ensuing 4-6 weeks is boring. I guess we avoid that outcome, but at the cost of seeing Ulong continue to descend into the muck.

By the way, if you miss any episodes, wait a few days, and there will always be a very entertaining summary written up at Survivor Blows.

Posted by Observer at 07:12 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2005

A Good Grudge

It's tournament time, and Texas is looking at an early exit (either a first round loss to a very good Nevada team or a drilling in the 2nd round at the hands of Illinois). But that's ok, because Maryland didn't make the tournament, and that makes me happy. Maryland is my hate school. I always wish failure on them. You think it'd be A&M since I went to UT as an undergrad (86-90), but I actually don't mind when A&M does well (as long as they lose to UT, because that's the focus of their entire pathetic lives).

When I was at UT, I used to go to a lot of Lady Longhorns basketball games. They were very good (top five), so they almost always won, and they were always competing for a title. Plus the crowds were so small you could sit wherever you wanted. The sister or cousin (can't remember) of one of my friends was on the team, and that friend was the hook that dragged a lot of us down there. We lived in a big dorm on campus, so we were always looking for something to do, and the coliseum was a two minute walk with free student tickets. Eventually, we all became fans.

Well, during one tournament appearance at home (they have to give top teams home court to draw decent crowds), they lost to Maryland on a last-second shot. A really good senior class was leaving that year, and it was their last time on the court, so the band struck up the alma mater, as is traditional for every school. After a game is over, the home team band of any school will always play the alma mater, and the opponents usually respect it. About halfway through, all the players are crying, etc., and the jackass Maryland band (which we were sitting a few rows behind) starts playing their fight song and flipping off the crowd. It was the capper of an obnoxious night by those goons.

It's stupid, but there it is. I don't wish failure on the school. I just want the members of that band to live unhappy lives, and if Maryland losing or getting screwed might make a little rain fall into their lives, so much the better. I hope they're crying their eyes out and moping around all day in their Maryland sweats about how they got screwed. If others are unhappy besides the members of that band, it is unfortunate collateral damage. I can hold a grudge with the best of 'em.

I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Posted by Observer at 07:29 AM | Comments (8)

March 15, 2005

CL Observations

I've been spending some time over Break coin whoring with Siri. Coming out with Koric is pretty meaningless since I'm not interested in any kind of long, organized hunt. That makes Koric just a more powerful library Horus healer, and there are a ton of those around that people trot out at the drop of a hat. I brought out Koric to try the 4c test just for fun, and I couldn't believe it when he passed. About the only thing Siri can do well (crappy atkus/darkus but tons of swings and great defense) is coin whore, so that's all I do when I feel like popping on.

Siri can clear around 1000c/hour if I stay at it, even in pod forest (because Siri has decent Dentir training and can harvest mandibles). I figure I'll save up my coins for a few weeks while I have spare time, then blow it all on a big Orga bounty hunt like the old days. I think if I were going to come back to CL, I would keep Siri and Koric in the library and just start over with a newbie. The game has changed, and it really seems to favor the up-and-coming high-atkus tagger who can vanquish lots of stuff and has decent enough defense/histia to survive in a swarm for a bit. There's still a lot of stuff such a character can do solo, though coin whoring is tough if you're built for rank whoring.

Most times when I'm on and there are, say, 30 or fewer people on, there will be maybe 1-2 mystics, 2-3 healers and the rest fighters. Sometimes it's all fighters, out ore-hunting, coin whoring or whatever. I can always tell when a rank whore character (usually a one-swing-wonder zo or fen) is trying to coin whore because they always leave all the junk (rats, chiggers, vermine, birds) behind when clearing a sn'ell. Then it doesn't respawn as well the next time, but what can you do when you can only swing every so often?

Nobody bothers bringing their healers out into TC to socialize much during low-number times, from what I can see (I don't stay in town for longer than it takes to get out, though). When someone needs a heal, they get someone to bring out their library healer for a bit, then it's right back to all-fighters again. More than once, I've seen newbies standing around town center waiting for a heal but no healers on at all. I don't bother getting Koric out to help because I know it's usually just a matter of seconds before, right on cue, a library healer comes out when someone is injured in town. Algernon isn't around much (which is fine by me).

Koric used to be big on rescues, but from what I see on the sunstone traffic, most of the rescues are being done by fighters with chains now. Oh sure, sometimes someone will get a whole rescue party together with 1-2 real healers and go find a fallen, but more often than not, the fallen gets dragged to town (because they're all rat-chewed) and a couple of lib Horus healers come out to heal, then the clickers' fighters come back out and go about their business.

I guess that's just the natural evolution of the game. The biggest mistake (I think) was that Delta Tao made it too easy (cheap) for people to have other characters on the same account, at one point giving everyone an extra whether they wanted it or not. Now, since there are usually too few people clanning for a critical mass to organize a big hunting group (e.g. 5-7 fighters, 5 healers or maybe 4 + 1 mystic), everyone spends the majority of their time clanning with fighters, because they can go off and do stuff by themselves. Healers can't, at least not nearly as effectively.

That's one reason I originally tried to make Koric a rescue healer. I was on a lot when there weren't big hunting groups going out, plus I didn't know too many people (everyone else seemed to have an pre-CL ooc friend playing the game, but I didn't). So I figured rescue healing was fun and gave me something rewarding to do while I waited around for something big to happen. Sometimes, rescue healing was so fun I'd blow off hunts, then people stopped asking, which was my bad.

Oh well, just some random percolating thoughts while killing kitties for my 3-4 readers who know what the hell I'm talking about.

Posted by Observer at 10:26 PM | Comments (12)

End in Sight

We just got back from Daniel's broken leg check-up appointment, and the orthopedic surgeon gave us great news. Looks like the little guy is going to get his cast off in three weeks, so that means only six weeks (instead of 7-8+ like we feared) since the leg was broken. We have the calendar marked for Tuesday, April 5 at 9am. He's gonna be real sore for a while after that thing comes off, but at least we'll be able to bathe that stinky body. Michelle will undoubtedly update about this tonight or tomorrow sometime if she can find time among all of her work responsibilities.

Now we're home, and since the kids are on Spring Break (so am I), they're helping to keep Daniel amused. I've got them playing with Daniel in his room in 30 minute shifts this afternoon, and he seems very happy with the attention. The three older siblings don't really seem to understand how much Daniel wants their attention, and it is easy for them to hide in their rooms with video games/movies or hide outside playing in the yard while Daniel struggles to make his way around the house and find things to do. It's not really the kids' fault that they don't play with him much. They just don't think to offer. Daniel got such a kick out of seeing the three of them in the hospital, and just now when Justin went in to play with Daniel, he was rewarded with "Ja-da, Ja-da!" very loudly.

On a completely different subject (DAMMIT QUIT TRYING TO GET INTO MY LAP ISABELLA) I also read in the paper today that Air America will at last be coming to our area within the month. It'll be on a crappy low power station, of course, but it comes in ok at home and in the car (and on my walkman), I'm looking forward to tuning in some of the other shows besides Franken's more regularly, especially when the local sports station doesn't have anything good to talk about.

Posted by Observer at 01:26 PM | Comments (2)

March 14, 2005

Trailer

Here is the new Star Wars trailer, smaller or bigger, depending upon how confident you are that your video card can keep up. I'm counting the days.

Posted by Observer at 11:19 AM | Comments (2)

It Must Be the Shoes

Our 15-year-old, Justin, is on the track team during Spring semesters (cross country during Fall). Because of that, he runs a lot of miles and goes through a lot of shoes. We had a hell of a time finding the proper shoes for him. Seems like every pair we would try, no matter the price, would give him blisters. I asked the coach for some help on the matter, and he recommended a few brands such as Avia and Asics. He explicitly told us not to bother with New Balance, Saucony or Adidas.

So I went to a few stores and we eventually settled on some Avia running shoes. They were $30-$40, depending on whether there was a sale going on. He runs so many miles that we have to buy him new running shoes about every six weeks. The Avia shoes have been working fine since we started buying them for him last Fall. His latest pair is worn, so I took him to the store yesterday to buy one or two more pairs to finish out the school year. On the way, he starts telling me about how some of the other guys on the track team wear Asics shoes.

We've had this conversation before. I told Justin, "Ok, sure, but you have shoes that fit you fine, and those Asics are twice as much. And what if they give you blisters? If what you're wearing works, why switch?"

Justin explained, "Well, yeah, uh huh ... it's just that all the other guys wear Asics. Brandon and Robert and all them have two or three pairs."

I sighed, "Yes, right, and that's great. They have lots of pairs just like you do because they can't bring themselves to throw away good looking shoes that are all worn out, but maybe Asics fits them while the other stuff doesn't. That doesn't really answer my question."

"I know," Justin nodded. "But still."

And the conversation went on like that (add on another 3-5 minutes worth of circular talking that I won't bore you with) for about the tenth time in the last month, and it went pretty much the same as it always does. I admit, I have a cheap side. Who doesn't? But crap, buying $80 shoes when $40 shoes look better, fit fine and have worked for months ... well, that's just stupid. It isn't cheap.

Justin recently spent some of his saved up chore money ($35 worth) to buy FIFA Soccer 2005, which he and Cody just love to play on the Gamecube. So I put it to him this way, "Justin, would you rather have the Avia shoes plus FIFA Soccer or the Asics shoes, keeping in mind that you shoes only last you about six weeks."

He thought about it for a minute, but then he surprised me, because he genuinely said, "The shoes. I think I'd rather have the shoes." He was pretty torn about the choice, and that means a lot because he's been going nuts waiting to buy that soccer game. I don't think Justin was hamming it up, but maybe I am underestimating his ability to be manipulative (if he can be, at least that would be a good sign he is starting to think outside the box a little bit).

When we were in line to buy his Avia shoes, I had finally convinced him for the moment that buying Asics shoes was pretty pointless, and he said, "Oh, guess what? Did you know that Robert wears Asics socks?"

I just about slapped my forehead. We went through a discussion of how expensive athletic socks are, how fast they wear out, etc. See, I know Justin. I know how he is with his nice running shoes. We tell him to wear them only when he's running, but he ends up wearing them all the time because he likes them. He'd do the same thing with athletic socks. He'd wear them every day, complain when they aren't washed and ready for him, ruin them while screwing around with Cody in the backyard, etc. I'm not negotiating on those socks.

"But I would only wear them at meets!" Yeah, right. He can buy them himself. I went through something similar with Cody the other day. His shinguards are fine. He wears pretty much the same shinguards as everyone else on the team. They aren't weird or broken or anything, but I think one of his friends has a different color (keep in mind these go *under* thick soccer socks, so you never see them during games). So when we went to the soccer store to get Cody some new cleats the other day (another $40, thanks), he started bugging for new shinguards. I said, ok fine, you're paying for them.

Changed his tune pretty quick.

Justin will probably get the Asics shoes as an Easter surprise, because I'm too damn easy.

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

March 13, 2005

Exile

I guess yesterday was post #1000, which was an anniversary of sorts. Oh well.

A long time ago, a person I know very well wrote a couple of hint guides for Myst and Riven. One of them is linked here and hosted by one of Cyan's official web pages. For the life of me, I can't remember where the Riven Hint Guide ended up, though there is still a German version online. For all I know, maybe the English version vanished into the ether (I'm sure it still exists on a hard drive somewhere). The two hint guides moved from host to host for several years, each time the host would die one of those unexpected (and yet entirely expected) Internet domain deaths. I --, uh, the author never wanted to host them, because he had no idea whether he could afford it or not, and didn't want to go to the bother.

In those early days of the web, those two guides got tons of hits. This journal probably gets an average of 30-50 unique visitors per day. The hint guides used to get thousands, and that was seven or eight years ago. But that was before the days of goooooogle ads and so forth, and so the author never made any money off the guides. He did get some free stuff after meeting Robyn and Rand Miller (of Cyan), which was cool, and some recognition on their web site, but that was about it. Anyway, the hint guides are obsolete now that places like this have popped up, doing a thorough job of it and sucking up a little bit of ad revenue as a result.

Justin and Cody (our 15 and 10 year old sons) recently started messing around with Myst a little bit on my old Mac G3/233 that is in their room. Justin asked me in the car if I knew anything about Myst. Heh. You don't know the half of it, son. When we were at Half-Price books today, I bought Myst III: Exile for eight bucks (I love waiting 3+ years to buy cool games, because they're still cool, I still love 'em, all the bugs have been fixed with downloadable patches, they run great on my behind-the-curve Mac, all the hint/strategy guides are out there and well-developed, and they're dirt cheap). Despite my familiarity and love for the first two games, I really never had a computer at home that was capable of what Exile needed to run well. Now I sort-of do (though the video card obviously isn't ideal because the movies are very jumpy), so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Unlike the first two, this one allows you to move around in a more free-flowing way, kind of like the perspective of a first-person shooter. Well, there's a reason I don't play those kinds of games. They make me nauseous. I played Exile for about an hour and a half last night, solved a couple of puzzles, moved all around the first island, etc., and I ended up with a terrific headache. Felt like I was going to throw up there for a few minutes. I wish there were a way to play it like the way Myst and Riven were set up. I'm not sure I'll be able to play it very much.

So far, if you overlook the vomit factor, it is a fun game, right along with the spirit of Myst and Riven. It's beatiful enough that it almost makes me want to see if I can find one of the recommended video cards for this Mac (Blue G3/300), but probably the solution is just a faster Mac. Maybe once I inherit the G4/800 from my office, I'll be able to successfully play in short spurts. I may fight through it anyway, but I think I'm missing out on some clues (or at least neat stuff) by not seeing the videos play properly.

Posted by Observer at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2005

Homecoming

Time for a book review. Today, I'll talk about Orson Scott Card's "Homecoming" series, a 5-book set that sorts with "The Memory of Earth". The premise is that, millions of years earlier when Earth was facing destruction due to constant wars, etc., they sent out colony ships. On one of the colony worlds, Harmony, the ship contains a computer-run device called the Oversoul, which prevents warlike impulses from breaking out and keeps the colony running smoothly.

As the Oversoul begins to break down, these warlike tendencies are starting to break out again, and so the Oversoul selects some individuals down on the surface of Harmony for a mission to help the Oversoul communicate with or travel to Earth, perhaps for repairs or further instructions. The people called are part of an extended family, and there are good ones and bad ones. The primary good character is Nafai, who has some similarities with Ender Wiggin. Nafai grows into an adult throughout the long timeline of the series.

Nafai's oldest brother, Elemak, gradually evolves during the series from your basic arrogant, immature, jealous jerk into a monster. Elemak is a provocative character, but he is just so rotten, I find it hard to accept the motivation of the people who decide to keep him around. And I find it hard to understand what is driving him to be so evil. I guess the payoff, though, is that lots of very interesting ethical situations develop, and it's neat to watch the characters (both good and evil) work through them. If everyone were content and working for the good of the whole, it would probably be a very boring series.

The first four books of this series involve the characters finding the Oversoul and travelling to Earth. I tore through these pretty quickly. The series didn't drag at all. Once they arrive at Earth, the fifth book is a bit of a mess, and if I had to do it over again, I would just read the first four and be done with it.

Posted by Observer at 10:09 AM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2005

Pity Party

Boy, poor Ulong tribe is on the outs. After losing a demoralizing three immunity challenges in a row, leaving them ripe for picking off when the tribes merge, Ulong lost both a major reward challenge (for a really cool shelter) and an immunity challenge this time. Plus they had to listen to Patronizing Jeff Probst tell them how poor they are doing a few times. I wonder why they decided to make it so easy for the contestants in this reward challenge. I don't remember ever letting them have a super shelter built for them. I imagine the weather must be about to get rough or something.

The immunity challenge was very violent. I was surprised by how mad Ulong was. I guess 11 days of getting beaten down by everything will rile you up. Poor James and Bobby Jon got beat twice despite all the trash-talking before hand. At least Angie and Ibrehem won a bout or two. James looks really dopey walking around in his underwear, and I had to laugh at his stereotypical comments about Coby. What a classic redneck. "Well, you know why I got beat by a homo, don't you? Because they're always, you know, working out in the gym." Welcome to the 21st century, James.

I was half-hoping they would mix the tribes up this week to try to prevent a boring and predictable mid-game (in which the stronger tribe inevitably picks off the weaker tribe one at a time), but maybe they'll do it next week now that there's an even number (14) again. In a way, though, it would be interesting if they didn't because Ulong would probably have to vote off one of their own again, and I can't imagine who they'd band together against. Koror must be wondering when the game will begin for them.

Posted by Observer at 10:44 AM | Comments (2)

March 10, 2005

What We Need

Via Bob Somerby, I found a link to a very good Gene Lyons column that puts the whole Dan Rather fiasco into proper perspective (Bob has been doing this all week, too, by the way, and it's very good reading):

Funny, but the last time CBS’ "60 Minutes" broadcast an unsubstantiated, ultimately discredited story embarrassing to the president of the United States, there was no investigation and nobody got fired.

Lyons is referring to star anti-Clinton witness, Kathleen Willey, and he goes on to talk about how the repeatedly discredited Swift Boat Vets kept getting airtime, how reporters routinely screwed up facts when it came to Kerry, Gore, Clinton, you name it.

Anyway, Bob is pretty upset that pundit programs keep scheduling "liberal" pundits on to talk about things like Dan Rather or Social Security, and these same pundits just keep screwing up. Part of the reason our side has a tough time getting our message out is basic incompetence. Right-wingers have their share of it, sure, but if they get caught in a lie, they just brazen it out and move on with no consequences.

One of ours gets caught screwing up, even if it's a debatable point (like it was with Rather or the more recent Eason Jordan), and the right-wingers in lockstep crucify the poor bastard. And we largely accept it because, hey, maybe they have a point, and we should be fair and argue this, and blah blah blah. What liberals need is a good healthy spokesman (like Dean) who can deliver an unapologetic smackdown once in a while. We have a few of them on Air America, and they are fun to listen to. I hope they keep expanding.

Posted by Observer at 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

March 09, 2005

Two W's Don't Make a Right

I just caught up on my baseball news and learned that the future just got a little bit bleaker for the Rangers.

Brace yourselves, fans. The Rangers have hired Woody Woodward (yes, *that* Woody Woodward) as assistant to director of player development. I lived in Seattle for six years. Haven't I had my quota of Woodward?

Posted by Observer at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

March 08, 2005

Starting Over

Spring training is upon us, and everybody is tied for first place. Unfortunately, Chan Ho Park is still putting on a Texas uniform. I've gone through the (depressing but believeable) Baseball Prospectus 2005 book analysis of the Rangers and am resigned to another season of watching other teams pass us. Have I mentioned before that, in addition to be a pompous what's-in-it-for-me rich guy Bush supporter, Tom Hicks (the Rangers owner) is also a hypocritical asshole? Sorry, I guess that's redundant.

I'll still follow the team and link a few good Ranger blogs over in the sidebar. Being the stathead that I am, I will have to extend my general disgust with the media over into the sports page. As usual, they are obsessed with all of the wrong things (batting average, "chemistry", home runs, rbi's) instead of things that win ball games (like on-base percentage, slugging, defense and pitching). Just go read this great blog about the latest silly atrocity.

Posted by Observer at 07:56 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2005

Oops.

Ok, I should have known better. I saw Sean Astin's "There and Back Again" on the new books rack at the library. It looked kinda short, and I thought, ok, maybe there's an off chance I'll find out something interesting about the making of "Lord of the Rings" that I didn't already get from the DVD extras.

Nope. Really, the book spends a lot of time on Sean talking about his early movie career (lots of mentions of "The Goonies" and "Rudy"), his approach to his career, his famous mom and dad, etc. It would be interesting to read if I had an inherent interest in the actor who played Samwise Gamgee, but I really don't. I just want to see a set of stories about LOTR that's different from what I'm already familiar with.

About the only thing of note in the book that I didn't already know (but could've easily looked up) is that the actor who played Bilbo (Ian Holm) was also the same guy who played the crazy android in "Alien". Huh. Ok, could've found that in IMDB, but oh well. There's several hours of my life that I'm not getting back.

Maybe it's because I recently finished Phil Hellmuth's book, but I found that the two had similar tones. Irritating whiners who recognize that aspect of their personality, but then they go on to whine about things anyway. I'm sure Astin's a likeable guy, and I envy him his experiences, but you should only read this book if you're a big Sean Astin fan, not just if you're a big LOTR fan.

Posted by Observer at 03:27 PM | Comments (2)

March 06, 2005

Beeg Weener

I won a radio contest today, first time ever. I was driving to get a haircut after dropping off Sarah at a friend's birthday party, and through the drone of DJ talk, I caught "10th caller at blah blah blah", so I dialed the number on my cell phone since I was waiting at a stoplight. First time busy, second time, the DJ picks up with, "Hello?" I knew I was the 10th caller, so I did the small-talk thing and went on hold, heard myself on the radio, then the DJ came back on to get my info.

First thing the guy asks for is my social security number. Huh? I guess they have to make sure that I'm eligible to win (or file with the IRS if the prize has much value). They got my address, date-of-birth, etc. to confirm everything, too. It's not much, really. Four tickets to the Arboretum for some kind of festival. I have to pick them up at the radio station, which is a bit of a beating (but also on the way to the Arboretum), but this will give us all something to do during Spring Break. I'm also eligible for a drawing tomorrow morning for a $1000 gift certificate to some landscaping company.

With Cody scoring his first goal of the soccer season yesterday and Justin coming in a solid 4th in his two-mile run, too, plus Michelle winning $50 on a two-dollar bingo scratch-off, maybe we're getting some luck back for the bad February (which is mainly just Daniel's broken leg). If I win that drawing tomorrow morning, statistics be damned, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket.

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

March 05, 2005

Who We Are

I'll share some words of encouragement for Democrats today from Athenae of First Draft:

When someone asks what we stand for, we say, "We are the party of equality."

We are the party of people who fought for a woman's right not just to choose, but to vote, to own property, to be tried by a jury of her peers, to stay home with her kids if she likes and work if she doesn't.

We are the party of people who fight for workers to have the same rights as their fat-cat company employers. We are the party that mandates fire escapes so that workers don't die because their bosses are cheap. We are the party that ensures your 9-year-old is in a school learning multiplication tables instead of on the assembly line beside you.

We are the party of people who believe we can overcome the things that divide us: poverty, racial segregation, a vicious class system that divides us into rich and destitute with no room for a middle ground. We are the party that can face down terrorism because we faced down fascism. We liberated the death camps. We opened the doors to freedom and democracy long before it became a fashionable brooch on today's convenient cloak.

We are the party of people who believe that there is no task to which Americans cannot put their hands and complete successfully. We are the party that beat back the Depression and led our nation during World War II. We are the party that said, let us send a man to the moon.

We are that party. And by that very definition, you know exactly what our opposition is.

Posted by Observer at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2005

The Soldier's Heart

I watched the Frontline show "The Soldier's Heart" yesterday off of the DVR. It follows the stories of a few soldiers who came home from the Iraq War and the psychological problems they had. Kinda scary to see a 21-year-old kid who looks like he's got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) trying to deal with it with 10 weeks of therapy before he's shipped back to Iraq for another year or more of duty. They say about one in three soldiers is coming back with some kind of psychological issue, but there's such a stigma against seeking help, a lot of it plays out very tragically.

When my dad was down to visit a couple of weeks ago, we got to talking about Justin (our 15-year-old). I told them that even though Justin has kinda favored the idea of a military career, there is no way I would allow him to sign up (or get citizenship to become eligible for the draft). Not while Bush (or anyone like him) is in charge of our military. Could you imagine (potentially) sacrificing a kid (or having him suffer an amputation or psychological issue that will haunt the rest of his life) just because Flight Suit Georgie has a hunch about the way the Middle East works? I don't talk politics with family, just to avoid arguments, but how this president treats our soldiers pushes my buttons like nothing else.

And don't try to tell me about Lebanon. I understand the ConservaBorg are falling all over themselves trying to give Bush credit for good news there (like they did with Libya). From now on, I'm sure any positive news that comes out of the Middle East is going to be credited to Bush, while all the bad news is the fault of the terrorists (or Bill Clinton). How can the same people who blame the recession on "the business cycle" because Bush can't control the economy (which I tend to agree with) ... how can these people pretend that Bush can somehow control what happens in the Middle East?

Posted by Observer at 09:35 AM | Comments (2)

Another Ulong Down

Poor Ulong gets stuck every week having to vote someone off. It's getting to the point now where I barely remember anyone from Koror other than superman Tom the NYC firefighter, who once again dominated a strength challenge and won immunity for his tribe. We spend most of every show dealing with Ulong having to vote someone else off or recovering from the most recent vote. Too bad the way this is working out. If they don't start mixing up the tribes soon, we'll lose all of the really likeable characters who are left on Ulong once the merge happens because Koror will outnumber them and pick them off as it usually plays out.

Ulong did win a reward challenge, but from the looks of it, they didn't get much out of it. They got fabric, sewing equipment and various other little tools, but from what I could tell, they didn't really take advantage of it. Bobby Jo looked pretty stupid trying to pin a diaper onto himself, and the rest of the fabric just got tied up into knots. Jeff (Probst) tried to hint (strongly) to Ulong that they needed to look around their campsite for other native material they could use, but I didn't see anyone taking advantage of that advice. Maybe they aren't using other past contestants as consultants, after all.

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (1)

March 03, 2005

Unprecedented Filibusters? Uh, No.

Brazen is really the word the best describes the ConservaBorg disinformation machine. The latest shit to come flying out of that thing is recycled from the previous term. It seems that the Democrats are Evil (again) because they are filibustering some of Bush's fine judicial nominees. Just for kicks,go take a look at the career highlights and opinions of this bottom-of-the-barrel bunch. As it turns out, for all the cries of Democratic obstructionism, 95% of Bush's nominees have been confirmed (as opposed to 65% of Clinton's).

With King Pill Popper leading the way on AM radio, right-wing nutballs everywhere are talking about how horrible and unprecedented is this idea of filibustering nominees. In general, of course, Republicans happily blocked a large number of nominees during the Clinton administration simply on ideological grounds, as John Dean discusses here. This was true even when Democrats held the Senate.

If you want to get nitpicky about it and say, well, it is *still* unprecedented, because Republicans have never actually voted to filibuster for the purpose of blocking a floor vote on a nominee ... well, that's wrong, too. Frist himself, the current majority leader, participated in a vote to filibuster a Clinton nominee back in 2000. And Republicans made history in 1968 with the first ever filibuster of a judicial nominee (Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas). Of course, more often, Republicans just complain (in that patented victim voice) that "All we want is an up or down vote on the Senate floor!" as if they hadn't repeatedly blocked Clinton nominees in committee, preventing just such a vote as a routine matter (which provoked little, if any, reaction from the media).

The best part is that someone like Frist goes on Meet the Press and claims that all this talk of filibustering on the part of the Democrats is "unprecedented". And how does the hard-hitting Pumpkinhead Tim Russert respond? Usually by staring off into space or moving on to the next topic. Occasionally, Frist will get challenged by someone, but he's never pressed honestly about it. That's your "liberal media" in action, getting to the bottom of the barrel as quickly as possible instead of the bottom of the story.

As usual, the most interesting and damning aspect of this whole sad affair is not the debate over whether filibusters are truly unprecedented. No, it is abundantly clear that Democrats are using the tools of the Senate just as Republicans have in the past. The questions I want to hear about are: Why are Republicans (and their surrogates in the corporate media) lying about it so brazenly? Why do otherwise intelligent political observers allow the lie to propagate unchallenged? Why do so many ConservaBorg bloggers feel the need to believe this lie so desperately? I think the answer to that last question is the desperate need to retain the status of victim. Republicans just don't know how to behave any other way. They're just going to keep playing the "I'm so hurt and offended!" card until it stops working.

Media Matters has plenty more on this, by the way.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2005

A Poor "Dialogue"

A standard stop along the road of scientific history includes a discussion of Galileo's famous book, "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems". In this book, Galileo, taking the character of the innocent scientific bystander, Salviati, listens to a debate between a believer in the Earth-centered model of the Universe (voiced by an embarrassing fool named Simplicio) and the Copernican sun-centered model that Galileo supported (voiced by an intelligent, educated man named Sagredo).

The fact that Galileo was ultimately closer to the truth doesn't change the nature of the book, which was pure propaganda. It set out to make fools of those who opposed Galileo (mainly the Pope at the time, Urban VIII) and convince the masses of Galileo's superior logic, wit and intelligence. It wasn't the first time this sort of technique was used to bring a scientific debate to the public's attention and, sadly, it wasn't the last.

Michael Crichton has carried on Galileo's grand tradition with "State of Fear", a thriller about eco-terrorism. It isn't nearly as focused or entertaining as his earlier books (e.g. "Jurassic Park" or "Disclosure") which also contain Crichton's scientific views voiced through mostly sympathetic characters while opposing views are mostly voiced through villains or idiots or both. The difference here is that the politics is laid on super-thick in a very clumsy way. It's almost like Crichton is trying his best to get the right-wing we-buy-books-by-the-metric-ton organizations behind his book. Instead of a good plot with some of Crichton's observations on science or society thrown in, this book feels like a long screed of Crichton's opinionated bullshit with a little plot thrown in to string it all together.

I'm convinced that he's got his usual contrarian axe to grind, but this time, he spent way too long on it and also stepped into territory that I happen to know a little bit about. Kind of like how Clancy likes to put stereotypical liberal views into the mouths of traitors and jerks in his later books, Crichton does it in a very heavy-handed, almost embarrassing way. And I know enough about the subject to see right through it, so much so that it is too distracting to really enjoy the book.

Crichton employs all the usual dust-raising arguments favored by fossil fuel industry shills. He confuses climate forecasting with weather forecasting. He (purposefully) cherry-picks local data sets instead of talking about global averages. He talks about model uncertainties individually without looking at the collective set. He talks about systematic biases in the data without any indication that these have been properly accounted for in the models. He asserts that scientists have to massage their data to support global warming or risk losing funding, somehow getting mainstream science confused with the tobacco industry. Sorry, there is just *not* an equivalence there.

He brushes off the fact that what few scientists try to publish fossil-fuel-industry supported views rarely get past serious peer review, and they are always funded by industry. He basically accuses every other scientist of being on the payroll of environmentalists (yeah, like they're just rolling in money, enough to fund legions of climate scientists) or at the very least hopelessly biased toward the cause of environmentalism. He talks about the drop in global average temperature during the middle of the 20th century (one of the few actual graphs in the book with global, rather than local, data) without noting the amazing correlation between temp and CO2 levels worldwide over the past 400k years. I guess if there's a noticeable anti-correlation for 20-30 years, that must wipe out the other 400k years of correlation.

The most obvious part is his use of footnotes. In the foreward to the book, Crichton very seriously notes that, oh yes, the footnotes are real references. And sure enough, they are. But Crichton only tends to footnote the papers that cast doubt on the idea of global warming (typically by presenting contradictory data on a local scale or by assuming way too much systematic error in measurements) without noting the legions of papers that say otherwise. And most of the time, he just skips footnotes altogether while the same character makes assertion after assertion. Look, either footnote and document *everything* or don't bother. Mixing fact in with fiction is useless. It's just so Crichton can step back when seriously challenged on some facts and say, in a nice Rush Limbaugh voice, "Hey, I'm only an entertainer!"

To add credibility to his case, Crichton has his stupid "pro-global-warming" characters throw out straw man after straw man. For example, stupid guy says (or, better, the stereotypical, slimy, egotistical, shallow Hollywood celebrity), "Everyone knows global warming is really happening and is caused by CO2 levels!" Really? Show me a scientific paper that uses the language of certainty like that. No, in reality, scientists notice a good correlation between temp and CO2, and we know the CO2 is going up to levels unprecedented in recent geological history, and we don't honestly know what will happen to temps and sea levels as a result. We can only quote (big) error bars. We also know global average temperatures are rising, and the levels are apparently unprecedented in recent geological history, but the cause isn't clear. The correlation between CO2 and temperature is worrisome enough, though, that it's a good idea to think about it, study it further, etc.

What a scientist like me *will* tell you is that it is pretty stupid to put all of that carbon in the air without at least making a big, big effort to look for alternative sources of energy. What a scientists like me *will* tell you is that government is not serious enough about finding alternatives, not serious enough about promoting fuel efficiency, not serious enough with research dollars toward real solutions, not serious about subsidizing what few alternatives there are, etc. No, according to Crichton, climate scientists who think global warming *may* be a problem don't exist. Scientists either think it is the end of the world by the next century (and cannot *possibly* be convinced otherwise because they are just so darned closed-minded -- those crazy scientists!) or they are smart and agree with Crichton's hero guy, who apparently specializes in arrogantly discrediting assertions that no serious scientist would support anyway.

Sadly, this is the perfect tactic to sow doubt in the mind of the scientifically illiterate Moron American. Your typical reader will likely come away from this thinking, "Wow, Crichton sure showed those librul science people a thing or two about global warming! Thank God I listen to Rush so those gummint scientists didn't fool me into thinking there's a problem with fossil fuel burning." Yes, that's an unfair and clumsy stereotype, but I just finished a book filled with that kind of shit, so cut me some slack.

I'll be fair and note that one point Crichton raised to criticize environmentalists is also a pet peeve of mine, and that is the frequent use of private jets by these people, which are a much bigger CO2 problem than all the Hummers in the world combined. In the grand scheme of things, neither is all that significant. It just gets under my skin. And yeah, everyone is wasteful in America, even people who think they're "green". And I'll admit that Crichton sounds a lot more reasonable in his afterword. The book doesn't come across that way at all.

All in all, this is an effort on par with Dan Brown's early books. It seems that Brown may be getting better (since "Da Vinci Code" was pretty good) while Crichton is coasting and getting all cranky and politicized, like Clancy. Too bad. I'm glad I got this from the library instead of buying it.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2005

4th Circle

I finally decided to drag Koric out of the library during the freebie time for old people like me who quit Clan Lord long ago. I put about 30-40 more ranks into Spirtus and the rest into (what else?) Horus. It wasn't much for so many years in the library, but I guess that's the lib xp cap for ya.

I decided to try the 4c test for old times' sake. I'm pretty sure I'm the highest ranked 3rd circle healer, with something over 2000 ranks, about 1200 of them in Horus. I kept trying the 4c test every week while I played, but I never got close to passing it. Wouldn't you know it, though ... this time I got set up where only two of the four cats could hit me, and I raised Glory an instant before I fell. It was totally bang-bang. So now Koric is 4th circle. I immediately went on the sunstone and groused about the lack of more healer tests, just so I would fit in.

Not that it means anything, because I'm just going to train Horus in the library for another couple of years until (if) there comes another time when I can come out to play for free. When I healed a couple of fallens in town center, I noticed they have healer messages now to let you know how fallen someone was. That's a big plus. I'll see what sorts of messages I can get.

Not having a cad or a shield or a chain kinda sucks, but I could always borrow a shield and a chain from Siri (who has coin-whored enough to acquire both) if needed. And I could buy a cad with some of the rest of Siri's coins. My guess, though, is that I'll just bring Koric out for super-mangleds if and when I do have time to play. Otherwise, I'm having more fun coin-whoring with Siri.

Posted by Observer at 07:43 PM | Comments (5)

A minus?

I'm told that our school is consering moving from an A, B, C, D, F grading system to something with a little bit more granularity. A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc. When I was in grad school, I remember that we had a ton of granularity. Student grades in each course were recorded with a precision of 0.1. So you could get a 4.0 or a 3.9, 3.8, etc. I don't remember the grade-grubbing there being any worse than it is here.

It may mean it is time to get rid of final exam exemptions. I often give students a chance to accept a 5-8 point deduction off their final average if they want to skip the final. I calculate the average, including a final exam score that is the same as the average of their other exam scores. Then from that average a subtract 5-8 points. For really good students, it is still over 90, so they get an automatic "A". It's a popular feature for "B" and "C" students, too, especially those just getting pass/fail credit.

Posted by Observer at 01:43 PM | Comments (4)