May 31, 2005

18 Months Worse

Paul Krugman talks about the problems the Boy King's vanity war is generating within our military:

One of the more bizarre aspects of the Iraq war has been President Bush's repeated insistence that his generals tell him they have enough troops. Even more bizarrely, it may be true - I mean, that his generals tell him that they have enough troops, not that they actually have enough. An article in yesterday's Baltimore Sun explains why.

The article tells the tale of John Riggs, a former Army commander, who "publicly contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by arguing that the Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan" - then abruptly found himself forced into retirement at a reduced rank, which normally only happens as a result of a major scandal.

The truth, of course, is that there aren't nearly enough troops. "Basically, we've got all the toys, but not enough boys," a Marine major in Anbar Province told The Los Angeles Times.

Yet it's also true, in a different sense, that we have too many troops in Iraq.

Back in September 2003 a report by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the size of the U.S. force in Iraq would have to start shrinking rapidly in the spring of 2004 if the Army wanted to "maintain training and readiness levels, limit family separation and involuntary mobilization, and retain high-quality personnel."

Let me put that in plainer English: our all-volunteer military is based on an implicit promise that those who serve their country in times of danger will also be able to get on with their lives. Full-time soldiers expect to spend enough time at home base to keep their marriages alive and see their children growing up. Reservists expect to be called up infrequently enough, and for short enough tours of duty, that they can hold on to their civilian jobs.

To keep that promise, the Army has learned that it needs to follow certain rules, such as not deploying more than a third of the full-time forces overseas except during emergencies. The budget office analysis was based on those rules.

But the Bush administration, which was ready neither to look for a way out of Iraq nor to admit that staying there would require a much bigger army, simply threw out the rulebook. Regular soldiers are spending a lot more than a third of their time overseas, and many reservists are finding their civilian lives destroyed by repeated, long-term call-ups.

Two things make the burden of repeated deployments even harder to bear. One is the intensity of the conflict. In Slate, Phillip Carter and Owen West, who adjusted casualty figures to take account of force size and improvements in battlefield medicine (which allow more of the severely wounded to survive), concluded that "infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966."

The other is the way in which the administration cuts corners when it comes to supporting the troops. From their foot-dragging on armoring Humvees to their apparent policy of denying long-term disability payments to as many of the wounded as possible, officials seem almost pathologically determined to nickel-and-dime those who put their lives on the line for their country.

Now, predictably, the supply of volunteers is drying up.

Most reporting has focused on the problems of recruiting, which has fallen far short of goals over the past few months. Serious as it is, however, the recruiting shortfall could be only a temporary problem. If and when we get out of Iraq - I know, a big if and a big when - it shouldn't be too hard to find enough volunteers to maintain the Army's manpower.

Much more serious, because it would be irreversible, would be a mass exodus of mid-career military professionals. "That's essentially how we broke the professional Army we took into Vietnam," one officer told the National Journal. "At some point, people decided they could no longer weather the back-to-back deployments."

And we're already seeing stories about how young officers, facing the prospect of repeated harrowing tours of duty in a war whose end is hard to imagine, are reconsidering whether they really want to stay in the military.

For a generation Americans have depended on a superb volunteer Army to keep us safe - both from our enemies, and from the prospect of a draft. What will we do once that Army is broken?

Hell, I was talking about this 18 months ago and it has only gotten worse. I still remember with all the arrogance back in 2000 that Republicans thought it was horrible that because Clinton committed a few resources to stopping the madness in Bosnia and so forth, some divisions of the army might not be perfectly prepared for a major war effort. That wasn't enough, of course, so they had to lie about it and say two divisions would be "not ready for duty, sir!"

And everyone got scared and got their panties in a wad and thought they better vote for Republicans who are so so so much better on national security and military issues. God, what a sick joke. It breaks my heart to see so many in the military, those who sacrifice the most for our country, get so supremely screwed by the party and the presidency they have backed so strongly. Oh but, hey, at least they're safe from all the homos now, right?

Posted by Observer at 04:56 PM | Comments (4)

May 30, 2005

Last Year's Stunt

I've seen lists of the soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan in many different places now. They were broadcast on Nightline. They have been listed on the editorial pages of many major papers in the last few days, conservative and liberal outlets alike.

Why is it this year it is ok to honor those who died fighting in our country's name whereas last year it was a cheap, political anti-Bush stunt that conservatives (like Sinclair broadcasting) told us all to boycott?

I wonder if the kick-ass-America crowd will take any time out today to reflect on the evolution of the Bush doctrine from "preemptive attacks against all threats, even potential threats (i.e. weapons of mass destruction program related activities) in the distant future" to "nation building and spreading peace, freedom and democracy". Does anyone know now why we invaded Iraq and what makes all of these deaths and horrific lifelong injuries to our troops worthwhile?

Posted by Observer at 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

May 29, 2005

Catfish

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that my wonderful wife also surprised me on my birthday with a very yummy catfish dinner at Pappadeux's. She arranged a babysitter in advance and everything, and I forgot to mention it, but that was almost cooler than getting 1000 poker chips.

Posted by Observer at 06:46 PM | Comments (1)

Genius

The Rangers have won seven in a row, including a series-opening victory against the best team in the AL, the Chicago White Sox. Well, we won the series opener on the road against them last week, too, but then we ran into the buzzsaw of their #1 and #2 starters, the 15-2 combined Garland and Buehrle. We were supposed to face Garland yesterday, but it was raining at game time. The rain ended about 15 minutes after game time, but there were a few more light squall lines moving through. Nothing yellow or red on the radar, nothing that would make them drag the tarp out, necessarily.

By two hours after game time, the rain had all moved out of the area, and it was still just late in the afternoon, but the Rangers decided to postpone the game. I was really surprised. If we had tried to go to the game, I would've been pissed. I thought it would be changed to a doubleheader today, but instead, they pushed the postponed game back to sometime in August. This is awesome. First, it guarantees we don't lose the series. It lets us avoid the one weak link in our rotation (Drese gets pushed back a few days) and give some much needed extra rest to the older Astacio and to Chris Young (who also is facing the heaviest workload/pitch count of his young career).

And one of the White Sox bad boys gets pushed back to Monday, when they'll be playing ... awww, they'll be playing the Angels! This rainout might end up being better than a win. Almost. Too bad the Angels won yesterday, which puts us back in 2nd place by a half-game.

Posted by Observer at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2005

Monty Haul

Wow, even though I was (and still am) a little sick with some kind of bug, it was a very nice birthday. The kids were good and very helpful with Daniel while Michelle was at work, then when she came home, I got tons of gifts. Some good organizing stuff for the garage/barns, the Episode III soundtrack that I really wanted, a huge dark chocolate bar that I just downed half of, some other stuff my fever-addled brain can't remember right now, plus ONE THOUSAND poker chips. These are really nice 11.5 gram chips in two big, heavy suitcases. As soon as I get caught up on this book review, we are definitely going to have some poker nights around here.

Plus, Michelle baked a huge yummy pan of brownies as my birthday cake (we'll get another cake in a few days for Cody's birthday, so I asked for brownies), and I got to watch a whole baseball game from under my blanket, and the Rangers won #7 in a row, this time over the White Sox, with four home runs, a good performance by Chris Young, and even a cheap one-pitch save from Cordero. The next two games (against the Sox #1 and #2 starters with a combined 15-2 record) are going to be a real test. The Angels are playing the Royals now, so we'll have to win at least one of these next two to stay even with the Angels before we go back to easier opponents and they have to play the Sox again.

Posted by Observer at 12:22 PM | Comments (3)

May 27, 2005

Nuclear vs Solar

Kevin Drum has a post up about one of my pet issues: peak oil and the energy situation over the next century. Even the oil companies are now publishing things that take as a given we will reach peak oil production in the next 20 years (some say much sooner). The wingnuts are trying to argue that new oil will spring up from the deep Earth like something out of Zeus' forehead, but the whole abiotic oil thing is deeply suspicious to me.

Anyway, the comments are the most interesting part of the whole discussion, and I'll quote a guy who makes a lot of sense. The whole thread is worth reading, but here's the highlight for me, from a commenter named Robert Keeling (any relation to famous CO2 researcher Charles David Keeling? I dunno...):

Upthread, there are the usual postings about "if only we'd developed nuclear energy." That's all bunk. There are also the usual "France is so far ahead of us" on it, which is also bunk.

France does, indeed, have an enormous investment in nuclear power. And almost no one in that country -- very likely including many in the government itself -- actually knows how much it's costing them. To keep "The City of Light" well lit, electric rates throughout the country are massively subsidized. No one actually knows what France spends subsidizing nuclear energy, but the best bet is that it's unbelievably expensive. They will not release a full audited accounting, despite calls to do so for most of a generation now; perhaps, not unlike our own government's criminally-bad bookkeeping vis-a-vis Indian lands held in trust, the French CAN'T provide such an accounting because it's just such a mess.

The truth is, nuclear power is practically a religion with some in the technical fields (far more among engineers than scientists, the latter being far better trained and immersed in the routines of scientific skeptism, while the former typically take years and years of college courses where the scientific method is dealt with in the introductory classes, and the rest of the time they're assigned books with titles like "Conceptual Blockbusting." Or, as John Gofman once noted, an engineer he knew at Lawrence Livermore Lab asked, "John, what percentage of containment do you want? We'll engineer for it!" Total confidence without the slightest clue of how much that would actually cost and how impossible a goal that really would be).

The problems of nuclear power are just enormous. Many were technical, and certainly some of those have or can be overcome. But the costs of doing so are equally enormous. The same amount of money, spent on -- for example -- solar could and would yield at least equal results, for an intrinsically less complex (and intrinsically less rigid, more easily dispersed) energy system. One, I might add, with intrinsically greater energy yield potential, since even now high-grade uranium ore is in somewhat tight supply.

I do despair, sometimes, in discussing this. It's so easy for nuclear advocates to play the same game as the GOP plays with other political issues: "Let's cut taxes" is far easier to sell than complex (but infinitely more rational) economic arguments favoring higher marginal tax rates. Likewise, "nuclear is the answer" is a far easier argument than, say, a complex discussion about the difficulties inherent in rapid doubling-rates, energy-intensive versus labor-intensive energy choices, and so on.

But one way I used to do this argument was by creating a "let's pretend" scenario. Let's pretend that the government handed one of these enthusiastic nuclear advocates enough to build, let's say, a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant. Say, $5 billion. And they hand me the same amount, which I can spend on any combination of alternatives I choose. Who would provide more net power quickly? Who would provide the most power over, say, 30 years? Who would do so with the fewest side impacts? Who would put the most people to work?

On almost every score, I'd beat the nuclear guy hands down. Nevermind what it's like in other countries, in THIS country it would take him at least 8 years (probably more like 10-12) to bring his nuclear plant on line, and there's an awfully high probability that it would encounter enormous cost-overruns before opening (and if all he gets is his initial $5 billion? Well, then he never finishes his plant, and he produces no net energy for the nation). During that 8 year construction period, he SUCKS UP ENERGY like there's no tomorrow. Nuclear power energy systems are extremely energy intensive, from the mining of the raw materials (not just uranium, but ALL of the materials that go into plant and its attendant infrastructure). I've had engineers dismiss that as irrelevent, "a trivial energy expense," but in fact -- as Amory Lovins long ago pointed out -- it is not a trivial factor. If you happen to have a rapid "doubling rate" (that is, an aggressive nuclear development program), you end up producing NO net electric power for many, many years. Then one day you wake up with an enormous electric glut, which is another issue altogether.

Anyhow, while Mr. Nuclear is squandering money on his atom-splitting operation -- assuming he can convince any community in the nation to even accept the damned thing -- I would be spending my $5 billion on a variety of projects, most of them far more labor-intensive in nature. A simple, SIMPLE example: hire scads of under-employed people, give them a week or so of training, and send them around to replace fluorescent bulbs (or, with an electrician supervising the crews, actal fixtures) in hundreds of thousands of commercial buildings. The net energy savings starts IMMEDIATELY ... no waiting 8 years. The cost payoff is only about 2-3 years (yep, even now lots and lots of buildings are loaded with inefficient bulb and fixture types).

Or, I can invest in the construction and operation of wind turbines. Untapped wind energy potential in the U.S. is astonishing -- the midwest has potential wind energy that is an order of magnitude greater than current U.S. electrical consumption. Windmills are already cheaper than most forms of electricity production (most assuredly cheaper than nuclear, although that's sometimes hard to see given the massive hidden subsidies the nuclear industry gets from the federal government ... a point you'd think might give some of the Libertarian-minded pause). Only natural gas and coal are currently cheaper, and in both cases (but especially the case of coal), the advantage would completely vanish in a heartbeat if the currently-externalized environmental costs were internalized via carbon taxes.

I'm a little out-of-date on all of that -- I used to be very familiar with the terrific innovations of Zond Corporation, then the second-largest windmill manufacturer / operator after U.S. Wind, but they were sold in the mid-90s to Enron, and more recently have been acquired by G.E. No telling what they're doing now.

But here's the thing: a windmill can be ordered, built, and installed, all in a few months. Once installed, it starts producing power. Because it is not very energy intensive in its construction (and takes no energy-intensive fuel, unlike the purified uranium in a nuke), it produces net energy for the nation in a very short period. If I were to drop $5 billion on windmills, I might add, I would -- all by myself -- have an ENORMOUS impact on the eventual cost of this energy source. Factories would be built to meet my orders, fields would be developed, transmission systems installed ... and subsequent units would be ever cheaper to build and install as a result. Of course, unlike nuclear power, wind has never gotten anything like massive open and hidden subsidies.

Or, I could drop my money into solar. The Japanese are installing it like crazy right now, and so are the Germans. (Japan is the leading producer of solar cells now, a position the U.S. held just five or six years ago. The Europeans are coming on strong, with Siemens now offering incredibly attractive financing to large institutions willing to allow them to install various solar-energy heating and electrical systems. A friend is, right now, pushing several school districts in California to take them up on it).

So ... my $5 billion would be spent and gone within, say, 3-5 years. It might or might not, in the long haul, generate as much net energy (or energy savings, which is exactly the same thing) as the nuclear plant ... IF it ever got built at all, and IF it never suffered any major problems. But don't think for a minute that it would be a walk-away for the nuclear guy, even over the long haul. It most assuredly would not, and probably -- given the abundant opportunities for cheap conservation techniques still available to us -- might not exceed my net production at all, ever. Leastways, not on that first $5 billion investment.

I do not understand the truly religious hold that nuclear power has on the conservative mind (and, yes, even a few techies of otherwise liberal bent). It makes no sense to me, since the objective arguments favoring alternatives far outweigh nuclear's alleged benefits. Like I said above, when I was active in the anti-nuclear movement (commercial nuclear, I mean), we found that many scientists -- contrary to public perception -- were very amenable to our arguments, and more than a few ended up cautiously on our side. The engineers were the implacable ones, just SURE nuclear power was the greatest thing since sliced bread and if it wouldn't work, then western civilization was doomed (I was actually told this by a German engineer I met at Burroughs Corporation once. Such a twit!)

That was followed up by this comment:

** It's been so many years that I simply no longer have the numbers in my head, and wouldn't know where to find them in a few minutes, but generally auto fuel is the 900-lb. gorilla on the block vis-a-vis oil consumption. A HUGE fraction of petroleum ends up in autos as fuel and lubricant. Yes, oil is used for lots of other stuff: heating fuel, plastics, chemicals, fertilizers, medicinals, you name it. But if we had a transit system running on something besides oil, we really wouldn't be having any much discussion about oil shortages.

** I haven't read Amory Lovins' latest book, but I'll vouch for the man five times over! He's a genius, and a genuinely good guy to boot. I once had the pleasure of fetching him at the airport, taking him to give a lecture at NASA/Ames in Mountain View, and then taking him on up to San Francisco for an evening lecture. Wonderful guy: funny, irreverent, and with a piercing intelligence. Was the youngest don in history at Oxford University in England, a unique achievement for an American. Once walked into MIT for a debate on nuclear power, to general catcalls from the student audience ... and walked out to standing applause at the end, having pretty much demolished his opponents. Has always seemed years ahead of everyone else in his writings. Brittle Power was all about the danger our "hard energy"-based system faces from terrorist attacks -- this written in the late 1980s. At that lecture in San Francisco, his big deal was something called the "hybrid" automobile. This around 1992. (He'd been unable to interest any of the top brass at GM, Ford, etc., so he was instead meeting with the lowest level engineers at all the auto companies, and slowly working his way up in that fashion). Check out his organization, The Rocky Mountain Institute, at www.rmi.org.

** The numbers have already been run (and run, and run, and run) on wind and solar energy systems. Wind IS cheaper than most alternatives right now, most particularly nuclear. RIGHT NOW. It's just hard to see with all of the ongoing (and utterly corrupt, to my mind) hidden subsidies that flow to nuclear. Solar remains more expensive, but has cut the gap to a fraction of what it was even just ten years ago; it is absolutely within striking distance of traditional energy sources.

** We don't need a "Manhattan Project" to develop solar or wind. An order to add solar thermal systems to every large federal building and school in the country (these are systems now being installed all over Japan, parts of Asia, and much of Europe!) would do the job, just exactly the same way that orders from NASA for small computers in the late 1960s and early '70s very effectively primed the pump for the PC revolution. It would get the factories built, and amortized, and lead to cheap, cheap, CHEAP production runs afterward.

Gee, that would cost billions! Sure ... probably many, many fewer billions than GwB has squandered on Iraq, however, with a whole lot more benefit to America.

** "24-hour operation" is a red-herring demand for alternatives. There's no reason not to have other systems -- natural gas, even coal or oil -- meeting the needs in the hours wind or solar can't provide. If you set out for the (perfectly achievable goal) of having wind and solar handle, say, 60-70% of the demand on average, you would push most fossil fuel-related problems into insignificance. Of course, with nuclear power, you're screwed: once you turn them on, you MUST keep them running as close to full-time as possible ... because whether they're producing power or not, the fuel is being consumed and the day of refueling inexorably approaches. So of course, nukes must ALWAYS be designated as baseload plants (leading to meaningless facts such as, "They represnet only 9% of our installed capacity, yet produce 14% of our power." True, and utterly without meaning either pro or con regarding their desirability). Not so with traditional systems, which can be turned on and off as needed, with little or no fuel waste.

** Of course, most wind farms are remarkably reliable day-in and day-out, 24 hours per day. Windmills produce power with as little as 3-5 mph of wind, and do best in areas with nice, steady (versus choppy) winds. Yet even "choppy" wind (e.g., in Hawaii) can now be handled pretty well. At the height most mills are put up (60-200 feet above the ground at the turbine itself), there is almost ALWAYS enough wind to keep the mills turning quite well, thank you. In some places, they're shut down more often due to HIGH wind rather than no wind (high winds can destroy them, so they go into automatic lock-down as necessary).

As for solar, storage systems of various kinds have BEEN developed, and are in use all around the world. We can, with more r&d monies, make them much, much better, of that I have no doubt. But the cost of doing so, and the technical obstacles, are pretty trivial compared to, say, the ongoing difficulties of figuring out how to safely store nuclear waste for 30,000 years.

** Nuclear is NOT especially reliable. Every nuclear plant must go down for about one-third of the time for refueling. Nevermind unscheduled shutdowns, which continue to plague the industry, and always will (and which, again, may shut off power production, but do NOT slow down the consumption of the fuel. They've all got to be refueled after 11-13 months of operation, whether or not any power is produced during that time.

** Wind farms are generally not built inside city limits, and mostly are a concern to the cows that graze under them. Newer mills tend to be much quieter anyhow. (They've also now come up with a load of effective solutions for preventing bird impacts. The problem was with hawks and eagles, which tend to watch the ground for game rather than obstructions in the air).

There is a transmission line-loss on power that increases with each additional mile distant a plant is from its customers. So distant wind fields suffer on that score a bit. Of course, nuclear by-and-large is worse in this respect, since many nukes are located WAAAAAY out in the boonies (a trend that would surely be continued if nuke construction were ever resumed). But solar energy, on the other hand, is frequently produced right at or near the site where it's used, so there's NO line loss. (Line loss, nationally, averages something like 5% ... not a trivial figure).

** Sometimes engineer types tell you stuff with an astonishing level of certitude ... and only later do you discover that they were full of it. In the mid-1970s through early 1980s, I was acquainted with a prominent professor of electrical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. He'd been chairman of the department, had many published articles to his name, did a lot of great work, was even the editor of the Proceedings of the IEEE one year (a big honor). I knew him because he served on Press Council at the time I was working on the college paper, and we rather liked and respected each other. But, boy oh boy, was he ever pro-nuclear! In late 1979, I got into a argument with him one evening on campus about Three Mile Island. I remember well him disputing my point about the reactor's fuel having partially melted -- we'd stepped into his (cavernous) office, and he's started lecturing me, scratching out numbers on his chaulk board. "There was no melting," he claimed with absolute certitude, "because the cladding will only melt at X degrees, and we know the reactor never got over X minus Y degrees." I was just almost certain he was wrong, for I'd been reading technical reports from the Union of Concerned Scientists and other sources. But I was a newly-minted B.A. (in poly sci), and how the hell was I going to dispute this technical point with him?

A few weeks later, I learned from an inside source that the upcoming reports on the catastrophe were going to show that THEY HAD NO IDEA HOW HOT THE CORE HAD GOTTEN ... BECAUSE THE DAMNED HEAT SENSORS HAD BURNED AWAY ENTIRELY. As it turned out, no one had ever reported on the core temperatures at all, one way or the other, prior to that. This distinguished college professor was truly blowing smoke out his ass. I've encountered that sort of thing many times since ... usually in more innocent circumstances (I write a lot about space issues), sometimes in what I consider very critical debates, e.g., on nuclear power. It is not all that uncommon, sadly.

So when someone tells you, ominously, "solar cell production generates just awful toxic pollutants," you might want to question that very closely. What toxins, exactly? Are they any worse than those produced by, say, computer chip manufacture? Do they get released into the environment, or are they generally contained for proper treatment and disposal? Are they harder or more expensive to deal with than, say, nuclear waste? (Or any of the thousands of chemical processes used to make all the stuff that's used to build a nuclear power plant?). Are they worse than the witch's brew of crap that comes out of hydrocarbon-based power plants? There are several new, competing methods for manufacturing solar cells ... do they all produce the same mix of wastes?

Walking across the street causes at least some kind of pollutant or impact on our environment. EVERYTHING does. It's all about trade-offs, a point environmentalists -- serious ones, anyhow -- have been arguing for decades. Wind energy, solar of all kinds, tidal energy ... they ALL have some negative aspects. But by and large, those impacts are truly trivial compared to those associated with ALL of the hard energy systems.

I wonder when the grown-ups will be back in charge of energy policy in the United States?

Posted by Observer at 01:17 PM | Comments (2)

May 26, 2005

Busy

Up to my eyeballs in a lengthy textbook review that I shouldn't have procrastinated on. I'm basically only getting paid about $10 per hour for this, but it's interesting and relatively easy work. Just time consuming, and I only have a few days left to finish. Meanwhile, I'm very happy to report that at this moment, at least, the Rangers are all alone in first place in the AL West. Following a baseball team that is in contention vs one struggling to keeps it head above water double-digit games out of first is just all the difference in the world. Though I stuck with the Rangers through thin and thinner in the 70's and 80's, I don't know that I'd have the patience for that now. Then again, if I'm a Ranger fan, I guess I wouldn't have a choice.

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

May 25, 2005

Suck It Up and Go

Athenae over at First Draft has a great idea for all of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders who are tired of our "liberal" media's coverage of the Iraq war:

The "Draft a Pundit for Jesus" movement has been going on for a while now, mostly focused on people like Jonah Goldberg, who says he can't afford to go to Iraq. I'd like to propose a similar program for bloggers like the fine folks at Powerline and Little Miss Michelle, who are so quick to call journalists on the ground liars and murderers.

Go to Iraq, Ass Missile. Go to Iraq, Michelle. Report from the ground on all the schools being painted, all the successful counterinsurgency operations, all the wonderful things you claim just aren't getting out there in the news. If you care so deeply about correcting media bias, why don't you go on over there and show the pros how it's really done?

You wouldn't even have to blaze a trail. Chris Allbritton has been blogging from Iraq for more than two years now. Of course, his commentary isn't always as sunny as yours, but we can probably attribute that to the pesky confines reality places on him. You can do better than that, I'm sure! After all, you're the new media! You're the future! Maybe what's been wrong with the reporting from Iraq all this time is that it lacks your deft touch with the keyboard.

Go for it, guys! Things are getting better over there. We need bloggers to tell us how!

Posted by Observer at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

Birthday List

I'm supposed to come up with a birthday list since my 37th is three days away. As my wife accurately says, though, anything that is remotely affordable that I want, I tend to buy because I'm always out running around doing errands and such. This includes games, gizmos, books, etc. So I'm hard to shop for. I don't really care what I get for my birthday, honestly. I'd be happy with a yummy cake and a relaxing/fun day.

But there are a few things I've held out on buying. I'm still looking for soundtracks to Episodes II and III. I want to buy a 4.4 cubic foot mini-fridge for the garage to complement our gigantic upright freezer. That's a little expensive to be a gift, but I may pool any money together that I get. I also could use some poker chips. After all this time, I still only have about 150 of these 10.5-gram pure clay chips from a local billiards store. They are great chips, but they are also unique in that most chips these days are 11.5-gram and have a little metallic insert for weight, which gives them a different feel, supposedly (I doubt I could tell the difference unless told to look for it).

So anyway, the 10.5-gram chips I already own will cost me $35 per 50 additional chips. But the price on decent poker chips (11.5-gram, striped, dice chips) has really plummetted in the past year. Looking on eBay, I think I can get 1000 chips plus two carrying cases for around $50 plus shipping. That there is a sale, but I guess I'll wait until after my birthday to buy them just in case someone else got chips for me from a similar source (I see big cases of chips everywhere now, not just Costco/Sam's).

So far, the break from school has been good. I've been getting maintenance done on the cars and tires that has been put off for a couple of months, and I've spent a lot of time with Daniel, who turns two in just a couple of months. That boy is babbling his head off now, but precious little of it makes sense. We are incredibly impatient to communicate with this child beyond the basics. He doesn't seem to have a problem understanding a fairly big vocabulary, but he just can't enunciate anything. And he's clearly trying.

I also finally lugged the exercise bike back inside after its months-long exile on the back porch. I need to get my ass in gear and exercise on that thing every day during the summer. Then I need to stop eating those damned addictive Reese's cookies from Sam's. Maybe I'll redevelop the stomach to write more about politics here without just getting totally depressed and/or pissed off. We are living in such amazingly dark times, and yet the people who brought this on are angrier than ever, always looking desperately for someone new to hate (gays, Newsweek, Pat Tillman's parents, gays, the "liberal media", the filibuster, "moderates", gays, etc).

Posted by Observer at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2005

Ranger Optimism

Adam Morris over at Lone Star Ball (the Texas Rangers blog) has a good stat-filled article about why, for now, the AL West is really the Rangers' division to lose. Yes, the Angels are a game and a half up on us, but it turns out they've been extraordinarily lucky (statistically) so far while the Rangers have been right about on par with wins given their team performance pitching and hitting.

After this weekend's sweep of the hapless Astros, I'm inclined to agree. Park looks like a human being two games out of three this season instead of a human gas can like the past couple of years, and he had his best start of the year yesterday. Kenny Rogers continues to be unbelieveable, and Chris Young is picking things up nicely. Ryan Drese, one of our real star pitchers last year is in sort of a sophomore slump (if you consider last year his first real season in the majors), but I fully expect he'll be at least mediocre with enormous good and bad deviations throughout the year. I can live with that.

Our five spot is currently occupied by the questionable Pedro Astacio, but -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- we have a highly qualified starting pitcher trying to break into the rotation from the minors, Ricardo Rodriguez. The bullpen will have to figure itself out with all the injuries, but as long as pitching coach Orel Hershiser's brain isn't injured, I'm optimistic they'll be at least average.

Hitting-wise, we've been bleargh. David Dellucci continues to be an incredible OBP and OPS machine (his leadoff triple yesterday led to one of our precious two runs against Ranger killer Oswalt). Texeira, Mench, Young and Blalock are doing just ok. Soriano has had good and bad stretches, and I'm not sold on his being able to produce at a level he's worth for the rest of the season. Beyond that, catcher (either Alomar or Barajas) has been an out-machine, and so has Hidalgo. Yes, Hidalgo is on one of his so-called hot streaks now, but it will need to continue all the way through the All-Star Break if he's going to get his OPS up to a respectable level (well above replacement level, like he's being paid).

The biggest reason things look so good for the Rangers is because it looks so bad for the other teams. Seattle and Oakland have both inexplicably lost the ability to score runs. Combined with pitching roughly equal to Texas in quality means a lot more losses. The Angels offense also sucks, but their staff ERA is a run better than Texas. There's a lot of luck involved there, apparently, as they are giving up tons of hits and walks, and it isn't converting into runs, but in the long run that should even out.

In the next two weeks, the Angels have the play the White Sox seven times, Boston three times and KC three times. Meanwhile, we get to play KC six times, Detroit three times and the White Sox three times. We have a real schedule advantage, and I'd like to think at the end of it, we'll take over first place in the division. Maybe for good.

Posted by Observer at 04:26 PM | Comments (1)

May 22, 2005

Episode III Review

If you didn't like Episodes I or II, you probably won't like this one. It has the same look and feel of those first two episodes, even if a lot of specific little things that were bad are gone. No Jar-Jar. No Ewoks or Ewok-like substitutes. There's also very little of Anakin and Amidala alone in this movie, maybe a few minutes total, which is too bad because I was counting on that for my bathroom break. I ended up missing part of the confrontation between Mace Windu and Palpatine when Palpatine finally reveals himself as Sidious.

In a way, the movie is an exercise in impatience because you know what plot points have to be covered, and you just want Lucas to stop messing around and get to those plot points. My other problem with the movie was with Anakin's decision to turn to the dark side. That was frustrating because Lucas spent two and a half movies building up to this point in order to sell the idea that Anakin could knowingly devote himself to ruthless evil. And I didn't buy it. The Jedi didn't do enough against Anakin, and Palpatine didn't do enough for Anakin in order to convince him to switch sides to thoroughly as to go off and slaughter kids in the Jedi Temple.

Aside from those two beefs, the strongest point for me was the soundtrack. You have to remember that I've been listening to the Star Wars soundtrack (Episode IV) for nearly 30 years, so I know it by heart. I know Leia's theme, Luke's theme, the Imperial march, the Force theme, etc., and I know enough to recognize them when Williams starts to mix them into the score. That was really cool and something I've been waiting for (in vain) through Episodes I and II. It added a depth to the movie that I think most people will miss who aren't big soundtrack fans. John Williams is a genius in my book.

I also thought, like most, that the last third of the movie was incredible. Palpatine was thoroughly convincing, and his plan to kill off the Jedi was a good one. Yoda's battle with Palpatine was excellent, and the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan was really good, too. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) did some fine acting throughout this entire series and especially so in this movie. He was an excellent choice for this. The first two-thirds was fine for me. Great special effects, fun popcorn movie, and very similar to Episode II, which I also liked.

Having seen the movie, I can also say that I'm sorry, but I just don't see the compelling parallels between Palpatine's Empire and Bush's War on Terror. Not explicitly, anyway. I mean, sure, both involving an increasing concentration of power in the executive, loss of freedoms, unnecessary fighting and suffering, a cowering Congress, but that was already part of the plot from the very beginning. I don't think there's any way Lucas intentionally wrote this with Bush in mind. It just happened to turn out that the movie had some things in common with Republican politics right now, and like I said before, the problem is not with Star Wars.

Posted by Observer at 08:36 AM | Comments (3)

May 21, 2005

Dark Rendezvous

I started reading the Clone Wars novels with the last one, "Labyrinth of Evil" (2nd best of the bunch) by James Luceno, then I went back to the beginning and read the series, leaving out (for now) the "Republic Commando: Hard Contact" novel because I figured it was just a video game tie-in (I've since heard it is one of the better of the series, which is faint praise, but still, I probably should've started there). So I began with "Shatterpoint" (3rd best) by Matt Stover, which was okay. Then on to "The Cestus Deception" by Steven Barnes, which was disappointing (5th best).

I went out of order based on what I could find at the library (the proper order is found in the front few pages of any of the novels), so I read "Jedi Trial" (6th) by David Sherman, which I liked the least. From there, I went on to the "Medstar" duology by Reaves and Perry (4th), which was comparable in quality to "Shatterpoint". Finally, I finished "Dark Rendezvous" by Sean Stewart (1st). This was a good one to end the series on although Luceno's book would have been best, since it leads immediately into the movie.

Anakin and Obi-Wan make only a token appearance in this book, and their act is pretty much the same as shown in the other Clone Wars novels. The two characters work well together. When either is off alone, I don't think any of the authors does a good job. "The Cestus Deception" deals largely with Obi-Wan alone, and "Jedi Trial" with Anakin alone, and those were the weakest efforts of the bunch. The main focus is around two teenage students on the verge of becoming Padawan learners, a prescient force-strong boy named Whie and a very savvy force-weak girl named Scout. Of all the throwaway characters in the various Clone Wars novels, I liked these two the best. Scout's adventures at the Jedi Academy were reminiscent of Ender's Game without being a ripoff or embarrassingly inept, and I thought the author did a good job with Whie and his foresight.

There are also a couple more semi-sentient droids in this who were pretty good characters. I'd like to see more like that in the future. But this novel more than any other, gives a lot of space for the development of Yoda, Dooku and Dooku's almost-apprentice Asajj Ventress. And all of that stuff is very good. The final confrontation of the novel, between Dooku and Yoda, went off very well, and the adventures Yoda has on his way to that confrontation were also a very good read.

If you're not a nut like me who wants to read everything, I'd say the only two novels truly worth your while in the era between Episode II and III are "Dark Rendezvous" and "Labyrinth of Evil". Neither one advances the plot too much, but between them, they do a very good job developing the major characters (Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Dooku, Palpatine, Grievous and Ventress) who will play a role in Episode III. I don't know yet if Luminara and Barriss will play a role, but if you want more on them, you can read "The Approaching Storm" by Alan Dean Foster, which takes place prior to Episode II and then "Medstar", both of which are decent.

Posted by Observer at 11:26 AM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

Medstar

Ok, since I'm going to see Episode III tomorrow with the family, I suppose I should bang off the last couple of Clone Wars book reviews here. I recently finished the Medstar pair of books by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. This is really one oversized books chopped up into two books for some reason, and it could've easily been shortened to one.

The main action is a Star Wars MASH unit set in a combat zone on a jungle world where a healing plant grows that can't be found anywhere else in the Universe. The surgeons there have all of the same problems and personality conflicts and ethical issues that you might find in a season's worth of ER episodes, just compressed into a few days because of the intensity of the battles being fought between clones and droids. The main Jedi character is Luminara's Padawan from previous novels, Barriss Offee, who is sent here as essentially her last trial before becoming a Jedi. Barriss is also a healer, so she helps out where she can, but larger issues are at stake than merely having her act as a Jedi healer in an assembly line of injured clones.

The medical unit also has to deal with problems caused by a saboteur whose identity is kept from the reader in a misleading way, a culturally taboo relationship between doctors, a corrupt overseeing officer and other underworld characters. These subplots are mildly interesting, but I'm really reading these books looking for some incremental advancement of the overall plot. For that, all we get is basically Barriss maturing and going through this trial to become a full-fledged Jedi Knight, but in the grand scheme of things, how important is Barriss? I don't know.

Probably the most interesting and unique subplot involved a sentient droid with selective memory failure who hinted at being involved in some adventures, but that was never really fleshed out as much as it was worth. Among the Clone Wars books, this was a middle-of-the-pack effort. The authors went out of their way to write about regular people rather than Jedi, which gives them a lot of freedom to make things unpredictable, to kill off characters, etc. The down side of that is that, to me, unless they're writing about major Star Wars universe characters and/or advancing the main story arc in some way, why should I be reading this as opposed to better fiction set in an independent universe without all these rules?

I guess I'm just a sucker for the whole Jedi thing. Plus the books are quick, easy reads and all findable in the local library, so it's a cheap habit.

Posted by Observer at 04:38 PM | Comments (1)

May 19, 2005

Downing Street Memo

Surely you've heard about this by now, assuming you get your news from liberal blogs like I do instead of the "liberal media": the so-called Downing Street Memo. This is the report of a British intelligence officer on his meetings with high-level officials in the United States about Iraq back in July 2002 (about nine months before the beginning of the war with Iraq). You can read the whole memo at the link, but it is well represented by this passage:

There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Two weeks after this memo was leaked to the British papers, it showed up deep inside the LA Times, Washington Post and NY Times. Nothing on the front page, and the White House press gaggle didn't bother to follow up on it (White House spokeslizard Scott McClellan said with a straight face that he hadn't heard about it), and then, surprise surprise, it vanished from all possible relevance when the "Newsweek" fake outrage/scandal broke. And now it's the Senate judge confirmation crap. By the time that's over, two more weeks will have passed, and the White House will start passing off the memo as "old news", let's move on, etc.

And so this gets to the heart of the problem with WMD claims and Iraq. We are in a situation now where those who want to go to war simply do not feel that they should be questioned. It is now the default position of our country that we should be allowed to go to war with pretty much whomever we feel like, and those who question us (even those within our own country) are seen as at best irrelevant and at worst treasonous. How did we, as a "Christian" city-on-a-hill nation, suddenly decide that pro-war rather than anti-war would be our default policy?

Many of us claimed before the war that there were no WMD. At the very least, people like me demanded some concrete, objective, verified evidence (which Colin Powell pretended to give at the UN, and the "liberal" media didn't bother to debunk) before we resorted to invasion. Saddam was in a bottle, and nobody with any credibility was claiming that he was a significant threat to us. That much is true. You have to concede that those of us who felt Saddam wasn't a threat had reason to believe that and were proven correct.

So why do the pro-war people still have all the credibility in the media? Why does the media completely ignore the missing $8.8 billion in Iraq on our watch while instead focussing on a few tens of millions in the oil-for-food scandal?

How can anyone rationally argue that this crowd should remain in power? These fuckwits are getting all offended at Star Wars because they think the Emperor and the Clone Wars too closely parallel Bush and the Iraq War. Well, guess what? Lucas thought this up 30+ years ago. It's not his fault that the Boy King and his minions are so fucking malicious that people compare them to the bad guys in Star Wars. Maybe the problem isn't Star Wars, you know?

Posted by Observer at 02:21 PM | Comments (3)

May 18, 2005

My Hero George Galloway

Looks like the pet scandal of the ConservaBorg, the UN oil-for-food scandal, is coming around to bite them in the ass. What a pity. Turns out that, yes, there was some corruption involving proceeds from Iraqi oil sales. Some of the money, a paltry fraction, went to cronies in the UN (which, as I've said before, shouldn't be a shock to anyone that there's corruption in a giant bureaucracy), but it turns out most of it went to US companies like Bayoil (based in Texas, run by a guy named David Chalmers). Remember those names, because I'll be we'll be hearing more of them in the week to come.

Anyway, over in England, the ConservaBorg tried to link a number of anti-war politicians to the oil-for-food scandal, including George Galloway. Well, Galloway ended up suing a couple of papers for libel and won, dramatically clearing his name, and he's been on a rampage ever since because he feels that someone out there was trying to set him up. Recently, a Senate committee investigating this affair, led by Norm Coleman, also tried to tie Galloway to this scandal. Galloway asked to come over and testify in his defense, and he quickly showed Republicans and Democrats alike what it looks like when you are facing a truly loyal opposition with a spine. Democrats could really learn from this guy, who gave one of the most eloquent and passionate anti-war speeches (addressing the hapless Senator Coleman) ever seen in this ridiculous Congress:

"Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader. and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one - and neither has anyone on my behalf.

"Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice. I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001.

I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

Now THAT is some speechifyin'. For a brief, fleeting moment, it made me imagine that we have Prime Minister's Question Time over here. Could you imagine Bush being addressed this way? Galloway went on in damning fashion:

"Now I want to deal with the pages that relate to me in this dossier and I want to point out areas where there are - let's be charitable and say errors. Then I want to put this in the context where I believe it ought to be. On the very first page of your document about me you assert that I have had 'many meetings' with Saddam Hussein. This is false.

"I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as "many meetings" with Saddam Hussein.

"As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defense made of his.

"I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and Americans governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas. I used to demonstrate outside the Iraqi embassy when British and American officials were going in and doing commerce.

"You will see from the official parliamentary record, Hansard, from the 15th March 1990 onwards, voluminous evidence that I have a rather better record of opposition to Saddam Hussein than you do and than any other member of the British or American governments do.

Scoreboard!

"Now you say in this document, you quote a source, you have the gall to quote a source, without ever having asked me whether the allegation from the source is true, that I am 'the owner of a company which has made substantial profits from trading in Iraqi oil'.

"Senator, I do not own any companies, beyond a small company whose entire purpose, whose sole purpose, is to receive the income from my journalistic earnings from my employer, Associated Newspapers, in London. I do not own a company that's been trading in Iraqi oil. And you have no business to carry a quotation, utterly unsubstantiated and false, implying otherwise.

"Now you have nothing on me, Senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Baghdad. If you had any of the letters against me that you had against Zhirinovsky, and even Pasqua, they would have been up there in your slideshow for the members of your committee today.

"You have my name on lists provided to you by the Duelfer inquiry, provided to him by the convicted bank robber, and fraudster and conman Ahmed Chalabi who many people to their credit in your country now realize played a decisive role in leading your country into the disaster in Iraq.

"There were 270 names on that list originally. That's somehow been filleted down to the names you chose to deal with in this committee. Some of the names on that committee included the former secretary to his Holiness Pope John Paul II, the former head of the African National Congress Presidential office and many others who had one defining characteristic in common: they all stood against the policy of sanctions and war which you vociferously prosecuted and which has led us to this disaster.

"You quote Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Well, you have something on me, I've never met Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Your sub-committee apparently has. But I do know that he's your prisoner, I believe he's in Abu Ghraib prison. I believe he is facing war crimes charges, punishable by death. In these circumstances, knowing what the world knows about how you treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Bagram Airbase, in Guantanamo Bay, including I may say, British citizens being held in those places.

"I'm not sure how much credibility anyone would put on anything you manage to get from a prisoner in those circumstances. But you quote 13 words from Dahar Yassein Ramadan whom I have never met. If he said what he said, then he is wrong.

 "And if you had any evidence that I had ever engaged in any actual oil transaction, if you had any evidence that anybody ever gave me any money, it would be before the public and before this committee today because I agreed with your Mr Greenblatt [Mark Greenblatt, legal counsel on the committee].

"Your Mr Greenblatt was absolutely correct. What counts is not the names on the paper, what counts is where's the money. Senator? Who paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars of money? The answer to that is nobody. And if you had anybody who ever paid me a penny, you would have produced them today.

"Now you refer at length to a company names in these documents as Aredio Petroleum. I say to you under oath here today: I have never heard of this company, I have never met anyone from this company. This company has never paid a penny to me and I'll tell you something else: I can assure you that Aredio Petroleum has never paid a single penny to the Mariam Appeal Campaign. Not a thin dime. I don't know who Aredio Petroleum are, but I daresay if you were to ask them they would confirm that they have never met me or ever paid me a penny.

"Whilst I'm on that subject, who is this senior former regime official that you spoke to yesterday? Don't you think I have a right to know? Don't you think the Committee and the public have a right to know who this senior former regime official you were quoting against me interviewed yesterday actually is?

Huh, funny thing, that. I thought Republicans were all-of-a-sudden totally opposed to this dangerous business of using anonymous sources to document explosive findings. I guess it's only a problem if you're Newsweek.

"Now, one of the most serious of the mistakes you have made in this set of documents is, to be frank, such a schoolboy howler as to make a fool of the efforts that you have made. You assert on page 19, not once but twice, that the documents that you are referring to cover a different period in time from the documents covered by The Daily Telegraph which were a subject of a libel action won by me in the High Court in England late last year.

"You state that The Daily Telegraph article cited documents from 1992 and 1993 whilst you are dealing with documents dating from 2001. Senator, The Daily Telegraph's documents date identically to the documents that you were dealing with in your report here. None of The Daily Telegraph's documents dealt with a period of 1992, 1993. I had never set foot in Iraq until late in 1993 - never in my life. There could possibly be no documents relating to Oil-for-Food matters in 1992, 1993, for the Oil-for-Food scheme did not exist at that time.

"And yet you've allocated a full section of this document to claiming that your documents are from a different era to the Daily Telegraph documents when the opposite is true. Your documents and the Daily Telegraph documents deal with exactly the same period.

"But perhaps you were confusing the Daily Telegraph action with the Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor did indeed publish on its front pages a set of allegations against me very similar to the ones that your committee have made. They did indeed rely on documents which started in 1992, 1993. These documents were unmasked by the Christian Science Monitor themselves as forgeries.

"Now, the neo-con websites and newspapers in which you're such a hero, senator, were all absolutely cock-a-hoop at the publication of the Christian Science Monitor documents, they were all absolutely convinced of their authenticity. They were all absolutely convinced that these documents showed me receiving $10 million from the Saddam regime. And they were all lies.

"In the same week as the Daily Telegraph published their documents against me, the Christian Science Monitor published theirs which turned out to be forgeries and the British newspaper, Mail on Sunday, purchased a third set of documents which also upon forensic examination turned out to be forgeries. So there's nothing fanciful about this. Nothing at all fanciful about it.

From this point forward, there exists a video of Galloway's testimony, and it is well worth watching (about four minutes):

"The existence of forged documents implicating me in commercial activities with the Iraqi regime is a proven fact. It's a proven fact that these forged documents existed and were being circulated amongst right-wing newspapers in Baghdad and around the world in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Iraqi regime.

"Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.

"Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer.

"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

"Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."

I want to vote for this guy. Wouldn't it be nice to at least have a chance of being represented by someone with such integrity and such passion? People call Democrats "liberals". Ha. You can count the number of Democrats who talk like this, act like this and think like this on the national level on one hand. Give this man and others like him a news network of their own, half the talk radio spectrum and editorial control of a few major newspapers, and then we can start talking about a truly fair and balanced media in this country. You let this guy start broadcasting on some network opposite Brit Hume or Pumpkinhead Tim Russert and all their clones, and we can talk about "balance".

Posted by Observer at 07:12 AM | Comments (9)

May 17, 2005

Newsweak

Probably the best summary of the story and the most relevant links regarding the Newsweek - Guantanamo - Koran-in-the-toilet story is at Juan Cole's "Informed Comment" site. Cole puts this story in the proper context.

The conservative (or wanker) version of the story is that Newsweek published a story last week that says one of the tactics used at Guantanamo to break the spirit of the prisoners involved tearing up the holy book and throwing it in the toilet. People heard about this in Afghanistan (not sure how, do they have many Newsweek subscribers?) and supposedly started revolting. Now Newsweek's original source has backpedaled, and so Newsweek has been pressured into a retraction. So this is a perfect example of the liberal media essentially causing our troops to get killed and aiding our enemies.

Okay. So first of all, there's this idea of our guys throwing the Koran into the shitcan. Honestly, I find this very easy to believe. Are we to believe that we would torture and sexually humiliate these people but oh no, we wouldn't touch their holy books! We have so much respect for Islam, after all, especially in the military! Sorry, that doesn't pass the laugh test. In fact, the Koran-in-the-toilet thing has been reported before, independently, by a few different groups.

Second, as Avedon points out while guest-blogging for Atrios, the upsurge in violence in Afghanistan predates the whole Koran stuff by a couple of weeks, so it's hard to blame Newsweek for that. Other potential reasons have been documented. Of course, that won't stop the pathetic warbloggers, who with a straight face will get all over Newsweek for not getting their facts right and supposedly causing the deaths of some of our troops while the behemoth of Iraq hovers unnoticed over their heads.

To me, this smells like the beginning of yet another Stupid Conservative Myth. For the next 10 years, we'll be hearing from the nutball brigade about how Newsweek was on Al Qaeda's side when the chips were down, about how there was cheering in their offices when they heard one of their stories caused the death of some of our men. What's funny is that the author in question is Michael Isikoff, who is the same guy who over 10 years ago made a whole bunch of shit up about Whitewater and started that whole useless process.

He even egged on Paula Jones to advance his slimy story, but now that he apparently has his facts not totally 100% confirmed before going to press, now it's time for a lynching. As wrong as it all is, I suppose it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. The same people he helped to undermine the Clinton administration, the same people he helped assume power, now they're out for his head, God bless 'em. Irony lives.

Arthur Silber paints the larger picture about how this advances the cause of censorship:

I’m certain that, very regrettably, there will be many more opportunities to address these issues further in the coming week, but here are a few prefatory observations. (Obligatory statement: if Newsweek made serious errors of judgment of any kind in reporting this story, then it should apologize and make any necessary corrections. But as we shall see, that it is not what the coming furor is about at all, and that is not where this game is being played.)

With regard to Newsweek’s apology for errors it may have made in reporting the “Koran-flushing” story, let’s get one basic error out of the way at the outset. Because the riots in Afghanistan came after the Newsweek piece, all the Bush-supporting advocates of “benevolent hegemony,” to be brought to us courtesy of perpetual war, have already announced that Newsweek caused the riots. Little Green Footballs, which does not ever get a link here, has the most blatant assertion of this “argument”: “The Jihad Newsweek Inspired.” Oh, wait: I now see that Little Green Footballs has stiff competition from the usual source. Drudge has a huge headline which calls these events: “THE NEWSWEEK RIOTS .” Half a point for clarity, Matt, even though you are completely, totally, unforgivably wrong. [...]

Speaking of Drudge (if we must, and in this case, we must unfortunately): on his radio show this evening, he had a lengthy discussion about the gravity and perfidiousness of Newsweek’s “deadly mistake” with that always objective and non-partisan gentleman, John Fund. There was the usual head-shaking and regret that anything at all should bring disgrace to the hallowed halls of journalism, and the syrup of their sincerity was notably thick this evening. There were also a couple of key phrases, repeated several times by Fund, that I’m certain we will hear many more times in the coming week or two.

Fund said several times (I paraphrase, but this is very close, and it certainly captures the essence of what he said): “Well, of course there were some abuses at Guantanamo…no one is denying that, but…” And then Fund talked about one of the terrible errors that journalism made over the last year or so: overhyping the Abu Ghraib story. How awful of The New York Times to have highlighted this story for more than 40 days! How un-American! Who knows what damage it did to our cause?! Etc.

And then Drudge chimed in, with the oldest tactic in the book—but a tactic which is still widely used precisely because it works so well (again paraphrasing, but close to verbatim and fully capturing the substance): “ Some people will say that this is the last straw for anti-Americanism in the press.” Some people? Which people are those, Drudge? Of course, he’s not saying it. He’s just reporting what some people will say, even though they haven’t said it yet apparently.

Of course, Glenn Reynolds was on the case in a heartbeat : no opportunity to bash the “mainstream media” will be ignored for longer than a second or two by our Instant Professor. Reynolds links to this , which in turns links to Michelle Malkin, who announces :

NEWSWEEK LIED *. PEOPLE DIED .

Malkin has an explanatory note about her use of “lied”:

Didn’t think I needed to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t, but some readers asked for clarification. Newsweek was reckless and sloppy and wrong. But I do not think the magazine “lied.” Just thought it a very appropriate moment to do a boomerang on the moonbats’ most dishonest and annoying meme.

The point is not whether Malkin meant it literally or not: the point is to inject this "meme" into the public discussion. As I write this, Drudge is reporting on his radio show that people are telling him that pickets in front of Newsweek’s NY offices on Monday will carry large signs saying, “NEWSWEEK LIED !PEOPLE DIED !” Mission accomplished, Michelle.

What I want to emphasize right now is the speed and ambitiousness of the propagandists’ game here. In less than a day, they have targeted all of these issues, using the Newsweek mistake (if indeed it was one) as their freshest ammunition:

—Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib

— Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Guantanamo

— Reinforcing the idea that the mainstream media is not to be trusted on matters of national security, and that it is fundamentally anti-American

— Introducing the idea that “some people” think the media has finally gone “too far,” which carries the unavoidable implication that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE !

So what is the logical result of all this? There are at least two major results, and two major goals: first, strengthening the idea that, whatever the United States does, it is always right and anyone who questions our policies is wrong, and anti-American—and if we do make any mistakes, they are trivial and barely worth mentioning, thus trying yet again to shut down all debate; and second, if the Bush supporters and warhawks had their way, censorship.

Censorship is what they’re after, and don’t let them tell you otherwise. They announced this goal unmistakably at least a year ago . (Here’s the classic, regret-filled formulation: “And here’s a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn’t exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority—or even a large and angry minority—of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?”) Of course, they “regret” that censorship might be necessary. It’s a terrible shame and all that. But damn it, if magazines like Newsweek ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE KILLED …well, what can we do? We obviously have to shut them up. They brought it on themselves. It’s their own damned fault. Of course, we’d like to have a free press, but THEY ’RE GETTING PEOPLE KILLED !

And please, please don’t say it can’t happen here. It did happen here—during World War I and World War II . They want to go back to the good old days, when people got thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public.

Visit Silber's site itself (Cold Fury) for the embedded links. Truly, you could spend a whole a day in there, so much fascinating stuff.

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

May 16, 2005

Great Finish

Well, the final three and two of "Survivor" went down like I expected, personnel-wise, but how they got there was pretty fun. Tom, Ian, Katie and Jenn were basking in their Final Four status, and they got a celebratory picnic basket. After the meal, Tom was off floating in the water, and Ian stupidly, stupidly, stupidly decided to convince Katie that he's cool like her and Jenn, and he's all of a sudden all about backstabbing Tom.

He says to them and the camera that if he can beat Tom at the next immunity challenge, he'll vote Tom off along with the other two girls, but if Tom wins, Ian will be Tom's best friend again and stick with the original plan. Boooooooooooo. Tom didn't know anything about it, but he still played hard in the immunity challenge, which was very close at the end. Tom won, so it was back to the original plan of voting off Jenn.

Back at camp, Tom is talking with Jenn and Katie while Ian is off somewhere. Tom is telling them how there's no way he would betray Ian, even though it seems like the right move strategically, and he's giving Jenn a hug goodbye. So Ian walks up, a little worried seeing those three talk, but Tom is totally upfront with Ian. Tom explains that he was just explaining to them why there's no way in hell he would betray his friend Ian.

Later, before they leave for the immunity challenge, Ian slips up and tells Tom it wouldn't have been such an easy decision for Ian not to vote off Tom. Tom's "Survivor" antenna finally goes up and starts looking around for other signs, and soon enough, here comes Jenn to tattle on Ian and Katie for plotting against Tom. Jenn knows if she can get Tom to vote off Ian, Jenn will be around for another vote. Smart move on her part to realize what was going on.

So Tom confronts Ian, and Ian (wisely) says that, yes, he did tell the other two he would vote off Tom, but that it was just (ha ha!) game talk, you know, game talk, Tom, no big deal, just game talk, it didn't mean anything, we were just talking. Meanwhile, you can see a faint storm cloud appear over Ian's head that says "LIAR". As Tom later said, Ian is probably one of the poorest liars in the game. Tom didn't buy the whole "game talk" thing, because there was really no need for it at this point, and he was really steamed.

He went to tribal council determined to vote off Ian, but Katie stayed loyal to Ian. I thought to myself that was pretty stupid on Katie's part, because a tie vote puts her at risk. But no, she was never at risk, because they decided to break the tie by making Ian and Jenn build fire, and whoever got done first was safe. I guarantee if Katie were in danger of randomly picking a rock to get kicked out of the game as a way to resolve the tie, she would've voted Ian off in a heartbeat.

So after two tie votes, Ian beat Jenn in the fire-building challenge and got to stick around. Back at camp, Tom started lecturing Ian on what a poor liar he is. Katie even joined in, telling Ian that confession is good for the soul, a line of argument that was laughably ironic coming from the alliance jumper. They couldn't believe that Ian was just sticking to his story that he never intended to vote off Tom, and everyone lost even more respect for Ian.

I guess they really got inside Ian's head, because at the final endurance challenge, Ian basically gave up (after an incredibly long time, granted) and told Tom and Katie he wanted to re-earn their friendship and respect by giving up and letting them go to the final two. I guess if Ian was going to lose, he was able to go out with class, but it cost him the second prize of $100k. I'll bet he feels pretty stupid letting Katie have that after seeing how many times she tried to betray him.

At the final tribal council, Coby tried to make Tom look like a conniving bad guy, but it made Coby look stupid. Tom played the game with more integrity than just about anyone ever. He never promised anyone they were in his alliance if they weren't. He was friendly and respectful, and he didn't hide his physical ability, which helped Koror dominate, and he won even though he was a target nearly every week. Everyone else basically fired both barrels at Katie, who got offended but then remembered that she was going to get $100k anyway while they got nothing, so she just shrugged it all off, even telling Janu and Caryn to go to hell (those two hated her guts and would never have voted for her anyway).

A couple of people confronted Tom about the time they got voted off, but in each case, he explained to them what happened that made Tom come out smelling like a rose. It's funny how easy that final tribal council was for Tom. He voted all those other people off, and they still liked him. The final vote was no contest. Aside from Coby trying to shock everyone by voting for Katie, the vote was all for Tom. So Tom won the million bucks, and all is right with the world.

During the reunion show, Coby made red state America uncomfortable by announcing that he had adopted his cousin's daughter and named her after Janu. This little girl, raised by a gay hairdresser and named after a Vegas showgirl, is destined to be a sitcom character someday. And Wanda sang again. I tried to mute it, but Michelle thought he should both be punished and made me listen to part of it.

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

May 15, 2005

I Hate Homework

One of my conservative readers in comments has asked me to read and provide an evaluation and/or refutation of a lengthy article that "definitively" claims that the media is liberally biased. A quick scan of the opening paragraphs tells me that this study relies on the usual problems with ConservaBorg analysis: a discussion about how the members of the media are really liberal (without corresponding discussion of political leanings of editors, publishers and owners, who overwhelmingly vote Republican and control the content, etc), and a definition of bias (cites of various think tanks) that doesn't involve judgement, actual reading and context, doesn't look at story placement, doesn't look at what's left out, etc.

You see, when someone uses a back-door definition like that (think tank citations or whether someone gets labelled a "conservative", etc), I am instantly suspicious. There are hundreds of different possible experiments like this you could perform, and some would spit out a "liberal" label and some "conservative". All you do is keep coming up with "tests" you can sort-of justify, and repeat until you find one that gives you the conclusion you wanted. Whereas when I talk about media bias, I give specific examples. If I'm talking in the broader sense, I use more direct tests, like what fraction of newspapers endorsed Bush over Kerry? Or, better, I actually anayze things in depth, which takes a lot of time and can't really be done on talk radio (so conservatives aren't interested).

You say what fraction of reporters voted for Kerry. I say what fraction of editors, publishers and owners voted for Bush. You see how it works? With simple tests, we can both "prove" our case, but in real life, it doesn't work that way. If you want to analyze bias, you first have to define the liberal and conservative position, then consider the placement of a story, the placement of opinions within that story, the photo, the follow-ups and/or corrections, etc. My sources (like "The Daily Howler" or Eric Alterman) do that regularly, so I tend to trust them. Conservative sources tend to rely on these suspicious tests regularly, and the same few tests get cited over and over, so I'm skeptical.

Want me to read and analyze further? Give a fair analysis to the whole thing?

No. Sorry. I'm not an errand boy.

Here's the deal: Six years ago, my mom used to do this to me. She used to send me articles or links and ask me what I thought (with the implication that she agreed with the article and how could I not also agree). These are articles that explained, for example, that Al Gore was a traitor for negotiating something away to Russia in 1993. Or that Bill Clinton wanted the UN to force Americans to have abortions. Or that the media has a liberal bias. And so on. It was endless, basically a second-hand subscription to a red-meat nutball conservative email list, the precursor to the blog.

I would diligently read, research and then refute these articles in an objective, scientific fashion. Point by point, I would find the facts to counter the claims in the articles because I thought it was important that someone in my family know the real story, and I was actually honored to be asked. I didn't realize at the time that this stuff had already all been refuted by people with a lot more time and knowledge than me. I just didn't know where to look; I was reinventing the wheel.

After about a year of this, my mom explained to me at one point that she pretty much believed everything in the articles and thought I was "biased" and so didn't really pay attention to what I said. She was just trying to educate me. She never had any intention of changing her beliefs. She didn't have an open mind. She was, in effect, simply preaching to me without explaining to me that that was her intention.

That was a pretty big smack in the face. And I told her so. We got into a big fight, and we didn't speak much for a couple of years after that. If anything, she is even further in the conservative mindset now based on what few political comments she makes (and the nauseating soft-lens photo of the Boy King and his Teacher Wife on the fridge). But I made a vow then to never, ever discuss politics with family again under any circumstances. The political is just too personal.

So does that mean there can be no discussion of the article? Not at all. You gave me an assignment, but what you don't realize that I've already refuted that kind of crap by example about a hundred times in the past two years. But you've been too busy or disinterested to respond to it. Here's an assignment for you: Go read "The Daily Howler" for three months and refute it. Hell, even for one week.

Go read articles like this at Media Matters about how flawed conservative-leaning studies like this are. Even though that article discusses a different study, you will quickly see that all of these "liberal media bias" studies share some very common flaws that would be easy to remedy if your goal was the truth and not to prove your preconceptions true.

I pick my own topics here. Suggestions are welcome, but if you're going to ask me to go off and refute something, you goddamn well better have an open mind about it. You goddamn well better have an answer for what I've *already* said here a thousand times about media bias. You better go read "What Liberal Media?" by Eric Alterman and tell me where the flaw is.

Nothing personal, but I don't feel that you're interested in a debate. You're not interested, really, in my reaction to the article. You just want me to read it and be persuaded. At least, that's what I honestly think based on past experience (if I'm wrong, I'm very sorry). But I've already read and actually *researched* shit like that a thousand times and *NOT* been persuaded. You're interested in "educating" me without putting your own ideology in any danger. That's not a debate.

Now maybe you think that I'm the one preaching or educating, that I'm the one who should show an open mind, that I'm the one who should consider both sides of the issue and try to point out the good in the conservative article while I talk about the good in the liberal perspective. But I've already done that. I've looked the various conservative assertions (remember the Stupid Conservative Myths) and done the legwork to either disprove them or show what parts are true, what the facts are, etc. The sources I cite have done the same thing. I don't cherry-pick facts or analyses that I like. I pick facts that are objectively true and analyses that make sense based on my knowledge and experience.

If you want to convince me that you do likewise, then by all means, go read and analyze that Media Matters article that I pointed to or "What Liberal Media?" I know this is kind of harsh and angry, and for that, I'm sorry. I do not think your original intention was insulting or rude, and I have been insulting and rude in return. All I can say is, you touched a nerve, and if you're too pissed off to respond, then I understand.

The only parallel I can think of would be: I know how passionate you are about 2nd amendment stuff, so what if I sent you a 20-page article sponsored by "Handgun Control, Inc." and asked you to read it "since you always claim guns and the NRA are so wonderful"? That's not entirely plausible because I happen to believe that the 2nd amendment should allow all citizens to be armed to the equivalent of a military soldier, etc. But I hope you see my perspective.

Posted by Observer at 08:02 AM | Comments (8)

May 14, 2005

Half Game Out

Another dominating performance by Kenny Rogers today (30 consecutive shutout innings now) left the Twins scratching their heads. ALACAALA split a doubleheader with the pesky Tigers today, so now we're just a half game out! Oakland and Seattle are both really stinking up the joint and look like they'll be doing well just to get back to .500, so it will be Texas and ALACAALA down to the wire. First team to 10 games over .500 wins.

Posted by Observer at 08:24 PM | Comments (1)

Curious George Rides His Bike

Been a busy week with finals, so I'm just catching up on some of the big stories of the week. Most hilarious is the way the Boy King was handled during the Cessna-induced panic at the White House earlier this week. Basically, he was off on a bike ride near the NSA headquarters in Maryland, and his staff decided not to bother him with the burden of making important decisions during a national crisis. It was a very "My Pet Goat" moment. Much of the story is summarized in the Daily Kos diaries here.

I don't know how any wingnut could learn about these events and still have a shred of respect left for Mission Accomplished. I mean, other than the fact that they don't even realize that they're lying to themselves anymore:

Q Scott, yesterday the White House was on red alert, was evacuated. The First Lady and Nancy Reagan were taken to a secure location. The Vice President was evacuated from the grounds. The Capitol building was evacuated. The continuity of government plan was initiated. And yet, the President wasn't told of yesterday's events until after he finished his bike ride, about 36 minutes after the all-clear had been sent. Is he satisfied with the fact that he wasn't notified about this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I think you just brought up a very good point -- the protocols that were in place after September 11th were followed.

[snip]

Q The fact that the President wasn't in danger is one aspect of this. But he's also the Commander-in-Chief. There was a military operation underway. Other people were in contact with the White House. Shouldn't the Commander-in-Chief have been notified of what was going on?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, the protocols that we put in place after September 11th were being followed. They did not require presidential authority for this situation.

[snip]

Q I take it that it's not the Secret Service's duty to inform the President of national security circumstances, that that would come from somebody here at the White House. Even on a personal level, did nobody here at the White House think that calling the President to say, by the way, your wife has been evacuated from the White House, we just want to let you know everything is okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, all the protocols were followed and people were -- officials that you point out were taken to secure locations or evacuated, in some cases.

Q I think there's a disconnect here because, I mean, yesterday you had more than 30,000 people who were evacuated, you had millions of people who were watching this on television, and there was a sense at some point -- it was a short window, a 15-minute window, but there was a sense of confusion among some on the streets. There was a sense of fear. And people are wondering was this not a moment for the President to exercise some leadership, some guidance during that period of time? Was this not a missed opportunity for the President to speak out and at least clarify what -- that he was informed, and what was taking place at that time? If not even during the 15-minute window, why not later in the day?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President did lead,

Yeah, right, maybe he was leading the bike race.

and the President did that after September the 11th when we put the protocols in place to make sure that situations like this were addressed before it was too late. And that was the case -- that was the case in this situation. And in terms of during this time, this was a matter of minutes when this was occurring. And all the appropriate security personal and Homeland Security officials and others were acting to implement those protocols. And we commend all those that worked to follow those protocols and make sure that this situation was addressed. And it worked, in terms of the protocols.

Q Any consideration of reexamining these protocols in light of yesterday?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I'm not pointing to anything specifically, but in any situation of this nature, there's always going to be a review to look at how things transpired. And if there are any improvements that need to be made, they will be made.

Q Scott, may I just maybe take a slight step back? Aside from the particulars of what happened yesterday and when, maybe the larger issue has to do with whether this President is sufficiently at the levers of power on his job during the day or night. When we think of the event at the ASNE meeting, when the President said he didn't know about the issue of possibly requiring passports of all Americans who are returning from Canada or Mexico until he read it in the papers -- and I think that's the larger question we're all trying to get at.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree and I think that's unfounded. Absolutely the President is. I disagree with your characterization completely, and I think the American people reject that, as well. And the President was informed immediately upon the conclusion of the bike ride, as well, about what had occurred. But by that point, it was well in hand.

[snip]

Q Might there be something wrong with protocols that render the President unnecessary when the alarm is going off at his house?

[snip]

Q And those protocols are okay with the President despite the fact that his wife was in a situation where she might have been endangered?

MR. McCLELLAN: She was taken to a secure location, as were some other officials.

Q And wouldn't he want to know about that as it was happening?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation.

Q After it happened.

MR. McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation, Ken. And I think that he wants to make sure that the protocols that are in place are followed. The protocols that were in place were followed.

Q Scott, to follow on the same line of questioning, if there is a possibility that a plane may have to be shot down over Washington, doesn't the President want to be involved in that type of decision?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Keith, I think again, it depends on the circumstances in the situation. You have to look at each individual situation and the circumstances surrounding that situation. There are protocols --

Q You talked about the circumstances -- a plane was three or four miles away, maybe less, from the White House --

Q No, within three miles, within three miles.

Q Doesn't the President want to be involved in what could be a decision to shoot down a plane over Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: To answer your question, I was just getting ready to address exactly what you're bringing up. The protocols that were put in place after September 11th include protocols for that, as well. And there are protocols there. They're classified.

[snip]

Q And wasn't there a possibility that a plane headed for the White House, that this was the leading edge of some broader attack, isn't the President concerned that maybe he should have been alerted to the fact that this could have been the beginning of a general attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was not the case, and I think the Department of Defense yesterday indicated that they didn't sense any hostile intent on the part of the plane, so again --

Q How did they know -- how did they know this plane wasn't laden with WMD or some other type of weapons like that? Did they get reassurances from the pilot? Or how did they know that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, if you want to give me a chance to respond, I'll be glad to. The protocols were followed. This situation, as you're well aware, turned out to be an accident.

I love how this administration keeps saying things like, "If you'd only give me a chance to respond..." or "Let me finish..." and then goes on to say absolutely fuck all of nothing.

Q So if it was assessed that there was no hostile intent on the part of this aircraft, can you tell us why 30,000 people -- 35,000 people were told to run for their lives?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because of the protocols that are in place, John. We want to make sure that the people in the area of the threat are protected. After --

Q But what was the threat? You just said there was no threat.

[snip]

Q Right, but there seems to be so many disconnects here. You've got a plane that was assessed as not being a threat, you've got 35,000 people evacuated, you've got a person who you claim is a hands-on Commander-in-Chief who is left to go ride his bicycle through the rural wildlands of Maryland while his wife is in some secure location somewhere, it's just not adding up.

[snip]

Q Scott, protocols aside, was there any kind of explanation given by the Secret Service, kind of a commonsense reason for why they didn't notify the President? Was it that they didn't want to disrupt his bicycle ride, they didn't want to inconvenience him? I mean, what was the reason?

MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you didn't hear what I pointed out earlier in the briefing so let me repeat that. The President was never in danger. He was at an off-site location --

Q I heard you.

Nice to see the press gaggle growing some balls. Thanks much to Holden of First Draft, whose obsession with the gaggle is usually a fun read.

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

May 13, 2005

Nobody Likes a Tattle-Tale

Well, I really thought after last week's vote that Jenn would be walking around the whole episode like a zombie waiting to be voted off after her snuggle-bunny Gregg got the surprise ax. But to her credit, she didn't get all bitter or upset, just rolled with it and tried to keep her buddy-buddy thing going with Katie, who just got done stabbing her and Gregg in the back.

Ian won the reward challenge, which was a corvette. In the past, the winner of the car got to take one other person with them to the reward, and that other person sometimes gets a car of their own. Knowing this, Ian showed where his true loyalties are by inviting Tom on the getaway, much to Katie's disgust. This is the same Katie who, last episode, was living it up on the yacht with Gregg and Jenn and laughing about what a great final three they would make after voting off the rest of those unsuspecting saps. Didn't work out for Tom, though, no extra car. If he had known that, I'm sure he would've told Ian to keep Katie happy.

Back at camp, the three left-out girls got a mad-on going for the boys, and Caryn did her weekly betray-the-person-who-most-recently-took-me-into-confidence thing. You'd think after a while people would stop confiding in her, but people are so desperate for her vote, which seems always available like a dangling carrot, that they'll make fools of themselves or at least let Caryn make a fool of both of them.

So Tom and Ian wisely gave up on Caryn, who couldn't stand the thought that the boys were being honest with her about not knowing who to vote for. Ian decided to try to win Katie back, so he was snivelling pathetically to her, and she was soaking it up. What a parasite she is. I mean, I understand that the editors can turn even Mother Teresa into a villain, so I'm probably being manipulated into hating her. That being said, I hate her.

At the end, everyone starts getting all noble. They start spouting off about their overall strategy as it is it the One True Way to Get to the End, when it reality, everyone's strategy has a chance if they ally with the right people. It's like those professional football picking rackets where they have 1200 different aliases, each one picking a different slate of winners each week. By about week 5-6, there will be some of those aliases who have been remarkably accurate, and you'll hear all about their genius in radio ads and so forth. In reality, it's a sucker bet for people who don't know statistics.

Katie is getting all noble. She's acting like she invented the genius idea of jumping from alliance to alliance depending on which one she thinks has the most votes. And everyone welcomes her, not because she's genius, but because they just can't *wait* to be paired with her in the final two, because they know she hasn't got a prayer of getting any jury votes. It's not just the editing that makes her look bad; how people treat her strategically make it obvious she is loathed by everyone except Ian.

At the same time she talks about alliance jumping, she's got Ian begging for her forgiveness for breaking a deal. I would love to see Ian's reaction in real time to this episode, giving his knowledge now of what Katie was telling Gregg and Jenn on the yacht last week. In the end, Tom got immunity, and Katie was satisfied enough with Ian's grovelling that she couldn't bear to vote off Ian. So she sided with Tom and Ian and told Jenn what was up. I'm sure also it wasn't that hard for Katie to vote Caryn off, because they've fought since day one.

At tribal council, Caryn probably had a feeling she was on the outside, so she used the platform to vent every last possible tattle she could've stored up during the past few weeks. Everyone was fairly unimpressed, though I'm sure the jury always enjoys getting a little dirt on camera. So the final four is Tom, Ian, Katie and Jenn. I imagine Jenn goes first unless she wins immunity (fat chance) since Katie is, for better or worse, committed to Tom and Ian now.

Maybe if Tom doesn't get immunity, he would get voted off by the other three, but I don't think Ian has the will to do it. I think Tom and Ian have an agreement to get to the final three, then whichever of them wins the last immunity challenge will vote the other guy off. Whichever of Tom or Ian is left will get the million, though that has the downside of giving Katie 2nd prize. The finale is Sunday night, and it should be a good one.

Posted by Observer at 05:06 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2005

Pass the Popcorn

The latest meaningless uproar is over whether yet another unqualified fuckwit will get appointed to some dubiously important position. This time it is John Bolton nominated to be Ambassador to the UN. Big surprise, here, he's a total asshole. He mistreats subordinates, tries to dig up dirt on personal enemies using his access to the National Security Agency and exhibits general incompetence. Kind of what you would expect if you gave Dilbert's boss any real power and a government job.

Democrats are mainly fighting it on principle, figuring anyone as bad as Bolton is going to make his opponents come out smelling like roses. It's not like it matters that much who we send over to the UN. They have a pretty good idea of what the current wingnut administration thinks of them. Maybe he'll figure out a way to give us the pretext for another war, maybe with Iran this time, but hell, we don't need someone like Bolton in order to gin up an excuse to invade someone. We already proved that point.

Anyhow, it looks like Mr. Moustache, John Bolton, dragged his (unwilling) first wife to a bunch of group sex clubs back in the day. God I love these Family Values Republicans (check out this one, too, another fine Bush loyalist/sex fiend)! Go visit some ConservaBorg weblogs. I'm sure they have a whole lot more about all this! Right? Right?!?!? (crickets chirping)

Pass the popcorn.

Posted by Observer at 01:32 PM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2005

Thanks But No Thanks

This is apparently what passes for a liberal columnist in a red state paper:

A genuine lack of ideas, coupled with negativity, has left many wondering whether the Democratic Party has a plan to revive its largest constituency: the working middle class.

Since former President Clinton left office, the core principles of the liberal left-wing minority have been caught in a cycle of partisan politics wrapped in negativism and obstructionism. [...]

The Democratic Party doesn't have to control the White House or Congress for you to practice your ideology. Since the majority of Democrats would willingly accept a repeal of the president's tax cuts (which, in effect, would be a tax increase), my suggestion is for them to take 10 percent of their salaries and donate it to an inner-city school in their area. [...]

Think America is too dependent on oil? Use the savings from Bush's tax cuts to buy a hybrid car. Do you believe in debt reduction and disapprove of the way that the Republican-controlled Congress spends your tax dollars? Contact the Bureau of the Public Debt and use your tax savings to make a gift contribution.

While I appreciate the fine suggestions of Mr. Rosenkranz on where Democrats like myself can make contributions, I'm not sure where we are supposed to get the extra pot of money from which we will draw to help out inner-city schools, reduce the national debt or buy hybrid cars. Certainly not from the Bush tax cuts (which were only income tax cuts, not payroll tax cuts). After all, for the bottom 60% of American wage earners, the average savings was about $300 (hardly the 10% of income Rosencranz suggested) while the average share of national debt per person rose by about $9,000.

During that time, the federal government has reduced spending in many areas, and those agencies and organizations have made up for it. For example, college tuition is up an average of $600 per year during that time. Property taxes have also risen dramatically as local institutions struggle to make up the gap in lost revenue, and that gets passed on to renters, too.

Some have gotten larger tax cuts thanks to the increase of the Child Tax Credit (thanks to Bill Clinton, by the way) up to $1,000, but that has been more than offset. Most child care provider rates have gone way up, in part due to lower subsidies from the federal government. Also, health care costs have risen dramatically for most Americans, thanks in part to Bush allowing the health care industry and pharmaceutical companies to write the legislation governing it. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) income threshold was dramatically lowered, making fewer families eligible for the program that the state already tragically ignores.

Public transportation subsidies are less now, so rates have gone up and quality of service has generally declined, not because of a lack of effort or expertise but simply a lack of funding. School funding hasn't been cut in some places, but priorities have shifted thanks to Bush's policies (e.g. unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind). In order to pay for lots of standardized testing and associated training classes, schools have had to cut back on many other programs or ask parents to pay for things that they've never been asked to in the past. Usually, special education programs are the first to go, but it's different at every school. Which programs have been cut at your school lately?

And with the new bankruptcy legislation, it would seem to me to be pretty foolish to send any extra money you might have to the Bureau of Public Debt. After all, if someone in your family suffers a health care crisis or sudden, unexpected job loss, you had better have some money set aside or you'll lose everything. Credit card companies wrote that legislation, so you can guess just how much they were looking out for the little guy who missed a payment so he could buy prescription medication for his kid.

So, anyway, thanks for the thoughts, but most of us don't have the extra money to spend right now. And please, no more "tax cuts". We can't afford them!

Posted by Observer at 04:26 PM | Comments (0)

High Comedy

From Bob Sturm comes the absolute must-see movie of the day: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog meets Star Wars fans. I absolutely cannot oversell how funny this is. Go watch it. It's about 8-10 minutes.

Posted by Observer at 09:50 AM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2005

Good Sith Buzz

The PVP Players are gearing up for Episode III, and the site links to a fairly positive review of the series. What I've read around the web at fairly skeptical sites is that early reviews of "Sith" are very positive. People are saying it is what they expected and hoped Episode I and II would be. Some are going as far to say that it is as good as "Empire", but I imagine those are rose-colored glasses fans (like me). The consensus among the disillusioned that this is the first movie since "Empire" not to sully the memory of "Star Wars" and "Empire".

I watched "Attack of the Clones" again last night, and it was actually pretty neat to see all the plot points Lucas crammed in there. I now recognize Kit Fisto on the screen, though he is never named, but I didn't recognize other "good" Jedi mentioned in the Clone Wars books (like Luminara, Barriss or Halcyon). I noticed that Jango told Obi Wan that a man named "Tyrannus" hired him to be the clone prototype. They should have just left it at that instead of inserting the confusing reference to Cipher Diaz into the storyline.

Anyway, I think we can all agree that "Return of the Jedi" would be better without Ewoks, that "Phantom Menace" would be better without Jar-Jar and "Attack of the Clones" would be better with either a decent actor playing Anakin or someone who knows how to write romantic dialogue for scenes between Anakin and Amidala. I can put those flaws aside and appreciate a great story. I'm counting the days.

Is it even remotely possible that Lucas will now consider filming Episodes 7-9? I haven't read just how virulently (or not) he ruled this out.

Posted by Observer at 03:26 PM | Comments (8)

May 09, 2005

Rangers Surging

Add me to the list of Ranger fans who are very, very happy to see Soriano in the 5-hole, not leading off. Buck says Soriano won't lead off anymore, and maybe Soriano will be more comfortable as a power hitter anyway (looks good so far). Dellucci is leading the majors in walks and has a great OBP, and it is incredibly wonderful after all these years for the Rangers to finally have a real prototypical leadoff hitter. I don't understand how or why Dellucci has turned in to such a hitter, but I'm really enjoying it.

The rest of our hitters are doing ok with the exception of Hidalgo and Matthews, currently both filling roster spots in the OF and using up AB's that could be better used by Mench or, hell, even a couple of our AAA guys (e.g. Botts). And then there's Barajas, who is barely treading water while our starting catcher for most of last season, Gerald Laird, is tearing the cover off the ball in AAA. So it could be better, and I like to think the team is smart enough to make that happen.

Pitching-wise, Rogers is amazingly solid, and I'm still bitter about him pitching outside of Texas for so many years. Drese has been a little off, but like I said before, I know he's solid, and he's starting to show that. Chris Young seems to have figured things out a little bit (thanks, Randy!) and may turn in to a solid starter. Astacio had his three solid starts and then imploded, but we have Ricardo Rodriguez going nuts in AAA (complete-game shutout, anyone?) and seemingly ready to return. And then Park remains a mystery, but if he can have even half of his starts quality starts, that's an enormous upgrade over the past three years.

The bullpen well probably be middle-of-the-pack, with a couple of bright spots. It would be nice if Almanzar would re-emerge as a star set-up guy, and Cordero always seems to find a solution despite some bad pitching numbers. All in all, what may have felt like a .500 team at the start of the season is starting to convince me that maybe they have something a little more. Maybe a 10-15 games over .500 team, and that might be enough to beat the Angels.

Right now, we're two games over, and Detroit is coming in pretty hot. This is a big series, because we've been struggling all season to get over .500 and stay over .500, but so far, no luck. If we can win or sweep, I don't think we'll see .500 again. I'd rather be chasing or keeping up with the Angels this season as opposed to challenging the .500 mark the whole time.

Posted by Observer at 09:24 AM | Comments (2)

May 08, 2005

That Is Why You Fail

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 10:46 PM | Comments (3)

May 07, 2005

Changing Standards

A few days ago, "The Daily Show" had Mr. Angry Fox Democrat Moralizer Zell Miller on the show. During the opeing segment, they had some fun with Laura Bush's remarks at a public event. I thought it was pretty funny that they talked about some of the most explicitly sexual and offensive humor on the same day that had good old Zell on. I really think they did it to make Zell uncomfortable, and it worked. He was still his usual asshole self, but he had to laugh along and pretend to be a good sport, which in truth he probably is, the whole moral crusade thing is just an act of a profoundly cynical, morally bankrupt jackass.

During the remarks, Bush made a joke about her husband asking to milk a male horse. It was the kind of blue humor that, if told by a liberal, would be roundly chastised and offered up as evidence that liberals are out of touch with heartland values. Oh wait, that already happened:

Man, we liberals can't win for losing, can we? First we are told that we're a bunch of immoral libertines who are trying to destroy the fabric of our nation with our nasty talk and perverted big city ways, and then John Tierney says today that we are a bunch of stiffs who don't understand what a bunch of rollockin', ribald partiers those real American Red Staters are.

I admit that I'm a little bit confused, but I'm sure David Brooks will clear it up for me in his next column, being the world's foremost expert on heartland values and jumbo shrimp platters and all. Meanwhile, I guess what I don't understand is why it's ok for the First Lady to make horse cock jokes on television but it's not ok for a professional comedienne to make "bush" jokes at a private fundraiser. That's the part that seems a little bit odd to me. Remember this:

Comic Whoopi Goldberg's sexual puns on President Bush's name at a John Kerry fundraiser got her canned Wednesday as spokeswoman for Slim-Fast weight-loss products.

The freepers were terribly upset at the vulgarity:

Hollyweird does NOT represent American values, or the heart and soul of our country, in any way whatsoever!!

This election is shaping up to be a contest between anyone with decent or Christian values (whatever his or her usual political leanings) and the moral FILTH and POISON represented by Hollyweird and the media and advertising community, the feminazis, and the gays. I vote NO to all of them!!!!

As for SlimFast, it doesn't work anyway, in terms of long-term weight loss and health. Don't beleive their hype, whether spread by Whoopi the Obscene or by anyone else. Boycott SlimFast for ALL the right reasons!!!!

Follow the link for more, including links to the original quotes. Some of the ConservaBorg are trying to act all stupid, like they don't understand what's going on, and they think liberals are suddenly being offended at a little course humor. Atrios explains the error in their reasoning:

No liberals give a shit that Laura Bush made some raunchy jokes. We just find it a) hilarious that the prudish conservative values crowd has no problems with it and b) are a bit annoyed at the usual liberal media double standard for these things. You know, the suddenly inoperative "Whoopi Standard."

And Majikthise has more in which she and her commenters speculate about why Laura pursued that line of humor:

The liberals I know have been laughing at the sputtering conservative commentariat. The only thing they hate more than sex is seeing a woman upstage her husband.

As usual, the "liberal media" blathers on, completely ignoring Laura's remarks after making such a big deal about Whoopi, completely ignoring any problems with Bush's military career while examing Kerry's heroism with a microscope, completely ignoring any history of Republican obstruction in the Senate to focus on how Democrats are subverting the American way by blocking seven or so (out of 150) psychopath judges, etc.

Posted by Observer at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2005

Sweet Reactions

Probably the best thing about "Survivor" or any reality show is the nature of the unscripted reaction shot. Amidst all the misleading editing and other stupidity that goes on during the show, the reaction shots are the real truth, the real core of the show, and they make it worth watching.

After Steph was gone, the whole alliance scheme went haywire. Gregg and Jenn got smart and realized that unless they got Katie on their side, they were in the minority of five once Caryn was gone. To their credit, they actively recruited her and convinced her that Tom and Ian were just as unbreakable a block as Gregg and Jenn, and she had a better shot against Gregg and Jenn in the final three. But to their greater credit, Tom and Ian smelled what was up, and they made plans of their own.

Prior to the reward challenge, Ian was talking about how Katie was "his girl", not in a relationship sense but just in a sort-of-alliance sense. It was only natural. After all, there are six left now. The other four are paired off naturally (Gregg and Jenn, Tom and Ian), so it only makes sense that the other two look out for each other. Ian revealed that he and "his girl" Katie had an agreement that if either of those two won reward, one would take the other along on the reward trip. That's the way the game works, any time someone wins an individual reward, they always get to bring (at least) one other person along to share things, a decision that often adds a little juicy tension to the show.

The immunity involved a quiz. If you get a question right, you get to "hit" someone else's name. Three "hits" to any name means they're out. Caryn got knocked out quickly. To Ian's surprise, Katie sided more with Gregg during the challenge and "hit" Ian's name, even though they had already agreed beforehand about inviting each other along. At one point, Gregg had to choose between "hitting" Jenn or Katie, and he actually turned around and asked Jenn's permission, if she would forgive him if he "hit" Jenn. Well, the others got a real kick out of that, and they razzed Gregg for being such a pussy.

But Gregg ended up winning, so he invited Jenn, of course. But then he got to invite one more person, and he picked Katie. Part of that, I'm sure, was an intention to talk to Katie privately and cement her into their three-person alliance. They figured all they needed to do was vote out Tom, and with their three votes, they'd win. Presumably, Tom and Ian would vote for Caryn as per the original plan of the alliance of five, and Caryn would vote for someone else random, so the votes for Tom would cash him out.

But back at camp, Ian bitched about how Katie was willing to backstab him in the reward challenge, and Katie was likely to backstab him in the game, and so the plot was hatched. With Caryn helping (she has little choice now but to do what Tom tells her), they decided to vote off Gregg. They realized it would be a 3-3 tie between (Tom, Ian and Caryn voting for) Gregg and (Gregg, Jenn and Katie voting for) Caryn, but they figured with tie votes, it means someone random goes, and they were willing to take the chance. After all, if they didn't do anything, they were assured of being screwed.

When Gregg, Jenn and Katie returned, it became clear to Tom, Ian and Caryn that part of the reward was getting to see a loved one. Gregg got to see his best friend. Jenn got to see her mother or sister or something (would've been quite awkward if Gregg or Jenn had a significant other come out to see them) and Katie got to see ... her sister's husband (?). What the...? Katie's sister just had a baby and so her sister's husband came out instead. I'm sorry, but that says something about Katie that the person she would choose to come out and see her isn't even a blood relative. A little creepy that be spending the night on a fancy yacht with your sister's husband.

That meant the three left behind were all the more bitter and determined to screw over Gregg and Jenn. They acted like they didn't know what was going on, though I'm not really sure what this accomplished other than giving them a sense of smug satisfaction (that played off well against the smugness of the other three, who didn't know what was coming). Ian won immunity (can't believe Tom has lost like four challenges in a row), and just before the vote, he told Katie what was up.

Why? What did Ian have to gain? He was immune anyway! I mean, I guess he was trying to convince Katie to get rid of Gregg so as to make sure Tom didn't get voted off in the tiebreaker (which would have left Ian in the minority). Also, Ian wants to take Katie to the final two (all of them do) because he knows no one would let Katie win. Or maybe Tom talked Ian into it, which is genius on Tom's part. Surely Katie realizes how little respect everyone has for her. I'm not sure how she rationalizes it.

Anyway, so Katie complained about it, but she realized she wasn't going to change the votes of Tom, Ian and Caryn, so she might as well go along with them. She said earlier about how she likes to ally with the decisive people who have power, and Tom just did that ... regained the power in the tribe and the decision ability, but Katie sure bitched about it. I think Katie realizes Jenn is the only other person she'd have a chance against in the final two, and that hope just went out the window.

So four votes for Gregg came up in the final vote, and Gregg was totally shocked. An even better reaction came from Jenn, who had been living it up and feeling pretty safe the whole episode. When Gregg got up to leave, Jenn almost toppled over because her safety was gone. She just came to the realization that she's going to have to do the "Janu" or the "Steph", which is spend three days on the island knowing everyone else is prepared to vote you off with no compromise or discussion. That was a great reaction shot.

Next week, in classic "Survivor" tradition, one of the backstabbing, lying constestants (Katie) will bitterly confront someone else about lying and backstabbing. Heh.

Posted by Observer at 07:05 AM | Comments (2)

May 05, 2005

Sweep of the Hated A's

Maybe it is too early in the season for this, but the way the Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of California Anaheim and Los Angeles (ALACAALA) are starting to separate from the pack a little bit, I think this sweep in Oakland was enormous.  We got big pitching performances when we needed them, and our hitters picked up The Albatross when he reverted to his usual sucky form on Wednesday, bashing Oakland 16-7.  Oakland's team ERA just jumped a crisp half-run after that game.  Ouch.

It's almost too bad that Hidalgo got another one of those RBI singles that supposed to break him out of a slump, followed up by a meaningless (!) three-run blast.  It's going to make it that much harder to give him the bench time he so richly deserves.  Maybe he really is a streaky hitter (besides just bad streaks), and maybe now he'll get hot, prove us all wrong and climb over the Mendoza line for a while.  

But if his hot streak doesn't last for a friggin' MONTH, then I hope Buck is aggressive about putting him on the 15-day Get-Over-The-Sucks List with a good long Count-Your-Blessings-That-You're-In-The-Majors-Big-Guy rehab stint in Okie City.  Ideally, Hidalgo will tread water at the barely acceptable level, get hot in June, and then maybe we can trade him around the All-Star Break and get more back than the proverbial bucket of warm spit.  I'd say Hidalgo was a decent gamble, but we paid him way too much for it to be a true gamble.  In gambling, there's supposed to be an upside, and I don't think it's possible for Hidalgo to hit what he's worth.

And Gary Matthews 1 for 6 today.  Ick.  What is going to happen to him if he keeps sucking?  Can Nix grow into the everyday center fielder like we hoped last year?   Anyway, I'm real happy (like Bob Sturm is) about the starting pitching.  We have a better team ERA than the Yanks right now (enjoy it while it lasts, thanks Kevin Brown), even with our bullpen meltdowns.  If Ryan Drese is our worst problem, that's fine.  

You've got to remember with young pitchers that they go through rough spots, but Drese is a pretty good quality guy, and he's earned a lot of slack in my book.  He's probably just a step behind on adjustments (tipping pitches or something), and when he figures out what other teams' scouts are seeing and fixes it, he'll be ok.  Let's hope Orel can fix him.

Other things to be thankful for:  Delucci hitting leadoff and continuing to draw walks (three on Wednesday!).  You know, Soriano had a big day hitting-wise, but I still thought his plate approach was bad.  I probably have no business saying that, but he just seems like he's playing sloppy.  Am I just biased?  I don't know.  Can Delucci play 2nd base?  Please?

And Chris Young.  If he has a couple more good starts in a row, maybe that talk with Randy Johnson he had in New York a couple of weeks ago really was meaningful.

The most important thing for the team now is to get even with ALACAALA, don't let them get used to first place.  That means putting together some streaks and several series wins, because I think ALACAALA isn't going to fall back to .500 anytime soon.  We need to climb about 10-15 games above .500 and stay there for a good long while, because I think that's where ALACAALA is going to be.

Posted by Observer at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)

May 04, 2005

SCM #28 (continued)

The ConservaBorg are trying to put a spin on Democratic filibusters of Bush's most egregiously bad judicial nominees. First, they tried to claim that the filibusters were unprecedented. Uh, sadly, no.. Follow the links within, too, for a fun summary of this bunch of winners Bush is trying to foist on the court system for life.

With that out of the way, the new spin point is a very carefully worded argument like:

There is no Clinton nominee for a federal judgeship who had the support of a simple majority in the Senate yet wasn't confirmed.

Like most Republican spin, this is a clever but misleading claim. For many nominees, we can't know what kind of support they had because Republicans refused to schedule a floor vote, despite the nominees having received unanimous "well-qualified" ratings from the American Bar Association. There were about 60 of these, and among the names are H. Alston Johnson, James Duffy, Kathleen McCree-Lewis, and Enrique Moreno. The rest of the list is easy to find in on-line Senate documents.

You can also read up on the history of the "blue slip", a practice that has dramatically evolved since Republicans have taken over the majority. Kevin Drum has more on the context and Senate history. As usual with ConservaBorg talking points and myths, they seem very confident that their view of politics, history and government is rock solid and correct. It makes me wonder why they have to resort to dishonest and misleading arguments so often in order to make their case.

Fucking liars.

Still, I'm basically in favor of Republicans on this one. After all, Bush is already getting 95% of his idiots confirmed, why not just go for 100%? Let the really bad ones embarrass themselves and show people just what they voted for. In addition, when (inevitably) Democrats control the White House and the Senate again, they won't have to put up with a single ounce of shit from Republican fuckwits who oppose decent, fair judges.

Posted by Observer at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2005

You'd Think...

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 04:21 PM | Comments (5)

Jedi Trial

Another day, another Clone Wars book in the can. This time, it is "Jedi Trial" by David Sherman and Dan Cragg. In this one, Obi Wan goes off on some other adventure, leaving Anakin to make friends with another Jedi named Halcyon, who is a bland, generic Jedi (related to a pilot who appears in the very good X-Wing series, though, but nothing is made of that). The two get sent on a military mission to fight back a Separatist invasion of an important communications center.

Basically, the book goes to great lengths (too far) in order to rationalize the need for a bloody infantry battle, in which Anakin leads his clone troopers into combat against a droid army. The authors tried to paint a picture of the battlefield, talking about this hill, that flank, these hills with rocks in front of them, that rise back over there, etc., but without a map, the tactical discussions did very little for me (especially considering how they ended up being completely irrelevant).

Character development in this one was effectively zero. Ventress made a few cameo appearances, as did Dooku, but neither was eventful. The other supposedly colorful characters here were Slake and Tonith, one representing the military genius on either side of the lines, but they were hardly developed beyond a few basic personality quirks. The authors also followed a few grunts around, but there was nothing exceptional about that plotline either. About the only significant plot point in the grand scheme of things is that Anakin got to cry on the shoulder of Halcyon about being married even though it is forbidden because Halcyon is also secretly married.

All in all, this was the most disappointing of the bunch so far, a quick read but really felt like a throwaway effort. This seemed to be geared more toward adolescent readers, a la the "Young Jedi Knights" series (which I haven't read), except for the occasional blood and gore scene. There are a couple more Clone Wars books, but I don't know that I'll get them read before Episode III comes out.

Besides, I just got offered big money to review a healthy chunk of a new textbook, so there goes my reading time during the upcoming break. I love textbook reviews. I'm interested in the subject anyway and always looking for new ideas, new approaches for my class, and publishers pay me to do it. It's a big job perk. Sometimes it just amounts to a legitimate bribe, because all a publisher really wants me to do is give the book serious consideration for adoption ("Keep it fair, kid. Keep it fair."), but I'm pretty objective about these things, and I always review everything thoroughly and pick the best book no matter what.

Posted by Observer at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2005

Coupons!

In the grand scheme of things, there are a lot of things in life that make me happier, but I still get a little thrill out of getting bookstore gift certificates in the mail (rewards on my credit card). Thanks to months of careful hoarding, I have $90 worth of those bad boys, and the local Bookstop (slightly cheaper, smaller version of Barnes and Noble) is starting a closing-down sale today. My certificates work at either Bookstop or the new Barnes and Noble that is opening down the street in a month (hence, Bookstop's closing), but I just blew them all.

I wasn't too sure what to buy going in. It is times like these when I turn to the recommendations of my fine commenters over the past years who have responded to my book reviews. Then I completely ignore them and buy some books for the kids and a bunch of parenting books for various stages (a book about bickering that looked very funny, a book about grades 7-10, and a book all about toddlers, including some diet ideas). I also got a really good, enormous, colorful world atlas for like eight bucks (originally $70). I convinced myself it will be useful for the kids to have that around.

Posted by Observer at 07:34 AM | Comments (1)

May 01, 2005

The Cestus Deception

Before I forget, Bob Sturm points me to this very funny site. The era is Episode V. Darth Vader heads for Hoth to root out the insurgency once and for all and look for young Luke Skywalker. What better time than for the Dark Lord of the Sith to start up his own blog? Let's hope the Emperor doesn't find out about it. Read it in reverse order for best effect.

I finished another Clone Wars book, this one entitled "The Cestus Deception" by Steven Barnes (of Larry Niven and Steven Barnes' "Dream Park" fame, among others). In this novel, Obi-Wan is sent off to help another Jedi with the unfortunate name of Kit Fisto (who I gather will appear in Episode III, along with another dark Jedi introduced here named Asajj Ventress, an apprentice of Dooku, and General Greivous, who appears in other books).

Obi-Wan and Kit are trying to stop a planet from constructing deadly "Jedi Killer" droids to sell to the Confederacy. But doing so would plunge the planet into poverty and also screw over the oligarchy that rules the planet, so there is substantial resistance. There is a resistance movement, vaguely reminiscent of the Fremen from "Dune", on this desert world, and they naturally favor the Republic. One of the things I like about the Clone Wars books more than anything is that they develop the basic idea behind the Clone Wars.

They show how Dooku and Palpatine use the noble intentions of both sides to drag out the war, which both consolidates Palpatine's power and also has the beneficial side effect of killing off Jedi. Here, Obi-Wan's plan to negotiate the ending of the production line of killer robots falls through, and he has to figure out how to revive things from total disaster (thanks to the intervention of Asajj Ventress) before the Republic just bombs the planet into oblivion, driving more planets into the arms of the Confederacy. A fair bit of time in this book is also devoted to exploring the nature of the clone army.

One of the clones is allowed to grow somewhat as a character, and that actually worked ok for me. It felt like a good little sci fi subplot was snuck in to the rigid framework of the Star Wars universe. From what I gather of some of the reviews by SW faithful over on Amazon, Barnes didn't do a great job of consistency with other past events with Fisto and Ventress. Also, I gather that this is perhaps the worst of the Clone Wars novels. I don't know, it wasn't that bad for me, but I would like to see the dark Jedi Ventress portrayed a little better. Maybe I need to read the Dark Horse graphic novels to get in the right frame of mind to appreciate some of these new characters.

Posted by Observer at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)