July 31, 2005

French Connection

Krugman has some interesting thoughts today about life in France vs life in America:

Americans tend to believe that we do everything better than anyone else. That belief makes it hard for us to learn from others. For example, I've found that many people refuse to believe that Europe has anything to teach us about health care policy. After all, they say, how can Europeans be good at health care when their economies are such failures?

Now, there's no reason a country can't have both an excellent health care system and a troubled economy (or vice versa). But are European economies really doing that badly?

The answer is no. Americans are doing a lot of strutting these days, but a head-to-head comparison between the economies of the United States and Europe - France, in particular - shows that the big difference is in priorities, not performance. We're talking about two highly productive societies that have made a different tradeoff between work and family time. And there's a lot to be said for the French choice.

First things first: given all the bad-mouthing the French receive, you may be surprised that I describe their society as "productive." Yet according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France - G.D.P. per hour worked - is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

O.K., I'm oversimplifying a bit. There are several reasons why the French put in fewer hours of work per capita than we do. One is that some of the French would like to work, but can't: France's unemployment rate, which tends to run about four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate, is a real problem. Another is that many French citizens retire early. But the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart.

The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.

But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice?

I've been looking at a new study of international differences in working hours by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, at Harvard, and Bruce Sacerdote, at Dartmouth. The study's main point is that differences in government regulations, rather than culture (or taxes), explain why Europeans work less than Americans.

But the study also suggests that in this case, government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff - to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family - the kind of deal an individual would find hard to negotiate. The authors write: "It is hard to obtain more vacation for yourself from your employer and even harder, if you do, to coordinate with all your friends to get the same deal and go on vacation together."

And they even offer some statistical evidence that working fewer hours makes Europeans happier, despite the loss of potential income.

It's not a definitive result, and as they note, the whole subject is "politically charged." But let me make an observation: some of that political charge seems to have the wrong sign.

American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of "family values." And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

A common response to liberal complaints these days is the equivalent of "love it or leave it." Wingnuts would tell someone like Krugman that if he likes France so much, he should move there. America is a conservative country, they say (which polls show on issues from health care to labor to abortion that it isn't), so if you don't like the government or the war in the Iraq or who got elected, then leave.

That's such a cheap, stupid argument. Look, if you love your country, you are obligated to stay here and help fix things, in my opinion. And of course, that "love it or leave it" response deflects from the main point, which is: if conservatives are so concerned about healthy families, why does their party endorse so many things that are harmful to families? You can talk about the corrupting influence of Hollywood culture all you want, but if you can't get health care, that's a more immediate threat to your well-being, isn't it?

You think Bush cares about family values? All that man seems to care about is getting in his daily workout and getting a healthy dose of vacation time. Come to think of it, he might be happier in France.

Posted by Observer at 09:23 AM | Comments (11)

July 30, 2005

Comment Settings

For some reason, about two weeks ago, my blog stopped emailing new comments to me. This means some comments that don't get past the filter don't go into my emailbox automatically, and it is sometimes weeks before I think the check to see if any comments are pending approval. Sorry about that, for those of you who have had comments in limbo for a long time.

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

July 29, 2005

Life Force Returning

It's like waking up after you've had the crud for a week and realizing that suddenly you aren't stopped up, you slept ok, your head feels fine, no more body aches. Ah, this is what it feels like to feel normal, and you'll never take it for granted again.

Chan Ho Park just got traded away (pending approval from baseball admins, who will approve if there is a God). I don't give a crap what they got for him. A warm bucket of spit would be fine, especially if they pick up a good fraction of his salary in the bargain. Apparently, though, we got Phil Nevin, a right-handed hitting guy who can make a good emergency catcher and also play first base, dh or even some outfield. Would be a perfect platoon partner for Dellucci, who can't hit lefties very well but murders righties (Nevin is the opposite, stat-wise).

While we're dreaming, maybe we'll trade Barajas and let Gerald Laird have some well-deserved time in the majors, then we'll get rid of Hidalgo for a half-decent prospect. Hell, I wouldn't mind trading away Soriano if we got pitching in return, but I also wouldn't mind the Rangers signing him for another 4-5 years and $10 million per year. I'm right behind pretty much everything Adam is saying over on the Ranger blog here.

Nevin may not be such a great hitter nowadays, but the Ballpark at Arlington has a way of reviving the slumps of all but the worst hitters (i.e. anyone but Barajas and Hidalgo). He's vastly overpaid right now (probably as much or more than Hidalgo based on production vs salary), but that's ok. I'd rather overpay Nevin than overpay Park, because I know for a fact that Park drains my life force when he pitches. Maybe Park will do well back over in the NL in a pitchers' park. Whatever. I never have to root for him again, and that's ... (sniff) ... that's just wonderful.

Oh, and keep in mind what I said last week when the Rangers slumped their way to under .500. I still say this division will be won at 10-15 games over .500, so I won't be surprised if the Rangers continue to torture all of us by hovering at .500 or just over for another month or two. I have no idea who the hell is going to pitch for them, though. Right now, I think the starter on the staff besides suspended Kenny with the best numbers is Chris Young, who has something like a 10 ERA in his last five starts. That's life with a rookie, I'm not worried about him yet, but when a rookie is your "sort of" ace ... ick.

I'm willing to write off the rest of the season for a couple more pitching prospects. We have three very good ones in the minors now (Danks, Volquez and Diamond, all around AA ball) who may be ready to dip their feet in the majors next year. If we can get a couple more, odds are one or maybe two of them will pan out and give us a cheap, respectable #1 or #2 guy (or guys) for a few years, and we can compete with Oakland.

Posted by Observer at 10:57 PM | Comments (1)

I'm a Mac Idiot

A couple of weeks ago, my Diablo II started crashing. Since Safari was occasionally crashing, too, I figured there must be something wrong with the computer. I have an extra hard drive on here that just got installed about a month ago, so I thought maybe that was the problem. I tried erasing and reinstalling system software on both drives, booting from both, etc. I tried reinstalling the game. None of that did anything but waste an immense amount of time and reset a whole bunch of preferences (I tried both a clean install and an install that saves preferences and neither worked).

I tried zapping the PRAM, which was harder than it should've been. This Kensington keyboard of mine apparently doesn't send the right signal to my Mac. I had to go get the crappy little factory-standard keyboard and plug that in to have it work. Of course, to no avail. I cracked it open and futzed around with the extra RAM I had installed, checking all the connections to the drives while I was in there. Nothing.

I went through the crash log, but even though I have more than a passing familiarity with Unix, it was greek to me. I tried monitoring the system during a crash to see what was going on, if the computer would somehow point out the problem, and that didn't work. I probably tried about 10 other things, too, that I read in various support forums and knowledge bases. Finally, I gave up and took the damn Mac into the shop.

They kept it for a frickin' week before they even got around to looking at it. I managed (barely), but boy, it sucked not having my own computer. Usually, the Mac place I use is very, very prompt and reliable, but I guess they were all on vacation or something. Finally on Monday of this week, I got hold of the tech and with some begging and pleading, got him to promise to finish it quickly. I took in both of my Diablo II CD's so that he could recreate the crash conditions.

I hadn't taken them in originally because I figured they had everything they needed in the crash log. I bought an extra Diablo II copy a month ago or so when I got this new computer, and I installed it onto Michelle's Mac so I could trade items more easily. I probably have eight or so mules over there now. Three for low-level artifact sets that I'm building, one for amulets and rings, one for gems, one for charms and two for high-level artifact sets and unique items I'm not using at the moment. It's a lot of fun to have a fifth level character running around with most of Sigon's Complete Steel or something like that. He cuts through monsters like butter, even on /players 8 setting.

Anyway, the guys at the shop had been running a few different scripts trying to make the Mac crash, different diagnostics, etc., and they just couldn't make it crash. Finally, what I figured is that it must be the CD. What happened is that somehow a couple of weeks ago, I switched the Diablo II CD that I've used for 3+ years with the new one and started using the new one while the old one was on Michelle's computer. And this new Diablo II CD is flaky.

And I never checked that possibility. So after tens of hours wasted and 10 days without a computer, it turned out to be a bad CD. I just confirmed it today because I was running Diablo II on Michelle's computer, and it crashed. It hadn't crashed in the past, probably because I never kept that other copy running for long, just long enough to trade items back and forth.

The worst part is that I didn't save any of the packaging, so I probably can't even take the CD back and get a replacement (GameStop). And the boys won't be able to play on their computer with that crappy CD either. Bleargh.

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

July 28, 2005

Breath of Fresh Air

A Seattle judge had some good things to say in his sentencing statement for one of the terrorists in the millennium bombing plot (which Bill Clinton's administration thwarted because they were paying attention to the intelligence instead of fucking around on the ranch after they got warning signs):

I've done my very best to arrive at a period of confinement that appropriately recognizes the severity of the intended offense, but also recognizes the practicalities of the parties' positions before trial and the cooperation of Mr. Ressam, even though it did terminate prematurely.

The message I would hope to convey in today's sentencing is twofold:

First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.

Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.

I would suggest that the message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.

Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.

Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel.

The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism.

Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.

It is my sworn duty, and as long as there is breath in my body I'll perform it, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We will be in recess.

Did you read that, all you so-called libertarians out there? Did you see what a REAL libertarian sounds like? Yeah, this guy was a Reagan appointee in 1981, so don't start with that liberal activist judge crap. Goddamn right. You think Bush would appoint anyone with attitudes even remotely similar to this guy?

If you read the article, you find out that we actually learned quite a bit from this terrorist thanks to the timely capture. I'm sure it will be ignored by this administration just like all the other intelligence that was handed to them by Clinton's team. And to imagine these people had the fucking GALL to blame 9/11 on Clinton. Boggles the mind.

Posted by Observer at 07:22 AM | Comments (10)

July 27, 2005

Half-Blood Prince Talk

Ok, I figure I've waited long enough. Anyone who hasn't read and finished the book by now probably doesn't care whether the whole thing gets spoiled. Anyone who wants to avoid spoilers...well...

You've been warned.

First, there is a lot of good discussion on this book among the fandom. I recommend some of the following places, including all the comments:

  • Dumbledore Is Not Dead, or is he? This site systematically goes through clues to answer some of the big unanswered questions in the series so far. Is Snape really a bad guy? Is Dumbledore really dead? etc.

  • This link leads to a very thorough interview of J. K. Rowling by a fan site. Some new things in here as well as stuff to chew on from previous books that you might not have thought of.

  • here is a post from Kevin Drum with lots of good reader comments and links.

  • here is a discussion from "Alas, A Blog!" with some great reader comments and embedded links.

My guess is that Snape really is a good guy (he has had so many opportunities to kill Harry, and the idea of saving him for Voldemort is a stretch) and that Dumbledore really is dead. I mean, Rowling isn't trying to lead us into some kind of new revolutionary type of story. The mentor *always* dies in these things, ever since Merlin died, leaving King Arthur alone to face the darkness. Obi Wan died. Gandalf sort-of died. But with each of these deaths, there is a always a bit of a cheat. The dead person still gets to play a role (of course, Gandalf came back a completely different person). Dumbledore will still get to play a role, giving advice from his picture frame.

Some people speculate that the awful stuff Dumbledore had to drink was actually one of the missing horcruxes, and so he wanted to be killed as the only way to get rid of that piece of Voldemort. Others speculate that Dumbledore is too well associated with phoenixes, which always rise from the ashes, etc., so he'll have to come back. There are a lot of plausible plotlines here, and it'll kill me to have to wait for the resolution of book seven.

I also don't want this to be true, but I think it is a good possibility that Harry himself (or at least his scar) is a horcrux. It explains the link between Harry and Voldemort very well. Does that mean Harry has to die (and then Ron and Hermione name their first kid Harry at the end of the novel or something)? I hope not. I'd rather he not die.

I think that there are so many little details that mean so much later on that I'm going to have to go back and read the first six books shortly before I read the seventh. The sixth book reading was definitely hampered by the fact that I hadn't read the fifth book in over a year.

Oh, and most people think that R. A. B. stands for Regulus A. Black, Sirius' supposedly dead brother. Could be anything, I suppose, but that seems most likely. If you want to follow just about every speculative thread possible, those links I mentioned above are a good place to start, good signal-to-noise-ratio comments about the sixth book, things you probably haven't thought about before.

Posted by Observer at 02:35 PM | Comments (5)

July 26, 2005

Flashing Lights

There is a long stretch of road near our house that we take in to work every day. The speed limit is lower than it should be (40) for what is effectively a six-lane divided highway with no homes or businesses along it for a mile or so. Naturally, it is a speed trap, but neither of us has ever been caught.

In fact, there are at least three speed traps on our way in to work (my wife and I work about 500 yards apart). When I was a kid and people saw a speed trap, they would flash their headlights after passing, to warn oncoming traffic. Sometime during the past 20 years, that practice fell down to almost nothing. This morning, someone flashed lights to warn me of a speedtrap for the first time in years. I wasn't speeding anyway, but it was weird.

I heard that cops can stop you now if they catch you tipping people off like that. If they spot you flashing your lights, they can give you a ticket for "improper use of headlights". I don't flash my lights at anyone. I figure if people are speeding (including me), they'll eventually get what they deserve.

Posted by Observer at 09:55 AM | Comments (6)

First Time

Still hard to believe that the very first time I ever laid eyes on my wife was just four years ago today. I still remember every moment of that day. Happy anniversary, baby.

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

July 25, 2005

Lawyer Books

Sometimes when I go to the library, I just want a simple read with a good plot to follow, and that usually leads me to something like John Grisham. I enjoyed his first few books quite a bit, and "The Firm" is even one of my favorite movies. Not all of his books are hits, though.

"King of Torts" is kind of in the middle. It follows the ups and downs of the very-rapid career of a public defender who gets into the class-action mass tort game. Grisham describes the mechanics of this branch of the law very well, and he gives a less sympathetic portrayal of tort lawyers compared to what you might find from Gene Hackman in "Class Action" or John Travolta in "A Civil Action" or the lawyers in "Erin Brockovich". The book was interesting just from an educational standpoint about how this process works from a greedy lawyer's point of view.

The main character himself is surprisingly immature given all of his supposed real-world experience. Unlike the Tom Cruise character in "The Firm", Grisham's lawyer here (Clay Carter) basically allows himself to be carried along by events kind of like Forrest Gump without much of the sweetness. I think Grisham does a good job here portraying good and bad decisions, how the quality of a decision depends on events that follow (i.e. should he hire his friends, should he give them big bonuses, how hard should he negotiate on a given case, should he latch on with other big tort lawyers, should he crash his former girlfriend's wedding, etc). It was a good read, easy to follow, a good summer segment killer.

"The Brethren" is a weaker effort. In this one, three judges are in prison for various offenses, and they decide to run a scam that one of them learned from a defendant he once ruled against. They try to lure in rich guys by pretending to be a good-looking gay drug addict who needs a sugar daddy. Once they have sufficient evidence, they blackmail the victim for as much as they can squeeze out of him, with the threat of revealing everything to his friends and family (learned through the outside help of the judges' lawyer and assorted detectives he hires).

Ultimately, their game ensnares an aspiring politician. Drama ensues. The political components of this felt like a poor imitation of Tom Clancy (who is currently a poor imitation of his very good "Hunt for Red October" self). The rest of it just wasn't that interesting or believeable. It was very hard to sympathize with or care about any of the seedy characters in this novel. I was interested enough in the plot to finish it, but it's hard to give it much of an endorsement beyond that.

Posted by Observer at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

Meltdown

Oakland swept the Rangers in four games over the weekend, moving solidly into second place ahead of the Rangers and sending the Rangers back down below .500, and the smart money is writing off the season. I think that may be a little premature, only because Oakland and Anaheim aren't *that* good, but odds are, one of them will continue to play above their heads and leave the division title out of reach for this season. I'm still betting the division winner won't be more than 10-15 games over .500.

Adam Morris has much more to say on his disappointment with this team. Very good read. It's not much fun to care about this team right now, and so the easiest thing to do is not to care, which is a mode I've been slipping into for about a month now.

Posted by Observer at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2005

Talking Points Deep Sixed

For those of you interested in further demolition of the cynical and damaging Republican economic talking points (in which they try everything to justify cutting taxes for the super-rich), go read this very concise and interesting Kos diary. It covers some of the ground I've already covered here and then some. Very helpful.

Posted by Observer at 10:40 AM | Comments (5)

July 23, 2005

Shooting War

I'll tell ya, I guess I just don't understand the gun nut crowd. I mean, I sympathize with them and all. I'm a believer in the idea that the founders wanted citizens who had the right (and some would say the responsibility, but not me) to arm themselves to be the equivalent of soldiers. On the other hand, I don't see the harm in some interpretations of "well-regulated" in the term "well-regulated militia", not to the point where it is a decisive issue that I vote on.

Anyway, some people vote on the gun issue over all others. They say they'll vote for Democrats when the Democrats "stop trying to take my guns away" or some such. Then they support a Republican party that does far, far worse. Fer examper, check out this part of the Patriot Act that the Republican House just renewed. It gives the government the power to:

Order any person or entity to turn over "any tangible things," so long as the FBI specifies that the order is part of an authorized terrorism or intelligence investigation.

A gun is a tangible thing, you know? Gun nuts are all worried about gun registration and gun bans and the like, but the Republicans just smiled and said the gummint has the right to come into your house without telling you, without a warrant (that you'll ever get to see), and take anything they want, including your guns, and there isn't a goddamned thing you can do about it.

Slippery slope? Fuck, man, the slope is VERTICAL here, you know?

So anyway, to all you NRA types out there who vote Republican without thinking, thanks for letting them shoot us all in the foot.

Posted by Observer at 06:52 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

What Has Gone Before

Just imagine if someone like this had been president while we decided how to respond to 9/11. This is from about three years ago, so the foresight displayed here is crystal clear:

If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. Here's why I say that; we know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country. As yet, we have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of those weapons with terrorist groups. If the administration has evidence that he has, please present it, because that would change the way we all look at this thing. But if Iraq came to resemble Afghanistan, in its current depleted state, with no central authority - well, they have a central authority, but their central authority, because the administration's insistence that the international community not be allowed to assemble a peace keeping force large enough to pacify the countryside, that new government in Afghanistan controls a few precincts in one city and the warlords or drug lords control the whole rest of the countryside. What if in the aftermath of a war against Iraq, we face a situation like that because we washed our hands of it? What would then happen to all of those stored reserves of biological weapons all around the country? What if the Al Qaeda members infiltrated across the borders of Iraq the way they are in Afghanistan? Then the question wouldn't be, Is Saddam Hussein going to share these weapons with the terrorist group? The terrorist groups would have an enhanced ability to just walk in there and get them.

I just think that if we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could very well be worse off than we are today. When you ask the administration about this, what's their intention in the aftermath of a war, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked recently about what our responsibility would be for re-stabilizing Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion, and his answer was, "That's for the Iraqis to come together and decide." On the surface you can understand the logic behind that, and this is not an afterthought. This is based on administration policy. I vividly remember that during one of the campaign debates in 2000, Jim Lehrer asked then-Governor Bush whether or not America, after being involved with military action, should engage in any form of nation building. The answer was, "I don't think so. I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. We're going to have kind of a nation-building corps in America? Absolutely not." My point is, this is a Bush doctrine. This is administration policy. Given that it is administration policy, we have to take that into account as a nation in looking at the likely consequences of an overwhelming American military victory against the government of Iraq. If we go in there and dismantle them - and they deserve to be dismantled - but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos, and say, "That's for y'all to decide how to put things back together now," that hurts us.

It's been a while since we've had wise and competent international leadership. I thought I would remind you what a statesman sounds like.

Thanks, liberal media, for lying about Al Gore and helping the Boy King overturn the 2000 election results. You've well and truly fucked our country.

Posted by Observer at 07:47 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2005

Pity Party

Hard to post a lot because my Mac is still in the shop. Usually this place is really quick, but this week, they've been backed up, apparently. I'm still following the news. Hard to say anything about John Roberts because nothing is really known about him for sure. Senate hearings will be interesting. I wonder if Democrats will remember how to behave when they're on national television? It has been so long, and God knows we could use some hearings.

As for the whole Rove scandal, all I can say is pass the fucking popcorn. This has been a long time coming. It's nice to see that the Washington "liberal" media can find something besides a blowjob to get excited about, what with a war going on and all that.

Posted by Observer at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

The Book on the Book

One of the best baseball books I've read in the last five years is Bill Felber's "The Book on the Book". A very nice compliment to "Moneyball". Where "Moneyball" looked at some aspects of how to build a team on the cheap, Felber's book looks at *everything*.

For example, in just the first part, Felber talks about how to evaluate defense. He makes an argument that I'm ashamed to say I never really thought about, that outfielders should always catch the ball with two hands if there's a runner on base who might advance. That's because otherwise they could waste up to 0.3 seconds getting the ball into their throwing hand, and in 0.3 seconds, how far does a typical runner move? Well, pretty damned far.

Felber goes on to talk about who should win the MVP, whether pitchers are really more valuable than hitters, etc. Then he addresses various aspects of "The Book" in baseball. Should you sacrifice? If so, when? Should you steal? Is the intentional base on balls ever a good idea? Should you bunt? What about hit-and-run or squeeze plays? Felber evaluates all of these situations from a statistical standpoint.

And realistically, too. Felber is all too ready to admit the limitations of this approach, the faulty assumptions upon which it is based. Still, it's neat to see him crunch the numbers. Is there a way to measure good GM's? Good managers? How do they rank? How much is too much to pay a superstar (ARod is overpaid by about a factor of two, in Felber's analysis, which feels about right).

I've always heard that the best pitch in baseball is strike one. Well, according to Felber, it is actually strike two. At strike two, hitter production falls off the cliff no matter what the count before the second strike. Not the same cliff as 0-0 vs 0-1, which is hardly a bump. How much should you spend on pitching? Starters or relievers? Are closers worth it? (Nope.)

Anyway, there's not too much that's definitive here because Felber, like any good scientist, is very clear about emphasizing how much we don't know, how much we *can't* know. Despite that, there's an awful lot here to chew on, and this is a great read for people who read "Moneyball" and want to see more like it, from a broader perspective.

Posted by Observer at 07:42 PM | Comments (3)

Bye, Scotty

Mr Scott is no longer with us. What's amazing is that doctors had estimated and given him five years to live but somehow he completed his life in just 5 hours.

Ok, bad joke. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Rogue Planet

Prior to getting the Potter book, I was trying to finish up my Star Wars reading for a while by reading the last pre-Episode-III book that I had missed (well, one of two, but I probably won't read the other), Greg Bear's "Rogue Planet". I'm a big Bear fan, and I've reviewed some of his other stuff in my sidebar, and I wasn't disappointed with his effort here.

This one takes place a few years after "Phantom Menace", so it is early in the Anakin-Obi-Wan relationship. I think Bear is surprisingly perceptive about what threads will be picked up from that story and emphasized in the movies, because he wrote this before even Episode II came out. What that means is that this book ages well and fits well with what comes later, and that's not true of all the pre-III books.

The plot here is that a young and rising officer named Tarkin ("Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.") is trying to locate a planet that builds expensive and remarkable ships, so he follows Anakin and Obi-Wan, after planting the seed with the Jedi that they should check it out. There's some stuff with a minor character called a "Blood Carver" that I'll ignore here, because I'm cutting Bear a break. Very annoying.

Anyway, the two Jedi reach this planet, and it turns out the planet is sort-of force-heavy, and they have an ecosystem that is capable of growing an organic ship with super powerful engines and stuff that "fits" its pilot like a glove and interfaces organically, etc. It acts like a familiar, super-responsive, very fast, incredibly expensive and all that. The part of the book during which Anakin and Obi-Wan are going through the process of growing their ship is really fascinating and would make a good stand-alone story outside the Star Wars universe (which is likely what it was, an idea that Bear adapted because he couldn't figure out anything better to do with it).

That plus the well-written interplay between Anakin and Obi-Wan (along with hints of Qui-Gon's ability to communicate from beyond, something not revealed until Episode III) make this probably among the top two or three Star Wars books prior to the "New Hope" era. A good one to read between viewings of Episodes I and II.

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

July 18, 2005

Finished

Well, I'm done with Potter book number six, and it was very good. I'll wait until my wife is done to post a more detailed review, but in the meantime, I'm happy. I felt about this book kinda like how I felt after "The Empire Strikes Back". That is, I know I just saw a good story, but it's a little frustrating that they left it with so many burning threads unresolved, so now I impatiently wait for the last chapter.

I gave up trying to figure out the problem with my Mac, what made it keep crashing during Diablo II and Safari, so I turned it over to the Mac specialists whose shop is about 20 minutes away. I hope I can get it back by tomorrow with the problem resolved, but I'm not confident that they'll figure it out. I mean, I *really* looked hard on the support site for something that would lead me from my crash log to a viable solution, and I tried a bunch of different things.

We'll see.

Posted by Observer at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2005

Still Reading

I'm over half done. Only failed to finish because it was a busy day. Very good so far. I like this one better than I liked "Order of the Phoenix" at a similar point. A few of the plot devices are a little similar to previous books, but I'm ok with that.

I'm also going through lots of Al Franken Sundance shows from the past couple of weeks. Judd Legum from the Center for American Progress was on there. They always sing "Hey, Judd!" for him, and it was very funny this past time. Anyway, Judd was putting the London mass transit bombings into perspective with the War on Terror. He said right now we spend about $150 million in a year on mass transit (rail, subways, buses) security in the United States.

We spend the same amount in about eight hours in Iraq. So, do you feel safer yet?

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

July 16, 2005

Busy

I'll be back when I'm done with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", not to mention futzing around with this damned computer trying to figure out why Diablo II LOD suddenly started crashing all the time after working just fine for four years.

Posted by Observer at 08:00 PM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2005

Freedom Isn't Free

I think that if you're going to tax a person making $30k/year at a rate of, say, 20% or $6k (which is about right if you add up payroll taxes, income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, registration fees, etc) then you ought to be able to tax someone making $300k at a slightly higher percentage, maybe 30% total, keeping in mind that fixed fees and sales taxes will take away less, so it has to be made up with higher income tax rates. And $3M 40% and so on up to a cap of maybe 50%.

That's because rich people in this society are largely rich because our way of life enables it. The safety net we provide, the freedoms, the government and the society make it possible to be very rich here in ways that aren't possible (certainly not as easy) as elsewhere. I think it is fair to ask, then, that rich people pay a little bit extra. Plus, they can afford it.

I'm not saying rich people are evil. I'm just asking that they take a little responsibility. You know, freedom isn't free, isn't that what they say? When did it suddenly become uncool to ask people to show a little pride and loyalty and patriotism for their country, by asking them to contribute a fair share of taxes? I mean, all these rich Republicans talk about how patriotic they are, but none of them (precious few anyway, much lower rate than poor people) serve in the military, most of them whine about taxes and try to get out of them. So what sacrifices are they making for America?

To me, it just sounds like a bunch of talk. Sure, go slap a little yellow magnet on your car and say that you support the troops by supporting the president. But when it comes down to ponying up a chunk of your income to pay for the war or the pay to prop up these wonderful drug companies or defense contractors, all I hear are a bunch of excuses (at best) or misleading rationalizations or outright devious lies (at worst). Not from all rich people mind you, because there are a lot of rich Democrats who are just fine with paying their fair share (Bill Gates' dad comes to mind when it comes to the estate tax). I'm talking about rich Republicans.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (6)

July 14, 2005

Myths Debunked

Wow. The Left Coaster has basically done what I did with Stupid Conservative Myths, except all in one post, and all about the Karl Rove mess. So when you hear a Republican talking point about how Karl Rove is a great whistleblowing American who was trying to protect reporters or whatever, go see what's really true. It's awesome.

Posted by Observer at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2005

Economic Lying Liars

Lost in the Rove shuffle and war news is the administration trying to pass off its usual tax cut economic bullshit. Apparently, a new projection says the deficit will be about $100 billion less than was projected last year. So it is $300 something billion instead of $400 something, and that doesn't count the cost of the war.

According to fuckwit conservatives, this means that Bush was right all along. It's like me at the poker table. I go in expecting to lose $200 and instead only lose $180, so I must be Doyle Brunson. That's seriously the way the blind faithful Bush supporters are thinking. Anyway, Krugman dispatches this nonsense:

Where's the good news? Well, for the past four years actual tax receipts have consistently come in below expectations, so that the deficit is even bigger than one might have predicted given the administration's don't-tax-but-spend-anyway policies. Recent tax numbers, however, finally offer a positive surprise. The Congressional Budget Office suggests in its latest monthly budget review that the deficit in fiscal 2005 will be "significantly less than $350 billion, perhaps below $325 billion." Last year the deficit was $412 billion.

The usual suspects on the right are already declaring victory over the deficit, and proclaiming vindication for the Laffer Curve - the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves, because they have such a miraculous effect on the economy that revenue actually goes up.

But the fact is that revenue remains far lower than anyone would have predicted before the tax cuts began. In January 2001 the budget office forecast revenues of $2.57 trillion in fiscal 2005. Even with the recent increase in receipts, the actual number will be at least $400 billion less.

And nonpartisan budget experts, such as Ed McKelvey of Goldman Sachs, believe that even the limited good news on the budget is a temporary blip, not a turning point. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, warns us to take the new revenue figures with a "grain of salt," and declares that "if you take yourself to 2008, 2009 or 2010, that vision is the same today as it was two months ago."

A close look at the tax data explains why these experts believe that we're seeing a temporary uptick in revenues, not a sustained change in the trend. Taxes that are closely tied to the number of jobs and the average wage, such as payroll taxes and income taxes automatically withheld from paychecks, aren't showing any big pickup. This confirms other data showing that the economy as a whole is, if anything, doing worse than one would expect at this stage of an economic recovery.

It turns out that all of the upside surprise in tax receipts is coming from two sources. One is tax payments from corporations, up both because last year corporate profits grew much more rapidly than the rest of the economy and because the effective tax rate on corporations went up when a temporary tax break, introduced in 2002, expired. Both are one-time events.

The other source of increased revenue is nonwithheld income taxes - taxes that aren't deducted from paychecks but are instead paid by people receiving additional, nonsalary income. The bounce in nonwithheld taxes probably reflects mainly capital gains on stocks and real estate, together with bonuses paid in the finance and real estate industries. Again, this revenue boost looks like a temporary blip driven by rising stocks and the housing bubble.

In other words, we're still deep in the fiscal quagmire, with federal revenues far below what's needed to pay for federal programs. And we won't get out of that quagmire until a future president admits that the Bush tax cuts were a mistake, and must be reversed.

Like it or not, the simple fact of the matter is that if we want to pay for all these stupid giveaways to pharmaceutical companies and all the wars the Boy King wants to fight (and people were worried about Kerry being a big spender ... give me a fucking break), we have to pay taxes. Lots of them. Either that, or it falls to our kids.

People who tell you otherwise are just trying to pass the buck, rationalizing their way into policies that just happen to fatten their pocketbooks.

Posted by Observer at 07:48 PM | Comments (14)

July 12, 2005

Stolen Property

During my first day of teaching, I used a departmental laptop computer, a Mac G4. After class, I simply left it hooked up in the classroom. It had my first week's worth of notes (or at least images, some downloaded from the internet, some from various CD's that come with textbooks I've used) along with my complete set of powerpoint slides for the past academic year (not much, because I don't use a lot of powerpoint, but it wasn't trivial either).

The classroom remains locked with no one else using it besides me. So it essentially just as secure as my office (in fact, more so, because my office simply requires a key and the classrooms require ID card access). Nevertheless, someone went in there and stole the laptop. I didn't find out about it until this morning a few minutes before class. Kinda threw my lecture off-stride, not having overheads, especially since we're doing some, errr, three-dimensional topics right now. And of course, I love having pretty visuals to distract from my boring lectures.

So the campus police are now in action, and we'll see what happens. Lots of construction going on, so it is possible one of the workers either did it or left a door inadvertantly propped open to provide an opportunity for the real thief. During summer, when campus is deserted, and lots of strangers are on campus for workshops and so forth, is a perfect time for a thief to walk around halls unchallenged, testing doors, etc. There are some cameras in our building, so it is possible that the culprit is on camera, but I'm not sure how we'll establish the time of the crime.

I wonder how long it will be before the laptop is recovered or replaced and what I'll do in the meantime. I may have to revert to old-fashioned overheads. Ick. The theft of the laptop doesn't really bother me that much. I mean, it's unfortunate, and it kinda pisses me off, but I didn't let it ruin my lecture or my day. I really hate losing all those images and presentations, especially some of the new stuff I just finished working on. Just makes a busy summer that much worse.

Posted by Observer at 04:51 PM | Comments (4)

July 11, 2005

Mall Mountains

Daniel's favorite place to go now on lazy summer afternoons is one of the local malls. It has a gigantic, padded foam rubber playground. The surface is tacky for barefeet, and everything is very soft. Not injury-proof, mind you, but feels pretty safe. Of course, I say this and then poor Daniel will probably break another leg like on the trampoline, and we'll take him to the doctor, then the doctor will look at us like child abusers. How could we let him play on such a dangerous thing, etc?

Oh well, we'll risk it. The first two times he went, he absolutely freaked when it was time to go, at least for a few minutes. Then he realized he was tired and settled down. More recently, he left on his own when he got tired (it was a good 45 minutes). It's a bit of a beating. It's fun watching him play, of course, but after a while, I'd like to read a book or something. But you really can't. You have to keep both eyes on your kid all the time. And walkman reception in there just sucks. Would be a perfect place to have an iPod with some podcasts loaded, if I had an iPod. That's very, very low on the old priority list, though.

Most parents there are really good about policing their kid, and mall security comes around about every 20 +/- 10 minutes to make sure only the right sized kids are on the equipment and everyone is playing nice. Last time, there was a big kid there, about a head taller than the height requirement, terrorizing the other kids. I eventually figured out he was accompanied by only his Dad, who was sitting well outside the play area watching from a distance. He didn't stay for long, but I was sure hoping for the mall security person to come by. No such luck, and I didn't feel like being a tattle. No one else did, either, and there were at least 15 other kids there.

Sooner or later, I'm sure there will be some issues here. Like what if some kid pushes Daniel and the parent does nothing, etc. And the thing is certainly a petri dish for all kinds of nasties. But the socialization is good for him, especially since he's out from his weekday school for the next several weeks, and it gets him good and tired for his afternoon nap.

Posted by Observer at 08:59 PM | Comments (5)

July 10, 2005

Six Over, Five Out

I guess Seattle worked some mojo on the Angels, who got swept going into the All-Star Break. That means we are now only five games back and six games over .500. Not bad. What's clear to me is that the Rangers are playing about as well as I could've hoped for. I was hoping for maybe about 10-15 games over, and they're on pace for about 11 games over .500.

The problem is that the Angels are doing a good job with luck. Their run differential is only 20 runs greater than the Rangers, which should translate to about a two game lead at this point. But instead of being eight games over .500, the Angels are sixteen games over. They have to fall back to Earth in the second half. At the same time, Oakland is putting it together, finishing a game over .500 at the break, and their luck is about average, like the Rangers, so their win total is right about where their run differential says it should be.

That's an uncomfortable 2.5 games behind Texas, and the two teams play eight of the first eleven games with one another after the break. Sigh. I guess this means I have to watch. Stupid, though, because the Rangers can't seem to beat the Angels, so even if we stay close, they'll probably whip us in the final few weeks.

Posted by Observer at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2005

Out of Step

It's always good to keep up with one of the great media critics of our era, Eric Alterman, through his blog on my sidebar or through his columns that appear in various places. In this one, Eric points out that, just like wingnuts are always saying, the media is pretty much out of step with the values of mainstream American voters.

That is, the media is too far to the right of them.

After a while, finding new ways to discredit the "liberal bias" claim is a fun hobby.

Posted by Observer at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2005

I Love Graduating Seniors

Never thought I would write that title, but for once, a graduating senior sort of unwittingly did something for me instead of asking me to do something for him. I normally teach two summer classes, but in past years, they've just been on the borderline of not "making". That is, if too few students sign up, the class gets cancelled, and I don't get paid a little extra money to teach it. I enjoy doing the summer classes because it's really not much work, and the extra money is great, plus I'd go crazy if left home to do nothing all summer. At least this way, I can feel somewhat productive.

The problem with the summer classes here is that they are a lot more expensive than the alternatives at the local community college, so the population who willingly signs up and pays for these classes is very limited, just a handful. And that handful with our school as a whole has been shrinking, and my class rolls have been shrinking as a result.

The recent changes I made to my class which enable it to qualify in a new core category will definitely make the class more attractive to summer students, I think, but until then, I'm scraping by. In fact, this summer's class wouldn't have "made" if not for a graduating senior. This guy really needs to graduate by the end of the summer (my guess is he flunked his science class in the Spring ... hell, maybe it was my class), so he begged and pleaded, and the powers that be decided that since there are no alternatives for him in the last session, they would allow him to take my class.

More than any summer class ever, I think I am looking forward to this, because this is the first chance I'll have to teach my course in a new way, corresponding to the changes I proposed recently that got approved. I really hope the students like it. I may even make it a little easier for them ...

Nah.

Posted by Observer at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2005

Torture Czar Is OK

For the past two weeks, it seems like everyone I listen to on the radio has been on vacation, including Al Franken, Randi Rhodes and even most of the local sports station guys. Well, Franken's back, and he kicked off his first show back with a very nice point about Alberto Gonzales and racism. Remember back when we liberals opposed Gonzales for Attorney General because he wrote the legal memos trying to justify torture at our various prisons around the world?

Well, we were called racists by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, along with many Senate Republicans. It was thoroughly revolting and cynical on so many levels. But I have to admit I got a good laugh out of Republicans finding bogus ways to complain about racism, which is pretty much what they always accuse liberals of doing. The difference, of course, is that Democrats actually back up their support for minorities with laws and programs to help them. Republicans pander to the confederate flag toting rednecks and talk about how wonderful things would've been if we'd have kept segregation around like Strom Thurmond would've wanted.

So now that some conservative groups are opposing Gonzales because he won't vote to overturn Roe v Wade, do you think right wing talk show hosts are going to characterize the religious right as "racist"? I do wonder what Bush will do, and I have to say, I'm reluctantly rooting for Gonzales for a couple of reasons. One is that he has somewhat of an independent streak and isn't a complete nutball. He's just hitched his wagon to Bush for better or worse, but he isn't as beholden to the right-wing crazies like Bush is. He might be a decent justice. Or he might be another shallow right-wing parroting idiot like Thomas. He is probably the best we liberals can hope for, sadly.

The other thing is that appointing Gonzales will send a clear message to the right-wing nutballs, a message that has been obvious for years of watching Republicans in Congress: They don't want Roe v Wade overturned. For all the talk about how horrible abortion is, Republicans have had plenty of chances to enshrine protection for the unborn into federal law, but somehow, they just haven't bothered to do it in the last 10+ years of Congressional control, not to mention Congressional and Executive control in the last 4-5 years. And why should they when it makes such a great issue to rile up their base?

But you can only hold the carrot out in front of the ass for so long before the ass finally gets smart and realizes he can stop doing what you want. The only question is when that happens, and it all depends on how stupid and stubborn the ass is.

Posted by Observer at 07:12 AM | Comments (4)

July 06, 2005

Tom Tomorrow...

...has a great one about how young Republican interns are supporting the troops.

Posted by Observer at 07:34 PM | Comments (0)

Red and Blue Blogs

There's an interesting diary over on Kos from a disillusioned conservative who tried to participate in a discussion over at one of the very few group-style conservative blogs, Redstate.org. He talks about the difference in the level and depth of the discussion between liberal sites like Kos and conservative sites like Redstate (there are really no other notable examples to speak of).

One thing you notice when you surf both sides of the web is that hardly any conservative sites allow for comments while virtually all the liberal ones do. And this diary gets at some of the reasons why. Right now, there are a few basic types of solid core Republicans, in my opinion.

First, you have the fundie wingnuts. These are the biblical literalists, apocalyptics, waiting for rapture, God hates fags, 9/11 was punishment for our sins, etc. Small but noisy fragment of the population. They'll never truly be represented in office, but Republicans are as close as they can possibly get, so there's no question which party gets their vote. The closer Republicans get to their views, the bigger their turnout, a key Rove used to swing the most recent election.

Second, you have the super rich. These are the people who are simply looking for the party that allows them to pay the fewest taxes. CEO's and professional athletes fall into this category. Issues like health care, war, unemployment, etc., don't touch them at all. They are in a completely different, parallel society and are simply unaffected by mundane problems affecting the middle class. They will always be rich. It is just a question of how rich. A lot of them, like Tom Hicks, think that being rich makes them automatically smarter, better, etc. than others with more valid opinions. After all, if liberals were so smart, how come they aren't rich and enjoying the high life?

When I think of these people, I am reminded of an old acquiantance. I was talking to her about her experience on a cruise ship. When she said that they assigned tables to everyone, so you pretty much had to eat with the same group of people for most meals. I said something along the lines of, "Well, you have to hope you don't get stuck with a bunch of jerks or it would be a long cruise." She responded with the idea that there's no way that could happen. After all, everyone in the ship has a decent amount of money, so they're all good people. This from a middle class voter.

Which brings me to the third class, the sort-of religious, ambitious middle-class voter. These are people who think the lottery is just around the corner for them, so they want lots of tax breaks for super rich people, banishment of the estate tax, etc., because they think they're a break or two away from being millionaires. These people fall for get-rich-quick schemes, and they feel enough guilt about not being more religious that they vote Republican as penance.

Finally, you have the fake intellectuals. These are the columnists, the think-tankers, and many bloggers who claim that right-wing talk radio is like a modern-day Algonquin Round Table of brain-enhancing discussion. Note that I say "claim". I do not say "think". I think these people are smart enough to know what's really going on, but the pay is good, so they keep up the charade. A lot of Young Republicans fall into this category. They aspire to be part of the right-wing nutball intelligentsia (there's an oxymoron for ya), but they are too stupid to realize that there really isn't one. They're all pretty much faking it.

These people think that stirring up a controversy (like giving out free cookies to white people and charging blacks a dollar to show how horrible affirmative action is while demonstrating only their ignorance of the whole concept) completely proves their point. These are the people Feynman talks about in "Cargo Cult Science" when he says, "What for most people is the conclusion of an investigation is only the beginning for an actual scientist." (paraphrased from memory, sorry). They lie with impunity and without guilt because they have convinced themselves that their philosophy is correct and so promoting it justifies any kind of ethical corner-cutting they can imagine.

They are so wrapped up in this life that they can't imagine the possibility that they might be wrong (this affects the middle-class Republicans sort of in the background, like a nagging conscience). Classic denial. They use debate tactics that would have them laughed out of a high school competition. This is one reason they fear comments and discussion. They talk a big game, but when it comes down to actual nuts and bolts discussion of issues, the emperor here truly has no clothes. A lot of them don't want to debate because they're worried about coming to the realization that they've been wrong for all these years, and how embarrassing. Who would want to go through such a painful process?

It's so easy to just rationalize old habits and keep voting Republican. After all, with so much reinforcement out there in talk radio and the media about what a great guy Bush is, how evil the liberal media is, etc., it's easy to just stay in a cocoon, and the Republican leadership knows it. The ambitious middle-class voters are the people they are most vulnerable to losing, and a lot of what they do, how they frame Bush, the talking points that get into the first paragraph of newspaper stories and headlines, etc. are aimed at keeping this cocoon intact.

And so this all brings me back to the point of why we don't have a lot of interactive blogs over on the right-wing side of the blogosphere. First, for different reasons, the intellectuals and the religious nuts are completely and violently opposed to a rational debate of ideas. Not only that, intellectuals don't want to be forced to ponder the fact that they're on the same side as people who genuinely believe crap like creationism, so they'd just as soon shout down any science vs religion debate as "inflammatory", which gives them a handy excuse to avoid discussion.

The super rich don't want discussions because they simply don't give a crap. They're just looking for the next quick fix of entertainment. If it's a discussion great, but if it gets unpleasant, forget it, I'm off to St. Thomas, anyway. And the ambitious middle class Republicans are generally not too technically literate (if they were, they'd be intellectuals, more likely), so they're still trying to figure out how smilies work. They don't have the time or the technical know-how (let alone the expertise in the relevant subject matter) to get into a debate. So they'll just say they're busy and tell themselves that anyone who thinks politics is something worth debating is just plain silly and takes it all too seriously. They'll smile at the signed George-and-Laura photo on the wall or the fridge and imagine George smiling back at them, because he probably would in real life.

Posted by Observer at 07:17 AM | Comments (10)

July 05, 2005

Wakefield...

pitches tonight against Texas. I never get tired of seeing that guy pitch. Would be nice to put together a little win streak before the break, but I fear a rough time. Hell, Oakland could pass us by the end of July the way they're playing. I guess people aren't laughing so much at "Moneyball" these days.

Posted by Observer at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

Bad Show

What a crappy fireworks show last night. The best fireworks show in my memory was probably one year, around 1993 or so, when a whole bunch of us grad students got together and walked down to Lake Union from where we lived in the Wallingford area of Seattle. We got right down to the shoreline, and the fireworks show was almost on top of us. It was a pleasant night, and there was no driving. We walked right through lots of traffic to get home, but it only took about ten minutes.

A close second was a couple of years ago. Our city has a fireworks show that goes off after a local minor league ball game finishes, so usually around 10pm or so is how they time it. Two years ago, we had Michelle's mom down, and Michelle was just about to pop with Daniel, whose birthday is coming on July 2. We found a really good spot maybe 100 yards away from where they were shooting off the fireworks. That's the closest I've been to a show, and it was a nice long one, lots of variety. It was hot, that was the only negative. I also got lucky and found a way to avoid almost all traffic on the way home, unlike previous years.

This year we went down to try to find the same spot as two years ago, but by the time we arrived, they had closed off the whole area, saying there was no parking left. So by around 9:20, we found a little park nearby that had some promise. We took a gamble and parked there. Turned out to be a decent spot, even though they moved the fireworks launching point about a half-mile north compared to previous years. We were still able to see pretty good, but we had to move once the show started.

The main problem was they didn't start the show until frickin' 10:45, and we had an impatient 2-year-old with us who was wayyyy past his bedtime. It was stifling hot, too, just nasty. God knows how many bugs crawled on us. It was a foresty area, kind of no-man's-land near a river, not really a park. We were lucky we didn't plop our chairs down right in the middle of a fire ant colony.

Anyway, so I was really close to packing up the crew and leaving when they finally started the show. We were expecting 10pm, remember, and it was 1045. We got ourselves situated, and Daniel really enjoyed the fireworks for the first couple of minutes. Unfortunately, that was about half the show. There is no way that show went on for longer than about six minutes. Inexcusably lame.

Oh sure, there were some good fireworks, but we saw at least two better shows off in the distance before ours went off. Hell, I should've stayed home and watched the Ranger came. They came back from 5-4 to beat Boston in the bottom of the ninth in what sounds (from the recap) like an exciting game. I'll bet the fireworks after that one was better than what we saw, too, even on TV. Angels lost, too, for once, so now we're only a million games back instead of a billion.

Oh, and Kenny Rogers made the All-Star Team. Stupid. Whoever made that decision has got to be an idiot. I can't think of many sorrier ambassadors for the game than that kuncklehead. He had no business being a jackass to the camera guys just doing their jobs. They weren't in his face or anything, just out of the field in the same place they are every day. If they were paparazzi following him around to restaurants with his family or something, then fine, abuse 'em. But if you walk out onto a major league ball field in uniform and expect to tell people not to take your picture, then you've got some serious issues.

Cheering for the Rangers will be a lot harder if I find myself having to root for that guy with an important game on the line. I mean, it's bad enough I have to root for a team owned by Republican rich-guy fuckwit Tom Hicks, who thinks a billion dollars makes him a genius. Problem is, every time he opens his mouth to talk about politics, he proves that little idea wrong.

Posted by Observer at 07:04 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2005

Survey Says...

This was discussed in comments several entries back, and I happened to run across something today that helps. This survey published in January 2005 shows support among the military for the war is between 60-67%, with the higher end numbers coming from those who have served in Iraq.

Hard to say, but from the looks of the way the sample was constructed, it doesn't include people from the National Guard and may undersample reservists, because it only asks people who subscribe to Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine newsletters. The survey sidebar itself indicates it is biased in favor of older, higher rank, career-oriented soldiers.

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

Confronting Cowards

Atrios finds a good editorial that summarizes the problem we're having in America with the Boy King's vanity war:

The Army can't find enough recruits. Could there be a clearer expression of Americans' disenchantment with the war in Iraq? This is democracy where it matters. No one should doubt that young Americans would willingly go to war if they believed in it. But this is a war of choice that began with fabrications and has been marked by blunders at the highest level -- blunders that have resulted in many lives lost. Over two years, the aims of this war have shifted like dunes in the desert.

President Bush, moreover, has told Americans they need not make any sacrifices; to the contrary, he has pursued tax cuts. This is not inspiring. This is deceptive and dishonorable. Yet the Army expects young idealists to sign up anyway, for hazardous duty in a treacherous country, where the violence shows no signs of letting up and the generals show no signs of knowing what to do about it.

It's no surprise that the idealists are staying away. Certainly, the sons and daughters of the unimpeachably idealistic neoconservatives who prayed for the war and brayed for what they stupidly supposed was victory back in 2003 are staying as far away from it as they possibly can.

Fortunately, Jesus' General has the solution: Operation Yellow Elephant. Find every Young Republican you can get your hands on and encourage them to enlist. At this point, if they support the troops and support the war, they need to get on board and fight. No more "drink a beer for the troops" or "plunk a yellow ribbon on my car". Get to basic training and get to Iraq. Your country, your president, and your war desperately need your help.

Oh, and for a good laugh, click here to play Operation Yellow Elephant Bingo. Match Young Republican excuses on your game card, and see how fast you can win.

Posted by Observer at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2005

Summer of Math

During his time here, Justin has made really good progress on his English/Reading skills. He's gone from 2-3 grades behind to pretty much caught up and taking classes with his peers, making A's and B's. A lot of that is because of library trips, and we're encouraging him to read, and early on, we were making him write book reports and stuff. We always pay the kids if they do extra work like that, unless they are doing it to make up for a bad grade, like Cody flunking the 2nd semester of science this past year when he had every reason and opportunity to pass.

Math is another story. I haven't really concentrated on it before, mostly because of Justin's Asperger's, I figured math would come easily for him and I wouldn't have to worry so much about catching him up. And, really, the techniques of math do come easily for him, but he gets in a hurry and forgets how to do things. He'll do the first couple of fractions right, then screw up the rest of the page before he asks me to check his work, etc. So he just needs some mental discipline and more practice.

He did well enough in his math class last year that he advanced a full grade level, but that still left him a few years behind where he ought to be. Still, his teachers thought (and I imagine school district budgeting) that he needs to be integrated into the 10th grade math class next year. That's a really big jump, and if he doesn't pass, it threatens his track/cross-country eligibility. So he's working an average of a few dozen math problems per year out of a pre-algebra workbook I picked up at half-price books (Cody is doing science, but it isn't as intensive as what Justin's going through).

I'm quick enough at Math (hey, I *lettered* in Math) that I can check his work pretty easily without having to dig up the solutions or a calculator, so it's going ok. Right now, he's doing common denominators, least common multiples, etc. In his review set now, a typical problem is something like (3/7 - 2/9) / 3/4 + 2 6/7. So he's got to do common denominators, order of operations, mixed numbers, reducing fractions, multiplying, dividing, adding and subtracting. We're also starting to work with isolating variables and such. It's tedious for him, but he needs to skills or he's just going to drown in 10th grade algebra.

Sadly, I've taught a lot of kids at the college level who couldn't do this, even with tutoring. It's one thing to be old and not remember techniques and stuff. It's quite another to be a student just out of high school and not be able to do it.

Posted by Observer at 08:18 PM | Comments (2)

July 02, 2005

Mad Money

Whenever I get extra pay for the summer, I like to spend at least a little chunk of it on something big. Three years ago, it was all of it to help us move in to our new house. Two years ago, it was $4k for the windows the boys broke. Last year, it was to pay off some debt after we had nice new berber carpet installed throughout the house around Xmas time, among other improvements. This year, it was time to upgrade the peripherals.

We've had an HP Photosmart 7950 printer for over a year now, using it from both of our computers thanks to a USB switcher. Anytime one of us wanted to printer, we would push a little button to toggle the printer connection back and forth between our computers. It was an ordeal, because I think something was screw with a cable or the hub or the printer. Sometimes when we would be hooked up to the printer, it would freeze the computer. God help you if you ever wanted to print from Classic mode. Other times, if we tried to print without realizing we weren't hooked up, it took several minutes to untangle the printer queue, reset everything, etc. I think in the end, all the problems ended up frying the poor computer's brain or something.

At any rate, as of a couple of months ago, the printer went from incredibly slow and unreliable to completely non-functional. Once I accepted that it no longer was useful, I was fine with it. If it was important, I could mail a file to work and print from there, etc. Michelle managed to use the equivalent of CPR on it so that the printer burped out one last page or two, then it stopped working for her, too.

So while we were out today, we bought an HP Deskjet 6840. The big selling point for me was that it is ethernet ready and only $200. No more switching. I just installed it, put the software on and within a few minutes, I had printed simple documents in OS X and Classic. I had printouts in my hands within seconds of issuing the print command. The old printer wasn't slow once it got going, but it took minutes sometimes to get going. We have ink cartridges for regular and photo printing. We're going to try photo printing later.

The bigger purchase is something Michelle really wanted (I like it, too, but I would've picked a new range first ... but she's the one who cooks and manages pictures and such, so best to leave it up to her). We bought a Canon SD 500 with a 1 GB memory card. This camera not only takes digital pics with a 7.1 Megapixel chip, but it can also take 2-3 minute mini-movies, and that was the real selling point for me. I wouldn't have wanted just a camera upgrade. I like the idea of getting little movies for Michelle to post on her blog, so we'll have lots of Daniel downloads coming soon over there.

I also sprang for another copy of Diablo II: LOD during the week. It's just too much of a pain to try to transfer equipment between characters on Classic versions and OS X versions of Diablo II running on the same computer. Takes too long and crashes sometimes. So now I can use Michelle's computer running its own copy and transfer items back and forth between all of my characters. And when I'm not transferring, the kids can play Diablo II with their own CD on the computer now in Justin's room. Cody is just starting to learn how to play. It may end up being too complicated for him, but I'm trying to help him out, starting him with a Paladin, which I think it easy with the auras and such.

I've always gotten further with my barbarians, though. When I last stopped playing, my highest level barbarian was stuck in hell mode trying to get past the battle with the three Ancients on Mount Arreat. I just couldn't deal out damage quickly enough or something. So I'm starting a new one that I'm going to build in a different way and see if that works better. That's where the transferring of items comes in handy, because I've got a bunch of great low-level stuff (mostly sets) for my new barbarian to use until he qualifies to use all the neat stuff my high-level barbarian uses.

Posted by Observer at 05:10 PM | Comments (5)

July 01, 2005

Fear of Chimpeachment

Holden over at First Draft pointed me to this great Mike Luckovich cartoon, an instant classic. From The Creators' Syndicate.

Posted by Observer at 11:01 PM | Comments (3)

Depressing

Apparently, Sandra Day O'Connor just announced her retirement from the Supreme Court. O'Connor is something of a moderate although she did side with the majority in the stupid and unprecedented decision to stop the counting in the 2000 election, handing the presidency to Bush. Prior to that election, of course, O'Connor reportedly said that she would want to retire soon and under a Republican administration. I think she would've retired a couple of years ago but didn't want to make it blatantly obvious that she sided with Bush in the 2000 decision in order to make her wish for replacement come true.

Of course, this is mitigated now by the fact that there has been another election, a depressing referendum that favored Bush, so now O'Connor can say it isn't her fault that Bush is in charge. At any rate, there's really no question that for all her faults, O'Connor is going to be replaced by someone likely much worse. My guess is that the philosophy of Bush's nominee will be somewhere to the right of whatever Antonin Scalia clerk happens to be writing most of Clarence Thomas' official opinions these days while Thomas plays Tetris or surfs for porn in his chambers.

Recently, the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came to a sort of compromise on judicial nominees, with Democrats agreeing to allow votes for some truly awful nominees (who, of course, passed) in exchange for not shutting down the Senate. That supposedly sets the stage for this nomination process, in which Bush will do his best to send a big, steaming pile of shit candidate to the Senate to force a showdown anyway. Republicans will abandon the filibuster rule, despite the previous compromise (which means Democrats gave in for nothing, because most of the public is totally unaware of the deal they made), and we'll have to suffer for God knows how many more decades with some true neanderthals in charge of justice.

The only good thing that will come out of it, if Democrats can stick to their guns, will be that absolutely nothing else that Bush wants will get through the Senate, maybe for the remainder of Bush's term in office. So no more major changes, no more huge new stupid government giveaways, except whatever they can tack on to emergency Iraq appropriations bills (anyone who votes against those is obviously a traitor, after all, regardless of what riders are attached).

Or I could be wrong, and Bush could propose a moderate everyone can agree on with a fake smile. After all, he did promise to be a uniter, not a divider.

Pfft.

Posted by Observer at 09:32 AM | Comments (3)