August 31, 2005

Uniting Not Dividing

Like many, many others in these polarized times, I've had more than my fill of highly unpleasant political discussions with my family. It got to the point between my mother and I after the 2000 election that we stopped speaking for months, even though we live less than an hour apart. Though that period is over, we've never spoken about politics since then, an unspoken and uncomfortable unofficial agreement.

But I'll give the pro-war protesters one thing: their behavior is so outlandish, so beyond the pale, that they are helping my mother and I find common ground to talk again about politics.

Years ago, what frustrated me about my mother was that she simply wasn't listening. I would explain to her how the math in Bush's tax policies didn't add up, for example. She would basically ignore the point and forward me an article from some freeper website about Al Gore being a traitor for negotiating with the Russians over something.

I would fall for the trap, do some research, and explain to her that, no, actually that sort of negotiation is routine, here's what the treaty was really about, some historical precedent, etc. She would ignore my reply (or at least offer no comment) and forward me another article that she thought I should really read about how Clinton sold all of our nuclear secrets to China in return for campaign contributions.

Basically, she was like a forerunner of InstaPundit, and I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. My frustration eventually boiled over, and she got offended that I was offended, and so on and so on. Maybe she'll read this someday if she discovers my blog and get mad all over again. I don't know. It's not like I'm saying stuff that's any worse than I said all those years ago.

Like so many Republicans around here, I still see that my mom has a signed picture of George and Laura on the fridge (last I checked, anyway), so I figure she is still in thrall to the whole cult of personality thing and so there's nothing to talk about. At least until Camp Casey. Part of what made our trip possible was that my mom had offered to babysit for our 2-year-old so we could take the three older kids. She knew where we were going and was very open-minded about the whole thing.

So today, my mom called me to talk about it, and I told her I would send her the story. As we spoke on the phone, I told her about the striking difference in the behavior between the pro- and anti-war demonstrators, particularly the offensive signs ("Bitch in the Ditch", "Traitorous Appeasers", "Terrorist Lovers", that sort of thing) and slogans being yelled in our direction while we diligently kept up a practice of non-confrontation at the urging of the Peace House. I told her about the fight between the wingnuts over the "say no to war" sign, and she thought that was pretty funny.

She agreed that you shouldn't feel fear in America when you speak your mind. She resented the way Cindy has been portrayed by the media. She was offended by the behavior of the pro-Bush supporters. I think she is a bellweather, the kind of person who has supported Bush because of his image, because she has bought the "liberal media" myth, because about all she is exposed to down here (in Texas) is wingnut radio and the local Bush-supporting media.

Now, though, she is starting to see some cracks in the armor of the Bush myth. My hope is that maybe now she'll get some exposure to the real liberal media, like the local Air America affiliate and maybe some liberal blogs. Maybe at long last she'll realize the kind of people she's thrown in with, and maybe we'll be able to have a nice discussion about America again. Maybe she's asking about my trip because she's looking for someone to talk to about politics again, someone who isn't a dittohead.

My Mom and I were always close until that horrible year of 2000, and the thought of healing that wound is something wonderful. I'm not optimistic about it, of course, but I guess I can dream. I feel like Red at the end of "The Shawshank Redemption":

"I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."

Maybe Bush will unite all of us after all, just not in the way he expected.

Posted by Observer at 10:42 PM | Comments (1)

Quote of the Day

"Uh, yes, hello Dr. Observer. I just enrolled in your class today. I know class started in the middle of last week, but I got delayed. Anyway, I'm just wondering if you could tell me if there's anything pertinent that I've missed."

Times like these tempt me to trot out my Advice for Undergraduates.

Posted by Observer at 08:50 AM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2005

Hell Time

My Barbarian is now level 69 and just started Hell mode. Time to find some decent armor, because that's a big area I'm lacking in. In my open game at home, I was spoiled by some ornate plate with a base defense of 1200 and lots of other neat effects. I need that badly now. I could barely clean out the Den of Evil, and I can't really start doing Countess runs for runes until I've got much better defense. I've got something like +400% magic find when my helper kills stuff, about +220% when I kill stuff. Still way below the bottom rung of the barbarian ladder, which is currently around level 87.

I've got two good weapons. I found an Aldur's Rhythm that I socketed with 3 Amn runes, but the life drain is so reduced in Hell mode I can hardly see it, especially because a lot of the stuff I fight is immune to physical (my biggest curse) and so you can't steal life from it. I also have another big smashing mace called Fleshrender that I put a Shael rune in for attack speed. It's very nice. Base damage of 66-110 before all of my bonsues for frenzy and so on (Aldur's Rhythm is only 60-93 base damage).

It also has 20% deadly strike, 20% crushing blow, open wounds and prevent monster heal, which is really important for Hell. The monsters take so damn long to kill sometimes that their self-healing can often double the kill time. It's like chopping down trees compared to nightmare mode where I can just wade through everything.

Posted by Observer at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2005

Moore and Sheehan

One thing I don't understand, and even usually liberal pundits like Frank Rich are doing this, is the promotion of this idea that Michael Moore isn't credible. What I mean is that people are saying that they hope Cindy Sheehan doesn't get co-opted by the kooky left-wing operatives out there (i.e. the vast left-wing conspiracy, I guess) and become like Michael Moore. Some are saying she already has, as if this somehow discredits her message, as if her son didn't die, as if you can't raise questions about what noble cause this war in Iraq is being fought for.

Maybe someone can help me out here, but where is this super-duper Michael Moore debunking that I've missed? Where is the website that shoots down the major points in Fahrenheit 9/11? That the hijackers were mostly Saudis? That Bush and the bin Ladens have a lot of business connections? That Bush ignored the warnings about planes flying into buildings?

If the mainstream media were as liberal as we're supposed to believe, why is it that so many of them promote the idea that any association with Michael Moore is a bad one? Personally, I think the right wing kicked up a lot of dust over Fahrenheit 9/11 without any substance to it. There are "debunkings" of Moore's claims out there, sure, but those are full of holes and when accurate, only address minor points that show Moore is a little sloppy. But I think they blew enough smoke that the lazy media thinks there must be something to it, so now Moore is in the "not credible" box while idiots like Bill O'Reilly (who started making the Iraq-9/11 link within days of the attack) are still treated with deference.

Posted by Observer at 09:29 PM | Comments (3)

August 28, 2005

Hanging Threads

Ok, so the season finale of "The 4400" was pretty good. This season wasn't really as good as the first set of six hours, but I thought they did a good job with it. Some of the plot threads in the last few minutes for the next season were pretty big. I assume they left so much hanging because they know the show is going to be continuing for a while, which is good news.

Since the crazy doc is now injecting himself with Promycin (however it is spelled), I guess that implies that anyone with this neurotransmitter may be able to develop 4400 abilities. Apparently, the people in the future not only had this chemical but could also predict what sorts of abilities would manifest (assuming the tech's theory about the "ripple effect" is right, that every ability that manifests is leading to some greater good). But now everyone will have access to it.

And no surprise that Jordan Collier is alive, I guess. Or is he? Since he reappeared at the original site, does that mean he's possessed by the thing that left Kyle? Or is that thing gone forever? When do we get to find out what that thing was? And what the hell is up with Isabel? I mean, I figured she would have to age super-fast like the alien hybrid kid from "V" to be a more interesting character, but how would she learn to speak English and all that? And yes, I know "V" is a call-back to TV history, but come to think of it, Tom kinda looks like the actor Marc Singer, and I don't know how I know the name of that actor ... amazing what the brain retains.

When does season 3 start? This is one of those shows I'm going to wish I waited until season 10 and then caught up on DVD. Which reminds me, we have to get off our butts and finish watching all of our "Firefly" discs so we can be ready for the movie "Serenity" which supposedly comes out in October or November. That way we can get started on season 1 of "The West Wing".

Posted by Observer at 10:29 PM | Comments (5)

Both Rallies

I really wish we had had time to go to both rallies (not just the anti-Bush rally). From Cindy's account to an AP Story, it sounds like a place with plenty of violence and hatred. I don't know that it would have been safe for the kids, but it damned sure would have been an unforgettable education. I saw clips of the pro-Bush side on CNN yesterday, and their signs and attitudes were vicious (slogans like "treasonous bitch!" and "hippie ignorant bastards!" and "Cindy wants to marry Osama" were common). I'm going to see if I can find any groups of photos taken at that rally. If you find any, let me know.

Posted by Observer at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

The Rally

Our family (myself, my wife, and our three older kids who are 11, 13 and 16) went down to Crawford today. We wanted to take the kids down there to see what's going on before Cindy Sheehan leaves on her anti-war bus tour and the Boy King goes back to getting his workouts in and ignoring the country from the Oval Office. Today was a good day to go because there were two opposing rallies scheduled.

Acting on very good advice from Meet With Cindy and the Crawford Peace House, we arrived a little early (around 11am) at the Peace House. There was less traffic than I was expecting. We felt very lucky to be able to sneak into a grassy parking lot near the Peace House where a few places remained up against the railroad tracks.

We weren't really sure what to expect or what to take, despite some of the good information out there. I brought two gigantic packs of toilet paper and two cases of bottled water. We gave one of the packs of toilet paper to the Peace House, and they advised us that the rest of it would be better used at Camp Casey if we could lug it out there.

We also brought two ice chests filled with ice and bottles of water, both for ourselves and to hand out to anyone in need. That was a mistake on our part. We could've avoided lugging those heavy ice chests out to Camp Casey (II) because they had an absolute truckload of bottled water out there. Plenty of ice, too.

In fact, I was impressed most by discovering that this enormous event was so well organized that they hardly needed anything. They were even having a barbecue buffet for everyone, thanks to lots of wonderful volunteers, with plenty of food, so we didn't even need to bring our sandwiches (which were great anyway because I love a cold tunafish sandwich on a hot day).

We waited at the Peace House for about 20-30 minutes for a shuttle bus. There were 20 or so vans and mini-buses taking people from there to Camp Casey II, about 15 minutes away or so. There were also a few very large charter buses, and we got on one of those. Probably the times during the day when we were the hottest was when we were waiting for the buses out in the hot sun.

While we waited for the bus, a couple of jokers on horseback strolled by with big American flags. On one horse's flank were painted the words "Cindy, go home!" As they walked by, some nice lady came over and spritzed cold water on us, then reminded all of us (good for the kids to hear this) not to interact with the pro-war people. It's best not to even give them the pleasure of eye contact, but if you have to, give them a friendly wave. We gave a lot of friendly waves during the day.

As we headed out on the shuttle bus, we had to go through the intersection at the center of town, which was where all of the pro-Bush demonstrators were gathering (Camp Qualls). It was really creepy. One lady looked at us with a serious "go to hell" look, reminded me of the lady from that famous picture in Oregon who had her hand over the mouth of some girl, trying to shut her up. She was holding a sign over her head that said "You are aiding TERRORISTS" or something like that.

How on Earth can you reason with these people? Of all the questions that came out of the day for me, the biggest is: how can people demonstrate so passionately in support of Bush? What exactly has he done for them to demand such fierce loyalty? They act like he's the greatest president ever. We might as well be protesting the second coming of Jesus Christ, they way the wingnuts act toward us.

I can sure understand why people would passionately oppose Bush, especially family members of soldiers who have been wounded or killed thanks to the stupid war in Iraq. But what is the spark lighting the fire under the asses of people like the lady with the "TERRORIST" sign. What thought process could convince her so completely that we are in league with terrorists?

Oh well.

When our bus got to the camp, we all walked out to a flood of applause from people already at the camp, happy that there were more people there to join us. That was a really nice feeling, and I'm sure it was a rush for the kids. We quickly unloaded our ice chests and other things to donate, and we got all that sorted out, then we started exploring the camp.

This is Camp Casey II, the new one with the enormous white tent covering it. Wow, that tent is the size of a football field, and without it, the whole experience would've been about 100 times less pleasant. Whatever wonderful person forked over the dough to make that happen ... well, bless you. I'd love to be super-rich so I could do that kind of thoughtful stuff for people. But we're not, so we brought bottled water and toilet paper.

As we walked out to explore the little field of white crosses in front of the camp, several motorcycles puttered by on their way to another pro-war rally being held nearby. A couple of them yelled out what I'm sure is stupid crap that I'm glad I couldn't hear. The only one I could hear yelled out "Go home, Cindy!" I felt embarrassed for motorcycle riders everywhere.

We got to donate to some good causes while we walked around, buying t-shirts and giving some money to Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Peace House and Gold Star Families for Peace. We then wedged ourselves inside the big tent as the rally program got underway.

There were some compelling speakers, people who lost loved ones in Iraq, and there were some songs. Joan Baez was still there, and I'll tell you, it really makes a difference when she's leading a song compared to someone with no experience trying to wing it. After about 30-40 minutes, Cindy Sheehan came out to talk. What a great moment.

The crowd applauded for about 30 seconds, a standing ovation, and then waves of increasing applause started rippling through the tent. You could really feel a lot of emotion pouring out from the audience toward Cindy. I can't imagine what it must be like for her, starting off with such a humble little protest in a lawn chair in a ditch and to suddenly be a celebrity.

But one reason she has gotten to be so big is that she has really developed a presence. She is a powerful speaker with a simple message, and you can't help but root for her. I could've listened to her talk for an hour, but she only took maybe 10 minutes to say her piece. The program was due to continue after that, but we were all getting hot and had to get home to give my mom a break from babysitting our youngest, two hours away, so she could get home before supper.

We waited for maybe another 30-40 minutes in line for a shuttle, a very hot line. We knew that Randi Rhodes was due to show up at some point late in the afternoon, but it was only about 3pm or so. I guess we missed her, which was a real disappointment. I would absolutely love to meet her and Al Franken, if only to thank them for what they're doing and telling them how great they are.

We saw Laura Flanders walking around with an Air America microphone while we were there, but I didn't recognize her at first. I've only heard her rarely since she's mostly on weekends when I'm not listening. She's broadcasting tonight from the Crawford Peace House and talking to a lot of the people we got to meet today, so it's great to listen to that while I'm writing this and reliving the day.

There's a big line of thunderstorms moving in to Crawford, too, so I guess I'm glad we missed that mess.

On the way back, we got to see the pro-war protesters again, and I just felt sorry for them. They all hold up these signs that say "Support the Troops!" as if we don't. The IVAW guy who got up to talk to us asked us to raise our hands if we support our troops, and that got a huge cheer with everyone raising their hands up high. "Huh, that sure surprises me based on what I've heard in the media!" That was a good laugh line.

As we pulled way from the Crawford Peace House, we noticed that the line of traffic heading into Crawford was a whole lot worse than when we first got here. I'm sure that peace tent will be packed for the whole day and night. Those poor shuttle bus drivers will be busy. Ours said that he had it easy because at least he has music and air conditioning but that he didn't really have time to get any food. I gave him a huge bag of potato chips that we had leftover from lunch, and he broke out into a huge grin. "You rock, man!"

Along the way during the day, the kids had some questions. I showed them the tent with pictures of all the dead soldiers, and I showed them the crosses, the big mural of Casey Sheehan, and we talked about why we supported Cindy and opposed the war and Bush. I hope it is the start of some sort of awakening of political awareness within them. I hope we get a chance to do something like this a lot more often.

Posted by Observer at 08:00 PM | Comments (1)

August 26, 2005

Crawford Bound

We talked about it and decided this would be a good educational opportunity for the kids. We're going to drive down to Crawford and from there to Camp Casey to witness the rally they're holding tomorrow at noon. I have no idea how crowded it will be. It may end up being impossible to get close to the site (I understand that at least two different shuttle bus trips may be involved in both directions from parking to the rally point), but I want the kids to see what's going on and let them ask questions.

We're going to take some donations of bottled water and/or money to the Crawford Peace House, which looks to be handling a lot of the logistics. Fortunately, my mom has offered to babysit D*niel for the day, so he won't be subjected to all that sun and heat (and the crowds ... he's very shy these days). J*stin will have to miss a birthday party for one of his friends on the cross-country team, but maybe we'll take all the kids to the same party place on Sunday to make up for it.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 PM | Comments (2)

August 25, 2005

Speaking for Casey

Tom Tomorrow summarizes the conservative position on Cindy Sheehan quite well:

Cindy Sheehan's son would not have wanted her to be such a traitorous America-hating %$#*!! He would, however, have wanted us to denounce his mother as vitriolically as possible!

Can you believe we have more than three years until we can finally have an election to get rid of this stupid fuck? This idiot who has put us into a horrible, costly war which will result in essentially the Republican of Greater (Nuclear Capable) Iran, and that's the best case? God, it's depressing being politically aware these days.

Posted by Observer at 08:13 PM | Comments (6)

August 24, 2005

Cartoon Day

From Tom Toles:

From Ben Sargent:

Posted by Observer at 06:31 AM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2005

First Day

Tomorrow is the first day, and enrollment in my intro non-science-major survey course is at an all-time high. I'm probably going to have to revert back to multiple guess. I had a conversation with another teacher today, and he suggested instead of asking "select the best possible answer" questions, I should try a complex form of true/false test. That is, in a given question, I provide four statements and ask the students to select the one that is false (or none of the above).

He said it is just as hard as multiple choice, but students seem to like it a lot better because there are fewer distractors for them to get pissed off about or something. I think I'll give that a go, just as an experiment. I always like to try new things. I'm also using a new text that I like a lot better. I discovered it after being given the chance to review it. It comes with some really nice ancillaries, so I'm putting together some cool lecture images and animations.

In my majors course, the text I use is moving to a new edition, but I don't have that new edition yet (stupid publisher rep!). So the first week should be fun. I may try to assign homework online, but I'm still very leery of that whole process.

Posted by Observer at 09:17 PM | Comments (7)

August 22, 2005

Why Are We Fighting

James Wolcott has some good stuff up lately. Now that the Iraqi constitutional is getting closer, it appears as though women's rights are going to be put on the back burner. The net result is that the status of women in Iraq is going to take an enormous leap backwards compared with their rights under Saddam. I remember the good old days when conservatives pretended to care about women's rights in Iraq, but now I guess it's not so important, another useless post-hoc rationale for war discarded as easily as a used juice box.

As Juan Cole has noted, this isn't a big surprise. The strategy of the U. S. going in was to more or less ignore the educated middle class of Iraq (who don't really care so much about Sunni or Shia labels) and put tribal leaders in control because those leaders could be more easily bought. I guess they didn't learn their lesson well enough with Chalabi. If you buy someone's loyalty, there's no guarantee they won't sell it again for a better price.

So not only do we have people in charge who can't really be trusted to protect our interests, about half the Iraqi population (the women) will most definitely not be better off as a result of this invasion. And the end result is that we will have invaded another country in order to get rid of a contained, secular regime and replace it with an unholy mess mostly under Islamic law. Oh, except we will have something like 16 permanent military bases over there (who wants to sign up for that duty?), which I'm sure is going to go over like gangbusters with the Iraqi people. You know, the ones who were supposed to greet us with candy and flowers.

I guess that must be the "noble cause" Cindy Sheehan has been asking about. You know, what her son died for and all.

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

August 21, 2005

Crazy Parallels

I guess I must've been crazy when I kept comparing the Iraq war with Vietnam. Now there are some prominent Republicans who are saying the same thing. It's a sure sign I was on the wrong track.

Posted by Observer at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

Flushed

Well, the Rangers didn't fool around. Once they decided to drop out of the race after the All-Star Break, they *ran* out. I thought it was pretty bad that they lost two out of three to the Double-A's (Devil Rays) before we left on vacation, but now on the road they've ripped off a staggering 11 losses out of 12 games, including getting swept at Tampa Bay. Pretty sad when you find Tampa Bay's pitching staff something to envy.

This team has quit, just like almost every August in team history. The theory goes that the summer heat in Texas ruins the pitching and the whole team gets fatigued, which is why they always end up with horrible Augusts. But the weather also sucks in Baltimore and all across the southeast and in many other places throughout summer, and I don't hear that about all those other teams (maybe because I don't pay close enough attention).

The nice thing is that the Rangers' quit always seems to coincide with the beginning of Cowboys' training camp, so at least we have something to turn our attention to. Of course, with Bledsoe at QB at all the O-line problems being forecast, I'd be surprised to see us finish better than 8-8 this season. Forget catching the Eagles. Hell, we may not even be the *second* best team in the division at this point, not even in our most optimistic hopes.

Posted by Observer at 06:11 PM | Comments (1)

This Isn't Russia. Is This Russia?

Another outlet of the ultra-super-duper-liberal Bush-hating media has refused to air an ad questioning our participation in the Iraq war. Must be Dan Rather's fault.

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 10:32 AM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2005

Climbing Up

I'm using the remainder of my vacation to see how far I can get with my ladder Diablo 2 Barbarian. I've been doing a bunch of Countess runs to get runes, and I finally died once. Damn archers. I'm strong enough now (level 48) that I can plow right through pretty much everything in the Forgotten Tower on Nightmare level. I'm really hoping to find something with the "cannot be frozen" tag, but so far, no luck. Being frozen is top in my list of annoyances.

Most of the time when you kill the Countess, you get a couple of crappy runes, but there are also crappy runes to be found throughout the Tower, so over time, I've built up a pretty good set. I have two of everything up through Sol (that's the first 12 out of 33), and I even got a Dol once. I've also got a lot of gems and am starting to put together the more common sets like Isenhart's Armory, Sigon's Complete Steel, Arctic Binding and Civerb's Set. They'll be handy (especially Sigon's for a starting Paladin) when I try with a different character sometime. I used some of my runes on a scepter to make the weapon King's Grace "AmnRalThul", but I'm really hoping to find a copy of Aldur's Rhythm and Aldur's Advance, a very nice pair that boosts attack rating and has lots of life drain with the right runes.

I'm still hunting for topazes, and I finally have my first 3-perfect-topaz helm to give to my helper to improve my magic find ability. With boots, rings, amulet, gloves, etc., I'll be up to +200% magic find or so with just that. Gimme a couple of pieces of four-socket armor and another 3-socket helm (and maybe a charm or two, like Gheed's Fortune, which I found once on my home-hosted game), and I'll be up around +500% at some point. That'll make those set items easier to find.

The bottom of the Barbarian ladder is around 80, and I'm keeping well in mind that the highest level I've ever reached with a Barbarian in my years of play is around 85, and that was starting off with a large cache of good stuff from previous characters. I read that Blizzard has disabled several thousand accounts (i.e. more people than have ever played Clan Lord in its entire history) because they're using hacks to the client to cheat. It's really amazing how many people are playing this five-year-old game on the ladder and that Blizzard is basically hosting it for free.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 PM | Comments (3)

August 18, 2005

More Grisham

I guess Grisham is a guilty pleasure. I just finished reading the rest of his novels that I hadn't read before. I started with "The Last Juror". Like most Grisham novels, this one is set in small town Mississippi in the 60's, right around the time segregated schools were becoming integrated. The main character is a big city guy from the North who moves to the small town to take over the newspaper and make some money. He quickly becomes involved in all of the local events and makes friends with an old black woman who fills him in on her own family and other things in the town.

Soon after he arrives, there is a murder. One of the ne'er-do-well sons of a huge corrupt family rapes and murders a woman in front of her kids. Since his family is well-connected and feared in the county, the trial has a lot of twists and turns. After the trial, years later, the murderer is paroled thanks to his family connections, and shortly thereafter, jurors begin to get assassinated. Surrounding this tale is this outsider of a newspaper publisher slowly integrating himself into the town, telling its stories, learning more about the town's characters, causing a stir with all of his liberal editorials, etc. It was an easy read, one of his better books.

Then I read "The Summons", which involves characters in the same small town. In this one, a law professor from up North comes to visit his somewhat distant father, who has been a judge for a long time in the small town. The father has sent his two sons a summons because he is dying and wants to dispose of his will with them present.

So the son comes to town only to find his father dead and a few million dollars in cash hidden in the house that can't be explained. He hides it from everyone, including his in-and-out-of-drug-rehab brother, while he tries to figure out what to do with it and where it came from. Should he report it? He's being stalked by someone who knows he has the money, and it scares him.

I didn't like this one too much because the main character's actions were a little too hard to empathize with. I know that smart people do stupid things sometimes, but this was a little overboard. I liked the surprise near the end when the source of the money and the identity of the stalker is revealed, but other than that, this was a tough slog compared to the rest I've read lately.

Finally, I read "The Testament". This one also involved a will, but nothing in Mississippi. A hugely rich old guy wants to screw his kids out of billions in inheritance money, so he decides at the last minute to leave it to an illegitimate child that no one else knows about. She is a missionary in Brazil, and her whereabouts are pretty much unknown, which is the way she wants it.

So while the greedy family tries to fight the will (a fairly good subplot, though the characters were mostly too over-the-top and thin), the chief lawyer in charge of the rich guy's estate sends one of his firm's lawyers down to look for the heiress. This guy Nate is just out of rehab and has quite an adventure trying to find the woman. I had a hard time with Nate, but in the end, you cannot help but sympathize with the guy. This book goes in a completely different and very religious direction compared with Grisham's other stuff, and it was actually pretty surprising and well written. The ending was quite satisfying, another good page-turner. Grisham really makes it look easy sometimes.

So, given my reading experience with Grisham this summer, I'd say that if you enjoy novels in which there is always a lawyer as a major character, someone is either going into, in, or coming out of drug rehab (not for the first time), someone always stands to make or inherit or steal millions or billions of dollars, there is a spectacular murder or suicide and most of the action usually takes place in some small town or rural area (usually Mississippi), then Grisham's your guy.

I'm thinking of starting Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series now. Even though it isn't all out in paperback yet, I can get all seven books from the library like I did with Grisham. If I like it well enough, I may buy it or ask for it if I see a nice boxed set at Costco over the holidays.

Posted by Observer at 09:28 PM | Comments (6)

August 17, 2005

Supporting the C-in-C

From Kos, here is a reminder of how Republicans supported their Commander-in-Chief during the successful action in Bosnia (that didn't cost a single life, remember, and was for a single, unchanging, truly noble cause instead of a bunch of shifting, on-the-fly rationalizations that just happened to end up profiting Bush's cronies):

"You can support the troops but not the president."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

What a sorry bunch of fuckwits. I especially like Hannity's quote about having to explain things to grieving parents. Want to take a guess what Sean is saying about Cindy Sheehan these days?

Posted by Observer at 08:17 PM | Comments (1)

Wagging the Dog

I remember when we had a president who really fought the war on terror effectively. Of course, at the time, all of his efforts were described by Republicans as "Wagging the Dog".

Thanks to Atrios for the pointer.

Posted by Observer at 05:19 PM | Comments (4)

August 16, 2005

Waiting Rooms

Long day. I started by taking lunch money to all three schools our kids go to because I forgot to give it to them before they left. Hell, I had to take J*stin down to his school early anyway to get his schedule. His cross-country practice starts on an every-morning schedule on Thursday. 6am. Urk.

After that, I barely got back in time to take D*niel to his well-baby check up. M*chelle and I waited for about an hour and fifteen minutes before finally going back, and we didn't get out for another hour after that. We were pretty steamed, but what can you do? You've already spent an hour in a doctor's office, and your kid needs a shot to start school, so what's the point of walking out? It just starts the waiting clock over the next time you come in. Sadly, our appointment was for 9am, and their first appointment was 810am, so before even an hour had passed, this doctor's office was already an hour behind.

After that, I came home for an hour to have lunch, then it was off to a new dentist for my first checkup in about two years. I waited there for an hour before being seen. I very politely told the dentist that the next time I wait more than 30 minutes will be my last visit. He apologized, said they were behind, etc. Gee, where have I heard that before? This dentist graduated from the college where I teach, so I'll have to find out from the members of the pre-med committee what his story is (he graduated before I got there). He made a joke that he had to take one of the upper division classes twice from the guy who is currently in charge of our committee, so I have a feeling I'm not going to like what I discover.

Anyway, I know this is life in a crappy HMO/DMO, and the only way around it reliably is to schedule all appointments first thing in the morning, first appointment of the day, period. Oh, do I have to wait an extra week six months from now to get a first-of-the-day appointment? Fine. Just put me down for whenever you fucking open up so I don't have to sit in the waiting room for an hour because you "got behind" for the 2345th day in a row.

Then on to get the alignment on the van fixed and the tired rotated/balanced. The van was pulling a little to the left on our trip, and I thought I would get that fixed. That only took an hour. I finished another Grisham book today at the pediatrician, and by the time the tire guys were done, I was about 2/3 of the way through another one.

While we were driving around in New Mexico, the check engine light came on in the van. This after I took it in for a top-to-bottom inspection and service right before we left. Grrr. So I'm going tomorrow, first thing in the morning, of course, and we'll see if I can finish my book.

That reminds me, I recently got some service done on our other car as well. Something with the exhaust and carbon deposits. The lady on the phone who explained it might as well have been speaking Greek, and I told her that. She told me that the car is old enough now (over 140k miles) that I need to start flushing certain systems every 30k miles or so in addition to the usual 15k/30k/60k recommended maintenance. I asked her why that stuff isn't recommended as part of the regular checkups, and she didn't know.

So now I've got to decide whether it is worth about $100 (each) to flush the fuel injector, the power steering system, the cooling system and the brake system. Then there's "throttle body service", whatever the hell that is, and "engine decarbon". All of these things are supposed to be done now that the car is older to prevent major malfunctions, but I have no idea just how critical any of them is. I feel like Jerry Seinfeld, who was so desperate to find a mechanic he could trust.

Posted by Observer at 07:45 PM | Comments (2)

August 15, 2005

Trip Tale

You'll probably have to read my wife's blog for the longer version (with lots of pictures), but here are the highlights. We drove about 2/3 of the way on the first day since we had to leave at about noon. The only thing we forgot were our pillows, and we realized that about five minutes away from the house, so we came back and got 'em. The van was really crammed with stuff, most of it for D*niel (to keep him amused, to carry him around, to dress him, etc), and we had no plans to do laundry during the trip (barely got by on that count).

We got to our first stop at about 8pm because we stopped a few times to give D*niel a chance to stretch his legs. He was cranky and ready to get out of the car when we arrived, and had we gone further, we would've had to drive through about a 100-mile wide violent thunderstorm and then another three hours after that to get to Red River. We got D*niel a little floater with legholes for the indoor pool, and he had a blast. Too many other people were using the pool and hot tub, though, for us to really enjoy ourselves. The jacuzzi in the room was a big plus.

The next day on the way to Red River, we stopped at the Capulin Volcano, an extinct cinder cone that rises about 700 feet above the surrounding terrain. They have a national park there, and you can drive up to the summit on a scary road, so we did and had a little hike. Very beautiful. We have lots of useless scenery pictures because we just had to take photos of the gorgeous surroundings, but those things never translate well. We went on to have lunch at a Denny's in New Mexico (when I opened the menu, it sounded like velcro only it was because of layers of dried syrup sticking the pages together) and got to Red River in the mid-afternoon, driving through drizzly rain most of the way.

It was raining pretty good but we walked around anyway and saw a few things. I hadn't been there in 20-ish years, but not much had changed. Just a few more new buildings. We had a nice suite with a heated pool and hot tub just steps away. The kids really enjoyed that. I got a fire started after a nice supper out (the food in Red River was nowhere near as good as the food we can get around here, though). We also went to a Bingo game they were having in the center of town, and I ended up way down. The payouts/buy-in ratios were very heavily in favor of the house, but it was for their little charity after all. Both M*chelle and I won a game, and it was outdoors, so we got to enjoy the cool evening, even if it was a little damp (drizzle on and off).

We were worried that it was going to be socked in for the whole time, but the first morning in Red River dawned perfectly. I woke up at 7 without an alarm and went walking around town, enjoying the clean, cool air and the whooshing sound (combination of wind and river sounds) you can only get in the mountains. There was a disc golf course nearby, but it wasn't well marked and looked kinda crappy, so I didn't bother. J*stin and C*dy went off to fish, and M*chelle and I decided to take a ride on the chairlift to the top of the mountain.

D*niel was in my lap the whole way up and back for the hour round trip, which was kind of stressful, but it was very pretty. The weather was perfect and the views wonderful. Total altitude climb of about 1600 feet, so it was over 10k in altitude at the top of the mountain. I skied there a few times as a kid, and I was envisioning the way down already on skis. Daniel was very good on the lift, especially once we got him a few snacks.

S*rah, who now wishes to be called Ashley (her middle name) henceforth, basically did nothing the whole vacation except for watch TV in her room and occasionally swim, unless we forced her. But we didn't want to force her to do anything. I remember when I was young, sometimes I just wanted to sit in the room, and I loved the freedom of it. For the same reason, we gave J*stin and C*dy a lot of leeway to go out and do whatever they wanted. That's how I had it when I went there with my parents. They explored the Playhouse there, with arcade games, mini golf, a skating rink and other stuff, and they visited a few stores to buy candy and little souveniers.

The weather was still pretty enough at lunchtime that we decided to drive to Taos. We drove with the windows down most of the way, and it was great. D*niel had a short nap that got interrupted when we stopped at a fish hatchery (which was disappointing, sorry to say, not much to see, I was hoping for a fish-ladder type thing like in Seattle). In Taos, we browsed through several stores looking for things for the house and what not, but we didn't find too much to our liking. It was nice to walk around, if a little warm, and we all got some sun.

On the way back, an overtired D*niel got carsick and vomited all over himself. Woo it was nasty. The only real bad spot on the vacation. We got it cleaned up at the next town, but the van smelled like puke the whole way back to Red River. D*niel spent the rest of the day progressively getting crankier, and we realized how spoiled we were at how well he normally handles everything. Even his meltdowns are often no longer than a few minutes, so we're patient with him. For supper that evening, I gave the kids money and a two-way radio, and told them to go out on their own. We had steak and fish, drinks and dessert, and D*niel slept through half of it, was very marginal for the rest.

I really expected time to fly there, but that's not what happened. On Saturday while we were doing all this, I was continually amazed at how little time had passed. I mean, we had done stuff I thought would take at least a day or two, and it wasn't even 2pm yet. The wonders of getting up early and not worrying about the kids too much, I guess. On Sunday, check-out day, the staff generously let us put it off until 1pm, and we took advantage with a very long walking tour of the town. I again got up early (630 this time) without any alarm (kind of an uncomfortable bed was the main reason, I think, but I wasn't tired from lack of sleep, so I dunno) and walked around town for a while before everyone else was up. J*stin took the chairlift because he regretted turning down our invitation the previous day. C*dy stayed away because he's afraid of heights, and Ashl*y mostly just stayed in her room (surprise).

After we left, we pretty much drove straight through back to the halfway point, with D*niel sleeping much of the day, which was a good thing. On each day of the trip, D*niel was getting more and more reluctant to get into his carseat, because he really feared the long drives. We got to our hotel early enough in the evening that we could enjoy the pool and jacuzzi and peace and quiet a little more. The kids were mercifully very well-behaved in their own room and for pretty much the whole trip.

On the last day, we got up pretty early and finished off the last 6+ hours of the drive. If pushed, we could've done the trip either way in a day (total of about 11 hours, including an hour or so for stops), but I think D*niel would've had something to say about it in the latter half of the trip if we had tried it. I think that's part of the reason he wanted so much independence on the trip and had more meltdowns than usual. He got to walk a lot around town, holding onto a finger at all times, of course, but by the end, he was reluctant to hold hands and just wanted to run at random anywhere.

The cutest thing was that he would frequently walk with us around town for a few hundred yards, with us pushing an empty stroller along just in case, then when he got tired, he would climb up into the stroller himself and buckle in, then be happy as a clam. Looks like the cool, rainy weather we got every evening in Red River has followed us home, and I'm fine with that. Looking forward now of a week of no teaching with the kids in school. D*niel is definitely happy to be home, and so are we all.

Posted by Observer at 09:26 PM | Comments (0)

Back

We had fun. More later.

Posted by Observer at 05:37 PM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2005

Cindy

If you want to follow the diary entries of Cindy Sheehan, she's a member on Daily Kos. Sheehan is the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, and she's camping out at Crawford in a sort of protest/gesture because Bush refuses to meet with her and answer her questions about the war.

Of course, she instantly polarized the blogosphere. Everyone in the ConservaBorg collective is painting her as the worst, most disrespectful, borderline-treasonous human being. Talk shows, too. On O'Reilly's show, Michelle Malkin had the gall to speak for Sheehan's son (who is dead, mind you), saying that in Malkin's mind, Sheehan's son would not support her mother's actions.

Can you imagine your son dying in a war and then someone saying that? How soulless do you have to be to say those sorts of things for a living? How can you sleep at night, knowing what you do? And Malkin isn't stupid. She's smart. That's about the closest I can come to a practical definition of an intellectual whore (male or female). Smart and intentionally malicious, misleading and coarse. Atrios has the links to this stuff. Just scroll down.

Bush could've nipped this controversy in the bud had he just come out to meet with her and express some condolences in front of the cameras. Make her ask her questions, explain to her that it's too complicated for her to understand, etc. Just bullshit her, you know? Make her sound shrill. But he doesn't even care enough to do that.

So now the issue isn't Sheehan any more but rather the circus of protesters that have developed around her. People are linking her with a lot of fringe groups that have gone down there. Either that, or they're labelling anyone down there as "fringe" by definition (like moveon.org, which still is always introduced as the organization that equated Bush with Hitler, the talking points machine hitting on all cylinders ... if you need that debunked, it's easy enough to find, I'm not going to waste my time linking it again). It wouldn't surprise me if the Republican dirty tricks gang plants some real nutball actors in the crowd to try to get on camera and give the whole thing a negative image.

I guess it's good that we'll be getting away from the news for a few days.

Posted by Observer at 09:20 AM | Comments (4)

August 10, 2005

Countdown

We're just about done with the pre-vacation checklist. I'm going to get the kids to set aside stuff they'll need for the first night so they don't have to pull every last thing out of the van only to repack and reorganize in the morning when we set out for Red River.

M*chelle made a bunch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies for the trip, but she made the mistake of making them two days ago, so they're almost all gone. Oh well! Have to make another batch for the trip. We've got lots of snacks for the kids and D*niel, and we'll take advantage of the kitchen in our condo in Red River, but I still want to eat out and have some steaks and other yummies while we're there.

C*dy is in full-on pester mode today, anxious for the trip. He and S*rah have been yelling at each other much of the day, and when it isn't S*rah he's bugging, it's me or J*stin. J*stin won't stop babbling about the trip. His Asperger's is making him anxious and excited at the same time. He's really looking forward to fishing while we're up there, and he's bought lots of new fishing equipment. Damn, though, he just needs to shut up about it. He was yapping so much in the car with C*dy chiming in and S*rah telling them both to shut up, etc., that I almost had a wreck when we were out running errands tonight.

I've changed the kid names slightly to hide the blog better from search engines. As M*chelle points out, there's no telling who reads this or finds it. Even the kids have found it before. There's nothing in here really that they shouldn't read, but if they can find it, others can, too. With that in mind, I've gone through and sanitized the archives, both from search engines and to delete work-sensitive stuff.

Speaking of work-sensitive stuff: in my own interest, I'm also going to stop giving so much detail about student stories. Seems once a week I see a story in the paper about someone who got fired for talking about work in a blog. I've probably been safe so far, but no need to take chances and leave stuff in the archives. I have some stories to tell about my unmotivated students this summer, but you'll just have to use your imagination (either that, or I password protect like my wife's blog). It is entirely possible that 1/4 of my summer class will fail, and I've gone really easy on them.

During D*niel's nap time today, I squeezed in some more Diablo 2, and I finally finished normal mode (without dying, yay!). My Barbarian is now level 33, 16 levels below the 200th rung on the Barbarian ladder. And at this point, my equipment is horrible. There's no point doing magic-find runs, though, until I accumulate enough topazes and other good magic-find gear so that I can do repeated runs at a boss like Mephisto in Nightmare mode.

Posted by Observer at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005

Boy Among Men

I've put in probably about 5-6 hours over the past two days trying to see how fast I can advance my Barbarian up the Diablo ladder in my solo game. I've done pretty well compared to how my games usually go. I had some trouble with Duriel in Act II, almost died on my first go-round there, but I survived, went and got some more xp and some more full rejuvenation potions and so on, and I managed to get past that.

Act III was relatively easy, especially once I got to level 24, which is when a couple of very nice skills kick in (battle orders and frenzy). I'm up to level 26 now and near the end of Act IV in normal mode, which for me is lightning fast.

So I take a look at the ladder for Barbarians to see how I stack up against others who have started to play around the same time I did. Already, there are several people who have finished the game in all three modes. In five years, I've never finished Hell with any character, and these people are doing it in 48 hours starting with no equipment thanks to the reset. Of course, if they are playing with experienced parties instead of solo, that makes it loads easier, but I don't know. I wish they just had a solo ladder so I could see how people are doing on their own.

All I know about the rest of the ladder is that the 200th ranked Barbarian (one of the seven possible classes) is level 38, 12 levels above me. I'm afraid my days of power gaming are behind me. I feel like Cole from PvP, and I may just retreat back into MAME simulators so I can relive the glory days when I was actually good at some games compared to most other people. I ruled at Vs. Tennis, Track and Field, Punch Out and Darius. Loved to play Sinistar and Tutankham, but I always sucked at those.

Posted by Observer at 10:52 PM | Comments (4)

August 08, 2005

Bubble Trouble

Just to throw more gas on the fire, Krugman explains why there is a housing bubble in coastal cities but not in middle America, and he documents the way it happened recently in San Diego when the bubble lost its air.

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (3)

Forecast

I just checked the forecast for Red River this morning. For the weekend we'll be there, it's not supposed to get over 70 degrees. Lows at night near 40. Yum.

Posted by Observer at 06:51 AM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2005

Ladder

Since they're starting a new ladder season, I'm going to give it a try. Apparently, the way the ladder works is that your game is hosted by Blizzard. Assuming no connectivity issues (a big if), your game runs just like it would run at home, except ladder games are slightly tougher and have better items and more runes readily available (and more rune words). You're not supposed to use mules on the ladder, I guess, but there is no rule against it. It's just discouraged. So I'll try my barbarian strategy from scratch and see how it works with whatever items I can find.

In other news, I think I'm coming down with the crud, and just in time for the last week of summer class plus vacation. I really hope I'm wrong.

I managed to withstand it long enough today for us to drop some cash on some really cool looking stuff for the bedroom, including curtains and valences, curtain rods, towels and a few other accents. Michelle saw a big square pillow with a sham that matches our set, but for a combined total of nearly $100, we controlled ourselves and figured we'd ask for it for Christmas. I'll tell you, when you're doing a big painting or whatever job to improve your house, that's the wrong time to go to Linens and Things, because you can rationalize yourself into just about any purchase in order to further validate the work you've already invested.

I still can't wait to see it all finished. It's going to look awesome.

Posted by Observer at 05:56 PM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2005

How We Can Win

Here is a great editorial that explains how and why Democrats keep losing elections these days and what we should be doing to win elections. Very interesting stuff.

When historians look back on the current era in American politics it will likely stand out as the period when Republican cunning & marketing savvy completely dominated the political landscape.  Obliging Democrats have thrown themselves into the fray with enthusiasm, armed with idealistic visions of civil “discourse”, only to be humbled repeatedly by their political masters.  Republican strategists have been able to blend their astute grasp of marketing principles, human nature, & social psychology into a formula that delivers almost guaranteed success at the polls.  While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republicans have calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign.  Quite simply: Democrats lose because they don’t understand what moves their target audience.

Lots of examples of mistakes Kerry made during 2004, mistakes the next Democratic candidate (probably Wesley Clark) had better not make. I'd like to see this strategy invoked successfully on some local campaigns before assuming it would work nationwide, but some would say that's what Paul Hackett did in Ohio, and he turned a 64/36 Republican district into a 52/48 district. Still lost, but he still convinced a lot of Bush voters to vote for him.

Posted by Observer at 10:12 AM | Comments (3)

August 05, 2005

Boom!

While I was sitting in the living room this afternoon, I noticed that I could hardly see the book I was reading (another Grisham ... I'm a sucker for an easy read). I checked the radar really quickly and saw that a big thunderstorm had just popped up nearby and was about to roll over us. I went outside, and the lightning show was impressive, with loud thunder starting up, too.

I had a Diablo 2 game going on multiplayer mode for about the last 4-5 days (probably putting in an hour or two a day, depending on the kids), so I quit and saved it. That's the one drawback of multiplayer. You can only save when you quit, and then you lose all progress except for memory of which waypoints you've visited. That has its ups and downs, mostly ups.

I pulled Daniel out to the front porch, and we watched the storm blow in. He was very excited, didn't get scared at all with all the noise. A few lightning blasts were no more than a few hundred yards from us, I'm sure. We got a good rain, and it cooled it off very nicely. And the power went off for about half an hour (first time in quite a while we've had a sustained power outage). I was glad I saved! I had just found a third piece of Aldur's set (the jagged star and boots make for a terrific combo), but it is a helm for Druids only. Doh, I don't think I'll ever play a Druid.

I'm still looking for equipment upgrades on just about everything, including Paladin items for when I decide to tackle that again. For my helper (the Paladin from Act II nightmare who has the wonderful Holy Freeze aura), I have a Spire of Honor, a lance that does something like 150-550 damage. It is ethereal, but I guess ethereal items don't wear out in the hands of helpers, so I've been using that for a few years now. My helper does some incredible damage, let me tell ya. Only with my Barbarian have I ever been able to do more combat damage than my helper once he qualifies for the lance.

Tomorrow, I think I'll spend some time up at the office burning some new CD's for our road trip. We're all counting down the days until Thursday.

Posted by Observer at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2005

Cue the Go-Go's

Because Vacation's happening.

Even if I hadn't broken my blogging streak on purpose, it looks like next weekend is going to break it for sure. We're leaving Thursday morning the 11th for Red River, NM. We won't get to Red River until Friday the 12th. We'll leave on Sunday the 14th, so it'll be about a day and a half on the road each way (easy day, not a 12 hour day) and 2+ days at Red River. Would be nice to stretch it, but we're up against it at either end. I can't leave before I'm done with teaching, and we should get back in time for the first day of school (which is Tuesday the 16th).

Every stop along the way will have a heated swimming pool, either indoors or outdoors, so that'll make the kids happy. We'll pile away plenty of portable food to eat along the way. The van will be packed to the gills. When I was a kid, my parents took me to Red River several times, sometimes in the winter for skiing and sometimes in the summer. I remember only good things about it. I'm sure we'll find plenty of fun stuff to do.

Most importantly, on your typical Weather Channel summer temperature map, Red River represents the nearest 70 degree isotherm to us. I'm all over that.

Posted by Observer at 07:26 PM | Comments (15)

August 03, 2005

Hellfire Charm

I was surfing around and decided to check in on the Arreat Summit to see if there was any new Diablo II news. Nothing has been going on with the game for over a year now, but a few days ago, they suddenly decided to release a new upgrade to v1.11. This upgrade fixes a few leftover bugs and also has a new quest.

In hell mode, if you kill certain bosses, you get three types of keys (only about 3% of the time, though, so it takes repeated runs to get those key drops). If you combine these three keys into a cube, it opens a portal where you get to fight a tough new boss. The tough new boss may or may not drop some fiendish body part (i.e. Diablo's horn, Mephisto's brain) once in a while. So then you take three body parts and cube those, and it opens a portal back to Tristram where Uber versions of the three big bosses (Mephisto, Diablo and Baal) await.

They are, of course, virtually impossible to kill. I see some people posting the stats and items for their characters who succeeded at this task, and it's pretty ridiculous. They have all kinds of rare runes and unique items that I haven't even sniffed before, and I've logged a whole bunch of hours. Of course, I don't go onto battle.net to play, where those items are more common than in my locally hosted single player game, and I don't fight with a party of others (where complementary skills and auras allow you to crunch stuff really fast).

Anyway, the ultimate reward is a hellfire charm which grants +3 skill levels and lots of other neat bonuses. You can find all the info you need about the quest here with spoilers. They also added some new rune words in v1.11, but I still haven't found any good ones for the runes I've been able to find. Oh well, I'm currently working my way through hell with another Barbarian, this one built for more offense (maximum mace mastery, frenzy, and double-swing with the rest dumped into battle cries) and less wasted skills and less defense than my previous really good barbarian. That last barbarian got stuck on the Ancients in Hell mode, couldn't damage them fast enough and the battle was hopeless. This one, I think, might get through.

It would be the first time I've ever finished on Hell mode. Then I might go back and try either a Battle Hammer Paladin or a Smiting Paladin. I lack only Sigon's Guard to complete the entire Sigon set (which is six items!). I'd like to see what a Paladin looks like outfitted in all of that! Unfortunately, only two of the items are probably good enough to make the cut for a Hell mode character.

Posted by Observer at 08:06 PM | Comments (12)

Itinerary

TBogg has the president's itinerary for his first day of vacation. Highly recommended.

Posted by Observer at 03:25 PM | Comments (3)

August 02, 2005

Eight Planets?

Ever since Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto by blinking plates for several years, looking for moving objects in fields near the ecliptic plane, the popular thinking has been that our solar system has nine planets. The Nine Planets is, for me, the first place to go for information about the planets, neat background stories, lots of links, etc.

For some Astronomers, though, Pluto shouldn't really be considered a planet. I'm in there "don't care" camp, for the record. I don't have a preference either way. I can see both sides of this. The problem is that Pluto is pretty small, somewhat smaller than our own Moon. If it is to count as a planet, in light of the fact that there are hundreds of other spherical (but smaller) objects at various distances from the sun (mostly asteroids), then the line between planet and "debris" seems arbitrary.

Up until now, though, people have been able to quash arguments by suggesting that Pluto represents the minimum size/mass threshold to qualify as a planet. This argument has held up even in the face of increasing numbers of discoveries of large Kuiper Belt objects (KBO's), such as Sedna and Quaoar (both about half the size of Pluto and further out). The Kuiper Belt is a flattened ring of icy cometary debris ranging from about Neptune's orbit out to some unknown distance. Beyond that is the spherical Oort Cloud.

Objects in the Kuiper Belt are very hard to see due to the distance (this makes size determination tough ... estimated object diameters have error bars in the 10-20% range in many cases because we have to rely on reflected light, not angular size). Icy reflectivity can help brighten these things up, but most of the objects are actually quite dark (presumably due to dust accumulation on the surface, similar to Jupiter's outermost icy moon, Callisto). Pluto is bright because it has an atmosphere, which allows bright frost to condense onto the surface, presumably.

Well, over the weekend, a team of Astronomers using a systematic search of the sky (not confined to the ecliptic plane) announced that they found a possible tenth planet. This object had been missed in previous searches because its tilted orbit keeps it pretty far outside the plane of the ecliptic. With computers and automated telescopes, such searches are a lot easier. The discovery photo of this object was taken with a mere 1.2 meter telescope!

Now comes the fun part, what to name it. Right now, the designation is 2003 UB-313. The process of assigning names typically falls to the International Astronomical Union, specifically the nomenclature committee. This committee consists of several volunteers from around the world who meet periodically to assign names to newly discovered moons and features on surfaces such as craters and mountains.

This is to prevent controversy, and it usually works. Back when Uranus was discovered by the English Astronomer William Herschel, he tried to name it after King George. The Astronomical community properly recoiled in horror and assigned the mythological name, consistent with the other planets. Later, when the French claimed that their guy LeVerrier had discovered Neptune (he sort of officially shares credit with an English guy named Adams and a couple of German observers, which is itself a funny story for another time), they tried to name that planet "LeVerrier" so they could get a French name in the sky.

They wanted it so badly that they were willing to push an English name ("Herschel") for Uranus so as to establish a tradition of naming new planets after their discoverers. Cooler heads prevailed, though, and no one, not even the French, seriously refers to Neptune as "LeVerrier". Still, there was a funny scene in an old episode of the PBS series "The Astronomers" called "Prospecting for Planets".

In one scence, after Voyager II completes it journey past Neptune, the documentary shows part of a meeting of the nomenclature committee. In that meeting, the French guy tries to get three Neptunian rings named after the French national slogan "Liberty, Community, Fraternity". They just never give up, I swear! The rings were eventually named for the people involved in the discovery of Neptune.

Right now, I assume the nomenclature committee is in some sort of emergency teleconference trying to decide on a name for this planet. After all, they want it done quickly before some other name gains currency. The discoverers refuse to divulge a name before it gets okayed so as to prevent controversy when the IAU announces the name, I presume.

Then the question will be: is it a planet? If it is, then we have ten planets, and get ready, because in the next few decades, we'll likely find dozens more. If it isn't, then Pluto's status gets called into question, and it may finally be reduced to just another Kuiper Belt object. I've already emailed the author of the Nine Planets website, Bill Arnett, and recommended he reserve the domain name eightplanets.org, just in case.

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

August 01, 2005

Scouts

Remember how Clinton supposedly held up air traffic while he got an expensive haircut on board Air Force One at LAX? Turns out that was a false one, but boy, the liberal media sure did do a good job getting the story straight, didn't they? After all, it is common knowledge that's a myth. Right?

Uh. Anyway...

Do you remember this story from the Clinton years? Man, what an outrage!

Scouting enthusiasts waited hours in the heat for Clinton, who later canceled his appearance because of threatening storms. Scouts began collapsing from high humidity and temperatures in the high 90s. More than 300 people were treated for heat-related illnesses.

Can you believe that asshole Clinton? What a pompous, arrogant jerk. Doesn't he care about all those kids waiting for a chance to see the president? And he wussed out because of approaching storms? Come on. I guess it's a good thing we have a real leader now, not an elitist jerk.

Oops. Wait a minute. That should read

Scouting enthusiasts waited hours in the heat for Bush, who later canceled his appearance because of threatening storms. Scouts began collapsing from high humidity and temperatures in the high 90s. More than 300 people were treated for heat-related illnesses.

My bad. Well, I'm sure the media will register the appropriate level of outrage, just as if Clinton did this. Hell, if anything, even MORE outrage. Right? I mean, the media *IS* liberal, after all, isn't it?

Of course, that happened back on Wednesday and we still really haven't heard anything about it yet.  Nothing on the Sunday talk shows, nothing on talk radio (except Air America, of course), no angry editorials, etc.  But I'm sure that somewhere, all those radical leftist feminists who control the liberal media are just *waiting* to pounce on this!

And I'm sure when that happens, Bernie Goldberg will be here to patiently explain to us all just how biased our media is.

Posted by Observer at 07:25 AM | Comments (5)