November 30, 2005

Letter Perfect

We're very happy that we found out today that J*stin, our 16-year-old has been awarded a varsity letter jacket (well, we have to pay for it, but he was awarded the privilege of getting to wear it) for his cross country exploits this past year. J*stin is very excited, and I don't blame him. Around here, letter jackets (from athletics, anyway) are a big status symbol, and J*stin can use every edge he can get, and more power to him.

I got a letter jacket when I was in high school, but it wasn't until the end of my senior year and it was a letter for being on the Math team. Geek alert! I was on the tennis team for two years, mind you, but I was always just outside the top six on varsity. Very frustrating.

Posted by Observer at 04:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2005

When Wingnuts Think

I ran across a link to a link to a link tonight (starting at Pharyngula) to this collection of wonderful quotes from various message boards populated by creationist wingnuts. Here's my favorite:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

My favorite commenter response: "I was up all night trying to figure out what this energy source could be. Finally, it dawned on me."

Posted by Observer at 09:18 PM | Comments (4)

Up 20

I played poker again with my brother and his realtor friends last night. Last time, I got up to about $80 or $90 before getting whittled down and then losing my last $50 in the space of about five hands when I had a run of bad luck while trying to draw to some hands (the last being what ended up as the nut toilet flush), and I got a little "tilted" because I didn't want to go all-in without the nuts but everyone kept trying to put me all-in once they figured that out.

This time, I decided to play with a little more conviction (and a willingness to re-buy if necessary), only pursuing hands I really thought I had a legitimate shot at and sticking with them to the end. I also was a lot tighter, only calling the blinds when I had AA (twice), AK (four times) or AQ, AJ, A10, KQ and the occasional suited connector, depending upon my position. Last time, I loosened up a little bit out of frustration with not getting any good hands, and I vowed not to make that mistake again, among others.

There were seven people there at first, and within the first hour, I had $120 (double my $60 buy-in). I opened with pocket queens, and I immediately raised the pot $10 on the button. My brother and one other guy were the only ones who stayed with me. The flop came up as a blank rainbow, so I put in another $10 to try to prevent people from drawing to a shitty straight. My brother stayed for one more round. When a 10 came off, I put in another $10, and he gave up. The dealer went ahead and turned up the last card anyway, which was a King and would've paired my brother, but too bad, that's why I bet big to scare him off and it worked.

Not long after I had A-10, and the flop came J-Q-K. Mmmm, what a beauty. The guy to my right committed $30 to the pot, and I would've put him all-in with about $60, and he folded. I probably should've only gone another $10 over the top, but I was really afraid of K-Q or K-J and this guy drawing to a full house, which would be just my luck. I didn't show him my cards, but I told him after the night was over what I had, and he was relieved.

An eighth guy arrived about an hour into the game (this is about 8pm now), an older Irish guy who could read me and everyone else at the table like a book. He was also one of the funniest guys I've ever met (it's really fun to listen to a man cuss in an Irish accent). After watching a few hands and losing $20 to the guy when I had A-10 and he had A-J, I resolved not to play any hands he was heavily involved in unless I had the unbeatable nuts with no more cards to come. My brother had asked me before the game if I wanted to borrow some sunglasses, and I said, "Oh right, so I'll cover my eyes. That'll leave me with only about 100 tells instead of 101. No thanks."

The Irish guy ended up winning about $150. No surprise there. He beat a lot of people with really really good second-best hands, so he got a lot of big pots. I had a few more hands that I was pretty proud of, then with A-x in the big blind, I got to stick around through a bunch of weak betting and checking while the board went Q-8-8-8-8. After the river card, there were still five people left. I looked at the guy on my left and said, "You're going to have to pay $20 to see my Ace." He should've known better than to call me because I'm an absolutely horrible liar (the Irish guy knew I was telling the truth and got out), but he called me (his King suckered him into it), and at that point, I reached my high water mark of $200.

I started playing a little looser after that, with visions of a $300+ night dancing in my head, but I should've known better than to try to play loose at a table full of callers. I also need to figure out what my big tells are. Twice I went in with a $10 bet (blinds were $1/$2, no antes) with AA or AK and everyone folded. Three other times when I had A-x or J-10 suited and went in with $10, I got 5-6 callers. Grrrr. Maybe it was just bad luck, but I don't think so.

I only won a couple more hands in the final two hours of the night (which went until 1am, and my back is still complaining), but I was playing so tight that I didn't lose much, so I ended up with $140 in chips after starting with $60. We were supposed to stop at midnight, but a couple of guys wanted to try a round of Omaha, which I'd never played before, but I was a guest and kept my mouth shut. I just didn't play any of the hands, because I couldn't figure out what the hell I had or whether it was a good hand, and we weren't even playing high-low or anything complicated, just best hand. I'll stick to straight Texas Hold 'Em, thanks.

I doubt I'll play with that group again in the near future. It was fun but exhausting, and I really don't like coming home after midnight. I told M*chelle that we both *wanted* me to come home after midnight, because that would mean I didn't get busted out early. I also feel like, on balance, I got really good cards most of the night, and that's the main reason I ended up winning something. A guy sitting across from me was playing as tight as I was, and he couldn't buy a hand (and got a couple of bad beats when he did commit to a pot), and I was thinking that could've been me with worse cards. So right now, I'm up $20 overall from my two poker nights, and that's a good place to rest on my laurels for a while.

Posted by Observer at 12:06 PM | Comments (6)

Even Laura

From Crooks and Liars, it looks like the War on Christmas is continuing. Apparently, the First Lady is a secret agent for the satanic cult of ultra-liberal godless freaks trying to remove the blessed holiness upon which our great nation was founded from our sacred celebration of the birth of Christ. For shame!

MRS. BUSH: Well, all things bright and beautiful is the theme this year. I think it will be really bright and beautiful with this fabulous tree. But thank you all very much. Happy holidays. I know this is the real start of the season, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and so I want to wish everybody happy holidays.

I'm sure the wingnut brigade will demand an apology forthwith. Right? I read a letter to the editor in the paper this morning of some nut angry at Wal-Mart for saying "Happy Holidays" to everyone instead of "Merry CHRIST-AND-DON'T-YOU-FORGET-IT-mas". A right-wing boycott of Wal-Mart! What better way to start the day?

Oh, by the way, Tom Tomorrow is short, sweet and perfect this week.

Posted by Observer at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2005

Millennium vs 9/11

I finally started reading Al Franken's book, but I had to stop and read something else before going to sleep last night because it was making me too angry. Al makes the case against Bush completely and concisely, and it is maddening. Here's a great example, contrasting how this administration handled 9/11 vs how Clinton handled the millennium plot. First, Franken publishes an excerpt from Al Gore's speech, referring to the famous August 6 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike inside U. S.":

The only warnings of this nature that remotely resembled the one given to George Bus were about the so-called Millennium threats predicted for the end of the year 1999 and less specific warnings about the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. In both cases these warnings in the President's Daily Brief were followed, immediately, the same day--by the beginning of the urgent daily meetings in the White House of all of the agencies and offices involved in preparing our nation to prevent the threatened attack.

By contrast, when President Bush received his fateful and historic warning of 9/11, he did not convene the National Security Council, did not bring together the FBI and CIA and other agencies with responsibility to protect the nation, and apparently did not even ask follow-up questions about the warning.

This is the president, mind you, who is supposed to be a brave protector against terrorists. But hey, Al Gore might be biased, so Franken goes on to quote the bipartisan 9/11 commission report:

Better to hear it from a Republican-chaired, bipartisan, unanimous report based on thousands of hours of rigorous investigation. Don't you think? So if you're sick of partisan spin, here's the real story -- straight from the 9/11 Commission. As you'll note, it's the same as Gore's, although more detailed and less angry.

In the period between December 1999 and early January 2000, information about terrorism flowed widely and abundantly. The flow from the FBI was particularly remarkable because the FBI at other times shared almost no information. That from the intelligence community was also remarkable, because some of it reached officials -- local airport managers and local police departments -- who had not seen such information before and would not see it again before 9/11, if then. And the terrorist threat, in the United States and even more than abroad, engaged the frequent attention of high officials in the executive branch and leaders in both houses of Congress.

Like Gore, the 9/11 Commission contrasts this period with the months preceding the September 11 attacks:

In the summer of 2001, DCI Tenet, the Counterterrorist Center, and the Counterterrorism Security Group did their utmost to sound an alarm, its basis being intelligence indicating that al Qaeda planned something big. But the Millennium phenomenon was not repeated. FBI field offices apparently saw no abnormal terrorist activity, and headquarters was not shaking them up.

In other words, Clinton put the government on high alert and stopped a deadly attack. Bush did nothing.

Could 9/11 have been prevented? We'll never really know. But if Bush had shaken the trees like Clinton had, Washington might have found out about the Phoenix memo, which warned of suspected terrorists enrolling in flight schools, or about the FBI agent in Minneapolis who tried to warn HQ that Zacarias Moussaoui might "take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center."

Franken's book is chock-full of well-documented, insightful anecdotes like this one, at least so far. But I have to leaven it with a Star Wars book just to keep my blood pressure from going through the roof.

Posted by Observer at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2005

Democrats Give In, At Last

Apparently, "getting the troops out of Iraq soon" is now the official White House position and has been all along:

The White House for the first time has claimed possession of an Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.

It also signaled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the violence-torn country.

The statement late Saturday by White House spokesman Scott McClellan came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces will begin leaving Iraq next year "in large numbers."

According to Biden, the United States will move about 50,000 servicemen out of the country by the end of 2006, and "a significant number" of the remaining 100,000 the year after.

The blueprint also calls for leaving only an unspecified "small force" either in Iraq or across the border to strike at concentrations of insurgents, if necessary.

Digby responds to the news enthusiastically:

It wasn't easy. Joseph Biden has tacitly admitted that the Bush administration has been right all along in its insistence that we pull out large numbers of troops in 2006.

As you know, Democrats have long been insisting that the US stay in Iraq indefinitely. It was only through the wise counsel and patient persuasion of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush that they were convinced that a timed withdrawal was the best way to go.

While it's great news that the Iraq war is over and done with (and the liberals can finally stop obsessing over it) it's going to take some work to get them to stop lobbying for more tax cuts and destroying social security. When are they going to get some responsibility and recognize that there is no free lunch?

At least the Bush administration finally got the liberals to let the poor Katrina victims keep a roof over their heads until after Christmas. Jeez, what Scrooges.

Thanks to Atrios for the links.

Posted by Observer at 06:50 PM | Comments (1)

November 26, 2005

Truth Hurts

Just a reminder, there's always good stuff to read from our troops in Iraq (and who have just returned) over at Operation Truth.

Posted by Observer at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

What We've Lost

Via The Sideshow comes a link to this very good column by David Ignatius, who is normally a Bush apologist but lately seems to be joining the "angry left" traitor brigade over here in super-duper-extreme terrorist-loving America-hating liberal land:

Not so long ago our country really was seen as different. Foreigners queued up outside any institution that called itself an "American university," hoping for a chance at their piece of the dream. My own ancestors were educated at such a college, and their children's and grandchildren's success in the new land was part of a global chain of American affirmation and renewal.

We are eating up this seed corn. That's what I have seen in recent years. We inherited incredible riches of goodwill -- a world that admired our values and wanted a seat at our table -- and we have been squandering them. The Bush administration didn't begin this wasting of American ideals, but it has been making the problem worse. Certainly George W. Bush has been spending our international political capital at an astounding clip.

When I began traveling as a foreign correspondent 25 years ago, I thought I understood what the face of evil looked like. There were governments that used torture against their enemies; they might call it "enhanced interrogation" or some other euphemism, but it was torture, and you just hoped, as an American, that you were never unlucky enough to be their prisoner. There were governments that "disappeared" people -- snatched them off the street and put them without charges in secret prisons where nobody could find them. There were countries that threatened journalists with physical harm.

As an American in those days, I felt that I traveled with a kind of white flag. We were different. The world knew it. We might have allies in the Middle East or Latin America who used such horrifying methods. But these were techniques that Americans would never, ever use -- or even joke about. That was our seed corn -- the fact that we were different.

The United States must begin to replenish this stock of support for America in the world. I would love to see the Bush administration take the lead, but its officials seem not to understand the problem. Even if they turned course, much of the world wouldn't believe them. Sadly, when President Bush eloquently evokes our values, the world seems to tune out. So this task falls instead to the American public. It's a job that involves traveling, sharing, living our values, encouraging our children to learn foreign languages and work and study abroad. In short, it means giving something back to the world.

We must stop behaving as if we are in a permanent state of war, in which any practice is justified by the exigencies of the moment. That's my biggest problem with Vice President Cheney's anything-goes jeremiads against terrorism. They suggest we will always be at war, and so it doesn't matter what the world thinks of our behavior. That's a dangerously mistaken view. We are in a long war but not an endless one, and we need to begin rebuilding the bridges to normal life.

What has happened to the America where it was ok to sing "Give me love, give me peace on Earth"? I guess that's what I get for listening to old George Harrison music while trying to blog.

Posted by Observer at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

Postcard from the "Angry Left"

Cindy Sheehan is back in Crawford for the holidays to carry on her protest against the war. She writes about returning to the Crawford Peace House in her diary on Kos:

After a stop at the Peace House we headed back out to Camp Casey on the Camp Casey II location. Now I did feel at home. We stayed up for hours talking about politics, the war, old times, and the future. We laughed and cried and I thought: "I am so lucky to have two families. My children and mi familia de Corazon: (my family of the heart).

Both of my families are very close and loving and we laugh and have good times, but our good times are hampered by the fact that we are here for dead serious reasons: we want to hold a President and his lying administration accountable for leading us to disaster in Iraq and we want to stop an immoral occupation. Some of us are also there because we have been so intimately and tragically affected by the disaster and immorality. We periodically stop to reflect on these things.

When I am here in Crawford at Camp Casey, I almost feel sorry for George up there a couple of miles away from us in his protected Green Zone. He is protected from physical harm (which he need not fear from us) and he is protected from political harm. He doesn't have to face people who disagree vehemently with his policies and who oppose his continued killing with every fiber of our beings. He is protected from the real world of pain and need. He has never had to face his failures or own up to anything. Really, are any of us surprised that he has been such a miserable failure in every way?

The reason I feel sorry for him though, is that he is also sitting in his political Green Zone with apparently not many friends or confidants. Reports show that he only has four people who he can talk to. He is not even on friendly terms with his father, Karl or Dick. We at Camp Casey, on the other hand, are surrounded by laughter, love, hope and acceptance. One can't help smiling just being here.

If you read Cindy's diaries, you know that she's not being sarcastic here. She really does feel sorry for the people who are going to eventually have to face up to what they've done. More sad than angry, more sympathetic than sarcastic. Meanwhile, pro-Bush supporters hold up signs as she passes by like "throw the bitch in the ditch". These are the same people who always ask "What Would Jesus Do?" I wonder if Jesus would be opposing the war with Cindy or if he'd be on the side of the road flipping her off, waving the American flag and holding up obscene signs?

We could all learn lessons about civility and courage from Cindy. I'm still amazed at the anger of some of the trolls who have swung by here in the past few months. My favorite one is too drunk or stupid to figure out how to get around a simple spam filter and apparently has nothing better to do but beat his head against a proverbial wall of electrons over the holidays. I'll be praying for him and others like him to see the light.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Posted by Observer at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2005

The Dark Tower

I'm finally finished with it. Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series is seven books written over a 20+ year period. It's the longest continuous story I've read in maybe ever. All I can really say about it in short form is that it was "okay". There were moments of greatness in the series and writing or plot developments that made me wince. A lot of times, I was impatient to finish just so I could get on with other books I was more interested in. But it wasn't the kind of series that I would just give up on either.

The story follows Roland, a gunslinger. He has a gift with guns that lets him take on dozens of opponents at a time, shoot small objects out of the air from a great distance without really aiming, that sort of thing. For some reason that is (maddeningly) never made quite clear, Roland is on a quest to reach the Dark Tower, a monument that stands at the crossroads of all possible worlds. Something is wrong with the tower and/or the beams that stretch from it in a criss-cross pattern over all worlds, providing a framework for their structure. Roland wants to find out what that is, I guess, and try to fix it.

How does he intend to fix things? He repeatedly says he just wants to go to the tower, climb to the top and "look around". What the hell kind of plan is that? You would think a plan would crystallize along the way, during the seven books of the quest, but no. Roland finally reaches the Dark Tower, and he pretty much just figures he'll climb to the top and see what's up.

It isn't until book four, which was my favorite of the series (and more like traditional fantasy than any of the others) that Roland tells an important story from his youth as a flashback. It is here that we see the bulk of Roland's initial motivation to seek out the Dark Tower and figure out what is going wrong with the world. The problem isn't necessarily with the tower itself but rather with the beams that support the world, and so along the way, Roland has to deal with that as well.

But let me go back to the start. Roland is chasing a "man in black" who turns out to be an incarnation of Randall Flagg, the bad guy from "The Stand" and various other King novels. He knows that this guy is working for the Crimson King, who is a powerful, insane wizard whose history and motivation for trying to destroy the tower and the beams are really never made clear (neither are Flagg's, but at least he has an interesting personality). He finally catches the man in black, and the man reveals some of the truth to Roland, only to get away.

Roland wakes up at the beginning of book two on a beach where some strange giant lobsters are trying to attack him. How did he get there? One of the creatures snaps off two of his fingers, but Roland manages to crawl to safety, only he is deliriously tired and starts to become sick thanks to the poisoning from the creatures. Why does this happen? Roland decides to walk along the beach, and he comes across doorways, one by one.

Each door opens into a close variant of the "real" world, and from each world, he draws a person who is designated to help him (or indirectly finds a way to get that person to his world). Each is a typical King anti-hero, with coarse personality and all kinds of mental and/or physical problems. Once that is accomplished (or around that time), they find one of the beams and begin to follow it, knowing that it will eventually lead them to the Dark Tower.

After book three (which to me ends after they get off the train at the beginning of book four, the end of a pretty bad cliffhanger plot at the end of book three), the series improves (and the books get longer) and the group starts to get close enough to the source of the problems that they can start actively doing something about it. Like book four, book five kind of stands alone as a set piece, and it is all right. Books six and seven return to the overarching quest.

The only weakness for me near the end of the series was King's vision of the world, which included himself. King became an important character in his own book, even incorporating the time he nearly got killed when he was struck while walking by a careless driver. There's also a silly book collector involved in a plot to protect the tower in the "real" world, and this whole sideline didn't do much for me. King's other worlds from his other novels also make appearances here as the quest forces the characters to pass through these worlds, and I was fine with that.

The ending of the story was all right for me. King himself mentions in the text of the novel that writing an ending that would satisfy everyone for such a long series is incredibly difficult. I like closure, so I would've preferred a "Lord of the Rings" style ending where all the major characters sail off to the Grey Havens, but King chooses an ending which, to be fair, he foreshadows throughout all seven books without really realizing it (he says himself he didn't know how it would end until about 20 years after he started writing the first book).

I guess I would recommend this book to anyone who has read and really loved four or five different Stephen King novels. Some of his best are "The Stand", "It", "The Regulators", "The Tommyknockers" and "Salem's Lot". I think you would have to be familiar with King's work and style and characters to really enjoy this. This definitely shouldn't be the first or only thing you read by King. It isn't meant for the casual fiction fan or even casual King fan (which is me). I'm sure the hard core King fans think this is better than "Lord of the Rings".

It's not good enough to re-read, although the ending naturally invites that, and it's also not good enough for me to want to go out and buy a beautiful boxed set or anything like that. I'd buy the boxed Calvin and Hobbes treasury for 80 bucks at Costco first.

Posted by Observer at 09:17 AM | Comments (2)

November 24, 2005

Financial Plan

I've decided that the Bush tax plan is really what's making a positive difference in my financial life. I mean, sure it's only a few hundreds bucks of tax relief per year for me while others get millions, and sure that pales in comparison to what the higher health costs, lower services, higher fees and local taxes all add up to. I just have to take it a step further.

So what I'll do when I need more money is take out credit cards in the names of each of my kids and just take out cash advances. When they turn 18, I'll turn the account over to them so they can worry about paying it off. I'll call it the "Bush PLUS" financial plan for our future. If the kids complain, I'll just buy them some ice cream and tell them how lucky they are to have a nice treat.

Posted by Observer at 09:55 PM | Comments (1)

Gary's Gone

Dangit, Gary was really the only person left I wanted to see stick around. Danni, who was ironically Gary's biggest potential enemy early on, just sat by and basically watched Gary maneuver while she stuck by him no matter what. Lydia has just been going along to get along the whole game, doing what other people told her, and nobody gets away with that solo (it's possible if you do it like Amber with Rob). That's why she's on the outside looking in now.

I wish they had showed us early on what made Gary and Cindy so pissed off at each other. Something obviously happened, because he sent a vote her way a few weeks ago which seemed totally out of the blue, but they never had an on-camera confrontation. I'm glad at least that Jeff got Gary to talk about Judd's stupid lie regarding the immunity idol before Gary left for good.

Of the apparent final four, the only person I can really root for is Rafe, I guess. I just wish he had taken Gary, Danni and someone else with him instead of Judd and Cindy. I suspect Rafe will moan and groan next week about choosing the wrong three people to side with, but it's his own damned fault.

I love the challenges that make people knock each other out individually like breaking their pots or whatever. It always brings little feuds out into the open. This show is so damned sinister like that.

Posted by Observer at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

Oof

Wow, that was a great game. Too bad we lost. We blew a couple of chances (dropped interception and a missed easy FG left us tied 21-21, then Denver breaks a run in OT and kicks a short FG to win it). On the bright side, we slightly outplayed a team that is the class of the AFC (behind only the Colts), and we showed that we belong on the field with pretty much anyone (again). If we play that game 10 times, I'll bet Dallas wins 6 or 7 times.

Next week's game at New York will be huge. Just huge. It's fun when your team actually plays big games instead of just trying to run out the clock on the season. I'm guessing Seattle beats NY and pretty well locks up home field throughout the playoffs. The 2nd seed who gets a bye will likely be the NY-Dallas winner.

Posted by Observer at 06:49 PM | Comments (4)

November 23, 2005

Absent-Minded Professor

I need to add some things to the Advice for Undergraduates list after this semester. One is: if your professor likes to give in-class quizzes, don't get up and leave in the middle of class (unless you pre-clear it, which is a rarely justified thing). That's likely to "remind" the professor (after you've left) that he really did intend to give a quiz that day that will count substantially toward your grade.

If you have plans to get up and leave in the middle of class, you'd be better off just not going. A professor is far less likely to notice a simple absence as opposed to a pack-your-stuff-up, create-a-bunch-of-noise, walk-out-of-the-room-with-half-the-class-staring-at-you routine.

Posted by Observer at 09:57 AM | Comments (2)

November 22, 2005

Good Show

I got to listen to a little bit of Al Franken's show today, and he told the story of his recent unpleasant encounter with Antonin Scalia. Like other pseudo-intellectual blowhards (see Dick Cheney, David Brooks or pretty much any conservative columnist and a whole bunch of the bloggers), there is an absolute disdain for any contrary arguments. Not disagreement. Not really rudeness. Just disdain, as if the argument isn't even worth having.

Should we leave Iraq? Sorry, you are not allowed to bring that up. Even though we ConservaBorg have been completely wrong at every turn on Iraq, you liberals aren't allowed to talk about it, because you disagree with us and therefore favor the terrorists.

Isn't the deficit a poor legacy for Bush? What? A liberal trying to lecture a ConservaBorg on economics? (snort) Sorry, you aren't allowed to discuss that either.

Gay rights? No, you liberals can't talk about that either. Sorry, no discussion. It's right there in the Bible, next to the thing about not eating pork, can't you see?

Church and state? Sorry, can't talk about it. Founding fathers were evangelical Christians, didn't you know that? You liberals are going to hell, anyway, and by even bringing this up, you are persecuting Christians. It is a wonder any Christian can live a normal life, being persecuted by liberals so much. Plus if we allow gays to marry, the whole species will be extinct within a generation.

So anyway...

Franken mentions to Scalia that if he's such an "originalist", then he wouldn't outlaw abortion because the Constitution doesn't mention it at all, neither do the Founders in any of their writings. They simply never thought about it, and like other things they didn't think about, it shouldn't be regulated if you are truly a "strict" constructionist. So Scalia gets angry, points his finger at Franken, and says very arrogantly, "You are wrong."

Turns out Franken was right, as usual. So do you suppose Scalia will issue an apology and enter a dialogue? Of course not. He's a fraud.

Posted by Observer at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

Whom To Bust

I've really got to read the book that these guys wrote. And then I want to put them in charge of traffic control on every road I have to drive on.

And there is this interesting description of traffic flow experiments from the comments.

Posted by Observer at 01:18 PM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2005

Why It Must End

Here is a great diary from Daily Kos (thanks to First Draft for the pointer) about why we need to get out of Iraq. My favorite part is how the whole crowd of pro-war Republicans is saying that, yes, we were wrong, and now you have to totally do what we say again because to think we would be wrong again is unpatriotic, terrorist-loving and laughably stupid.

Krugman had a good argument in response to this, too, but he's now behind a pay-only subscription wall, which is a real shame.

I have yet to hear an argument that doesn't amount to "we have to stay there indefinitely". No, we don't. We can try other things. Maybe they won't work, but there is good reason to believe that they have a better chance than staying the course.

Of course, once we get out, the very next time there is a terrorist attack, ConservaBorg (who *abhor* the idea of politicizing terror) will say it is because liberals forced our troops to leave Iraq so that now we have to fight terrorists over here rather than over there, blah blah blah. Whatever. They've already shown they don't give a fuck about the troops (for example, look how they treat anyone in the military, active or veteran, who criticizes the Boy King), so someone has to truly support them. No matter what bad things happen, liberals are going to be blamed for it, so we might as well get our troops out of harm's way anyway.

Posted by Observer at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

Poor Aggies

Even bonfire sucks for them this year. What a pity.

Thanks to an anonymous Bob Sturm commenter for the link.

And I said that right. It's "bonfire", not "the bonfire". Aggies like things burn!

Posted by Observer at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2005

7-3

We haven't seen this kind of record since the glory days of the Triplets (Troy, Emmitt, Michael), and I think a lot of people are still rubbing their eyes around here, especially after the extremely disappointing season last year, waiting for it to be real. The huge win over Philly 5-6 weeks ago is an enormous positive sign, and so is the fact that we're "taking care of business" by beating up on bad teams like Detroit and Arizona, despite playing some ugly football. Unfortunately, all of this has also raised expectations, so people are disappointed if Dallas doesn't beat someone by four touchdowns. I'd be happy with a couple of playoff wins, even without a Super Bowl appearance. A playoff loss in the first or second round would be disappointing unless we play really well.

For Thanksgiving, we get to host Denver, who had a late game today, then has to travel to Dallas tomorrow, then play on the road on a holiday. Meanwhile, Dallas played an early home game today, got to "coast" a little bit against an easy opponent, and gets plenty of time to prepare for Thursday. At the very least, they should make Dallas be on the road the week before Thanksgiving, just to make both teams travel. Denver is good, but we can beat anyone (except maybe Indy). Imagine us 8-3 going up to New York to battle the 8-3 Giants (which we get 10 days to prepare for)? Wow that would be fun.

I will say this about today's game: the officials were really horrible. I don't know what was going on with Detroit, but they were offsides on probably about 15 plays (they must've had some tipoff as to the snap count) and only called for it about 8 times. Some of the penalties on Detroit were ridiculous, though, and even though Dick Stockton on TV said so at the time, he later talked about those same penalties as examples of Detroit's "lack of discipline", so I turned him off once TiVO caught up with the game (we got home 30 minutes after the game started from church) and listened to the far superior radio guys.

Why are radio announcers in virtually every sport better than TV announcers? Or is it just my experiences?

Posted by Observer at 08:16 PM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2005

Well-Mannered Frivolity

We surprised the kids by taking them to the new Harry Potter movie today. I think they kinda figured it out ahead of time. If they didn't, they should know better!

Hard to really judge the movie. Spoilers coming, but geez, you've read the books, haven't you?

Because they tried to cram everything important from the 4th book into 150 minutes, a lot of the unimportant yet really cool stuff was left out for the sake of advancing the plot. The beginning, which is like a third of the book, took maybe 15 minutes. At least, that's what it seemed like. The ending was true to the book, of course, but also vaguely unsatisfying, like the end to "The Empire Strikes Back" (which I imagine this movie will be compared to, in terms of its darkness, style and overall plot-advancing structure). You know you watched a great movie, but you also knew that you had to wait for the cliffhanger to be resolved.

McGonagall was great, as usual. She's like the ultimate straight man that makes a comedy team work. Alan Rickman was given very little to do as Snape, but that'll change soon enough, I guess. Moody was terrific and stole every scene he was in. Dumbledore was fine, graceful, authoritative, just like in the books, but I guess he's just too much like Gandalf, to the very note of the performance, and that was a little distracting. The kid actors were fine, too. Hard to criticize the acting anywhere, especially in a film so dominated by special effects.

Anyway, a good time was had all around, but I know like with "Empire", I will enjoy this film a lot more once the next film is out and I can see everything continue.

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

November 18, 2005

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

It may have looked like Gary's head was on the chopping block during these past couple of weeks, but in reality, it was Jamie's. Jamie's stupidity (and paranoia) would've gotten him kicked off last week had he not won immunity, which made Gary the natural next target, but when Gary found the little immunity idol, the target circle shifted to Bobby Jon.

This week, we cheered when we saw that thanks to a reward challenge win, Gary, Danni, Judd and Steph were going to spend some quality time alone. As expected, Gary made his pitch to stay in until the final four. I was surprised that Judd didn't bite. I really thought Gary would draw him in with some of that Cowboy quarterback charisma. Instead, he planted the seed of doubt in Steph's mind which convinced her later that it wouldn't be so bad to get rid of annoying Jamie, at least for this week.

Steph knows she's being played by a smooth operator, though. She said as much before agreeing to vote for Jamie, so I have a feeling Gary will be gone next week, just so the five remaining Nakum's can avoid that icky insecure feeling about potential betrayal for two more episodes while they get rid of Danni and Gary, the last of the two Yaxha's.

The only hope Gary has is that the loudmouth asshole character will now be re-assumed by Judd next episode. Now that Jamie is gone, maybe people will start to remember Judd's earlier tirades against Margare (which are eerily parallel to Jamie's yelling at Gary, but not nearly as virulent), him always telling people to shut up, his stubbornness, and his lying (especially about the immunity idol, which I'm surprised Gary hasn't brought up more clearly yet ... assuming that wasn't edited out).

I still say Steph would be smart at this point to bring Lydia and Jake with her to the final three. It seems she can kinda control their votes. If that's true, then those three plus Gary and Danni (who will do anything to stay alive at this point) can vote off Judd and Cindy, get it down to five, then vote off Gary and Danni. I can't see Steph ultimately winning, just because people will eventually return to the easy (and not personal) argument that she already had her chance and lost out on Palau.

Anyway, I still think the season is redeeming itself after 3-4 blah weeks at the beginning. I really wish the producers would do a better job of establishing the characters so they don't get all jumbled together. Survivor is the most fun when you know people well enough that you can have someone to root for (and against).

Posted by Observer at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

Following Cindy

More and more Democrats in Congress, including staunchly pro-war Democrats, are starting to come around to Cindy Sheehan's position. Last week, the Senate Democrats proposed a resolution questioning the war and demanding answers and timelines, and since it was about to pass, the Republican leadership squashed it and proposed almost an identical resolution, which then passed unanimously. They just didn't want Democrats to be able to say they passed anything or have proposed any new ideas, as usual.

There are some signs of rebellion in the House, both on the war and on the budget, and one representative (a Democratic veteran) gave a great speech today, calling for the withdrawal of our troops. It's really fun to watch the conservative media bash Cindy while quietly, more and more Americans and politicians are starting to say exactly what she's saying.

More context here. They can call anti-war people "Michael Moore" or "Cindy Sheehan" or "extreme liberals" all they want, but finally ... FINALLY, people seem to be getting past that and understanding what a colossal tragedy this war is for everyone involved. Is it really worth another year or ten of deaths just to delay Michael Moore from being able to say, "I told you so."? Because he has been right on this from the very beginning, and no amount of "clap louder!" exhortations are going to change that.

Posted by Observer at 06:39 PM | Comments (9)

November 16, 2005

Gall

I guess we'll probably build than multi-billion dollar boondoggle bridge in Alaska, but when it comes to compensating 9/11 rescue workers for health-care costs they may have to pay due to breathing in all that foul air when they were told everything was just fine ... that's 0.125 billion that we'll take back. God damn, these Republicans are some fucking foul creatures.

Thanks to Altercation for the depressing link.

Posted by Observer at 08:15 PM | Comments (5)

Jack Chalker

Back when I was a more avid SF reader in the 1980's, the speculative fiction bookshelves were very, very sparse. The number of closed series that were all available at any given time was fewer than 20 at a typical bookstore (and I didn't have access to something like Powell's or a giant Barnes and Noble or Amazon), and so it was inevitable that I tried out one of the more prolific authors of the era, Jack Chalker. The only series by him that I've read is "Rings of the Master".

The idea is that a super-computer has taken over human civilization, turning the clock back to the middle ages and spreading humanity out to various planets around the galaxy. Rather than terraforming planets, the computer has changed the colonists to adapt to the planet. This has all been done to prevent self-destruction from some technologically advanced weapon, but it also stifles the qualities that make us human to some extent.

As this four book series develops, a group of talented humans discovers that the computer has a shut-down mechanism, but it involves finding and using five rings with microchips inside. So we have ourselves a Quest. But this is Chalker, not Tolkien, so instead of elves, dwarves, a rich history, entrancing characters and lyrical writing, we get shape changing, sex changing, body swapping, lots of alien sex and various explorations of one-off Earth cultures.

The overall idea is interesting, I'll grant, and like most people, I thought the first book showed promise. But the pace was incredibly uneven, and there were too many characters. Wait, no, there weren't too many characters. Tolkien had more characters, but I cared enough to learn about them and remember their names and what they were like. Chalker's characters undergo so many radical changes, it is hard to follow or identify with any of them.

Some people like this sort of thing, which I consider the weird, low-quality end of the speculative fiction spectrum. I think those are people with too much time on their hands, because especially nowadays, there is so much more good stuff out there. It pains me to think that I could've read another series equal in quality to at least equal Julian May's stuff, if not LOTR, rather than this, but I was a kid and didn't know any better. The fact that I got through it should tell you a lot about how much childhood is about killing time.

Chalker may have written some better stuff, but I'm not going to risk trying to find out.

Posted by Observer at 04:12 PM | Comments (9)

November 15, 2005

War Stories

Over at Daily Kos, a diarist has posted some very moving excerpts from blogs and writings of soldiers and their families. It makes for a good counterpoint to the jingoistic, insulting speeches of the president. These are written by the people for whom the war has a real impact, not just a slip in the polls and having to cut short his workout by a half hour to meet with a grieving family.

Posted by Observer at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

They Finally Missed One

It took nine games and 15 or more attempts, but finally, a field goal kicker missed a kick against the frickin' Cowboys. Of course, it was a 60-yarder as time ran out that he missed. Wow, what a game. After the Cowboys tied it 7-7, I was thinking it was going to be a great game, full of great plays, a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Unfortunately, the next two hours were pretty dreadful, and I say that as a big fan. The Cowboys' offensive line couldn't do much to protect Bledsoe, and they certainly couldn't support a running game. The defense was good enough, as usual, to bend but not break. If Bledsoe hadn't thrown a real dumb interception, it is likely Philly would've scored only 13 points tonight, which would've been the 5th (?) straight week the defense gave up fewer than 14 points.

Still, when the Eagles went up 17-7 and were driving in the 4th quarter, I was thinking, crap, this is going to turn into a 34-7 laugher, dammit. But the defense held and forced a field goal, and I thought wouldn't it be funny if the Cowboys did to the Eagles what the Redskins did to the Cowboys earlier this season, coming back from 13 points down to win at the end. As my hope was slipping away, suddenly the Cowboys got the ball after a bunch of back-and-forth punts and bang-bang-bang-bang down the field. Four plays, 72 yards, and at last, we have a QB and a team that can DARE the Eagles to blitz. They blitzed and Bledsoe heaved a beauty to Terry Glenn for a TD.

Then McNabb may have provided the Eagles with their catastrophic moment for the season. After a dazzling game, considering he has no talent at wide receiver (and a ton of drops, and a ton of stupid penalties by people around him), McNabb threw an inexplicable gift interception-return-for-a-TD to Roy Williams. And he got hurt on the play trying to chase Williams down, so when McNabb came back out, he couldn't run *or* throw. So we hung on to win 21-20.

So in the end, it turned from a somewhat pathetic and embarrassing show into a coin flip game, and so now we're 4-3 in coin flips plus two big wins, and that adds up to the division lead at 6-3. I think the best part of the night were all the long, lingering shots of pissed off Philly fans. I savored those. Especially the bald guy with the green stripe on his head who looked ready to put a gun to his head before just shouting out an emphatic "FUCK!".

Enjoy your trip back down into mediocrity, Eagle fans. Too bad you couldn't get a Super Bowl out of it while you were good. Really. Too bad.

Posted by Observer at 12:10 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2005

Rooting Interest

Via Sideshow comes this story about what Republicans are hoping for:

A confidential memo circulating among senior Republican leaders suggests that a new attack by terrorists on U.S. soil could reverse the sagging fortunes of President George W. Bush as well as the GOP and "restore his image as a leader of the American people."

The closely-guarded memo lays out a list of scenarios to bring the Republican party back from the political brink, including a devastating attack by terrorists that could “validate” the President’s war on terror and allow Bush to “unite the country” in a “time of national shock and sorrow.”

The memo says such a reversal in the President's fortunes could keep the party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.

Party over country. Every single time. Oh, but they won't hesitate to question *MY* patriotism. What a bunch of sorry fucks.

Oh wait, I guess I'm not supposed to get angry about this. I'm supposed to respond with reasoned, measured discourse to a party that is hoping for terrorists to strike our country. My bad.

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

November 13, 2005

Comment Wars

Atrios points to this very thoughtful discussion about blogs and commenters. I think this is a relevant discussion even for this tiny little blog, given that it hasn't been immune from comment wars that I happily participate in.

What [are] the obligations of a blog owner regarding his or her commenters, the commenters' obligations in turn, and in particular these obligations with regards to blog content and banning policies?

On the one extreme of the spectrum are those who believe simultaneously that (a) blogs should not post anything that might offend them, even if they are only visiting a given blog on a first-time fly-by and (b) that anything should be allowed in the comment threads, up to and including insulting the blog owner and his or her other commenters. I call this the "The World Exists to Serve Me" contingent.

You may not realize it, but about once a month, I ban one of these commenters. People who visit and post something hateful on an old topic, kind of like spitting a big glop out the window while driving by. It is often hard to distinguish serious commenters from kids who are bored during school and just spew stuff in whatever text box the search engine leads them to. Rather than take any of that stuff seriously and using to attempt to launch a legitimate discussion, I usually just treat it as unwanted graffiti and delete it.

I wouldn't put my pet troll in this category, since he's actively malicious and thus much more embarrassing to himself than someone who just doesn't understand common social norms. He knows the norms and yet still tries to drag the discussion down to the schoolyard bully or drunken barfight level. Sometimes he probably can't help it because he's just an angry drunk, but I don't want to bother trying to distinguish which comments of his are attempts at a dialogue. I've tried that road, and it wasn't productive.

On the other extreme are those who believe that (a) blog owners can say whatever the hell they want, however they want, and if the people visiting the blog don't like it, they can go away (common rallying cry, "No one's making you read this blog") and (b) blog owners can do whatever they want with regards to their comments threads -- ban randomly, edit comments according to their own whims, refuse to have any comments, ban people who disagree with them, etc. I call this "It's My Blog and I Can Do What I Want" crowd.

I'm pretty close to this position. I appreciate my few readers, sure, but I'm doing this for me. If I were doing this blog for others, I would've stopped a long time ago. If my blog finds an audience, that's fine, but that may end up creating more problems than it is worth. So I'm pretty neutral on that, which is liberating.

Personally, I lean more toward the latter than the former, in that I don't give a rat's what some random stranger thinks about my blog, I dislike intensely the arrogance involved in telling other people how to blog, and I see no reason to spend my money to host comments that are insulting and unhelpful, or to provide a forum for jerks.

In practice, though, I think most people who blog (and who comment) fall in the reasonable middle, trying not to be deliberately offensive in their choice of topics and writing style and word choice (or, alternately, warning people up front about what to expect at a given blog), and allowing reasonable debate to occur in their comments threads, if said debate is constructive and respectful, at least according to the culture of that particular blog.

It's that last part that gets tricky: according to the culture of that particular blog.

I have this problem. Sometimes people will post a comment, and they'll be surprised that I proverbially jump all over it. I don't normally do this with anger or spite. I like a good, engaging debate with thoughtful people. If you think I'm wrong about something (for example, when I generically disparage the environmental ethics of hunters because I think most of them blindly vote Republican thanks to the NRA thing, which isn't a big priority to me), go ahead and call me on it and tell me why. I can respectfully disagree or change my mind, but I don't get offended when people tell me I'm wrong.

I *do* get offended when people tell me I'm wrong then get all lazy on me. You get people like this on the right all the time, who promise to "inundate me with facts and arguments", but then when it gets right down to it, they are nothing but bluster. They challenge me to prove an assertion about, say, taxation because they think the rich pay too much. Well, ok, so I go out and do the legwork, provide all the references, and then hear nothing but empty silence in response. It is the sound of a closed mind that was pretending to be open, bluffing intellectually. I call the bluff, and then they claim they were never playing in the first place

That offends me. If you start an argument with me, then at least show some respect and finish it. If that means admitting you are wrong or at the very least putting a little effort to document and support your assertion, then do it. And don't be shocked and upset if I insult you. Part of it is me returning what I see as disrespect, and part of it is challenging you to prove me wrong.

This is one thing that I think proves challenging to a lot of people new to the blogosphere (as well as a few tone-deaf old hands). The blogosphere is not a uniform, homogenous place, operating according to universal rules and expectations. (My god, how boring it would be if that were so.) Instead, the blogosphere varies with the whims and inclinations of each blog host and each commenting community. Some places are fine with profanity, others aren't. Some specialize in trading witty one-offs; others prefer thoughtful, meandering conversations. Some are snarky and sarcastic; some are warm and touchy-feely. Some develop small, close-knit communities into which a newcomer must ease slowly and cautiously; others are big raucous public parties that anyone can jump into without prior experience. The blogosphere is anything but homogenous.

However, to a newcomer, it often looks that way, so the clueless go around bulling their way into existing conversations, committing social faux pas, etc. until someone calls them on it. The honestly clueless wise up, learn to "read the room" and adjust their commenting styles to the norms of each particular blog and its attendent culture.

Other folks, on the other hand, don't.

Some don't because they are incapable of reading the social cues and linguistic nuance that pass for body language and tone in a text-based forum. They blunder about, annoying everyone, but they aren't malignant; if they find the right community, in which their personal styles and interests are mirrored by the rest of the group, they do fine. If not, they continue annoy people, get banned, and remain confused as to what's going on. This group, while irrititating, are not actively malicious, and will probably remain a fact of blogospheric life, must as they do in "real" life.

What I don't get are people who have clearly been around for a long time and yet still act like they don't know what's going on, what the "rules" are, as loose as they may be.

Some don't because they feel that the blogosphere ought to have consistent rules, and are continually irritated that it doesn't, and take out that irritation on blog cultures that follow rules they disapprove of or are uncomfortable with. The best advice for these folks is for them to start their own blogs, where they can run things as they wish, because otherwise they run the risk of becoming cranky, bitter trolls who have no friends. (Again, we can see them in everyday life, in the form of the old ladies who scold mothers for not putting socks on their babies, people who correct other people's pronunciation, cranks who blow their stacks when someone doesn't put the stapler back just so, and so on.)

Some don't because they have an axe to grind that has nothing to do with the blogosphere per se. A particular variant of this is the proudly self-proclaimed conservative who rails at liberal bloggers for failing to tolerate dissent in their blog threads. (There are liberal equivalents, but the rhetorical tools at their disposal are different, as are those of their opponents, so the dynamics play out differently. They can't and don't level hypocrisy charges at sexist bigots, for example, if they get banned.) There's no use arguing with these types.

Awww, but it's so much FUN! I believe there is some merit to public humiliation, whether the target understands what's happening or not. That is the price I can exact from someone whose hateful, arrogant or ignorant politics I loathe. It is a pretty small price to pay given how much harm such political "thought" has done to our country these past several years.

They are not interested in hearing evidence to the contrary, because they are trying to promote an ideology, not educate themselves. They are not amenable to accusations of hypocrisy (cue LGF reference here), because they do not define themselves in terms of tolerance and open-mindedness; they are using the stereotype of liberal tolerance as a rhetorical club against ideological opponents -- if it didn't exist, they'd find another approach.

They want to be banned, because then they can spin the result as proving their point about liberal hypocrisy; explaining to them that "tolerance" does not equal "putting up with every stripe of foolishness under the sun" (let alone treating such foolishness with respect) does not work, because, again, they are not interested in arguing about actual ideas, but about scoring ideological points. The closest equivalent I can think of in offline life are radio talk show hosts, or the hecklers who show up at political rallies, and the like -- the gotcha, stir-up-shit crowd, in other words.

Ultimately, though, the culture of a given blog is not entirely in the hands of the blog host. It rests in considerable part in the hands of the people who make up the community centered around that blog and its host.

I'd like to think that, as unpleasant as I can be to people in this blog sometimes, at least I'm consistent. If you disagree with me and treat it like some flippant one-liner to which all responses will be ignored contemptuously, then you can expect some hell for it, in the form of a tiny stream of electrons that spell out what a jackass I think you are. Most people seem to realize that if they challenge me to look something up and/or better prove my point, I'll usually do it (or at least explain why not and invite responses), but I also expect something in return, if only an acknowledgement. I don't necessarily do "requests", but I'm also not unreasonable.

And if you don't like it, as they say, go start your own blog. And send me a link so I can visit.

Posted by Observer at 03:29 PM | Comments (8)

Drink Deeply of the Kool-Aid

Armando over at Daily Kos quotes this typical entry from a ConservaBorg blog:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

I think I smell another Supreme Court nominee!

Posted by Observer at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2005

Big Talkers

Texas Tech fans have been really big talkers since opening the season with a bunch of million to nothing wins against cream puffs and I-AA schools. About the only quality wins they had were over a couple of marginal Big-12 schools. Texas exposed them pretty well, and now they've gone and lost to a piss-poor Oklahoma State team (snapping a 5-game losing streak that included a blowout at the hands of the pathetic Aggies), which will deservedly drop them out of the top 25, I'm thinking.

2nd best team in Texas? TCU. Of course, now watch the Frogs lose to UNLV tonight. After tonight, without the stupid, stupid, stupid SMU loss, TCU would be 11-0 and very likely looking at a BCS bid after some of the other 1-loss teams shake themselves out by beating up on each other.

Posted by Observer at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

Baby Names

Well, Ashl*y tore up our old baby name book. Not intentionally, of course. She just uses it so much to get name ideas for the stories she writes, then she throws it on the floor, steps on it, runs over it with her chair, etc. So it is a tattered ruin. That means a bookstore trip today so she can buy us a new one. We may try to buy a good potty book for Daniel to get him kicked off. That boy is scared to death to sit on the toilet, it seems, and we're not really forcing the issue.

We don't know yet if we're going to figure out the sex. I kinda want to, but M*chelle is wavering. The nice thing about knowing the sex is that it will be easier to just pick one name. It's hard enough picking names without having to go through two different possibilities. Every name I think of, I can think of either someone annoying with the same name or a character in a novel I don't want to associate with the name or something.

M*chelle and I were thinking about Ben or Benjamin for a boy name last night. I kinda like that, but only because I would never call the boy "Ben". He would always be "Obi Wan" to me. For girl names, we have a few ideas but nothing that has clicked for both of us like D*niel did.

C*dy had his last soccer game this morning. His team got shellacked 6-1 by the first place team. It was really closer than that, but we were short a couple of good players today and had zero speed on defense. We defended well in the first half, mainly because we had the wind against us and so the whole team was always compressed on our end of the field. In the second half, we got several breakaways, but that had the drawback of pulling our defenders up so that the other team had a ton of chance for breakaways. Besides C*dy and one other kid on our team, who showed up with five minutes remaining in the game, we had no one else who could outrun anyone on the other team, even their little stocky kids had some serious wheels.

C*dy played in goal in the first half and made one great save. He also scored the team's only goal and showed the coach has really has an extra gear. But about halfway through the 2nd half, C*dy got stepped on and pushed down accidentally by another player. Then he got stepped on again shortly after, and he kinda gave up because we were down 4-1 at that point. Frustrating. He has that spark that tells me he could make a good "select" player, and we're encouraging him to try that next season. If he stays in this crappy league for the next two years, he'll never be able to handle the kind of competition he'll face when he gets to high school. He probably won't even get looked at for the team if he doesn't have some "select" experience under his belt, and he really wants to keep playing.

Our coach for the past three seasons has told us that he'd like to take C*dy and a few other players (including some that have already left the team for other "select" clubs) and form the nucleus of a new select club next Spring. I don't know if that'll happen because the coach is a busy guy and not very good about long-term planning. I'm going to look into it, though, and be ready for any eventuality. There is the chance that C*dy won't be good enough, too.

Posted by Observer at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2005

Clutch Gary

Gary is fast becoming the "Tom" of Survivor: Guatemala. He's older, wiser and generally honest (except lying about being a football player), and the others are picking up on that. Unlike Tom, he was on the wrong end of the numbers game at the merge, so it looks very unlikely that he'll make it to the end. They were planning on voting him off this time, but he found the individual immunity idol hidden in the forest (despite being intentionally misled by Judd, who won a clue in the reward challenge) and used it to save himself before the vote.

How he knew they were planning to vote him out, I don't know, but I'm sure there's a lot they edit out. From what they showed, Gary was directly lied to by at least three different people on this episode. First, Jamie lied about not intending to vote for Gary (then when Gary told Jamie he'd vote with Jamie, Jamie went and lied to everyone else about it, saying Gary was going to be an ass and vote for Jamie). Second, Judd lied and told everyone the immunity idol would be found on the ground, but Gary busted Judd looking for it in the trees and so knew how to look. Finally, Steph and everyone else lied by not telling him they were intending to vote him out.

Gary sniffed it out anyway and saved himself, so next week, maybe we'll get some good confrontations. Gary has to hope he can shake the trees enough to shift the alliances around. If he saves himself just one more week, then they'll be down to that magic seven number. There will be six remaining Nakum's plus Gary, and by then, the Nakum's will know that all six aren't going to the end. Gary would then have to ally with three and hope to make it to the final four, then figure things out from there.

At this point, I guess I would be happy with any final four that doesn't include Judd or Jamie. As fun as they are to hate, they are too annoying to watch. Genuine evil is fun to watch, and we don't have that this time.

Posted by Observer at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005

Julian May

Wow, I haven't done a book review in like a million years. Oops.

Julian May has written three speculative fiction series that tell the story of a group of human telepaths and their role on Earth as we join the established community of civilizations in the galaxy. The first series (that I read), "Intervention", is the best, and it is set in the near future. In this series, a family of telepaths and their associates have experiences that fans of the X-Men will probably recognize as they try to simultaneously hide from and fit into society. There are a lot of ethical issues here that are resonant today, such as the parallels with the movement for gay equality and science vs faith issues. This is my favorite kind of fiction, set in the near future with a little tweak (telepaths) that sets off enormous waves of change.

The second series (that I read) is called "The Galactic Milieu" and is set in the decades following events in "Intervention". It tells of the introduction of humanity into the galactic community, how various groups of people (including telepaths and normals) handle the transition. The aliens teach the telepaths new abilities, and some telepaths break through to become extremely powerful and feared. At the same time, there is a terrible, secretive enemy trying to unravel the whole system. I found this series a little weaker than "Intervention", largely because it was much further removed from the kind of "day after tomorrow" fiction I'm fondest of. I still enjoyed it greatly.

One aspect of the new civilization is the establishment of limited, one-way time travel. A doorway is opened to the distant past, namely the Pliocene era in geological history (six million years ago, not six hundred million, so no dinosaurs), and some people choose to go through (provided they are neutered first, so presumably their presence won't massively alter history). Their story is told in "The Saga of Pliocene Exile". This one is a very weird Earth, dominated by competing telepaths of varying levels of madness and evil, snatching groups that come through the time doorway for enslavement or other purposes.

It takes patience to get through "Exile", but I liked it well enough. Since this was actually the first series May wrote with these characters, many recommend that you read "Exile" first, then "Intervention", then what May considers her best, "Milieu". I kind of liked it in the order that I read it, which is the order I've reviewed it here.

Overall, all three series are most reminiscent of and a little better than Orson Scott Card's "Homecoming", a five-book series I've talked about before. That's because the series follows a rapidly changing world but focuses mostly on one extended "prime mover" family. Pretty much all of the good and all of the evil originates from the same small group of characters within the family, and so family dynamics ripple outward and affect everything.

Posted by Observer at 09:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2005

The Bright Side

Well, it's too bad that the Texas proposal to super-duper-double ban gay marriage passed, not least of which is because the wording may invalidate many current marriage licenses and/or common-law marriages. It doesn't really change the law down here, but it is an emphatic "fuck you" to guys crazy enough to live in the Bible Belt. Assuming they have a choice, of course.

I am heartened by the fact that Maine voters refused to overturn a recent law that took a step toward equality for gays. Just thinking of the drunken rampage that'll probably send my pet troll on is enough to bring a smile to my face.

I still don't understand any of the arguments against gay marriage. They all just seem like rationalizations to mask acting out on some severe homophobia. And believe me, I've been through the "no special rights for gays" arguments many times, even back during my days as a grad student in Washington state when it was on the ballot there, so I know the territory.

Posted by Observer at 06:27 AM | Comments (1)

November 08, 2005

Leak Probe

I read this headline and smiled: "Frist, Hastert Call for Leak Probe". Frist and Hastert are the Republican Senate and House Leaders, of course. So I wonder what they would want to investigate? Are they at last saying there should be a full investigation into the Valerie Plame leak that compromised our national security?

Oh God, no.

They're worried about how told the media about our secret torture prison camps over in Europe. They're not worried about the camps themselves, the camps that represent the worst sort of oppressive, barbaric practices our country has stood against for over 200 years. Oh no. They want to know who talked about them.

Are we through the rabbit hole or what?

Posted by Observer at 11:49 AM | Comments (1)

News Cycle

Here is a great example of the assholes in the government working hard to sell us an unnecessary war:

Policymakers met with top intelligence officials from a number of agencies. After the intelligence officials made their presentations, Douglas Feith "leapt to his feet, pointed to a certain National Intelligence Officer and declared 'You people don't know what you're talking about.' "

Doesn't that sound just like a mindless Bush-supporting moron? They bray condescendingly about how stupid everyone else is, trying to get their point across by simply pounding the table and intimidating those around them. Is it any wonder this is how wingnuts argue? They're just taking cues from their leaders.

As usual, the facts come out years later, making us all look like fools for allowing this:

Feith had worked for Cheney—together with Scooter Libby—when he was secretary of defense in the administration of George H.W. Bush and, according to former administration sources, was even closer to Rumsfeld than Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was. After that outburst, Feith held up a piece of paper and read aloud an account of al-Qaida's ties with Iraq in the early 1990s. Then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a man well-known and well-liked in Washington for his gentlemanly manners, looked on, aghast at the scene. Wilkerson told me that after the end of the meeting, he got a copy of the paper and determined it was a newspaper clipping that had been retyped in the vice president's office to be presented as "intelligence."

Most likely it was a newspaper clipping of an article in which officials in Cheney's office were anonymous sources. Is Tom Tomorrow prescient or what?

Posted by Observer at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2005

Church and State

Apparently, we're now living in a country in which the government coerces ministers to prevent them from preaching political messages to their congregation. Do you really have to ask whether it is liberals or conservatives being threatened by the IRS? During this administration?

God forbid I get angry about it, though. Ha ha, it's all a big party.

Posted by Observer at 09:21 PM | Comments (1)

Great Info

As promised, for anyone looking for objective, credible information from both sides about Bill O'Reilly's show, I recommend you visit Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly.com. I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for.

Posted by Observer at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2005

Immigration

A while ago, someone asked me to talk about immigration, and I've put it off for a while because of three major things. First and foremost is that I really don't care much about it. Illegal immigrants are mixed in terms of benefits and drawbacks, and the number coming in to the country just doesn't seem like much compared to the population, even in border states. I admit, though, that if I lived 50 miles or less from the border, I'd really have to look at the issue more closely because the effects would be larger.

Second, I don't have a lot of information. This is one of those issues where, unlike conservatives, I'm more than willing to admit my ignorance (when is the last time you heard a wingnut admit his or her ignorance on a matter, and that's a crowd that ironically deserves the title so richly). And because I don't care a lot about it, I don't go to a lot of trouble to educate myself. What little I know tells me that the subject is very muddled, so I am very wary of proposals for dramatic changes.

Third, I am naturally skeptical of the anti-immigrant crowd because whether they like it or not, they are in bed with bigots. Just because you are anti-immigrant doesn't mean you are racist, of course. But when you throw your lot in with people who spew rhetoric like the KKK or the "Minutemen" or other white pride groups, I think you deserve some of the skepticism you will naturally face. Fair or not, you're going to have to get past that with me. It's possible, just a hurdle I throw up by reflex.

We liberals have the same problem. Our anti-war message gets mixed up with a bunch of stupid socialist propaganda when groups like ANSWER take charge of protests, and so we have to get past that with pro-war Republicans. Sometimes we can't, and that's too bad for us and them. That's just the way things are. Hell, the anti-war message has to get past that crap with ME, but it was easier because I was anti-war all along. I know that the anti-war message succeeds on its own merits without anything else mixed in.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't care enough to dig into it on my own, but if you care about it and can provide some credible, objective information about both sides of the debate, I'd be glad to be educated.

Posted by Observer at 08:36 PM | Comments (5)

Gheed's Fortune

I stumbled across this valuable unique charm a few days ago. Very cool. +35% magic find, +100% gold find. Still can't find decent 3-socket armor for my "Wealth" runes, though. Grrr.

Posted by Observer at 08:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2005

Why Oh Why...

Oh why did the Frogs lose to SMU? They would so be in the BCS top six after this weekend.

Posted by Observer at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)

Getting Better

I was worried there for a few weeks that this season of "Survivor" was going to turn into something unwatchable. So far, it has been a definite downgrade from Palau. I can't believe they managed to find so many deeply unlikeable characters, except maybe for Gary, whose whole game is based on lying to everyone. Now that the two tribes have merged, though, the game has improved.

The producers are still very good at setting up conflicts and adding twists. I really like the fact that they hid a little immunity idol out in the jungle for someone to find. If you find it, do you tell anyone? How do you hide it? Would it really help all that much or just delay the inevitable for one week?

I'm surprised that the alliances are so set and based on the latest tribe distribution instead of on the original distribution. That seems to have been forgotten very quickly. I'm not sure if they'll be able to break that down or not. If someone like Steph in the Nakum six is smart, she will go in with the three remaining Yaxha's (Gary, Danni, Bobby Jon) and some of the Nakum's to pick off Judd and Jamie. Then she, Lydia, and the other two Nakum's would have a final four alliance that would go to the end.

It'll be fun watching immunity challenges and seeing who people pick to take along with them to share rewards. In the end, that's what screwed over the rats and let Tom win in Palau. I'm glad I stuck this one out so far, because from this point on, I think it'll be good to watch.

Posted by Observer at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2005

The Sad Truth

Well, wingnuts, here is a great example of the high esteem you are granted by your leaders:

"The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them." The brilliance of this strategy was twofold: Not only would most voters not know about an initiative to protect Coushatta gambling revenues, but religious "wackos" could be tricked into supporting gambling at the Coushatta casino even as they thought they were opposing it.

Scanlon is a former aide to former House majority leader Tom DeLay. This authentic (quick, check the kerning!) memo from Scanlon was read into the Congressional Record during a hearing about the Abramoff scandal. Abramoff is the guy who makes the Arkansas clowns involved with Clinton look like church ladies. He and Ralph Reed (yes, the former Christian Coalition leader) have been playing the base like a violin for years to make money off of Indian tribes, and there's a chance now that's it is all going to come to light, despite the fact that Republicans are leading the investigation in the Senate (John McCain must be trying to build up some cred for another presidential run).

As I keep saying, you people don't even realize what suckers you're being played for by the Republican party. That's ok, we'll keep fighting for what's good for the country until you wake up and leave the state of denial, because it's our country, too. You can thank us later. Meanwhile, would you rather be referred to as "wingnuts" or "wackos"? Maybe I should just go with "wackos" since that's how your own leaders refer to you, though "wingnut" just has such a nice ring to it.

Thanks to Atrios and others for the pointer.

Posted by Observer at 07:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2005

Tax Burdens

I had the occasion today to educate someone about the total tax rate vs the income tax rate after listening to him go off on a stupid rant about how much more in income taxes the rich pay compared to the poor. Some of this I've talked about before, so there is a bit of reinventing the wheel, but I thought it would be good to compile this info into one post.

First, the executive summary: See the table below for the figures. As of around 2002, before any of the tax cuts that passed afterwards at the federal level, the rich paid more in terms of income taxes, but in terms of payroll taxes and state/local taxes, the poor paid a lot more, so the total tax burden is pretty much the same percentage of income for the three groups considered, provided I make some very generous assumptions about how wealthy people report their income. It has gone more in favor of the rich since then.

Some people don't know the difference between income taxes and payroll taxes. Payroll taxes, from Wikipedia (here and here), are the combined withholding for Medicare and Social Security (OASDI), and this is sometimes instead called the FICA tax.

Check your pay stub. Income taxes are taken out by standard withholding, often abbreviated as "Fed Withholding". Because income taxes are the ONLY progressive tax out there, it is no wonder it is the one rich people always whine about. People conflate income taxes with total taxes all the time, and the people who argue in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy are TOTALLY counting on this.

You stop paying the Social Security part of FICA once your gross wages exceed $90,000, so that means poor people pay a greater share of their wages toward this tax. You'll see that on the 3rd line of the table below.

For the table below, I've assumed taxes for a married couple. I've also assumed that the wealthy person's income isn't just straight income but some of it ($200k) is in the form of capital gains, stock options, etc., which is actually below the average for that sort of thing. Very rarely does a wealthy person report his annual income as straight payroll income. All other income is taxed at a much lower rate (e.g. capital gains is 10-15% instead of the ~35% rate for income). That fact is also ALWAYS left out of the discussion as people pretend that the wealthy pay something close to the ~35% tax rate on their income.

Local taxes means sales taxes, property taxes, fees, licenses, etc. My source for that number is here .


Income $20,000 $50,000 $500,000
------ ------- ------- --------
Income Taxes $2,289 (11.4%) $6,789 (11.3%) $109,643 (21.9%)
Payroll Taxes $1,530 (7.65%) $3,825 (7.65%) $12,830 (2.57%)
Local Taxes $1,920 (9.60%) $3,600 (7.20%) $16,000 (3.2%)
Total: $5,739 (28.7%) $14,214 (28.4%) $158,473 (27.7%)

I personally believe that the tax system should be more progressive, that the wealthy can and should pay a larger fraction of their income compared to the poor. A good rule of thumb is that the wealthiest person should pay a total percentage about double that of a poor person. This could be accomplished in the above case by dropping the poor person's TOTAL tax rate down to about 15% and raising the rich person's tax rate to about 30%.

The idea of a progressive tax system is championed by such socialists as Adam Smith in "The Wealth of Nations". If you don't remember Adam Smith, he's basically the guy who invented capitalism. For a pretty good set of pro and con arguments on this, see Wikipedia's entry.

Posted by Observer at 01:49 PM | Comments (7)

November 02, 2005

Eliminationist

Digby has a good, research-filled essay comparing the tactics of the "angry" liberal vs the typical right-wing nutball. It fits well with my experiences in this blog. I get angry, sure. I get insulting. I don't suffer fools gladly. But there is a line of civility I do not cross. I can't say the same about wingnuts. And my experience is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to right vs left discourse.

If you don't believe me, spend a few hours digging through Daily Kos, the supposed paragon of the "angry liberal" sites, then go through Free Republic, a typical wingnut site.

Posted by Observer at 11:27 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2005

At Last

I'm glad to see that Harry Reid is trying to hold Republicans accountable for something. He's promised to call the Senate into a special closed session every day until we get a real investigation into the intelligence that led us to war. This is an investigation that Republicans put off before the 2004 elections, then dropped afterwards as "irrelevant". The charges recently brought by Patrick Fitzgerald have brought this back to the public's eye, and Reid is trying to make sure that this important issue stays there.

Republicans are pissed about it, of course, but Reid probably figures he has nothing to lose. After all, Republicans have already shown they are willing to strip all minority powers, including the filibuster, and they already refuse to let Democrats hold hearings in Senate chambers about anything. If Democrats won't hold hearings about things, it's clear Republicans won't, and someone has to. This will give Republicans a little taste of things to come should they invoke the nuclear option and eliminate debate in the Senate.

Someone has to fight for Americans who continue to vote against their own best interests, I guess. Only Democrats have the character to do it.

Posted by Observer at 04:20 PM | Comments (0)

5-3

After taking care of business against the pathetic Cardinals, the Cowboys are 5-3 going into the bye week, which is nicely timed because we might be able to get some important starters back to full speed after a week of rest (Julius Jones, Anthony Henry, Dat Nguyen, to name a few) by the time we play Philly on Monday night of the following week. And maybe the O-line will look decent after some rest because they've been really hit and miss this season.

I'm excited right now because the Cowboys are competitive. Unlike the past few seasons when Philly has been clearly the top dog in the division, if not the NFC, it doesn't look like this year there is any team that is clearly dominant. We beat the Giants in a coin flip game. Lost to Seattle in a coin flip game. Lost to Washington in a coin flip. And I'll bet the game later against Carolina will be much the same. And those are the teams we really need to worry about.

I don't suspect at this point that anyone coming out of the NFC will be able to avoid getting drilled by Indy in the Super Bowl, but it would sure be nice to get there and take a shot. For the first time in a very long time, we have a realistic chance of doing so, and that's something I've missed terribly. Going to be crappy to go through the next two Sundays without Cowboy games, but if we beat Philly badly twice this season, it would be worth it to kick Philly fans in the nuts.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)