December 31, 2005

Serenity

Surely all three of you who are reading this have seen the movie by now, but in case you haven't, read no further because here come mild spoilers.

The movie was great. I liked how Joss Whedon allowed the rumor to spill that one of the main cast members was going to die, then twisted the knife and still managed to surprise us. I was really sorry to see that character killed off. I hope they can find a suitable replacement.

I'm not sure if River is now totally ok or just temporarily ok. It seems as though at some point in the movie, she said, "I'm ok" and then played it totally straight (but still really weird) from that point on. Or is another repressed memory going to start bubbling up to torment her and make her psycho?

The development of the backstory with the Reavers was very, very good, and it still leaves SO much territory to cover. In a way, this story reminds me of Brust's Dragaera universe. You start off just plopped right in the middle of an ongoing story, and the background of the world is given out in bits and pieces, usually as little asides, and everything clicks together in a really neat way. I hope this series comes back to TV because a couple of hours of movie every year or two is far far less than this story deserves.

Although I am looking forward to X-Men 3 (which I spotted today on E's "Coming Attractions" show) and have really enjoyed the first two movies, I think the opposite. Movies are the right place for that story. Trying to stretch it out into a TV series wouldn't work very well, unless it was done by the same kinds of geniuses doing Battlestar Galactica (which returns in a week!). I've seen the kinds of plots trotted out with the X-Men throughout many of the comic book sequences, and most of them wouldn't translate well.

Oh, and Happy New Year. May 2006 bring about the well-deserved and long-awaited impeachment that America desperately needs.

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

December 30, 2005

Mira

The variable star, Mira, is so-named because it was the "miraculous one" to Astronomers. No other star showed such unusual long-term behavior.

Why do I know so much these days about the history of Astronomy? Long story.

Posted by Observer at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

Just Wondering...

Is it completely beyond the pale to suppose that one of the targets of the unsupervised, warrantless wiretaps that have been going on since (at least) 2004 was John Kerry?

Did I mention that the president very, very clearly broke the law, and admitted it on national television? When your president proudly enters Nixonian territory, every conspiracy theory you can think of starts to sound like something from the Oval Office Watergate transcripts.

Posted by Observer at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

Another Data Point...

...on the global climate chart: Tropical Storm Zeta. On December 30. When do these stop becoming outliers and start becoming trends?

Posted by Observer at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

Athenae Speak

You listen.

Posted by Observer at 11:15 AM | Comments (9)

December 29, 2005

Trivia

Ptolemy's great ancient work on Astronomy appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages under the title "Almagest". The way it got there is that the Arabs had expanded and conquered to a point where they were able to acquire a lot of ancient Greek manuscripts through peace treaties. The Arabs were very interested in glorifying ancient science and improving upon its precision, so they were always on the lookout for old texts, which is the only reason many of them survived the Dark Ages.

Ptolemy's work was known for centuries as "The Very Great Composition" or just "The Very Great", which in Arabic is "Al Mageste", hence the modern name of the book.

The fact that I am aware of this is one of many reasons you should consider me when choosing a "phone a friend" for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". It also helps that when going for the big money, one of the last three questions is almost always science and also almost always something I know. Plus I'm really fast when wearing a headset and using Google.

Posted by Observer at 08:27 PM | Comments (3)

Style Change

While I was laying in bed sick today, I decided to make my site a little warmer. The original background color was a sort-of tribute to my favorite blog, Eschaton, but I want something that looks a little more like the printed page, from an old paperback. It may be a little too dark for that exact look, but any background color much brighter than this kinda stabs my eyes, especially at night.

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

December 28, 2005

$834

And to top off a wonderful day, I went and picked up our eight-year-old Ford Escort at the shop. It cost 834 smackers to fix a spark plug, replace an air filter and, oh by the way, do everything but rebuild the damn engine to replace two parts that were creating oil leaks.

Posted by Observer at 09:28 PM | Comments (1)

The Real 1994

Here is a very nice collection of quotes from one of Kos' best diarists. These are Republicans sharing their thoughts on impeachment ... at least, impeachment when a Democrat is the target and the issue is lying about a blow job.

Remember 1994, when Republicans told us all that big government is bad, that it's out to get ya? These are the same guys who are now trying to tell us that it is perfectly reasonable for the government to spy on American citizens on American soil and indefinitely detain anyone the president feels like without bringing any charges.

Posted by Observer at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)

Tagged

I woke up this morning and went outside to get the paper, only to discover that our garage door had been "bombed" or "tagged". The graffiti was nice and big, covering most of the surface area of the door. It had to happen last night after we went to bed because I would've noticed it when I turned out the Christmas lights last night (or at least when we got home from supper at 730ish).

The graffiti is a big VCK in capital letters, with the C in the middle crossed out with a big "X". The cops who came when we reported it tell us that VC stands for Varrio Central, one of the gangs in our area. Then the C gets crossed out and a K written next to it, so that means the tagger is trying to disrespect VC by writing Varrio Central Killer on our door. Then it was signed in smaller letters by "Lefty".

The police weren't sure why they did this to our door. We let them look through some of Justin's things, even though we couldn't possibly imagine him being involved with any kind of gang (but then don't all parents say that?), and there was nothing incriminating. They said it could be this house was mistakenly targeted or just some local kid trying to get some practice. We didn't see it on any other doors in the neighborhood, but we've only looked down a couple of streets.

I got a can of spray paint, but that only covered about half of it. It's tough to cover because the tagger used some kind of silvery highly-reflective paint, so it will take at least 3-4 coats to cover it up. We can't match the garage door paint exactly, so we'll probably just have to repaint the whole thing. And that'll happen today for sure. I can't stand having some crap like that on my house.

If it happens again, I'm going to look into getting some kind of digital video camera that can store monitoring files on a hard drive or what have you. It is used pretty often on campus where I work, and it has been used to catch some vandals there in the recent past. I hope it doesn't happen again, because I'd rather spend that money on a new range or other home improvement (or a new monitor since my current one is starting to get funky on me).

Or we can start to more seriously look at moving. Bleargh.

Posted by Observer at 10:03 AM | Comments (1)

December 27, 2005

Me Likey

The Rangers have given us a nice Christmas present in the form of a genuine ace in the rotation. Finally, a pitcher with real cred and honestly good numbers said yes to Tom Hicks and signed here. Kevin Millwood could flame out, of course, and his league-leading ERA from last year will certainly suffer from pitching at the Bandbox at Arlington, but he can be fairly expected to not be Chan Ho Suck.

I would still leave to take back the Eaton for Young deal, then I would be much happier about this team's prospects, provided we could improve the bullpen by adding one or two more quality veterans. The offense will be a question, too, as the Ballpark tends to hide offensive weakness that this team has clearly suffered in the past couple of years. At least now, though, we can be genuinely hopeful instead of just putting on the "give-up smile" when someone says, "Hey, everyone's in first place on opening day!" when we know better.

Posted by Observer at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2005

Hard to Find

I didn't realize this until after Christmas was over that the hard-to-find toy this year (for us, anyway) is the new Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Dual-Screen. I swear there isn't a Gamestop within 25 miles of us that carries it (and there are over 20 of 'em). No luck at most other places, too. I finally found it at a Circuit City way off out of the way somewhere, so me, C*dy and Ashl*y are going to share a house in Tanglewood and see how it goes. At least, me and C*dy for now. Ashl*y blew so much of her Christmas money today in a shopping frenzy that she'll have to earn more just to pay for her share of the game (and we very rarely allow the kids to go into debt to us).

M*chelle and I got to eat out at the Cheesecake Factory today, leaving the kids (besides Daniel) at home with confidence, knowing they would be totally engrossed in their new games and stuff. Very yummy. If I could get a good catfish meal within the next three weeks, I would consider it an extremely successful winter break. Well, provided I also finish my new course proposal and write my annual report, too.

Posted by Observer at 08:25 PM | Comments (2)

December 25, 2005

Trains!

This will always be remembered as the Christmas of D*niel's trains. He got a ton of track plus about 15-20 different Thomas train cars this morning, and he's been so engrossed all day playing with it that he hasn't even bothered to open his other gifts yet. And one of them is a big Aqua Doodle Thomas playmat. The boy has hardly eaten a thing this morning.

The other kids did very well, as we tried to be scrupulously fair about the value of gifts for everyone. Ashl*y got a big cedar hope chest that we have to lug to her room as some point after making some room, plus a cookbook as her first gift for it. She also got lots of clothes and make-up stuff along with a Harvest Moon game for the GameCube that she's been asking for since March (but she could never quite save up the money to buy it).

C*dy got Mario Dance Mix, so maybe now he'll get some exercise while he's playing video games. He also got an interactive Star Wars lightsaber game which also makes him move around a lot. I really like the trend to video games that make you move your whole body. It could end up making our kids some of the fittest in the Universe if the games are really fun. We also got the boy all of the Calvin and Hobbes books he doesn't already have (actually, they're mine, but he kind of took ownership of them a couple of years ago ... something I haven't yet allowed with my fancy-schmancy Far Side collection). That's a cheaper alternative that plopping down $80 for the big Calvin and Hobbes bound set at Costco.

J*stin's big gift was one of those gigantic strong plastic rockers from Costco. He doesn't have anything to sit in while he watches TV, so that was a big "Wow!" of happy surprise from him. He also got a nice model jet that he immediately went to work on once C*dy broke the news that it was C*dy's turn on the GameCube for the next two hours. J*stin also got a Mario baseball game that I think he'll like.

All three of them got a yard of bubblegum, which is a tube with a couple hundred gumballs, something we found at Bed, Bath and Beyond. We decided not to let C*dy have a monopoly on gum in the house this time around. The real trick now is going to be making D*niel to pack up his trains for transport to Grandma's house.

Posted by Observer at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2005

Dallas Wins (Again)

I didn't get to see too much of the game because we were doing a big Christmas Eve family get together starting at noon today at my dad's. We had a great time there. I got "Serenity" on DVD and lots of nice shirts, which I need. Plus a bookstore gift card, which is always welcome.

What I saw looks like Dallas managed to make it a coin flip game. I was getting pretty depressed when they were down 10-0 in the first five minutes, facing third and long after a brutal sack, but they got a big pass play, scored a TD and climbed back into it, unlike the Washington game where they gave up after the second Washington TD. The refs may have given Dallas some calls here and there, but it was hard to tell. Maybe it was a relatively clean game. Either way, it goes into the win column.

I am pretty sure that since Tampa Bay and Washington (over the Giants!) also won today that Dallas is still in a bad spot, playoff-wise. We need a home win vs the Rams next week, which *should* be a given, and we need Washington to lose at Philly (unlikely) or Carolina to lose at Atlanta (maybe). That's according to this analysis.

A Tampa loss next week does us no good because we lose the tiebreak to them. Same with a NY Giants loss. Carolina is the only potential 10-6 team we can beat in a tiebreaker, so we need them to lose and finish 10-6 with us, or if Washington loses and ends up 9-7, we have the better record. Either way, we'll know if we have something to play for against the Rams because the Cowboys play the very last meaningful game of the regular season at 730pm on New Year's Day. Anytime you're hoping for help from other teams to make the playoffs, you're kidding yourself to think you're going very far, in my opinion, even if you make it in.

I was very impressed with Seattle's win over Indy today. Maybe the Super Bowl can be had by the NFC this year, but I still would be pessimistic.

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

Dallas Wins

I'm happy to report that Dallas beat Seattle yesterday by 3 points and appears on track for a high seed in the playoffs.

I now go back to officially ignoring basketball until the 7th game of the finals, and that's only if one of the teams is Dallas.

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

December 23, 2005

The Airing of Grievances

In the spirit of Festivus, it is time for the Airing of Grievances.

I've spent a good chunk of the space on this blog on my problems with the Boy King and his craptacular cackle of cronies that we call an administration for lack of a shorter word. So ... on to other grievances.

To graduating seniors who send everyone into a last-minute panic because they didn't get everything squared away during the last four years, I sarcastically wish you good luck. If you do manage to graduate, you're ill-prepared for the real world because you just left the last place that's going to kiss your ass when you fuck up. If you don't, you'll be mad, but you'll probably learn a valuable lesson about accountability which means you will be unqualified to serve in a Republican administration.

To everyone who uttered the words (in deep, serious tones) "rule of law" at any time during the Lewinsky saga, you had goddamned fucking well better be pounding the table for impeachment. Otherwise, you can go right straight to hell, you dishonest shits.

To the s ......... l ........ o ........ w ....... walkers in the mall and in the stores, MOVE TO THE FUCKING SIDE OF THE AISLE TO LET NORMAL PEOPLE GO ABOUT THEIR LIVES PLEASE. To the drivers who cut into the long traffic lines, I advise you not to try to cut in front of my car, because I'm looking for a worthy person to pay for my next car before I have to take my current car in to the shop.

To all the blowhards at Fox, quit trying to divide us along the lines of God, guns and gays. Can't you at least leave us alone over the holidays? You know, have some respect for America and the people who make it great? You can't? Well, fine, fuck off. You're on the wrong side of history anyway, and I'll enjoy watching you age bitterly as you come to the realization that your life's work was a steaming pile of shit that made things worse.

As for the Festivus Feats of Strength, that'll come tomorrow when I drag Ashl*y's gigantic hope chest out of the barn and stuff it under the Christ-and-don't-you-forget-it-mas tree.

Posted by Observer at 08:13 PM | Comments (1)

December 22, 2005

Protecting America

Only the Rude Pundit is rude enough sometimes to really tell it like it is. According to the typical wingnut, President Bush should be entitled to ignore pretty much any law he likes without telling us which law or any details as long as he tells us that he is doing so in order to protect America from the terrorists. RP wonders how pundits like Brooks would feel if Bush decided that secretly gang-raping David Brooks every day were crucial to national security. And, moreover, when discovered, Bush went on national TV to proudly declare he would continue the policy. Would Brooks write a flowery little love note of a column saying all is well in America, do you think?

Posted by Observer at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2005

Paging Patrick Henry

Of course, the wingnuts are now pretending that it's all well and good for the president to ignore any law he feels like because, after all, we're in a war on terror and will be forever because no one can or will define victory. If you try to argue that the president is throwing our civil liberties in the shitcan, the wingnuts try to make it a false choice: If we try to beg our Boy King to abide by the principles of the constitution, then we are giving terrorists freedom to come over here and kill us all. How can Dear Leader protect us when he's handcuffed by this quaint piece of paper with all of these complicated articles and amendments?

You know what? Fuck that. It is abundantly clear that this administration abuses power and tries to keep it secret. When the secret is blown by some outraged insider who has finally seen enough, the wingnuts attack the leaker while the administration tries to bluster it's way out of a corner by repeating 9/11 as many times as is necessary to make the media shut up. And so it goes with every scandal worthy of serious investigation, except the Plame case, which thankfully is in the hands of a professional prosecutor and not the media or the useless Congress.

Maybe not this time, because maybe they've done enough to finally wake up the people who pretend to call themselves libertarians while voting Republican straight down the line. Maybe people will remember that long ago, Americans were given the choice between having liberties or caving in to fear, and they went with Patrick Henry. Give me liberty or give me death. Don't all these stupid fucks realize that by changing our entire political system into a monarchy, we are allowing the terrorists to win by destroying our freedoms? We're allowing the world to think that we're just as bad as the bad guys (and, under Bush, that's sounding more and more like a fair criticism).

What makes me the most ill is not the idiots and cynical liars in charge of our government. Not the Boy King, Cheney, Rumsfeld, DeLay, Frist, etc. No. It is the vast swath of Moron Americans who vote for these fucks. And Democrats. Jesus. If the Democrats don't start fighting back, we're doomed. We cannot just keep saying to ourselves, "Surely, the wingnuts will wake up NOW and realize how fucked up everything is," because that'll just never happen. Crap, we're at the point now where I'm starting to take "and then they came for me" arguments seriously.

I guess I need to finish Franken's book and get back to Star Wars so I can numb myself until this is all over and we're back to living in America.

Posted by Observer at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2005

Reason #245...

to stop caring about the Rangers is that they just made what looks to be a horrible trade, giving up our young, cheap promising pitcher, Chris Young, and a good 1b prospect (Adrian Gonzalez) for a decent (old) setup guy (Akinori Otsuka) who is cheap and Adam Eaton (a starter) from the Padres.

Adam Eaton's numbers in San Diego look eerily like Chan Ho Park's Dodgers numbers before he became a millstone around the Rangers' neck. An underwhelming pitcher in a pitcher's park getting lucky in the National League. I have a bad feeling Eaton (who costs $4 million more this year than Chris Young and will walk next year unless we offer him the moon right now) will blow up here. It will be Eaton's contract year, which is about the only thing this deal has going for it, that Eaton next year will *probably* outperform Young, but in the long run (what this team needs to care about), it looks very bad.

We could've had Young cheap for at least a few more years and possibly gotten him signed to a cheap long-term deal before this season. I'll bet the Padres do that, and they'll be happy with the guy. The only decent part of this deal is the addition to our bullpen because Adrian Gonzalez wasn't going anywhere, his path to the majors blocked by Mark Teixeira for now.

Sigh. We need to be acquiring and developing young pitching talent right now, not trading it away for old, expensive, and not-much-better pitchers. I wish that arrogant fuck Tom Hicks would go bankrupt (not likely as he's a big friend of Bush) and be forced to sell the team to someone who will have the brains to realize that you need intelligent direction for this team from management, not more of the same crap that got us the laughing stock that was last season.

Posted by Observer at 08:11 PM | Comments (5)

Thanks Again!

Oh, you know that whole Bush-illegally-spying-on-Americans deal? Turns out the ultra-liberal New York Times learned of this news prior to the 2004 election, but they decided to sit on it.

Thanks again, liberal media! Keep up the good work! (Via Atrios)

Posted by Observer at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

Mr. Tool

This guy is a fucking tool. Here's why:

The truth is that average Americans are enjoying wonderful prosperity. But that truth should not cloak the obvious reality of economic distress for many airline employees, thousands of automobile assembly workers or those whose jobs have been sent offshore. "Average" does not mean "all."

Did you notice the report that the Consumer Price Index fell in November by the largest percentage in 56 years, mostly because energy prices have declined precipitously since their post-Katrina spike? Everyone's dollars buy more.

Here are the changes in the Consumer Price Index since May 2005 (positive numbers mean prices have gone up): -0.1, 0, +0.5, +0.5, +1.2, +0.2, -0.6. So what does the tool point out? That last little number of -0.6 is indeed the largest drop in the CPI in 56 years (July 1949, to be exact). During the previous four months, however, the CPI rose by +2.4, so that's an average of +0.6 for EACH of the preceding four months! I wonder why Mr. Tool leaves out that little factoid?

By the same token, if we begin measuring from 12:55 remaining in the fourth quarter of this past Sunday's game, the Cowboys defeated the Redskins, 7-0! So what are all the Cowboys fans complaining about? What a bunch of whiners!

Consumer confidence jumped 13 points in November. And why not? As David Winston reported Dec. 13 in Roll Call , 30 "straight months of job growth created 4.5 million new jobs since May 2003, with 215,000 in November alone. Orders for durable goods are up sharply, and October saw the biggest one-month increase in average earnings on record."

Want to guess if that last statement about October seeing the biggest one-month increase in average earnings on record is cherry-picked? Go ahead, guess, then go see for yourself by comparing, say, the year 2005 to any year under Clinton in this category.

If we're going to talk about job creation under President Bush, why do you suppose Mr. Tool stars in May 2003? Could it be, just maybe, that May 2003 represents that statistical low point for this administration? Starting from January 2001, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that we've had a net gain of 4.8 million jobs. That's 81,000 jobs per month, but the economy has to create 150,000 jobs per month just to deal with natural attrition (businesses closing, new people entering the workforce, etc). Even with Mr. Tool's own cherry-picked numbers, Bush has only broken even in the past 2.5 years. In the long haul, we've lost ground.

Many readers will recall that both the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office predicted half-trillion dollar deficits for the fiscal year that ended in October. They were wildly off.

Actually, the projected deficit in January 2005 was $368 billion. Now it is $333 billion. So an error of 10% is "wildly off"? Either way, a deficit of $333 billion is long way from the $236 billion surplus we enjoyed in 2000 under President Clinton. And don't try to push the line that 9/11 caused the deficit. I already smashed that myth to pieces a year ago.

Projected "losses" of revenue from the Bush tax cuts have failed to materialize. U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, pointed out earlier this month that "tax revenues are up close to 15 percent, the highest level in U.S. history." Bush's tax cuts, like those of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, have worked as advertised.

I'm sure it is just a clerical error by Hensarling's staff, but the current projected revenue for 2005 compared to 2004 from the Congressional Budget Office shows an increase of 13.9% (from 1.88 trillion to 2.14 trillion). Measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, a standard and more sensible way to compare year-to-year historical data, that's an increase of 7.4% (from 16.3 to 17.5). That final number of 17.5 still leaves us 16.3% less revenue compared to the last year of Clinton's term. If you would rather compare averages, the average revenue taken in as a percentage of GDP under Clinton was 19.2, while under Bush it is 17.6 if you include the 2005 CBO projection, a decline of 8.3%.

So yeah, the Bush tax cuts are working pretty much as advertised. They're a budgetary disaster, you fucking tool.

Posted by Observer at 09:17 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

Conventional Wisdom

By now, pretty much everyone understands that the Bush administration proposal on Social Security is complete nonsense. Even administration officials have publicly declared that the proposed changes to Social Security do not solve the solvency problem that Bush spent most of 2005 trying to scare everyone about, a problem that is much more severe (and not talked about) with regard to Medicare. Not even the crazy Republicans in Congress have been willing to take this up seriously, and the more the public learns about the details of Bush's proposal, the more negative their reaction (with good reason).

Funny how five years changes things. Back in 2000, Al Gore was saying everything about Bush's Social Security plan that has now become accepted conventional wisdom. Guess who the media portrayed as the irrational out-of-the-mainstream nut? Bob Somerby remembers.

Posted by Observer at 06:15 PM | Comments (0)

Stupid Creationist Tricks

I've been reading Pharyngula for a while now, switching to an every day kind of bookmark once he pointed me to the genius website where I found "and then it dawned on me." If my hobby-horse is media bias, his is intelligent design, and few do a better job of arguing against it. His fancy-shmancy web site even allows you to read it in pirate mode:

Gregg Easterbrook is a scientific lightweight with a long, long history o' goofy ideas; an apologist fer religion and Intelligent Design creationism, and a shill fer th' Discovery Institute. Yaaarrrrr! The ornery cuss apparently has written well-regarded columns on football, but when it comes t' science, his credibility is on th' negative side o' th' number line. One o' th' characteristics o' th' incompetent, though, is that they dern't recognize their own failin's, so once again Easterbrook sallies forth, this time against Richard Dawkins. It's th' nut against th' nutcracker; th' outcome is foreordained. [...]

It is inappropriate t' use th' adjective "arrogant" fer someone who is expressin' his well-informed and readily supported opinion. I'd reserve "arrogant" fer those criminal theologians who willfully claim expertise in biology, ne'er havin' studied th' subject in their lives, and use that false validation t' fill their congregation's heads with lies. Arrrr, and a bucket o' chum!

Easterbrook makes another argument I've heard so often…that atheists who express their ideas strongly are bad fer popularizin' evolution, and dinna spare the whip, pass the grog! This is most frequently stated by creationist sympathizers and apologists fer religion, and 'tis surprisin' that so many people fall fer it, and dinna spare the whip! When creationists say, "The ornery cuss's oppressin' me! That mean ol' Dawkins is so bad fer yer cause, why dern't ye get more good friendly Christians t' speak fer ye?", I'm thinkin' we need t' clone th' lubber. [...]

What about th' idea that people will be turned off by contempt fer their religious beliefs? Arrrr! There's a germ o' truth t' that, but at th' same time, let this atheist let ye in on a little secret, not well appreciated by th' public: they'll turn on anyone who doesn't believe in any gods, contemptuously or not, I'll warrant ye. Try it. Tell someone that ye dern't believe Jesus were bein' th' son o' God, even in th' most non-judgmental, even tone o' voice, and a majority will treat ye as either a pariah or a potential convert. That's reality. What Easterbrook is askin' fer is that atheists be shooed back into th' closet, that we should pander t' his bigotry.

It's not goin' t' happen, and a bottle of rum, avast! About half o' all scientists are atheists or agnostics (and even that is an underestimate; most o' th' remainin', while believin' in a god, are typically not very dogmatic about it and are best described as deists and unitarians and nominal members o' other churches). While we may be an insignificant minority in most o' public life, in th' sciences we are, if not overwhelmingly dominant, a very substantial component o' th' profession. We should not try t' sugarcoat that fact, and I think it is actually an obligation fer freethinkin' scientists t' make their ideas public. There's a simple message we have t' get across t' th' Easterbrooks o' this country:

Get used t' it.

We are respectable supporters o' evidence-based science. That we carry that philosophy o'er into our personal beliefs is entirely reasonable and righteous, and far more justifiable than any attempt t' insert faith and superstition into our profession, pass the grog! Even those many people o' faith who work in th' sciences will tell ye exactly th' same thin': religion does not belong in th' lab. Aarrr! Even honest, sincerely held faith has no place in science, and that appallingly bad huckster theology o' th' televangelists and faith healers and creationists and gantryesque frauds, avast? Get thee behind me, and a bottle of rum, and a bucket o' chum! If Easterbrook really wants t' correct th' arrogance and dishonesty endemic t' th' creation-evolution wars, he has picked th' wrong target. I could list a dozen names fer that scurvey dog, all who declare their authority derives from God, who are far more influential and politically active than Richard Dawkins, and all o' whom have a platform based entirely on outright ignorance, stupidity, insanity, or wickedness…and always, arrogance.

If that gave you a headache and you want to read the whole post in plain English, try here.

Posted by Observer at 06:00 PM | Comments (2)

December 18, 2005

Doors Blown

Wow. Washington came to play today, and Dallas just wasn't there. Combined, that spelled a huge blowout. It could've been worse than 35-7, but Washington went into sleep mode after opening the 2nd half with a TD to make it 35-0. Amazingly, if we win at Carolina next week, there is a good chance we'll follow that up with a home win against the Rams and make the playoffs, but I now have my doubts that we would win a road game in the first round. Hell, it might be at Washington!

It's easy to overreact to one game, especially a big loss or big win by a big margin, but putting it in perspective, this is the only game all season that the Cowboys haven't competed in, and that's pretty good after the last several years. The problem is that this may be the only big loss, but this is the wrong time of the season to lay an egg on the road. Dang, this looked like such a promising season, too. I'm now a lot more pessimistic about our chances to win at Carolina. I'm just not sure we will have the heart to compete well enough to turn that game into a coin flip which we might sneak away with.

Posted by Observer at 06:25 PM | Comments (0)

I Like This Guy

One of my favorite diarists on Daily Kos is bonddad. See if you can figure out why:

The National Revulsion Online is at it again.  The economy is "Red Hot," and anyone who disagrees with this assessment is guilty of "living in a bubble," or so says one Victor Davis Hanson.

The economy is red-hot, not mired in joblessness or relegating millions to poverty. Unemployment is low, so are interest rates. Growth is high, as is consumer spending and confidence.

First, the article does not cite one statistic to prove its assertions.  Vic simply says things are so.  Therefore, they must be so.  If it's in NRO online, it must be true.  This is how the RWNM works.  They have a set of publications that supposedly form the intellectual grounding of the conservative movement.  The NRO is in this group.  These publications are often wrong, but that doesn't stop the likes of Hannity, Rush and a host of other mouthpieces from saying things that are factually wrong.

Vic...I'm going to introduce to a few novel ideas here.  One is called statistics.  You see Vic, economics is a science that measures certain things.  Secondly, most people cite their sources.  This is a novel idea to the RWNM.  However, if you say something is so, then it adds to your credibility if you tell the reader where you get the information from.

not mired in joblessness

OK...Once again, let's look at job creation figures for Bush's entire term.  I make this time distinction because the Bush economic team and their cheerleaders have started an interesting trend: they choose to start their analysis from the lowest statistical point to make the numbers look better.  Usually, they cite some point in 2003, claiming this is when Bush's policies took effect.  However, Bush was inaugurated in January 2001, not 2003.

First of all Vic, here is a link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  If you click on the detailed economic statistics at the top of the page, you can get a wealth of data -- as in facts -- to back up your assertions.  I know - those pesky little facts are getting in the way of your cheerleading, but some people actually like facts.

It goes on and gets better from here. Always fun to read a powerful liberal smackdown of an cynical, dishonest Republican.

Posted by Observer at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2005

Celebration

Quote of the day comes from Kos, who wonders if the latest elections are the last corner we'll have to turn before the we "win" in Iraq. We've already turned so many corners, after all. And who knows? Maybe it is. And to what end?

We've expended hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives to give Iran what they most coveted -- a friendly Iraqi government.

And the wingnutosphere is celebrating.

That's the same Iran that currently develops nuclear weapons, sponsors terrorism and hates our guts, and we didn't even need to manipulate the intelligence to claim that.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

How the Press Works

Via Atrios comes a link to this very good discussion of how liberals and conservatives view the role of the press today. I cannot imagine a more spot-on criticism of how the press operates in this era of "liberal bias". I won't bother quoting the whole thing, but it is just a very, very good read.

Posted by Observer at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

Surprise! It Gets Worse.

Well, it's not exactly a shocker, but the administration has directed the National Security Agency since 9/11 to spy on American citizens on American soil without a warrant (and precious little oversight, certainly none from this Congress). In case you haven't seen it, the conventional wisdom in the liberal blogosphere has been that this essay is a very good response:

This is against the law. I have put references to the relevant statute below the fold [follow the link above for the full post]; the brief version is: the law forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens, and it provides procedures to be followed in emergencies that do not leave enough time for federal agents to get a warrant. If the NY Times report is correct, the government did not follow these procedures. It therefore acted illegally.

Bush's order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.

But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria for impeachment. This is exactly what got Nixon in trouble: he ordered his subordinates to obstruct justice. To the extent that the two cases differ, the differences make what Bush did worse: after all, it's not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside.

And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

SusanG over at Daily Kos, has another very good response, including questions we should all be asking our CongressCritters:

No doubt we will see in coming weeks hair-splitting legal and constitutional debate over the precise wording of presidential orders, evocations of executive privilege and withholding of information in the name of national security, and mind-numbingly dull citations from dozens of obscure court cases. The administration will attempt to complicate, bluster, lie and attack its way out of answering for its spying on American citizens in the hopes that the electorate will give up on understanding the issue and will continue to sleep.

It's up to the minority party now to not let this happen. It's up to the Democrats, shut out of power, to keep the nation focused by using the only tool left to them: their voices. This is a challenge, and not one Democrats are historically successful at meeting. But this is, whether we feel up to it or not, a turning point in the national debate if we have the will, the clarity and the unity to make it so.

The truth is, the constitutional questions raised by the secret spying strike at the very heart of our form of government. This is no longer Republican versus Democrat, left versus right. In fact, for true rank-and-file conservatives, this should bring on a crisis of conscience and self-examination. Distrust of the government and its motives runs deep in American conservatism; witness the recoil from relatively benign "nanny state" interventions such as social welfare programs and anti-smoking laws. How much more repugnant is wiretapping, surveillance and massive record-keeping by the feds?

I am not naïve enough to believe elected GOP officials or the chattering chuckleheads of Sunday cable shows will acknowledge framing the issue this way. But if Democrats can break through the blizzard of bullshit that is ramping up to come our way from all sides, we can reach across the partisan divide to the average American with a focused, simple message:

This is about the very foundations of democracy: Is the government our servant or our master? And is the president, who is elected to execute our laws, allowed to suspend them?

We are heading into an election year when every House seat will be up for grabs. It's up to us to make every race about these constitutional issues. As concerned citizens, we can urge Democratic leaders to force the argument in this direction, but there is another action we can take as individuals to make this more of a reality.

I suggest that those of us who are represented by Republicans in the House contact our representatives and get them on record over the next few weeks on three specific questions:

1.    Does the president have unlimited power in a time of war, particularly an undeclared one?
2.    Do you believe the government has a right to spy on its citizens with no regulating oversight?
3.    Do you support a full and open Congressional investigation into the executive branch's authorization of spying on American citizens?

These questions, depending on how they are answered, may well prove to be a gift we can give to every Democratic challenger in the year ahead. It will force GOP reps to take a stand, if as constituents we don't let them get away with obfuscating. Insist on a clear-cut answer. Demand a yes or no. And keep ready at hand the letters or emails you receive back. It's time to force this issue. It's time for all of us to do our part. It's time to re-deliver this government into the hands of the people it was elected to represent.

The reaction from the wingnuts is sadly predictable. Let's not worry about our civil liberties. Oh no, never that when the Boy King might be at fault. Instead, let's shoot the fucking messenger. In this case, that would be the ultra-liberal New York Times which you may recall passed along a bunch of made-up shit to help sell war with Iraq, part of their sneaky liberal agenda to make Bush the worst president in history. And, by the way, that's the same ultra-liberal New York Times that has been sitting on this story for a year at the request of the Stupidist Goddamned Administration in History.

Do honest "conservatives" exist out there? Or is it all just "my guy right or wrong"? I just keep trying to imagine a circumstance that might exist that would make one of these fuckbrains criticize Bush. That jackass could masturbate onto a crucifix screaming "Happy Holidays!" at the top of his lungs right in the middle of the State of the Union address, and these people would fucking blame NBC because they spent 23% of the camera time on Democrats during the speech.

Fuck 'em.

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

December 15, 2005

The Courtship of Princess Leia

This book, by Dave Wolverton, occurs about four years after "Return of the Jedi", so we're beyond the temporary alliance between Rebels and Imperials that occured mere days after the death of the Emperor in "Jedi" described in "The Truce at Bakura" and also through the year or so of events chronicled in the first eight books of theX-Wing series.

The focus returns to the major characters. We learn that Han and Leia have kind of gone their separate ways, not seeing much of each other. Leia is busy administering the New Republic, and Han is trying to figure out if he wants to be a big shot in the New Republic or a semi-respectable and very profitable smuggler. This changes when an important political power wants to cement their entry into the New Republic by marrying off one of their handsome princes to Leia. Han decides to kidnap Leia instead, and so you have your major plot point.

Meanwhile, Luke is starting down the path to restarting the Jedi order. He begins by trying to track down some of the history of the Jedi in the Republic, and his explorations lead him to a planet populated by lots and lots of weak dark-side force users ("witches") who threaten to overwhelm him. As these things go, Han and Leia end up on the same planet. Who woulda thunk it?

Ok, so besides the contrived plot, the lack of any real danger for the major characters, and the other typical flaws of the Star Wars genre (at which point 95% of typical sci-fi readers are already out), this one is probably as good as the X-Wing series, which puts it in the middle part of the quality scale for this series, with the Thrawn trilogy up on the top tier with precious little else. I like the part of the book that occurs on the dark-side planet. Han and Leia don't have much to do here but react to plot devices, but Luke is portrayed well in this book. I really like how Wolverton shows his growth since "Jedi".

Posted by Observer at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2005

Links

Avedon Carol over at The Sideshow has a very good discussion today about how journalists perceive Democrats and Republicans as well as more in her continuing (and worthy) crusade against fixed elections. It's a subject that gives everyone tired-head but is a necessary precursor to any real change in this country.

There's also been a lot of hot air going around about Dan Froomkin's political column in the Washington Post, one of the few regularly skeptical/critical of the Bush administration, and so naturally, according to the White House, it must be squashed. What's sad is that the White House's attempt to bully Froomkin and his editors isn't the story. Rather, Froomkin's editors are talking about substantially altering the column so as to avoid the possibility that anyone might think they are liberally biased, blah blah blah.

One of Josh Marshall's readers summarizes the issue nicely (and another one here), followed by a link to a much more in-depth discussion. It's complicated, but it is also a very revealing look at just how far the "most liberal" papers in America are bending over to accomodate this administration after spending years making shit up or passing along made up shit about Clinton and Gore.

This is the kind of stuff I really wish wingnuts would just TRY to wrap their heads around once in a while instead of just mindlessly braying "bias!" everytime the Boy King screws up and the press dares to report it as anything but a bold victory.

Posted by Observer at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2005

Penny Poker

I had a little window of time last night, so I offered the boys a chance to play no-limit hold 'em for a penny a chip. The buy-in was two dollars with unlimited rebuys whenever they wanted, so somewhat similar to the way my brother's game is set up, only with the money being a factor of 50 smaller. I made a point to bluff (and lose) for small stakes early in the night, just to encourage them to call me later when I flopped something great.

J*stin kept drawing some tremendous cards (he flopped a King-high straight flush at one point, the first one I've seen since we starting playing this at home), so he cleaned C*dy out and forced him to rebuy. They both basically call almost everything, so it comes down to who draws the better hand, and I just wait until I have a very good hand to play any pots. I picked off a pot here and there to keep myself even until i got some real cards. Finally, I had a Doyle Brunson hand (10-2 offsuit) and a free flop since I was the big blind, and a 10-10-2 flopped with two clubs. I bet small just to encourage the boys to invest in the pot. Another club came off, and I bet a little bigger, hoping one or both had made a flush or was drawing to one. Another club came off, so I figured someone had a flush and would bet big.

I went all-in, and both of the boys called me. C*dy with a K-high flush and J*stin with A-high. That's pretty much the only hand I had to win all night to end up way ahead. That's the biggest danger in poker, trying to bet a nut flush when the board pairs, because there might be a full house lurking out there. I was lucky no one had a 10 with a higher kicker paired than me.

C*dy ended the night down about four dollars, and J*stin ended up two, and I also ended up two. Last week when we played, C*dy was calling my 40 chip raise with stuff like Queen-high. I kept telling him never to call with nothing. Only fold or raise (bluff) with nothing. He said he was just playing lazy because it wasn't for real money. Well, real money didn't change his style. We may have seen the last of him risking his money at poker for a while. Once I clean J*stin out really good (i.e. when he stops flopping the nuts every fifth hand), I imagine he'll be the same. It'll be a cheap lesson, and I'll probably let the boys earn their money back anyway with some chores.

Posted by Observer at 05:47 PM | Comments (3)

December 12, 2005

Danni Wins

The best part of last night's finale was watching Rafe put himself through hell. Rafe is the king of the ethical dilemma, always trying to do the right thing and expecting others to do it in return. If the world consisted of Rafes, there would be no such thing as the Tragedy of the Commons problem. Rafe made two mistakes, and combined, they cost him a million bucks, probably.

First, Rafe won immunity. Since Lydia, as usual, just wanted to go with the majority, she would've been willing to vote off either Steph or Danni, both of whom wanted the other voted off so as to go to the final two once Lydia was eliminated from the group of three. But Rafe couldn't choose between them, so he figured he would vote off Lydia so that the "most deserving" three got to the final three. So he blew his first chance to make the final two.

After that, Danni won immunity, but watching Steph suffer through the endurance challenge was too much for Rafe, who released Danni from her promise to take him to the final two. Danni struggled with the decision because she likes Rafe, but a million bucks is a million bucks, and Danni knew pretty well that if she took Steph to the final two, the jury would vote for Danni. Not so sure with Rafe.

Steph made her case very well, pointing out that several people on the jury were really mad at her, like Judd and Cindy, but they seemed to get along fine with Rafe, who played exactly the same strategy and voted with Steph every time. Didn't matter. Grudges are huge in this game (which is why Cindy blew it by not giving the others cars), and the vote wasn't close. Only Rafe voted for Steph because he was put out with Danni for not letting him go to the final two. He tried various versions of guilt trips, but Danni blew him off.

And that's why the game is fun to watch. You get mostly decent people together, and the game forces them into horrible ethical dilemmas. It's a lot of fun watching them squirm around. Nobody gets hurt (on purpose), they all get famous for a little bit, and we get to watch. Win win win. The biggest laugh of the show was Judd's voice-over near the end where he said he learned a lot from this game and won't be such an angry jackass anymore. Uh huh. Ooooookay. I really enjoyed Jeff's busting Judd at the end for all the lies he told while getting mortally offended when people lied to him.

My guess is the next one will start around the weekend of the Super Bowl, about the same time American Idiot kicks off again.

Posted by Observer at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2005

Cowboy Theater

Holy crap, the Cowboys are playing some incredible games this season. That makes the 10th coin flip game of the season (that comes down to the last possession), and the 'boys are 5-5 in those with their other two wins in blowouts over bad teams (who woulda thought Philly would be so bad this year). I think Kansas City outplayed us by a little bit today, but we got a couple of breaks that made the difference.

One, we recovered a QB fumble when KC was on the doorstep of making it 21-10, returned it 70 yards or so, then got an amazing pass and catch for a touchdown, making it 17-14. That's a 10 or 14 point swing right there. Then when they forced a fumble on our QB, it rolled around, ended up right beneath one of our guys, who just fell on it. We got another break at the end when KC miraculously moved down the field 50 yards in about 20 seconds, then missed a very makeable 41-yarder, the first time an opposing kicker has missed a kick except that 60-something yarder the Philly kicker missed.

We also had our first TD on a beautiful flea-flicker play, one we tried and botched a few weeks ago, ans 85 yard play when it looked like we were just gonna get mashed. I consider any long trick-play like that a break when it works. They didn't try anything like that on us, so they never really gave themselves a chance to get that break. Larry Johnson made the Dallas defense his beyotch all day long, but we managed to stop him enough near the end. The KC quarterback, Green, also had a good day, and that's the first time in forever the Cowboys have given up more than 14 points. 28 points on nearly 500 yards of offense.

What made it possible to win was that the offensive line figured things out a little bit. There was very good pass protection today, considering the opponent, and so Bledsoe had time, even on blitzes, and Bledsoe returned the favor by returning to his lethal early-season form. Man, he's fun to watch when he has time to watch things develop. The running game wasn't great but it was decent enough to keep the Chiefs honest. That's also a big credit to the line.

Huge, huge game at the Foreskins next week. Ever since NY clocked them 36-0 or something, they've put together a little winning streak, and now they're just a game behind us. Meanwhile, NY almost messed around in Philly and lost this week (btw, making Seattle look a lot better for going in there and murdering Philly, followed by another 40 points against the 49ers ... that's how you earn some respect). We're a game behind NY still, and they get to host KC next week. I'd pick KC in that game, frankly, and I like our chances in Washington. Those results would put us back in first in the division.

If we win in Washington, then we have another coin flip at Carolina (by far, the toughest game remaining, though) after that, finishing with a lay-up at home against the Rams, so there is a decent chance we close out the season with 4 straight wins *and* a first-round bye (because of our five loss, only three are against the NFC, which is a big tiebreaker). Damn, we shoulda beat Oakland and Washington early in the season, but then these games might not feel like must-wins, and we might not win 'em as a result.

All these great games have made for a wonderful season, but man am I gonna be in a funk if this team misses the playoffs, which is also possible if they screw around and lose two of the last three.

Posted by Observer at 06:53 PM | Comments (7)

December 10, 2005

The Christmas Spirit

Presented by Ben Sargent:

Posted by Observer at 07:19 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2005

X-Wing

The last of the novels occuring between "Return of the Jedi" and Zahn's Thrawn trilogy is a series of books written by either Michael Stackpole or Aaron Allston, depending on which book you are reading. The first seven books of the series make a kind of cohesive, continuous story, but there are a few more that have been added on later in the timeline. I'll just talk about the first seven books here. They start with "Rogue Squadron" by Stackpole and end with "Solo Command" by Allston.

There are two major positives this series has going for it. First, there is a lot of strategy, tactics and combat. Not a whole lot of time is spent on deep, personal stories, which pulp fiction like this is almost always embarrassingly bad at, throwing around stereotypes like crazy. Instead, the Rogue Squadron (later evolving into Wraith Squadron), a group of a dozen or so X-wings led by Wedge Antilles (who acts mostly as a rear admiral instead of a fighter pilot), is sort of an elite commando force sent on dangerous missions against overwhelming odds, etc.

You put a dozen of these X-wings in a battle against about 50 tie fighters, and about half the ties will get blown up before running away and maybe one X-wing clipped. They only get shot down if there is some kind of surprise attack or some other form of dirty pool. Ok, fine, I can get past that. That's part of the elite mercenary/commando genre, not limited to Star Wars.

Hell, even Cook's "The Black Company" trilogy is guilty of that, though it is a bit of an insult (to Cook) to compare the two series. The cat-and-mouse stuff between the imperial ships and rebel ships is fun, a hint of the best parts of the Thrawn series still to come. The concept of Interdictor ships is big in this series. These are ships are create dead zones that force ships to come out of hyperspace and prevent them from jumping out again.

The second big positive is that the major Star Wars universe characters are rarely to be seen, and the new characters work just fine in their place. And there is the added bonus that you just don't know what is going to happen to them. Every once in a while, someone gets killed off, and it is a bit of a surprise. Also, since they're often dealing with small situations instead of "galaxy hanging in the balance" battles, that means sometimes the Imperials get to win. And you are never quite sure going in what will happen.

The negatives. Outside of the typical negatives I've mentioned above that you'll find with any pulp series (e.g. Star Trek), I would also mention that the compelling villains in this series are few and far between. As anyone who has watched "Die Hard" knows, what makes a good story is not an interesting hero but a cool villain (like Grand Admiral Thrawn), and that is lacking here. Despite the different authors, I found the quality of this series consistent and readable. The only major new character here who has a presence beyond the series is Corran Horn, who has some force ability and so draws attention for that. Horn pops up again in the "New Jedi Order" books.

This series falls pretty much in the meaty middle of quality for the genre. Definitely a step below the work of Zahn or Tyers, but as I review later books, you'll see there's a *lot* further to fall.

Posted by Observer at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2005

Car Talk

We didn't get to see the whole "Survivor" tonight because we didn't realize our DVR was too full. Grrrrr. But I saw the first 2/3, and I read on message boards what happened the rest of the way.

Cindy was pissed off at the start of the episode because she wasn't in on the plan to vote Judd out, and she was feeling vulnerable. Then she completely ignored her own instincts when she won the reward challenge for a car. She was given the option to either keep her car or lose the car and give the other four remaining players cars. To me, that's a no-brainer. You give cars to everyone else. There's a million bucks on the line, and it greatly improves your chances of winning because not only will you probably not be voted out of the next coucil or two just based on goodwill but also because you will earn goodwill of future jurors if you make it to the final two.

Now because of that, other players may vote you out because they don't want to be paired with you in the final two, but I'd take that chance. Keeping the car, especially when you are *already* out of the loop, is guaranteed elimination, and that's what Cindy got. Looking forward to the final four on Sunday.

Posted by Observer at 09:54 PM | Comments (0)

The Truce at Bakura

While I'm in a Star Wars mindset, I might as well knock off some more reviews to fill in the timeline of the "expanded universe" chronology of books set in the 20 years after the end of "Return of the Jedi". First, before Zahn's "Thrawn" trilogy, is Kathy Tyers' "The Truce at Bakura". In this novel, a race of lizard-like aliens wants to enslave all living things to serve as life-force inside their fighting machines, and Bakura is the system at the spearhead of their invasion.

The enemy proves to be a big enough menace that the still-very-strong remnants of the Empire must temporarily ally with New Republic forces to try to fight off the threat. The events in this book occur just a couple of days after the end of "Jedi", so Luke is still pretty beaten up by his encounter with the Emperor, and everyone is still stunned by the revelations of Luke and Leia's father and other events.

An important plot point in this story is Leia's confrontation with Anakin's spirit, and this book explains her still-going-25-years-later grudge against her father (but I guess it must have abated at some point because she named one of her kids Anakin, and I can't remember her motivation, if that was ever explained). Luke also kinda falls for a politician, but this thread isn't picked up at all by any later books, and he doesn't have another potential love interest until Mara Jade is introduced later.

At the time I read this, I felt it was on par with Thrawn's series. Looking back on it again I'm not sure it deserves such high praise, but it is a good read, in the top third of the Star Wars books out there.

Posted by Observer at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

Trolls Summarized

Tom Tomorrow summarizes pretty much all of the experiences I'd had debating wingnut trolls. The best part is the last frame where the wingnut plays the victim card and puts the blame on the liberal.

Posted by Observer at 12:30 PM | Comments (1)

December 07, 2005

Vector Prime

"Vector Prime" is the first book of a new 25-book series by lots of different authors. Each book is sort-of stand alone, but the whole story arc involves the invasion of the Star Wars galaxy by a militaristic race that uses organic technology and pretty much exists outside of the force. Kind of like an organic Borg race, with a collective mode and an individual mode.

R. A. Salvatore, who has written tons of Dungeons and Dragons related pulp which I haven't read (but 16-year-old J*stin seems to like him), was given the honor of kicking off the series, which begins 21 years after events in Return of the Jedi. During this post-Jedi era, Han and Leia have had a pair of twins, Jacen and Jaina, along with a younger kid named Anakin. Their childhood and adolescence has largely been covered in the main series of books (wayyyy too many kidnapping plots), but they are covered in more depth in a series of books for kids about "Young Jedi Knights" and so on.

Luke has gotten married to another force-strong person who flirted with the dark side, Mara Jade. No kids. Luke is sort of the "elder Jedi" in the galaxy, and over the 21 years, he has trained others, who are now training others, etc., so the Jedi are repopulating, but there is no central academy (yet). This series of books is called "The New Jedi Order", for reasons which I imagine will become clear as events unfold.

All of these people are major characters in this book, which for me is kind of a bummer. In the post-Jedi universe, I have a strong preference for Star Wars books that involve new major characters because you don't know what will happen to them. Salvatore was given license to break this rule and kill off one major character, but I guess I won't spoil it other than to say I wasn't really impressed with the way this character was killed off. Kinda felt like how they killed off Tasha Yar in ST:TNG, though there was a little more to it than that. I guess it was supposed to be a symbolic thing, breaking with the past. Salvatore has given a lengthy interview about this book, and he talks about that a bit.

I guess I should talk about the book itself. Like all good pulp, this was a lot of fun to read but pretty forgettable once I was done. Now that may be because I was using chapters of this book as breaks between spurts of grading essay exams over the past 48 hours, I'll admit. The action was good, and I was interested in the new characters. As I said before, there is a downside to having a lot of the action fall around the central characters (Han, Leia, Luke, Chewie, Lando, R2D2, C3PO, et al) because you know they're essentially never in danger (well, okay, one is). Hell, even the major secondary characters (Mara, the kids, Kyp) are never in danger because no author is allowed to kill off big characters without permission from On High or radically alter the plot.

But since this is a brand new major story arc, there is a lot of new development going on. So while this story has a definite end, there are many plot threads left hanging. That got me interested enough that I will pursue the series further. I'm also going to go back and fill in the timeline up to this point, and the next book I'll read is Zahn's latest Star Wars effort. Zahn remains the best author in this genre, and his three-book trilogy (revolving around Grand Admiral Thrawn) is the standard nothing has quite lived up to yet.

Posted by Observer at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2005

Finally

From National Journal comes a fun little story:

From Sunday's San Diego Union-Tribune blockbuster digging deeper into the Duke Cunningham's relationship with "co-conspirator No. 1," a.k.a. lobbyist Brent Wilkes:

According to the U-T, Wilkes also "ran a hospitality suite, with several bedrooms, in" DC -- "first in the Watergate Hotel and then" in a Capitol Hill hotel.

Come again? A "hospitality suite with several bedrooms"?

Talk about raising more questions, including:

-- Why does a lobbyist need a "hospitality suite with several bedrooms"?

-- Who uses those bedrooms and for what?

These lobbying scandals involving Cunningham and Wilkes and Abramoff are looking more and more like a bad movie script every day. Except with one difference from the movies: this stuff actually happened.

My favorite comment so far: Great! Blowjobs! Now we can finally start impeaching people!

Posted by Observer at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2005

We're Better Than This

Via Cursor, the ACLU presents autopsy evidence that shows we are making a practice of torturing prisoners to death. Why is there even a debate over this? Torture is morally wrong, unproductive in terms of useful intelligence, and it makes everyone else hate us. Why do the bullies in charge of our government want to keep doing this? Do they think they live in an episode of "24"?

But what do they care? It's not like the super-ultra-liberal news media is covering it or anything. Hell, with liberals like this in the media, who needs conservatives?

Oh, and from the same source, I noticed we captured yet another Al Qaeda number three guy. As many have noticed, this always seems to happen right around the same time as we have a really bad day in Iraq. Of course, we have so many really bad days in Iraq, I suppose some random correlation is inevitable, but you'll pardon me for being a little cynical.

Posted by Observer at 08:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2005

Dang

We lost to the Giants in New York, 17-10, and that costs us first place in the division. Now we're in the scramble for a Wild Card slot. I don't put it past Dallas to pass up the Giants in the standings in the last four games, and I still expect Dallas in the playoffs, but their chances at a first round bye and/or a home game just went way down. That's too bad, because I think this team has as good of a chance as any other of winning two games in the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl. Three games, including a road game or two? I don't think that's going to happen.

The Dallas defense, once again, totally rocked this game, allowing fewer than 13 points AGAIN (because 7 of the Giants' 17 were on a fumble return). Our problem remains the offensive line, which can't support a steady running game and can't protect Bledsoe. We have great receivers and a great QB when he isn't under pressure, and if we could give Bledsoe 6 seconds instead of 4 seconds per play, I have no doubt we would pick teams apart, and that would open up the running game as well.

It is possible, I suppose, that the offensive line will dramatically improve over the next four games. At least the whole team doesn't suck. But I'm still waiting to see the team again that whooped the Eagles 33-10 several weeks ago.

In this game, the first half was horrible. Just horrible. Unwatchable (even sped up on TiVO). The opening of the 2nd half, with the fumble return by the Giants to make it 17-0, but the rest of the 3rd quarter was some of the best football I've watched all season. That turnover seemed to wake the team up, and their line started pushing people around, giving us a drive that resulted in a field goal. Then the defense made the Giants offense go 3-and-out several times, and we also got a huge interception that turned into a touchdown (kind of offsetting the fumble return TD, so turnovers were a wash in this game).

The refs robbed us of another interception on a horrible call, and they blew a couple of calls in the Giants' favor, but the refs didn't make us lose this game. They were just annoying. After we got that TD to make it 17-10, the Giants defense took over again and made our offense look bad again, and that's why we lost. Got to score 20 points to win, guys, and a single TD along with four INT's (even if two were punts) just isn't going to do it.

Please oh please oh please figure it out, offensive line. If you do, all the other pieces are in place.

Posted by Observer at 03:12 PM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2005

Tryout

A letter writer to the editor in our local paper cheered the departure of our TV columnist, saying that he hopes we get a "good" TV writer in here who doesn't have such a liberal agenda (which I sure never detected). I could use some extra money, so I think maybe I'll try out to be a "good" TV columnist. So here are some TV listings for the week:

Survivor - In tonight's episode, everyone bravely pretends that Rafe's homosexuality doesn't threaten the survival of the human race. Lydia respectfully cooks for the remaining men in the tribe, and when she tries to speak out about important issues, the rest of the tribe properly shuns her.

CSI - The investigative team tries to unravel a complex crime scene. When one officer concludes it is a random shooting, Gil shows that the whole thing was carefully designed by a dangerous serial killer. The team uses the techniques of science to solve the crime, but as always, they don't jump to baseless conclusions like men evolving from monkeys.

ER - Neela stops Dr. Kovac from murdering a baby, and afterwards, the staff mourns the unfortunate death of the mother and child as a result of a birth gone wrong. Later, Abby continues to shun God's will and sleep with men out of wedlock. It is hardly any wonder so much tragedy befalls the place.

Fox and Friends - Moderate Sean Hannity joins Democrat strategist Zell Miller to discuss how Bill Clinton's failure led up to the Iraq War.

Commander-in-Chief - In the continuing Democrat series that attempts to make the public comfortable with Hillary Clinton as president, the President caves in and compromises with her political opponents to pass a health care bill that helps poor people get a free ride, as usual.

Lost - The stranded survivors boldly face new terrors on the remote tropical island so that we don't have to face them here in America.

Nightline - This "news" show continues to show its incredible liberal bias by allowing anti-war socialist Cindy Sheehan, aka "the bitch in the ditch", to speak out against the steadfast leadership of President George W. Bush. Centrist radio personality Rush Limbaugh joins former Democrats Ann Coulter, Ralph Reed and Michael Savage and one of America's most despicable traitors, Al Franken, to discuss why criticizing the Commander-in-Chief is essentially the same thing as planting a roadside bomb to blow up our troops, which liberals secretly cheer when they read about it.

Larry King Live - Tom DeLay explains partisan Democrat Ronnie Earle's desperate vendetta against the Republican party. Later, former FEMA director Mike Brown proves that Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco, not to mention all the blacks too lazy to leave New Orleans, should bear the full responsibility for the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. Brown then takes his viewers on a tour of the finest restaurants and clothing stores in Baton Rouge.

The OC - The kids throw a lavish party on board the family yacht, providing jobs for dozens of poor people. Ryan tries to buy a new Jaguar, but he discovers that he doesn't have enough money probably thanks to the enormously high taxes he pays.

Posted by Observer at 07:36 AM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2005

See Ya!

I really thought going into last night's episode that the next two weeks would be like a death march, during which I watch the annoying Judd make childish ha-ha-I'm-on-the-winning-side remarks while Danni and Lydia got knocked out. The first half of the episode went true to form, but then Danni got smart. She got Judd to start talking, and so did Lydia (showing some initiative other than just scatter-brained last-minute crap), and Judd gave them enough so that they could go to Steph and Rafe and honestly tell them Judd is full of crap.

The lie about the immunity idol, which Gary revealed last week, along with Judd's annoying, childish taunts (remember Margaret?) and Jamie-like paranoia, finally got under everyone's skin enough that even Steph was able to rationalize voting him off, though it clearly pained her. Judd is going to give her both barrels if she makes it to the final two. Personally, I like Rafe and Steph for the final two, just a hunch, then I think the tribe would give it to Rafe because he's won more challenges and been such a nice guy to everyone (besides, Steph had her chance once and lost).

Judd once again gave one of his little "don't let the door hit ya in the ass" speeches when he cast his vote, which made his departure that much sweeter. I hope the next "Survivor" is set in a place that isn't so damned unpleasant. Just thinking about all the mosquitos, bugs, filthy water and heat is a beating. At least give them an island with some pretty views.

Oh yeah, did you catch the look on the face of Judd's wife when Steph was telling her how she and Judd have been soooooo close, talking all the time, spending every minute together, etc. for the past four weeks? That was pretty funny.

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

Soldiers and Leaders

From The Washington Post comes this description of a news conference at which General Peter Pace (currently chair of the Joint Chiefs and my new hero) actually stood up for what is right and decent, directly contradicting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

When UPI's Pam Hess asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld replied that "obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility" other than to voice disapproval.

But Pace had a different view. "It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it," the general said.

Rumsfeld interjected: "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

But Pace meant what he said. "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," he said, firmly.

Supporting the troops means supporting real soldiers, like Peter Pace, not fuck-ups like Rumsfeld or chickenhawks like virtually ever administration official who got us involved in this war, at a dear cost to our troops, whether they support their commander in chief or not. Video of the exchange is at Crooks and Liars (a little over halfway through the 4-5 minute clip).

Posted by Observer at 06:24 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2005

Classics

Here's a new moneymaking venture for the electronically inclined: build video game cabinets and stock 'em with classic arcade game ROM's. Then sell 'em. Now you might have thought that an arcade cabinet with decent controllers and a few dozen good games would cost a person, what, a few hundred bucks?

Costco has set the price point on such a gift at $2.3k online (though I saw the same thing for $2k today in the store)!! Link here. If it were a couple hundred and included Darius and a few other favorites, I would consider it.

When we win the lottery (which would mean we have to start buying tickets, I guess) and we move into our 10,000 square foot mansion with the basketball court and indoor swimming pool, I'm going to reserve a room for some classic stand-up arcade games. I used to work at an arcade as a kid, and I was totally hooked on video games, so I have a weakness. Give me a good working-order Track and Field game, one of those table-top trackball football games, Darius, Sinistar, maybe Centipede...

Posted by Observer at 03:20 PM | Comments (1)

Those Who Forget...

In case you missed the president's speech about the war, Eric Alterman has provided a slightly modified transcript:

Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans and to many people in all parts of the world the war in Iraq. 

I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division about Iraq is that many Americans have lost confidence in what their Government has told them about our policy.  The American people cannot and should not be asked to support a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace unless they know the truth about that policy.
...
The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from many of our friends as well as our enemies abroad. In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces. From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow.

For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends.
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Ultimately, this would cost more lives. It would not bring peace; it would bring more war. For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that I should end the war by immediately withdrawing all of our forces. I chose instead to change American policy on both the negotiating front and battlefront.
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Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of Iraq forces.
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The Iraqis have continued to gain in strength.  As a result they have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our American troops.
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We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the Iraqis for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by Iraqi forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As  Iraqi forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.

My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war. -I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Iraq without regard to the effects of that action.

-Or we can persist in our search for a just peace … through continued implementation of our plan for Iraqization if necessary a plan in which we will withdraw all our forces from Iraq on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the Iraqese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.

I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right way.
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In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America. Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves. Oh, the immediate reaction would be a sense of relief that our men were coming home. But as we saw the consequences of what we had done, inevitable remorse and divisive recrimination would scar our spirit as a people.

In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: "Lose in Iraq, bring the boys home." Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street.

And so tonight to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support.

The only difference, aside from a few edits for length, is that all references to Vietnam or South Vietnam have been replaced by "Iraq".

Quagmire accomplished.

Posted by Observer at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)