March 31, 2006

Another Offer

Our optimism after the failure of our first possible deal was well-placed, I guess, because we already have another offer, this time from a pre-qualified buyer with (even better) no agent. They have made a realistic offer, so we'll see if we can find a middle point for negotiation then hope their inspector doesn't screw us.

The roller-coaster ride continues. If this works out, we'll have the house sold by the end of April, so we'll have made two months worth of payments on both houses. I liked the one-month double-payment scenario from last month about $1200 more, but oh well. There's a decent chance we might end up netting an extra $1000 on this deal compared to the last one, so it might end up being a wash.

Posted by Observer at 07:22 PM | Comments (0)

Down the Tubes

Remember the whole pre-war WMD thing Bush was trying to sell us? You know, the idea that Saddam had purchased aluminum tubes that he was going to use in centrifuges to purify uranium (when it was obvious to knowledgeable people they were simple and common rocket parts that wouldn't even survive as centrifuge parts in the presence of vaporized gas containing uranium)?

An important point Republicans like to make these days is that when we liberals claim that Bush lied to get us into war, we're going too far. It wasn't Bush's fault, they say. He was misled by this horrible, incompetent intelligence gatherers. Bush never wanted war, but he was reluctantly forced into it. Yeah, right.

Well, anyway, Murray Waas has been working on this for some time, trying to get straight what Bush was really told about Iraqi WMD capabilities compared with what he told the public, and it turns out Bush knew all along that the tubes were useless. But he pushed the story anyway. Waas has documented this, so you would think the super-duper-ultra-liberal communist Bush-hating terrorist-loving media would pick it up and run with it.

Yeah, in that fantasyland where everything Rush says is true. Froomkin talks about what really happened:

Slowly but surely, investigative reporter Murray Waas has been putting together a compelling narrative about how President Bush and his top aides contrived their bogus case for war in Iraq; how they succeeded in keeping charges of deception from becoming a major issue in the 2004 election; and how they continue to keep most of the press off the trail to this day.

What emerges in Waas's stories is a consistent White House modus operandi: That time and time again, Bush and his aides have selectively leaked or declassified secret intelligence findings that served their political agenda -- while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would tend to discredit them.

The latest entry in Waas's saga came yesterday in the highly respected National Journal. Waas writes: "Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration."

This happened, Waas writes, after "then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true."

The aluminum-tube allegation was perhaps the strongest, most concrete piece of evidence the White House had in its campaign to drive the American public into the proper frame of mind to go to war against a country that had never before been seen as a threat to the national security.

In a March 2 story, Waas documented how Bush had been explicitly informed that the aluminum-tube allegation might not be true well before his State of the Union Address.

Yesterday's new twist is that Rove apparently understood that if American voters found out how Bush had intentionally misled them, the election might be lost. He was intent on not letting that happen.

Waas's narrative also helps explain why the White House felt so compelled to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge in May 2003 that another key justification for war was manifestly false. [...]

In the traditional media, the reaction has been utter and complete silence -- both after Waas's well-documented March 2 story, and again today. There's not one word about it in a single major outlet this morning.

And that's just not acceptable. Waas's fellow reporters at major news operations should either acknowledge and try to follow up his stories -- or debunk them. It's not okay to just leave them hanging out there. They're too important.

Ignorance is bliss, and when it comes to the Iraq war, we're just the most blissful country you can imagine.

Posted by Observer at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

Bush and the Founders

A guest poster on Glenn Greenwald's blog today has an excellent summary of current policies of the Bush administration answered by the writings of the founding fathers. Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Madison, Paine and their crew foresaw the dangers of neverending war, unchecked executive power, lack of oversight.

They'd be portrayed as disloyal, out of the mainstream, wild-eyed, angry liberals today. It's an excellent post filled with great historical lessons.

Posted by Observer at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2006

Get Yer Hate On...

To real people, Cindy Sheehan is a mother who lost her son in the pointless Iraq adventure, and she's doing her civic duty to speak out and protest our government, continuing a proud American tradition. To the wingnuts, she's a crazy person whose face is always plastered all over the media because she's only out for publicity. Except times like these when she hasn't been on the TV for months, and the wingnuts need someone new to hate.

Enter Jill Carroll, the Christian humanitarian and foreign correspondent (so she is automatically a member of the Demon Liberal Media) who was kidnapped but recently released. Typical right wing reaction is this:

She strikes me as the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests. You know, walk into the — try and sneak into the Green Zone. ... She may be carrying Habib’s baby at this point. ... She’s like the Taliban Johnny or something.

Beautiful. What beautiful people we share our country with. You have a woman over there who is, you know, trying to help out Iraqis (as Atrios asks, why are we there again?), and she gets this kind of senseless public abuse. Athenae at First Draft has an appropriate response to the wingnut in question:

You may be unable to conceive of an unselfish act in the middle of a world that is actively melting down, but thank God for the sake of all our souls there are still people out there who can. You don't have to bow down to that. This is a free fucking country, after all. But you should at least be expected to refrain from making crass, sexually suggestive, demeaning comments about her following the day she was released from being kidnapped.

Without someone to hate, the entire Republican party would, I think, vanish like a fart in the wind.

Posted by Observer at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2006

Figures

I'm really glad about my decision to avoid "The West Wing" for all these years, because now I get to watch it fresh on DVD, about one new episode a night from the beginning. As I suspected, this show is right in my wheelhouse, and I love it. M*chelle does, too. I like being able to follow the continuous plot without having to wait a week or two, I like being able to watch without commercials, and I like knowing I have six seasons in front of me to watch over the next few months. It'll be tough waiting for the last (seventh) season to come out. I suppose we should've waited another six months to start watching this.

Anyway, it's really great. I liked the show where Toby talked the temporary Congressperson from Ohio into voting in favor of sampling in the census, not because Toby's side won or anything but because all of the good arguments, pro and con, were laid out on the table, and I had honestly never heard a really good "con" case other than all the originalists who think we should read the Constitution in its original literal form and not interpret stuff, which is absurd (not least of which for the existence of the 3/5 compromise which Toby quoted).

We're halfway through the first season now, and nobody better spoil nothin' for us! We've managed the same thing with "24" for the first four seasons, and that's been fun to watch. This season, though, I can't help but run across news about some of the major plot points, so it kinda sucks that some of the major surprises won't be surprises for me.

Posted by Observer at 10:34 PM | Comments (2)

March 28, 2006

La Migra

From Ben Sargent:

I consider myself poorly informed when it comes to immigration. My gut tells me that immigrants should be welcome now as they have always been and that we should be pretty forgiving of illegals given how critical they are to our economy. We get cheap stuff, they get to send money home, seems like everyone's content, though it is far from a perfect situation. As I've said before, I'd be glad to be educated if someone can point me to some credible, objective (or at least balanced) sources or explain the logic of their side to me.

I'm somewhat shocked that the protests against the current bills being debated by Congress are seemingly more impressive than almost any anti-war protest I've seen. Immigrants and their sympathizers seem to have their shit together a lot more than the Democrats, that's for sure. Maybe we can learn some lessons.

Of course, this kind of confrontation was bound to happen. Republicans and their cronies are essentially looting the treasury, and they never met a business-friendly law they didn't like (or let the business lobby write). At the same time, their electability relies on the mouth-breathers in the base whose racist tendencies are barely hidden by code words. Business want cheap labor. The base wants to lock up cheap labor and/or send it back across the border.

I hope they fucking choke on the problem. Any other outcome is unlikely because, after all, Republicans have already shown that they don't know how to govern.

Update: Paul Krugman has an excellent column on immigration today, a good primer on the positives and negatives of illegal immigration, and I highly recommend it if you can find it in your local paper. It's behind the NY Times subscription wall, so I won't bother linking it.

Posted by Observer at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

Agents of Chaos

Books four and five of the New Jedi Order series are written by James Luceno as a duology: "Agents of Chaos". The two books are "Hero's Trial" and "Jedi Eclipse". I liked Luceno's stuff around the time of Episode III, but maybe that's because he was being allowed to unearth some major plot points. When he doesn't really have any big stories to break, he doesn't really do a very good job off by himself.

In this set, a few threads from the series are picked up from other authors. During the action of the first book, Mara Jade finds at least a temporary cure for the illness the enemy inflicted upon her. I find it difficult to believe that given the technology available here, that couldn't be replicated somehow, but okay. Also, Han decides to come out of his funk and get involved in the action, taking off on his own to get into trouble and get revenge.

Now I understand that this is "Star Wars" and all, but these books had a lot of really egregious things that bugged me. First of all, it's a big galaxy. You know, your typical galaxy has a hundred billion stars, each likely to have an average of a few planets. At worst, you'd expect millions of habitable planets. How come all the major characters always end up randomly converging on the same planet (a different one every single time) for different reasons?

Also, as anyone who has played strategy games at even the tamest level (i.e. Spaceward Ho) knows, once ships have enormous range (hyperspace) and you have a long border, there is no way to really predict where the enemy is going to strike next. You just have to hope you find a big chunk of its battle fleet and hope your fleet can take it with minimal casualties, chipping away at resources until all he has left is a great big satellite trap or something.

This war between the New Republic and the Yuuzhan Vong is written by someone who doesn't know the first thing about Spaceward Ho, and by extension, basic strategy and tactics. Again, I understand this is supposed to be a character-driven "Star Wars" story, and everything else is in the background, pay no attention, just watch the light saber, etc. And I can do that at times, but this one was just too sloppy, so much that it was distracting.

Ok, enough about the typical "Star Wars" flaws, back to the story. It just wasn't that good. Han's story was probably the most interesting of the bunch, but there wasn't much at stake there either. I wasn't sold on why Han would feel so compelled to help a lizard guy go all over the galaxy (which, apparently, consists of only about 10 planets because those planets are where everyone is and where they can only be... okay sorry, I'll stop) to look for his family.

There was also a story about a Jedi assassination attempt that I thought was really cool, but that got short-circuited before the first book was even over. I wanted to see that build up a *lot* more before a bigger payoff. As it was, there wasn't much reason for Jedi to do much of anything in this story.

There was a plotline in the 2nd book that followed a Jedi who gets captured on purpose, but not much time is spent on it, and in the end, it is resolved very unsatisfactorily despite some really good promise. I was thinking of three or four different directions that plot could've gone that would have been more interesting, similarly with the Jedi assassination plot.

The other major character followed here is Leia as she tries to get other powers on board in an alliance while also trying to alleviate the refugee crisis. Not much there. Near the end of the story, Anakin gets involved trying to restart a superweapon mentioned many, many books ago (haven't reviewed that trilogy yet), and boy does that strain credulity.

The problem with superweapons, whether it is the biological stuff used by the Vong to turn all biomass on a world into sludge in 30 minutes or a Death Star-type thing (except it can fire through hyperspace and so is basically infinitely powerful if it can be aimed and if it always works) is that it is a plot dead-end. Oh ok, so planets can be turned to sludge. So if the Vong want to win, just send a single stealth craft to every major agricultural world, sludge it, and wait a year while the Republic starves to death. Or the Republic can just send out scouts to find Vong ships, and Anakin can blow them away with a superweapon.

It is a real stretch to justify *not* using such a weapon, though Luceno gives it a try with some Jedi ethics crap. I didn't buy it. In the end, I'm not completely sure whether my disappointment with this story is that the structual weaknesses of "Star Wars" books are finally getting to me or that this is just a poorly written pot boiler. I have to think the latter, because I *know* it is possible to write a good book, even wearing the "Star Wars" handcuffs. I've seen them. But I can't recommend this one.

I would put this in the bottom of the middle tier of Star Wars books. And, yes, that bottom tier blows. I guess I should review some of those sometime.

Posted by Observer at 07:25 PM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2006

Big Fun

Well, my wife's blog will have the pictures, but we took little D*niel to the big Th*mas the Tank Eng*ne show nearby on Sunday. We've been talking about it all weekend, so he was very very geared up. When we finally pulled up in sight of the huge Th*mas engine, D*niel was beside himself with excitement. He was literally squealing and pounding his fists on his legs. Quite a sight.

So we went into the merchandise shop with him, always risky with a toddler, but he behaved fine. The big thing we were hoping to find was a diecast Edw*rd engine, which is blue like Th*mas and Gord*n but has a number 2 on its coal car. But I guess they don't make 'em. We never see them at Targ*t either. Fortunately, they had a slightly larger version for the wooden train set, and D*niel was just fine with it. He clutched it tightly until we got out of there, and we also stocked up on some stuff for his 3rd birthday in July.

We went on a train ride, thanks to comp tickets of a friend of M*chelle's at the church. D*niel loved it, but really, it was just a 25 minute back and forth ride down a couple of miles of track. Man, couldn't they at least do a loop or something? And the scenery. Well, you can imagine. Lots of fields and dumpy apartment complexes, basically, but D*niel didn't care.

A nice touch was that they had tarps hanging everywhere with some of the characters, perfect backdrops for pictures, so we visited all of them. We have a huge slideshow for D*niel's amusement, and he has already watched it a couple of times.

Now I'm in to one of my three or four busy weeks of the semester, where student emails are pretty overwhelming. I'm also going to a banquet this week to speak in front of the History department. I'll explain to them how science is superior to the pathetic humanities, then laugh my most arrogant evil scientist laugh while they choke on their desserts.

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

March 26, 2006

Okay, Um...

Who had George Mason in their Final Four? Hell, I got to start at the Sweet 16, and the only one I got right was Florida.

Oh well, for comic relief, I highly recommend two different letters to the Washington Post online editor, applying for the blogger role that Ben Domenech lost because it turns out he was a total prat. First is Merkin Patriot:

I HEARD THAT YOU HAD A N OPENDING FOR A BLOG THAT WOULD CONTRACT THE TRASONOUS LEFT WING COMMIE BIASS YOU GUYS HAVE AT THE POST - SORRY FOR THE BLUNT LANGUANGE BUT FACTS ARE FASCT EVEN IF I HAVENT READ YOUR PAPER SINCE YOU MADE NIXON - ONE OF OUR MOST HORONABLE PRESIDENTS - STEP DOWN FOR WHAT HE DID IN WATERGATE SURE YOUR IDEA OF HORNABLE IS SOMEBODY LIKE BILL CLINTON BUT IF I MAY SPEAK IN YOUR TONGEU LET ME SAY WHAT THE FRENCH SAY: "LA VIE"

And second is from the manliest of manly man men, Jesus' General, who confides that, like Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, he hates all the fucking reader cocksuckers.

What, you've never read the Republican Jesus Archives? Come on, now.

Posted by Observer at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2006

Broken Deal

Well, we had an acceptable deal on our old house after only a couple of weeks on the market. Everything went fine, and then right at the end of the guy's 20-day option period for his financing, he got cold feet and dropped out. Apparently, some buddy of his used to be a home inspector and led him on a tour of horrors through the house.

Now we know the house has basically no problems except one. We went through it with a very thorough inspection three and a half years ago, and we had everything done that needed it, except the roof, which is composition over wood (a fire hazard) and about 12 years old. We were willing to live with that (we didn't demand the old owner fix it, but we were desperate to move in and loved the rest of the house), but everything else in the house is in very good shape. So we figure the guy just didn't feel comfortable with the financing and was looking for a way out.

The bad news is that we just lost about 20-30 days in selling this thing, which is another monthly payment, plus the pro-rated property tax and insurance just keeps creeping up. The good news is that interest was good before we entered this broken deal. We had something like seven or eight walkthroughs in a relatively short time, and two people out of that wanted to buy the house and make a competitive offer close to our asking price (one took longer to realize the financing problems than the other, who never was able to make the offer he wanted). So we're pretty confident we'll get another offer sometime over the next month or so. It just sucks making another month worth of payments when we thought we were going to be done with this so quickly.

Oh well, we still have a few more months before it really starts to hurt, to the point where we won't break even on the house overall. We knew we were taking a risk when we moved so quickly, and even if we lose money on the old house, we got such a great deal on our current house that we'll still come out ahead overall. We'll just be carrying more short-term debt than I like until we get the always-welcome hit of extra summer teaching money.

And, given what happened to M*chelle's mom in the past few days (long story for her blog someday soon maybe), we have to stop and count our blessings once in a while, I think.

Posted by Observer at 08:46 PM | Comments (7)

Toddler Conversations

Toddler: "Hey, Daddy?"

"Yes, D*niel?"

Toddler: "Where Ashee?"

"Ashl*y is in her room watching movies."

Toddler: "Where Jussin?"

"Just*n is at a race, D*niel."

Toddler: "Racing cars?"

"No, he's running as fast as he can, and he's trying win the race."

Toddler: "Oh. ... Where C*dy?"

"C*dy is at his friend's house, and he'll be back for lunch."

Toddler: "C*dy with Trey?"

"That's right, C*dy is with his friend. He'll be back soon, and then we'll all go to his soccer game."

Toddler: "Soccer? Play outside? Daddy play soccer outside with D*niel?"

"Oh no, Daddy is working. Too cold. We'll go outside when it is warmer."

Toddler: "Wear coat and hat? D*niel will wear a jacket and hat."

"Daddy doesn't want to wear a jacket. Daddy wants to stay inside where it's warm."

Toddler: "Trains? Daddy play trains with D*niel?"

(Sigh) "Ok. Let's play trains."

Toddler: "YAY!"

Posted by Observer at 08:48 AM | Comments (3)

March 24, 2006

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya...

Apparently, the ConservaBorg are now muttering that the whole Domenech thing was a clever Washington Post plot to discredit wingnuts. You see, the Post knew all along that Domenech would get busted for plagiarism. This way, the Post can say, "Hey, we tried to be balanced, but when we hired a conservative, he burned us, so..."

As Maryscott says sarcastically over at Kos, "The Washington Post jeopardizes its own credibility and reputation, all to SET UP a frigging BLOGGER." This story is the gift that keeps on giving.

Update: At his own home site, Domenech is, predictably, playing the victim card. He's describing a lot of the rude, attacking emails he's receiving in a fashion that is, quite frankly, not believeable. It reminds me of how the Post shut down its comments section after a series of supposedly horrible, evil, profane, nasty comments which actually never were posted, according to some good detective work by the folks at firedoglake and diarists at Daily Kos.

The Post was apparently just trying to drum up sympathy by overstating the nature of the attacks, trying to justify deleting substantive criticisms by saying they got thrown out with all the other "garbage". And when they got called on it, they acted like it was a paranoid witch hunt kind of thing, but the evidence was overwhelming that the Post people were caught lying.

Domenech is behaving similarly, projecting his own virulent behavior on others. Oh, I'm sure a bunch of commenters went over the line, but by focussing on them, Domenech naturally avoids the much more valid (and polite) criticism that he is, you know, a plagiarist. Domenech is still trying to pretend this is all overblown, and so this will continue to deliciously drag out...

Posted by Observer at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

You Know It's Over When...

One of the interesting things about how the Domenech thing is playing out now that he's been fired for plagiarism is what ultimately was the tipping point in getting him fired. Was it the tireless work of the liberal blogosphere unearthing all the plagiarism? Was it is blatant racism? His sloppiness with facts?

No, according to outlets like Editor and Publisher, instead the death knell came when fellow conservatives turned on him. Screeching harpies like Michelle Malkin are (rightly) being given kudos for calling for Domenech's resignation, but what if they hadn't? What if the ConservaBorg had managed to hold the line of denial and then threatened the holy thunder of outrage when the Post fired Domenech? Would the Post have fired the guy?

Look, the plagiarism should've been enough, and that's where his firing should come from. We shouldn't be putting the credibility of the media on the shoulders of conservative bloggers. We shouldn't need to resort to a phrasing like, "Even his own conservative friends turned on him..." as the critical step needed to resolve this crisis. If he's a plagiarist, then that's it. Let objective facts decide this, not cheering sections.

The same kind of thing happens with the media and Bush, and the Bush people have mastered it. They know how critical it is to keep Republicans in line. The media only moves on the story of Bush's lawbreaking when they can include the phrase "Even Republicans have called for investigations..." or whatever. In other words, the media is making us rely solely on the integrity of Republicans to move the story forward, not the simple, indisputable fact that Bush broke the law. Facts aren't enough, apparently.

I should add that one side benefit that occurs when "even his own conservative friends turned on him..." is that the ones who stayed loyal start attacking the new conservative critics, calling them "moonbats" and the like. It's fun watching wingnuts eat their own. Another of many "pass the popcorn" moments in this little adventure.

Posted by Observer at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

Apology Accepted, Captain Needa

Here's some more stuff that should go without saying regarding the ConservaBorg blogger hired by the Washington Post. I'm not mad that they hired a conservative. I'm mad at their stated reasons for it (as if traditional journalism is somehow inherently liberal and must therefore be balanced by a Republican party operative), and I'm mad that they obviously hired an unqualified hack in their haste to placate the nutball brigade which has their panties in a wad because someone dares post something critical about the Boy King on the Washington Post's web site. I'm also mad at their stubbornly trying to justify it when it was so obviously a sloppy mistake.

Why is it so hard for these folks to apologize when they get something wrong? We in the liberal blogosphere don't want to just pound these people in submission and deprive them of their livelihoods (or do the Vader-like strangle when they screw up). We just want them to do their job well and fix their mistakes when they are correctly pointed out by either side. We want the refs to be "fair and balanced", except for real, not just a cynical pretend slogan to piss off the other side.

Update: As criticisms are in order when the Post screws up, kudos are appropriate when they do the right thing and can a sorry plagiarist's ass. Now we'll see how long it takes for the ConservaBorg to come to their senses and realize that, yes, actually, plagiarism is a big deal even if you are only pretending to be a journalist. Glenn Greenwald has more on the lengths the wingnuts have gone to in trying to justify Domenech's bad behavior.

Oh, but one final thing from the nutballs: we on the left were right about this, but it would be wrong to gloat. We apparently need to leave the poor guy and his family alone and not throw confetti on one another over a small victory. Gloating is just so rude.

As Glenn points out, the best response is two words: Dan Rather.

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

March 23, 2006

Pop Goes the Weasel

If you follow many of the major liberal blogs (take the top four in my sidebar, for example), you'll know about the story of the new Washington Post ConservaBorg blogger. Like most traditional media, they define balance as "conventional journalism" (like Dan Froomkin, also linked in my sidebar) vs "right-wing nutball". This not only reinforces the idiot notion of liberal media bias, it also gives conservatives yet another platform to spout their crap while liberals toil away on low power talk radio stations (Air America tends to be near the top of the market in places where they have a strong signal by the way, beating out Rush in many markets) or getting the occasional call in on C-Span.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, I don't really care who the Post hires. It won't stop or even slow down the charge of liberal media bias. Surely even they recognize this. It won't add anything substantive to the debate. It'll just end up embarrassing the Post, which is fine by me. They deserve it for such a dumb decision. It also won't change some of the fine investigative reporting that they do from time to time, nor will it stop the stupid editorials that bend over backwards not to offend the Republican establishment in Washington, pretending for us all that the war was a damn fine idea if only so many mistakes hadn't been made (usually passive voice is used, as if pinning the responsibility on those who, you know, control all three branches of the government is just too darned forward).

Anyway, the funny part is that this imploded a lot quicker than I thought it would. Now Atrios is compiling evidence from lots of other bloggers that not only is this guy somewhere along the road to full-blown racism (certainly not KKK but much further along than, say, your average columnist), he also makes a habit of making sloppy, factually challenged assertions that are really easy to disprove. Ok, so far, I've just described your typical ConservaBorg blogger, no big deal. That's enough to get someone like Athenae up in arms, though, because she's actually paid her dues as a journalist while this moron Domenech uses connections to get a plum blogging job at a prestigious paper, leap-frogging thousands of worthy candidates.

And then it comes out that he's plagiarized. A whole lot. And if there's anything that's going to get you shitcanned at a newspaper these days, it is plagiarism. Well, unless you're some blowhard like Jeff Jacoby and you get another job after it all blows over. But hey, nothing is certain. Maybe the Post will try to brazen this out like they did with the ombudsman's intentional misstatement about the Abramoff thing and Democrats being involved. It wouldn't be the first time the media tried to learn a lesson from how the Bushies operate.

Either way, pass the popcorn. It's always fun to watch a good flaming train wreck in progress.

Posted by Observer at 09:43 PM | Comments (0)

Busy Blue Balls

There's something profound about this animation, but I'm afraid if I stare at it for too long, I'll turn into a slack-jawed idiot (or worse, a Bush supporter).

Link via Pharyngula (Scientist, Interrupted). Version with annoying music here.

Posted by Observer at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2006

We Have a Foreign Policy?

Athenae sharpens her pencil and writes up a very insightful and funny critique of the foreign policy of the bunch of clowns in the White House we have now:

We seem to have lost, among the many things we've sunk into the sand in Iraq, any concept of what our national interests are. [...] We now seemingly have a foreign policy which says that we will enforce representative democracy at gunpoint in every country around the world. Bush's speeches talk about freedom as if we have freedom in a box, and can hand it out to whoever we want, forcing it on those who don't want to take it.

It's radical and it's infantile, either of which qualities would be dangerous enough on its own. [...] There have been many, many times in our nation's history when propping up authoritarian regimes has been deemed to be in our national interest. If we need another nation for money, or goods, or security purposes, do those concerns automatically take a backseat to whether or not they have elections? Has anyone stopped to think whether making this or that country adopt this or that system of government will actually be good for us? Let alone whether it'll be good for them.

And then, here's the other problem. You force people to have elections, you tell them to vote, and then ... they elect some anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-freedom nutball who offers Osama a wing of his house to set up a TV studio in. Then what? They did what you asked, you can't exactly bitch at them, but now you've got democratically elected crazies you can't work with, and you did it to yourself. Nice job, Slick. You want fries with your theocracy? [...]

I don't think Bush has a foreign policy so much as lists of likes and dislikes scrawled in crayon on the back of an Applebee's placemat. I think our new "love freedom or we'll kill you" policy has been pasted on to make Iraq look less crazy than it does now in light of, you know, all the dead people.

Darn those dead people. I sure hope they appreciate their freedom. Jon Stewart had a funny bit the other night on "The Daily Show" about the war. He said something like, "Oh, you know what today is? That's right, it's the third anniversary of the Iraq War!" He folded his hands under his chin and fluttered his eyelids and said cheerfully, "What do you think they're going to get us?"

It would be funny if it didn't pretty much embody how the Bush supporters think Iraqis ought to behave. Most of them are so out of touch, they don't even recognize the significance of the growing civil war. They just figure let them kill each other, and the ones left standing had DAMN WELL BETTER THANK US FOR ALL THE TROUBLE.

Posted by Observer at 08:23 PM | Comments (0)

Just In Case...

The fact that this even needs to be said tells you what a shitty job the "liberal" media is doing conveying the issues on the illegal wiretapping scandal:

For the record, ALL OF US in the liberal blogosphere support domestic surveillance, as long as it is conducted within the framework of the law.

I can't speak for all the libertarians out there supporting FISA. I imagine most don't, but no one is really making the argument that we shouldn't be using FISA. At least, no one in the Democratic party, so why do Republicans keep acting like that's what we're saying?

As I've said many times: Republicans love to act all cocky and arrogant that their way of thinking is The Only Way, that if you are a liberal or against Bush or against the war, you don't have a rational thought in your head, etc. Well, if it is so fucking obvious that you Bush supporters are right, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO LIE SO MUCH TO MAKE YOUR CASE? Because that's what we're talking about here. A lie. Bald, pure, simple, irrefutable. One of many.

Why do you have to lie, Republicans?

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2006

Incentive-Laden Contracts

I've had a few discussions lately with local high school students from our new school district who then graduated and come to our college. A chilling thing they all say is that there is really a lot of segregation in the schools -- between honors students and everyone else. Honors students live in a world where teachers demand (and get) hard work from students, where they have homework, where there is real accountability. Regular students live in basically a day-care except when we're teaching to the test world.

I don't blame the teachers for this, really. I've seen enough of high school classes these days to know that you can only teach when there is discipline, and a lot of classes just don't have it. Teachers call home about problem students, and the parents ignore it. There is really no place for problem students to go, so they end up back in class, disrupting things and providing rotten role models for impressionable kids (like our 16-year-old J*stin, for example).

The difference between honors kids and regular kids seems largely to be based on the fact that honors kids' parents are more involved and more willing to help out the teachers, providing support for disciplinary action and also help for homework assignments. It's not so much that honors kids are a lot smarter than everyone else, at least not always (maybe not even usually). It's just that more is expected of them, and I think students will deliver when you ask them for more, largely because they don't know better. :)

Anyway, in our old school district, I noticed that at least once a week, all three of the older kids had some kind of homework. Nothing major, but they would mention having homework, having to study for a test or complete a project, etc. This seems to lessen over time from about 5th grade (maximum homework) on. We're not sure if this is because the kids were adjusting to school finally or because the work was easier or because the day was structured at school to allow students time to finish their work.

Now that we've moved, that seems to have changed. In the five or six weeks since we've been in this new, larger school district, not once has any kid brought home homework. Oh, they'll complain once in a while about their tough classes, but if they don't ask me for help on homework, it's hard to really buy it. Their most recent report cards, just prior to Spring Break, were damned mediocre.

I saw several grades in the low 70's, which I interpreted to mean teachers are passing them just to keep parent complaints to a minimum, because I *know* the kids didn't do the work and don't understand the material (I ask J*stin simple questions about Spanish once in a while, for example, and he doesn't know a thing despite being in there for over a semester now).

I almost boycotted paying them for report cards this time, because I felt some of their grades probably would've been "F"'s if the teachers hadn't been too lazy to justify it. In the end, we gave 'em their one dollar per A, fifty cents per B (for eight separate grades, including behavior), partly because this past six weeks was only a partial six weeks for them thanks to the move.

I'm not content to let this continue. I haven't pushed the kids to tougher standards so far because they've spent the last few years just plain catching up. I think now, though, they are as caught up as they are going to get, and it's not long before high school is done for the oldest (J*stin). If he doesn't get moving, he's going to need a lot of remediation in basic subjects in community college before he can even consider a four-year college. Not that I'm forcing him to go to college, but I would sure like him to. I'd hate for him to miss out on such a fun experience.

So we've decided to provide some incentives. From now on, in subjects that have honors courses (math, science, english, history, etc, but not P. E. or music or that sort of thing), the pay rate just went up. They still give fifty cents for a B, but an A is now worth twenty bucks. A good report card could net a greedy little 11-year-old C*dy a hundred bucks, and let me tell you, it got the attention of the boys (I'm not yet convinced about 13-year-old Ashl*y).

For the first time last night, J*stin brought home both Math and Spanish homework, and as I expected, he needed a lot of help on it. But we managed to work through it, and I hope he learned something. C*dy also brought home a little work, but with him in sixth grade, I don't really expect that much homework. I'll bet, though, that he's working his butt off in the classroom to finish things now instead of sitting back and picking at his notebook or something.

We'll see how the grades turn out in four more weeks. I told them if they do well enough, we'll request that they be promoted to honors classes in some subjects in the next academic year (they can always fall back to regular classes if it is too tough, of course). The pay grade for honors classes is double, so there is some incentive to get that promotion.

We give the kids all kinds of encouragement to do well in school. We ask them every day how school went, what they covered in class, what they did, etc. But they just need more incentive than that to shoot for A's, and maybe the money will be the push they need.

Posted by Observer at 05:14 PM | Comments (10)

March 20, 2006

What Al's Up To

Several people today pointed to this interesting article about what Al Gore has been doing these past few years, and how the media is still chomping at the bit to stomp on him some more. The whole thing is a good read, but I'll excerpt my favorite parts. You know it is going to be good when it starts with a oh-by-the-way debunking of one of the dumbest things the media bashed him for in the 2000 campaign:

Though his misreported comments on the Internet’s lineage were unfortunate for his campaign, Gore, in fact, was a prime mover in its early days -- if not its father, then definitely the rich uncle who sent it to college, using his seat on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to ensure the fledgling technology had the financial wherewithal to make something of itself. Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn, the two men most often given credit for birthing the Web (due to their development of the crucial TCP/IP protocols), were so appalled by the media’s distortion of Gore’s comments that they jointly penned a defense, writing that "no other elected official … has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time" than Gore.

Next is a summary of the story of Gore's journalism class. It's pretty funny, actually, how journalists get all huffy when, you know, you try to teach them something, when you try to tell them that being intellectually lazy makes for bad journalism.

He returned to his roots, accepting a post at Columbia’s journalism school to teach about the intersection between journalism, his first career, and the Internet, his longstanding obsession. The class, which began in Spring 2001, was entitled “Covering National Affairs in an Information Age.” Gore’s first lecture engaged objectivity itself, challenging the journalistic trope that fairness resides in controversy and an article has to represent all sides -- no matter how marginal -- equally. Instead, Gore argued that the journalistic impulse to exalt even the most fringe views to parity in order to furnish opposing perspectives is harmful to basic accuracy. This didn’t sit well with more than a few of the wannabe reporters in the class, many of whom were aghast at the suggestion that the media should attempt to actually mediate between truth and spin. As Josh Bearman, a student in that class and now an editor at the LA Weekly, recalls it, “He stood up there challenging the entire dogma of the journalism school. First semester, you learned that objectivity was emperor, then Gore came in and told you it had no clothes.”

And along with that backlash, the old anti-intellectualism Gore experienced in 2000 made a reappearance. As Bearman tells it, “He knew more than everyone in the room. So the class basically turned against him because he was smarter than they were, and they didn’t like that. We witnessed exactly what had happened on the campaign plane in the year prior.” Gore did not return to teach the class in 2002.

Athenae over at First Draft has more today on this attitude that journalists have about their profession. A very well-written rant by someone with a fair bit of experience as an actual journalist, in response to an essay by an editor about "the values of journalism":

But the other thing my Very Good Bosses did was to flat-out refuse to create some kind of nobility and mythos around the job itself. One used to scream at me, paraphrasing Bull Durham, "This is a very simple job. You go out, and ask questions, and Write. Down. Answers." The rest of it? Smoke-filled coffeehouse crap designed to make us feel special, imbued with some mysterious power. A monkey could do this job. A monkey would be smart enough not to want to, but he could.

So "journalism values?" Give me a fucking break. Journalism values are the values of an upright and honest human being. Tell the truth. Don't take money or food or presents or sex from people in exchange for influence. Show people the world as it is. Ask the hard questions of those in power and use your access on behalf of those that don't have any. Where will people get those values if they don't get them from journalism school or an editor?

They'll get them the same place I did. At my father's side on long car rides. In the church pew, with my mother. In the stories my grandmother tells. From friends on dark nights cruising back and forth at the beach, talking about what we wanted to do with our lives. On every page of every book I've ever loved. In listening to every teacher who ever taught me.

Journalism values aren't some mystical secret. Journalism mechanics, you could argue, should be more widely taught if millions of people are gonna blog; some of my favorites on the interwebs could use copy editors and people to talk about proper comma placement and spelling checks. And journalism practice is a thing apart, and every type of media has its own customs and acceptable behaviors. But journalism values?

Listen. Remember. Tell everybody. Those aren't rules for Medill or Harvard grads only, to be used in connection with special instruments and alchemical potions. Human beings are storytellers. Those aren't just journalists' values. They're everyone's.

And the sooner people like Rheingold stop inflating their own self-importance and realize just how simple a job this really is, the better they'll be able to teach the next generation of kids who want to learn it how to just go do it already and stop stroking themselves so much in class.

Anyway, getting back to Gore, he's showing his smarts by not using the traditional media to get his message out. He knows there is no way he's going to get a fair shake on the news networks, who wouldn't dream of reporting on an important speech about the environment or the war in Iraq without inserting a little chuckle about "Earth tones" or "inventing the internet" (kinda like Howard Dean can't say anything without the traditional media, with no help needed from Republicans, portraying him as a wild-eyed, crazy, angry extreme liberal). And so he's divorced himself from the process, and I wish him all the best luck in the world:

Every time he gives a speech under MoveOn’s auspices, a guaranteed 3 million MoveOn members get the address blasted directly in their inboxes, where it can be read in full. From there, the speech gets e-mailed around, promoted on the blogs, passed from friend to neighbor -- what tech types call “viral marketing.” At no point in this process does a news editor or television producer decide which sound bites will be emphasized for ratings. MoveOn allows him to speak on his own terms and individuals to distribute his speeches on theirs. It’s Gore Unplugged, and everyone’s got a ticket.

There's more there, too, about Gore's TV project and his overall future plans. In the darkest times for our country, when it seems no one in power has respect for anything America has stood for, when our name is trashed, it is nice to know that our country can still produce some of the best statesmen in the world. Real leaders who can do good even if Americans aren't smart enough to elect them (or the Supreme Court isn't smart enough to just let all the votes be counted).

In a just world, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court that screwed Gore in 2000 would spend eternity in Hell listening to George W. Bush reading the works of Shakespeare.

Posted by Observer at 09:45 PM | Comments (1)

T. O.

There are two big positives for Dallas signing Terrell Owens. First and foremost, I'm sure Eagles fans are royally pissed off about it. So I guess that means next trip to the Linc, they'll be putting D-cell batteries in the iceballs instead of C-cells. Second, we can sure use a deep threat (how many games did Santana Moss win for Washington last season?).

Will that account for all the negatives this guy can potentially bring to the table? I don't know. For deep football questions like this, I typically follow the instincts of The Sturminator, one of the hosts on my favorite sports talk station. He's kinda maddening sometimes in that he goes to such great lengths to see both sides of any argument, to qualify every opinion to the nth degree so you can't play "gotcha" with him later (and he also cares about hockey way too much for me at least), but he does do his homework.

Posted by Observer at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2006

West Winged

Well, as much as I hated to do it, I had to stick the Netflix I.V. back in. We're starting to watch "The West Wing" from episode 1, season 1. They have it at the library, but it's very rare to find it when we want to see it. Each season is split into two volumes, and there's no way we can watch half a season per week (an episode every other night is usually all we have time for, on average, and that's only when there's nothing else new on that we normally watch). And you can't have DVD's out for longer than a week (no renewals), so it's basically too big of a pain to do it via the public library.

Ok, so we're back on Netflix. Since we won't be going through these seasons as fast as, say, "24", I'm not too worried about getting throttled. I'm going to let the kids put some things they want in the queue, and we'll mix in kid picks once in a while as long as we always have a current West Wing disc. We'll be able to go straight through to season 6, probably finishing by the end of the year, then we may have to wait a few months after that for the current, final season (7) to come out.

We finished up a full month at Blockbuster, and we made the most out of it. I would guess between us and the kids (mostly the kids), we checked out about 30 DVD's during our month for a grand total of about $25. Most of them were new releases, too. Now I'll let them do some exploring in the various genres on Netflix and find some movies they might like since they're more or less out of Blockbuster ideas. That's the problem with the bricks-and-mortar movie rentals: very limited selection. They're really only good about once every six months when a new TV series comes out you can burn through quickly or when a bunch of good new releases have piled up.

By the way, the first few episodes of West Wing were just fine. I'm sure this show will be very good as it matures. I'm actually surprised the first few episodes are of such high quality. Most sitcoms and drama series take a full season before they really hit their stride. If West Wing is already pretty good, I can't wait to see it during its prime seasons.

Posted by Observer at 07:04 PM | Comments (2)

March 18, 2006

Poker Karma

I was in for a poker game tonight, but it got cancelled. Probably for the best. I played penny poker with the boys this afternoon and at one point was up quite a bit. But I got sloppy and Justin came back on me, including a bad beat where he cracked my pocket aces with a set of nines. I barely broke even, and I wasn't thinking clearly anyway, tired from an early morning track meet drop off (I can never go back to sleep in the morning once I'm up, sadly).

Ironically, I just finished another poker book today, Barry Greenstein's "Ace on the River". This is an oversized paperback printed on thick photo paper. Every page has a big photo offset or a photo as the background (sometimes making it hard to read). This was originally going to be a chapter in Brunson's "Super System 2", but Barry expanded it to book length. It does feel quite thin.

I really enjoyed the first third of the book, which is mostly Barry's story, including some hands he played and what he learned from them, etc. He talks about why he donates such a large portion of his winnings to charity, but he comes across as modestly in print as he does on TV. The middle part of the book is kind of about poker and life lessons, like how you can learn how to handle money, relationships, etc.

It's hard to take serious advice on this from a professional poker player who, by his own admission, has irresponsibly blown through an awful lot of cash. By the time I was a few chapters into it, I was really just skimming. The last part is a unique feature: several practice hands for no-limit are shown, and Barry puts the opening hand and situation on one page and asks a series of questions, like: What should you bet here after the flop? What would be the best possible turn card for you? The worst? What possible hands do you put your opponent on?

Then you turn the page and find out how Barry played it, and he discusses the answers. I think a whole book worth of this would've been pretty interesting. I would've liked to see more. I got this book for about $15 on Amazon, and that's probably a good price. Given the popularity of poker books, I doubt this will appear on a bargain shelf anytime in the next few years, so this is as cheap as it will get. Worth checking out of the library, if only because it's a good story, lots of pictures, and some neat analysis at the end. Just skip over the middle third.

Posted by Observer at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

Toddler Speak

At some point, isn't every parent required to talk about how his or her toddler's cute little sayings? A few weeks ago, M*chelle recommended we buy miniature frozen pancakes for Daniel to try for breakfast. You just heat 'em up in the microwave. I think they're gross, but D*niel is totally addicted. His first word most days is "PAYUMCAKES?" I don't know that he's touched cereal since. Even if he wakes up cranky (extremely rare), he can be cheered up instantly with that word.

Also, one of the best features of our new house is the fairly big, flat driveway with a basketball hoop. The boys spend many hours out there every day, though I don't know where they got their shooting form from. It's horrible. I haven't played basketball in DECADES and I can still own them in just about any game. We mainly play Horse, Around the World and Swish, and if you have ideas for others, I'd like to hear 'em.

Swish is a game where you just take turns shooting from a given spot (you can handicap a weaker player by letting them shoot from closer). You get 2 points for hitting the backboard, 3 points for hitting the rim (you have to count if it rattles around, and that's where minor arguments might occur), 5 points for a basket and 20 points for a swish (also arguable because sometimes the ball barely touches some iron). It's good for basic math skills, and you can play to 100 or whatever.

So C*dy bought a new basketball on Tuesday with a nice, grippable rough surface (unlike my cue-ball-smooth 15 year old ball). D*niel came out to play with us, and just as he walked out on to the driveway, J*stin hoisted up a horrible shot that missed everything. C*dy and I immediately started the "Airball!" chant, and so now we have two balls, according to D*niel. The old "ball" and the new "airball". He prefers to play with the airball.

When we do go outside, no matter what we are doing, it is generally referred to as "goccer" or sometimes "soccer". D*niel mostly prefers kicking balls around and then chasing them and picking them up. We're looking forward to putting him in the toddler league with the tiny little goals made from PVC pipes and so on.

My plan for today is to take the boy to the cushy playground at a nearby mall with the other three kids ("Coco, Jussin and Ashee"). That will also probably involve lunch at Chick-Fil-A, which for Daniel means "Dwen Dwies!" The boy will eat any and every french fry that is put near him. He's to the point if we pass a fast food place on any road, he'll start talking about dwen dwies.

Our next one is due mid-May, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he talks, too.

Posted by Observer at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2006

Yard Work

When it comes to aversion to manual labor, I may have my problems, but I don't hold a candle to our 13-year-old daughter, Ashl*y. This afternoon, she asked how she could earn some money. We went down a list of possible chores, including picking up the baby's room, vacuuming and, a new one, using the blower to clear leaves out of the garage and off the back porch.

A few hours later, she finally dragged her flat broke ass outside to earn a little money. So M*chelle hears a sound of something starting up, and she looks outside to see what Ashl*y's doing. Turns out Ashl*y was attempting to blow leaves off the back porch by pointing the weed whacker at 'em.

If it were me, I'd have waited a while first to see how long it would take her to figure out that the "blower" wasn't really working, but (to my great regret) I wasn't here when it happened.

Posted by Observer at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2006

Why Finesse When It's a Lay-Down Slam?

Wow, Molly Ivins is really smokin' today. She's saying what I tried to say yesterday but a whole lot better. I guess that's why she gets paid and I don't.:

Mah fellow progressives, now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party. I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will not be supporting Senator Clinton because: a) she has no clear stand on the war and b) Terri Schiavo and flag-burning are not issues where you reach out to the other side and try to split the difference. You want to talk about lowering abortion rates through cooperation on sex education and contraception, fine, but don’t jack with stuff that is pure rightwing firewater.

I can’t see a damn soul in D.C. except Russ Feingold who is even worth considering for President. The rest of them seem to me so poisonously in hock to this system of legalized bribery they can’t even see straight.

Look at their reaction to this Abramoff scandal. They’re talking about “a lobby reform package.” We don’t need a lobby reform package, you dimwits, we need full public financing of campaigns, and every single one of you who spends half your time whoring after special interest contributions knows it. The Abramoff scandal is a once in a lifetime gift—a perfect lesson on what’s wrong with the system being laid out for people to see. Run with it, don’t mess around with little patches, and fix the system.

As usual, the Democrats have forty good issues on their side and want to run on thirty-nine of them. Here are three they should stick to:

1) Iraq is making terrorism worse; it’s a breeding ground. We need to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. We are not helping the Iraqis by staying.

2) Full public financing of campaigns so as to drive the moneylenders from the halls of Washington.

3) Single-payer health insurance.

Every Democrat I talk to is appalled at the sheer gutlessness and spinelessness of the Democratic performance. The party is still cringing at the thought of being called, ooh-ooh, “unpatriotic” by a bunch of rightwingers.

Take “unpatriotic” and shove it. How dare they do this to our country? “Unpatriotic”? These people have ruined the American military! Not to mention the economy, the middle class, and our reputation in the world. Everything they touch turns to dirt, including Medicare prescription drugs and hurricane relief.

In your dreams, Molly. Mine, too. Link via First Draft. Oh, and John at AmericaBlog has an excellent rant, too, on the "liberal" media, and you know I can't resist that kind of red meat:

Sometimes I know what it's like to have kids.

You get tired of always having to be the parent. Always having to be the bad guy. Never getting any respect. But someone has to do it. And if not you, then who?

That's why liberal blogs are constantly berating the traditional media. Because the traditional media is made up of a growing number of increasingly sloppy children. And their sloppiness is now jeopardizing our democracy. It's gotten us into a war that's a disaster, and it's helped re-elect a president who isn't capable of managing our country. All because the traditional media let themselves be emasculated and lobotomized rather than simply doing their job.

To wit, this lead sentence from tomorrow's front-page Washington Post story on Senator Feingold's censure resolution:

For months the Democrats have resisted calls from their liberal base to more aggressively challenge President Bush.

Calls from their "liberal base?" Really? Where did you get that from? Seriously. I want facts. How did the Washington Post determine that it was the "liberal base" of the Democratic party that has been the driving force calling for Dems to challenge President Bush?

Actual real-life surveys show that most Democrats, and most Independents, have had it with Bush. Not just liberal Democrats, but all Democrats, and even most Independents.

So, seriously, where did the Washington Post get the facts to justify the very first line of its front page story about Senator Feingold? Nowhere, that's where.

They just made it up.

Because that's what journalism has become. A place where you hide the truth, lest you scoop your own book (Woodward) or invite the ire of the Bush administration (New York Times). It's a place for sloppy people to make a good amount of money telling the rest of us what to think, even though they themselves stopped thinking long ago.

I really don't mean to knock all traditional journalists. I've worked as one myself. But I find myself at an increasing loss for words every time I read one of these bizarre right-wing slanted stories coming from the Washington Post and the New York Times. Stories that simply aren't based in fact, but appeal to your sense of what you'd think was true. As Stephen Colbert says, they're stories with "truthiness" - meaning, they're not true, but they sound true, and that's what really matters.

The Washington Post and the New York Times, and the rest of the traditional media that emulates them, need to stop thinking like GOP clones and start thinking like the independent journalists they once were and still can be.

If you're going to label bloggers, and our readers, and the growing numbers of Americans increasingly angry at the direction our country is heading "the liberal base" of the Democratic party, then that would mean our liberal base comprises around 66% of the country right about now.

It simply no longer passes the laugh test to label all opposition to George Bush as liberal, or fringe, or base, or being in the minority. The man is at 34% in the polls. Even his own base has had it with him. So spare us your sloppy bs about the Democratic base being the moving force behind public ire at the president.

This is part of a larger problem. Not just a larger problem of conservative bias in the mainstream media, a media that is simply terrified of doing its job in the shadow of George Bush. No, the larger problem we face is the attempt by the traditional media to marginalize its liberal critics.

We are not just angry with the direction our country is heading, and with the failed president who is leading us over the cliff, we're also angry with traditional journalists whose writings once helped further American democracy and who have now sold out to sloth and influence. And that's why those traditional journalists feel the need to marginalize us in return.

They tell us that bloggers are all angry, immature, children who type in their pajamas. Forget that most of the top bloggers are in their 30s and 40s, many are professional journalists, lawyers, and have PhDs, backgrounds in government, and beyond.

I'd bet most of us have better resumes than most of our critics.

They also tell us that blog readers are all angry, far-left, party activists who are unreasonable and will only accept the most extreme of political views.

I communicate with a lot of my readers, and I (and a number of bloggers) even hold coffees with them when I travel. And they come from all stripes. Liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. What identifies them, and unifies them, isn't that they're all particularly lefty or righty or centrist - it's that they're mad as hell about the direction in which our country is heading, and about the lack of courage and conviction in today's politicians.

The problem with today's media is the same problem with today's Democratic party. They confuse anger with policy. They do not understand that we are united in and motivated by our anger, regardless of our politics. And it is sloppy journalism, and sloppy politics, to assume that what is motivating the blogosphere today is its liberalism rather than its frustration.

We are not fed up with a particular policy, we're fed up with politics.

I am not the liberal base of the Democratic party, sorry to disillusion anyone. My views are more nuanced, and diverse, and can't be put in a convenient little partisan box just to make the Washington Post happy. And I'm hardly unique in the blogosphere, nor are my readers.

There is nothing wrong with being the base of the Democratic party. But the blogs represent far more than that base, and that base does not rule the blogs. No wing of the party rules the blogs - or rather, no political wing. If anything, we represent, we are, the reform wing of the Democratic party. We are motivated, and united, by our utter horror at what we see happening to our country, and by the fact that, for whatever reason, we, unlike our political leaders, are not afraid to fight back and take back our country.

Does that make us activists? Sure. Angry? Absolutely. But this has nothing to do with our politics nor whether we are the base, the center, or the far-right of the Democratic party. And I'd suggest that there are a growing number of non-far-right Republicans in the same boat. They are fed up with the direction our country is heading, and the inability of conventional politics to address the growing disaster. It just isn't about right or left anymore, and you're all just too lazy or stupid or old to see it.

Sloppy journalists and cowardly politicians need to wake up and learn that fact, or they will never understand who we really are until it's too late.

Link via mcjoan at Daily Kos. As I've said before, ten years ago, you could've called me a moderate. I thought Clinton had a lot of good ideas, especially on economics and welfare reform, stuff that made true tie-dyed liberals scream bloody murder. But I also like a lot of liberal causes, like allowing gays to be treated as equal citizens (something people are much more likely to agree with if they personally have known someone who is gay) or asking corporations to figure in environmental costs to their products and abide by some common-sense rules to preserve our country's natural health and beauty (not to mention the planet).

I would also think that we should have a debate and ask some hard questions before invading another country pre-emptively. Today, these kinds of stands (in the eyes of the media) make me a wild-eyed angry liberal.

So be it.

Posted by Observer at 07:23 AM | Comments (3)

March 14, 2006

Take Their Word For It?

Via a good Kos diary, I found this link to a report by the ACLU regarding ... well, just read it:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania today released new evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting investigations into a political organizations based solely on its anti-war views.

Two documents released today reveal that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice just because the organization opposed the war in Iraq. Although previously disclosed documents show that the FBI is retaining files on anti-war groups, these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group's opposition to the war.

What a shock. The government is bringing its investgative powers to bear on terrorists? Oh no, the real danger is clearly the pacifists who oppose the war. So I suppose we should take their word for it that the unlawful NSA eavesdropping is only to listen in on conversations between members of Al Qaeda and not liberal opposition groups?

The sad thing is that Feingold's censure resolution is getting paltry support among Democrats in the Senate. I really just don't have any fucking idea what they're thinking. This is really simple. The president broke the law. That isn't debated. The president himself admitted that he broke the law. Said he had to do it to fight the "turists". Republicans are proposing amendments to FISA that make Bush's actions legal retroactively, so that implies that they were originally ILLEGAL.

Censure it a good first step, and Democrats are running away from that, it seems, so God only knows what kind of chance impeachment might have, even if we retake the House or the Senate. I didn't think it was possible to be more depressed for our country after the 2004 elections, but it turns out there's plenty of room down there to keep sinking deeper.

Posted by Observer at 08:53 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Allen vs Libby

Dan Froomkin makes a good point in his blog today about how the White House has treated Claude Allen vs Scooter Libby:

What explains the different White House reactions to the criminal charges lodged against two top aides?

The embarrassed response to felony theft charges against Claude Allen -- President Bush's recently departed top domestic policy adviser -- contrasts sharply with the protective response to the October indictment of former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby on charges of intentionally obstructing the investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.

Spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday night that if the allegations against Allen are true, "no one would be more disappointed, shocked and outraged" than the president.

Bush spoke about Allen in a Saturday morning photo op . "If the allegations are true," Bush said, "Claude Allen did not tell my Chief of Staff and legal counsel the truth, and that's deeply disappointing. If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad. When I heard the story last night I was shocked. And my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment that -- if it's true -- that we were not fully informed. But it was also one -- shortly thereafter, I felt really sad for the Allen family."

In short, the White House response was entirely reasonable. It's the sort of reaction you'd expect from the chief executive of any enterprise, upon finding out that a trusted lieutenant has been criminally charged by the government.

But it was starkly different than the response to Libby's indictment. In that case, the White House didn't express any misgivings whatsoever. There was no acknowledgement of how serious the charges were, or what it would mean if they were true. There was no expression of even hypothetical disappointment, shock or outrage. There was no suggestion that anyone in the White House might have been lied to. There were no regrets -- except, of course, that Libby had to resign.

Here is the text of Bush's remarks about Libby: "Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country. He served the Vice President and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history."

Here is the text of Vice President Cheney's remarks at the time, not surprisingly even more pugnacious: "Mr. Libby has informed me that he is resigning to fight the charges brought against him. I have accepted his decision with deep regret."

Now that the White House has demonstrated the ability to respond in the conventional way to criminal charges filed against a member of its senior staff, it becomes even more abundantly clear that in the Libby matter, it assertively chose not to do so.

The inescapable conclusion is that either Bush and Cheney think Libby's innocent -- or they don't think what he's accused of doing was in any way wrong.

Actually, scratch that. If they thought he was innocent, they could just say so. Nothing wrong with saying: We don't think he did it, but let's allow the legal system to do its job. So that leaves only option B: They don't think that what Libby is accused of doing was wrong.

Elsewhere, this unintentionally revealing quote from someone within the White House:

As one White House aide, who asked for anonymity to avoid embarrassing the administration, put it, 'When you hear about a White House official getting busted, you'd hope it would be for something so much better than this, like securities fraud or embezzlement. But robbing a Target? Are you kidding me?' "

Well, I guess we all know the standards for crimes are much higher in this administration. Get busted for shoplifting? Getting a blowjob? Screw that. If you're going to break the law, get us into a war or get a bunch of people killed. Make it worthwhile!

Posted by Observer at 07:28 PM | Comments (1)

Censure

Over the weekend, Senator Russ Feingold announced that he would seek a vote on a resolution to censure the president over the eavesdropping scandal, a step that the Senate took against Clinton without much hesitation over the Lewinsky affair. It was a great idea, even if it doesn't have much chance of success, simply because it keeps this issue where it needs to be: front and center.

Naturally, fellow Democrats when asked about it acted like idiots. Glenn Greenwald has excellent coverage of what this all means this morning in the first few posts on his blog. It is truly amazing that what was the natural and normal course of events for Clinton is today for Bush being portrayed by Republicans (and the media, of course) as something just short of treasonous disloyalty to our brave terror-fighting commander.

Find me a few editorial pages in support of Feingold's idea. Find me a few articles written about the censure proposal with good background on the whole scandal, the cover-up by the committee last week, the parallels with Clinton's censure. From now on, that's going to be the assigned homework for anyone who wants to bray "liberal media" with any sincerity.

Posted by Observer at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2006

The People vs Big Tobacco

Another good non-fiction book I've read in the past few years tells the deeper story behind the headlines of the enormous settlement won by the states vs the tobacco industry back in the 1990's (subsequently reduced when Bush took office, big shocker there). Carrick Mollenkamp and other reporters who worked on the case wrote up a summary book called "The People vs Big Tobacco", and it tells the same sort of story told in the (very good) movie "The Insider" a few years ago.

The movie had Russell Crowe acting as a scientist for a tobacco company who wanted to provide evidence against them to help a class action lawsuit, and Al Pacino was the 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergmann, trying to get the scientist's testimony on the air so that it could become part of the public record for use in the trial (otherwise, confidentiality agreements would've squashed a lot of potential evidence). The book tells the story more from the side of the main lawyers in question, all the hoops they had to jump through, etc.

Another part of the story not told so much in the movie was that of the paralegal who stole a bunch of documents from a tobacco lawyer law firm which provided the first impetus for the case. Basically, the reason the tobacco industry survived for so long against lawsuits is that they had a pretty good legal fortress built up, and it took a few people willing to risk jail to bust through that wall. Even then, when the battle was supposedly over, big tobacco managed to turn it all into an extremely hollow victory.

So this is a pretty good summary of the legal story. A little dry, certainly not as entrancing as the movie which covered similar ground, but also very thorough and detailed. If you liked Grisham's book on a big tobacco trial ("Runaway Jury", also made into a movie) but want to see more legal and less dramatics, this is a good book. It never came out in paperback as far as I can tell, but it is easy to find in bargain shelves and remainders and also at public libraries.

Posted by Observer at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2006

Grrrr.

So we finally managed to block out a couple of hours tonight to watch the season finale of Battlestar Galactica. I didn't watch the first part last week because I figured there would be some huge cliffhanger, and one is plenty, thanks. Good show. I'll have more to say about it WHEN I SEE THE FUCKING ENDING.

Our DVR automatically records whatever time the cable company tells us the show will be in, but if any show goes over unexpectedly and we're trying to watch it back later, we miss it. And of course, we have no idea if this will happen until the end. This has happened a couple of times with movies and shows before, and it is always long enough between occurrences that we forget about it.

Oh, I can manually adjust the time window of the recording to tack on an extra five minutes, and I often do, but sometimes I forget and it just shouldn't be that difficult. If the Sci Fi channel knows that an episode is going to go for, say, 93 minutes, then by God please tell that to the cable company so they don't shut my DVR off after 90 minutes. Ok? It's not like the end of the world or hugely important or anything, I understand that, but it is also isn't difficult.

Dammit.

Posted by Observer at 11:01 PM | Comments (1)

True Confessions?

Continuing on the non-fiction book review kick, I picked up John Perkins' "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" at the library recently and finished it fairly quickly. This one is a tough book to review, because the quality of the book depends somewhat on its truthfulness, and I have no way to judge that.

Perkins worked for one of these huge multinationals (like Halliburton, Bechtel, etc), and his mission was to convince third-world countries (Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Colombia, etc.) to take out huge loans to pay for these companies to come in and build up their infrastructure. He tried to convince these countries that the subsequent economic growth would be enormous and would enable the country to easily pay back its debt, but he knew this was false. The main point was to (a) make money for his company and (b) to force these countries so deep into debt that the United States would be able to push them around politically.

If there's a problem, then a coup is arranged or an assassination. Perkins tells the story of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela as well as Omar Torrijos (who died suspiciously in a plane crash after thumbing his nose at the U. S.) and his successor, Manuel Noriega, in Panama (famously ousted when we invaded during Bush I, currently rotting in a U. S. prison), among others. In broad outline, of course, Perkins' story is legitimate, and there is some educational material in here.

How do oil companies get a foothold in these regions? What was happening behind the scenes in Central and South America during the Reagan years? How does the World Bank work? Who are some of the common characters who keep popping up when civil unrest or radical changes in governments take place in the third world? How does the media help or hinder this process? Many of these questions are at least addressed if not answered fully, so there is some good stuff to think about in this book.

That's all fine and has been documented elsewhere, surely with more detail and higher quality writing. What sets this book apart from typical non-fiction of this kind (for the worse) is all of Perkins' stories. He styles himself an international agent of intrigue who can bring nations to ruin with his economic forecasts (!?) but at the same time a man of deep conscience who is trying to change how everyone thinks to atone for his sins. He includes a lot of anecdotes that are, frankly, a little hard to believe (especially the dialogue) from Iran, Indonesia and Colombia and his personal experiences there.

He even includes several sexy, beautiful women, including a shadowy Claudine who teaches him the ways of the world and recruits him to be an "Economic Hit Man". While I was reading this book, Elaine's boss from Seinfeld came to mind, J. Peterman. At one point, she was ghost-writing his memoirs, and he was worried that he didn't have enough good stories to tell. So he bought some stories from Kramer ("the very pants I was trying to return!") and eventually encouraged Elaine to speak about his romantic exploits and "feel free to throw yourself into the mix there" or something.

In some ways, this book reads comically just like that. On the other hand, I'll admit I am in no position to judge this guy's credibility. Maybe he's telling the truth everywhere, but even if he is, this story has been told in more detail (albeit in less of a spy novel format) by many others. Even Michael Moore brought up some of this stuff on Iraq in "Fahrenheit 9/11".

The self-importance of the author, in the end, is a bit too much to get past, and I wouldn't recommend this book. From what I understand (but have not read), a good current author to read regarding multinationals and foreign policy (especially in Iraq) is James Briody, an author referenced frequently by Michael Moore (which is probably a litmus test for a lot of people, one way or the other).

Posted by Observer at 09:16 AM | Comments (1)

Geneva Conventions

In the paper this morning, I read this article about the U. S. handing over control of the Abu Ghraib prison to Iraq in a few months. The article focussed on a guy named Qaissi, who talks about what he endured. Qaissi is tentatively identified as the guy in the famous photograph with the hood on, wires strapped to his body and his arms outstretch on top of a wooden box.

Anyway, the Times asked U. S. military officials to comment on Qaissi's claim, which resulted in my favorite paragraph:

A spokesman for the American military in Iraq declined to comment, saying it would violate the Geneva Conventions to disclose the identity of prisoners in any of the Abu Ghraib photographs, just as it would to discuss the reasons behind Mr. Qaissi's detention.

We wouldn't want to violate anyone's rights under the Geneva Conventions! Heavens, no!

In other news, local Republicans are considering asking for a recount after voting totals seemed off in recent primary elections. I'm considering writing a Letter To the Editor about how those whiny Republicans have to resort to conspiracy theories when they don't get their own way. If there was something funny about the voting, they need to just get over it, grow up and move on. That's how a representative Democracy works these days. Don't they know that?

Posted by Observer at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2006

A Civil Action

While writing yesterday's review, I realized I never reviewed Jonathan Harr's excellent book, "A Civil Action." To me, this is the model on which other class-action non-fiction books should be based. The movie version of it is very good, but the book is so much richer in detail. Reading the book actually makes you appreciate the movie even more, and it's a great read even if you haven't seen the movie.

The book deals with polluted groundwater in a small Northeast community that sends cancer rates off the charts. It's a result of tanneries and other chemically bad businesses that didn't take care of their waste disposal and were bought up by much larger congolomerates (W. R. Grace and Beatrice). A small-time lawyer takes up the case for a group of families, and he quickly runs up against enormous financial and political obstacles.

First, how do you prove that contaminated groundwater is causing cancer? Well, you have to prove that the water is contaminated and that the source is the company in question, and that involves lots of well-paid experts performing lots of expensive tests that juries will have a hard time understanding (the book makes a nice case for scientific literacy, by the way). And how do you know that what is found in the water causes cancer? A lot of those studies linking certain chemicals with cancer rates have been deeply flawed, and how does a jury know what's flawed and what isn't in peer-reviewed, published scientific literature?

Then you have to figure out how to fend off the avalanche of time-wasting motions and the blizzard of paperwork the big corporation throws at you. Meanwhile, the victims are dying left and right, and you'd like to do something for them to get them medical help quickly, but the company is dragging their feet in the trial. The movie "Class Action" with Gene Hackman was an excellent example of this kind of story, one of my all-time favorites, and "Erin Brockovich" was another example with broader appeal.

And then in the end, it all comes down to the fact that the judge is good friends with the defense counsel or the daughter of the owner of the company being sued or what have you. Or maybe the jury was given the wrong instructions on some minor but crucial point. All this time, the families are wondering what the hell they're going through all this for, why shouldn't they accept an offered settlement, why should they trust their lawyer, etc. It's an ethical hurricane, and one hell of a good read.

Posted by Observer at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

The Informant

One of the better non-fiction books I've read in the past few years is Kurt Eichenwald's "The Informant", the chronicle of one informant's work with the FBI to bust the Archer Daniels Midland company ("Supermarket to the World") for price-fixing and various other illegal things. What sets this book apart from other "Civil Action" style books that I've read is that the main character is pretty much just as bad as the company and ends up going to jail, and because of his problems, you never quite know whether the FBI is going to end up successful.

Eichenwald tells a good story, very complete, and he has lots of details to offer because the informant in this case made a lot of tapes of high-level meetings involving various executives in the company. It's kinda chilling, actually, to know that all this stuff took place long before the Boy King came to power and, with control of all three branches of government, corporate oversight and law enforcement has been reduced to its lowest levels in decades. One wonders what the hell they're getting away with these days.

There is also a lot of educational stuff here about what multinational corporations do, how they make money, what strategies they employ and so forth. It's a real education into how the directors of these companies think and how they are covered by the media. For a long time, ADM was the primary sponsor of ABC's news show "This Week with David Brinkley" and even while all this scandalous stuff was going on, there was never a mention on that show of it. There's also a lot of interesting detail about how the FBI works and what obstacles they have to overcome (especially politically) to investigate a big company.

The best non-fiction books contain both attention-grabbing page-turning stories and also a lot of really useful educational material. Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" was like this. Robert Reid's "Year One" was like this. Hell, almost every non-fiction book in my sidebar has these two elements, which is why I've bothered to shine a little spotlight on them, and this is one of the best.

Posted by Observer at 05:57 PM | Comments (1)

March 08, 2006

After the Fact

In efforts to blunt criticism of the unconstitutional eavesdropping program, Congress is supposedly going to create a new subcommittee to oversee the process and modify the FISA law that governs wiretapping so that the program as established is now within the law.

Try to imagine for a moment the climate back in 1998 when there was the blue dress and all the talk of impeachment. Imagine the reaction in the "liberal" media if the Democrats had said something like, "We have bigger things to worry about. We're going to establish a new law that says from now on, blowjobs in the oval office are legal and misleading opposing counsel while being questioned under oath is now okay under this new law, so we don't need to investigate what happened in the past."

No matter what Congress does now, it doesn't change the fact that the Bush administration clearly and unapologetically broke the law in a major way. In fact, I kinda doubt that they're even going to accept the new oversight Congress is proposing because they're operating on the theory that they can simply ignore the law whenever the president thinks it is necessary. And they can do this with impunity because the media simply isn't paying attention.

Posted by Observer at 07:38 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2006

Depressing and Unsurprising

It is pretty outrageous but not really surprising. Moderate Republicans have once again shown there is no such thing as a "moderate" when it comes to loyalty to the Bush administration, and they have voted not to hold investigative hearings on the unconsitutional eavesdropping programs being run by this administration. I doubt this vote would've even taken place if there had been any danger at all of the Bush administration ending up on the wrong side of it. Hell, Frist would've neutered the committee before allowing that to happen, something he made clear last week.

Glenn Greenwald has had excellent coverage of this story from start to finish, and along with the bloggers at firedoglake and Vichy Democrats, has been actively working to bring grass roots pressure on the relevant Senators.

To me, the fact that this vote was even close speaks to the growing power and influence of the blogosphere, especially considering the complete lack of attention this story has gotten in the mainstream media, who have been more interested in Bush playing cricket in India instead of Bill Frist trying to change the rules of the Senate to turn the Senate Intelligence Committee into just another rubber stamp for the administration. As Thersites says:

And remember: win, lose or draw, we've done something over the past few days that has never, ever been done before: directed national attention, and thousands of constituent communications, at a relatively "minor" and unpublicized event, a simple closed-door committee meeting. And we haven't even begun to fight...

It's not over. We need to break the scandal cycle that Peter Daou has so eloquently written about (don't miss the great follow-up here) and make sure the media gives this the coverage it deserves:

To illustrate the power of the media to shape public opinion, simply imagine what would happen if the cable nets and the print media and the elite punditocracy treated the warrantless spying scandal with the same round-the-clock intensity as the Swift-boating of Kerry or the Natalee Holloway disappearance. Suppose Lewinsky-style headlines blared about impeachment and presidential law-breaking. Suppose the question of the day on every cable net was, “Should Bush be impeached for violating the Constitution?” The media can create a crisis -- and can squelch one. The media can deliver narratives, they can frame events, they can shape the way Americans see the political landscape. A disproportionate amount of power is wielded by a handful of opinion-shapers, and when these individuals tell America a story that favors the right and marginalizes the left, the remedies are few.

We have fought our adversaries abroad and at home for over 200 years while maintaining our respect for the Constitution, which is part of what makes the battles worth fighting. Now is not the time to trash the very laws and principles that make our country great. I hope the media eventually decides this is worth covering once they're done talking about Oscar fashions or whatever.

Posted by Observer at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

Dark Tide

I'm going to continue on with reviewing the New Jedi Order books today (I reviewed the first book, R. A. Salvatore's "Vector Prime" a while back) with the 2nd and 3rd books of the series, a pair called "Dark Tide" ("Onslaught" and "Ruin") written by Michael Stackpole, who also wrote much of the very good X-Wing series.

"Dark Tide" is similar in quality to the X-Wing books, which puts it at the top of a very large middle-tier quality category among Star Wars books. It is definitely a cut above Salvatore's book, which is pretty average. In this book, the invasion forces of the Yuuzhan Vong continue to advance into the galaxy, picking off planets as they move closer to the core worlds and Coruscant. The aliens are not really associated with the Force, which means Jedi can only use the force indirectly against them. They are also skilled at hand-to-hand combat, giving them somewhat of an edge against a typical Jedi trying to fight with a lightsaber. So why don't some Jedi break down and use blasters? I guess that's not how it works.

The book follows Jacen, Jaina and Anakin, the three children of Han and Leia who are all very strong in the Force. Luke and Mara are also prominent, with Mara still somewhat weakened from trying to fight off a disease the aliens infected her with (a plot line that started in Salvatore's book and will presumably be resolved later in the series). Luke is morphing into a Yoda-like grandmaster figure, though he has nowhere near the amount of support and respect, so the Jedi are splitting into factions with various interpretations of how close to the dark side they can go without going over (like the Showcase Showdown on "The Price Is Right").

Leia is a peripheral figure, and Han is non-existant, still hitting the bars back home trying to get past the death of Chewie in "Vector Prime". That leaves a lot of space for some of the strong, new characters, who are interesting to follow because unlike the Skywalkers, you don't know whether they will survive. Corran Horn plays a big role here, and he's turned into a good character under Stackpole's guidance (first showed up back in X-Wing as Stackpole's character, if memory serves). He's trying to follow in Luke's footsteps, but he has new and different challenges to face, along with plenty of ethical problems and light side/dark side issues. Anakin is developed a lot here, and he is definitely the strongest in the Force of the new generation of Jedi. He is more interesting to follow than the twins (Jacen and Jaina), and I'm looking forward to his continued progress.

Plot-wise, this pair of books has the good and bad aspects of X-Wing. The good is the strategy and tactics of combat as each side tries to get a leg up on the other. Stackpole does a good job with the chess match of combat and war, even down to battles between individual fighters, whereas with most other authors (except Zahn) it is only vaguely described or a confusing mess. The bad is the lack of a compelling enemy. The Yuuzhan Vong are a bit like the Kzin in Niven's famous (and endless) Man-Kzin wars series. Very aggressive, sometimes to the point of stupidity, not open to negotiation, Spartan-like warrior culture, no real hate-able charismatic leader. Major bad guys seem to be introduced only for the satisfaction of seeing them killed off. The Vong are a little smarter than the Kzin and a lot more powerful, but still, a lot of parallels.

There is still a chance for a major villain to emerge in this series. Maybe the Bothan in charge of the New Republic, but he's not evil, just amazingly petty. Maybe a supreme leader among the aliens, but three books in, and I don't see any sign of a Thrawn-like villain. Maybe a Jedi goes dark and gets all Emperor-like, but I don't see that happening. Without a compelling enemy, this series is going to suffer and nothing will get into the top tier with Zahn's books. Right now, the aliens are like a stirred-up nest of fire ants. Clearly threatening and numerous but not unusual or compelling.

So far in the New Jedi Order series, I'll put "Dark Tide" at the top, clearly a cut above "Vector Prime" but not close enough to the best Star Wars expanded universe novels I've seen, unfortunately. I will definitely read anything else Stackpole has to offer in this genre, because he's getting better, given this book is as good or better than X-Wing while being handicapped by having to fit in an overall mediocre story arc (so far).

Posted by Observer at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

Melting Steel?

So I followed this link from The Sideshow to a an hour-long video outlining the highlights of 9/11 conspiracy theory. There are also plenty of accompanying websites.

According to the video, the WTC towers couldn't have fallen as they did because of plane crashes and burning jet fuel. The steel support structure couldn't melt at temperatures reached by jet fuel. Also, the video seems to show an explosion just before each plane hits its respective tower, as if a missile were used. And there are reports before and during the collapse of the towers of demolition-like explosions that preceded the collapse wave downward. As for the Pentagon situation and the flight in Pennsylvania, there was almost no debris left behind indicating a plane crash. Also the evidence of a plane hitting the Pentagon seems pretty weak to me.

So what to do when confronted with this sort of evidence? Is this on par with holocaust denial? JFK conspiracy theories? X-Files-like alien invasions and experiments on humans? I'm not equipped to decide. I just don't know enough about the specific events and facts of the day, including exculpatory evidence, to fairly judge whether this is worth looking into further. One thing that frustrates me about conspiracy theories is that exculpatory lines of reasoning are only presented when they can be refuted, so it makes it look like the authors have fairly considered both sides.

I would be very interested to see a debunking of the conspiracy theory, just so I can stack up evidence from both sides.

Posted by Observer at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2006

Women, Just Close Your Legs!

It started with Digby responding to a wingnut commenter. Digby was talking about how ridiculous the new South Dakota abortion ban is, which doesn't include any kind of exception to protect the health or life of the mother, nor any exception for incest or rape (might as well call it the "Rapists' Rights Act of 2006"). Digby asked why the lack of pity for a woman with two kids, worrying about supporting them and not screwing up her life with a third kid, trying to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The commenter originally said this, among other things.

I don't really get it. I am supposed to feel sorry for this woman? Does Digby expect me to sympathize with her? I hope not, because she's a selfish woman who was thinking only of herself.

That's right. You read that correctly. She couldn't afford to have another child so she terminated the pregancy. That is selfish. She wanted to have her fun and get laid, but she didn't want to have to deal with the possible consequences of her actions [...]

We also have the ability to abstain. Nothing is going to happen to us if we don't have sex.

And if you're in a position like this woman, a low paying job and two kids already. Guess what? Don't fuck.

Digby responded, in part:

No, people aren't mindless animals who can't control themselves. But, saying to women, "if you can't afford another child, don't fuck" is not entirely different than saying "if you can't afford food, don't eat." Of course, she won't literally die if she doesn't ever have sex again (or at least until she's past her fertile years.) But for many women it would be a death of another sort: the death of her humanity. Sex is elemental.

In any case, however much you exhort them not to, women will still have sex and without a right to abortion (and soon birth control) they'll end up in forced childbirth, bearing more offspring than they can afford and they'll end up having back alley abortions and they'll end up dying. I suspect the people who believe having sex if you are unprepared to procreate is irresponsible will find comfort in that.

Tena over at First Draft weighed in, with a passionate rant which assumes the wingnut commenter is a woman (which I'm not clear on):

This pisses me off so much She's saying: "the woman is poor so she should suffer. It doesn't do for the poor to be enjoying life."

If the anti-choice movement really wants to have an honest discussion, then the people in it are going to have to face the not so very hidden racism and contempt for the poor in their position. They don't like to talk about that. They want to talk about little pre-born white Christian babies - the kind the impotent white Christians love to buy from poor young women with no other options. And "snowflake babies." Snowflakes. It doesn't get much whiter.

In fact, the anti-choice movement isn't about anything other than selfishness, contrary to what Miss Tighttwat thinks. These people want to take every bit of joy and hold it captive for themselves. They actually believe they are entitled to it and that no one else is. And especially not those disgusting poor people and those brown and black people. Icky! You can read that in every goddamn line: They Are Icky and They Should Pay for It.

Digby is polite in his reply to this woman. I don't feel that need at this remove. This uptight bitch is not the slightest bit interested in babies. No. What she's all about is keeping those poor people in line. No cigarettes for them. No beer. And by god, they better not be caught fucking. They are poor and they have got to be reminded of that every goddamned second of their lives.

One more thing - I don't think this little bitch has ever been in heat in her life. I don't think she ever will be, either.

Amanda at Pandagon added, in response to "nothing is going to happen if we don't have sex":

That last sentence there made me nearly spit out my drink in astonishment. Nothing is going to happen? Nothing? I’m trying to imagine the average woman telling her husband or boyfriend that she’s done with sex now that she’s had as many children as she wants, and whether or not that would result in nothing happening.

The abstinence line of reasoning has always struck me as a fundamental indication that the anti-sex stance is mostly anti-female for this very reason. The line is pretty much, “Don’t want a baby, close your legs,” which has the appeal of being theorotically possible. And if you’re the sort who feels life-in-theory is good enough, then that will work for you. But “close your legs”, while arguably not a misogynist statement in theory is definitely one in practice. [...]

And my take on this entire situation is that even in the 21st century, even if women felt comfortable giving up sex itself, that’s not really an option for we members of the sex class. The prescribed life cycle of the human female from the anti-choice right wing would go something like this:

- Abstain until marriage

- Start having children straightaway when you marry

- If you have a job, quit it to raise your children like a good mommy

- When you’ve had as many children as you can handle, tell your husband that you won’t be having sex with him anymore.

- Nothing will happen to you when you do this. We swear. Certainly nothing like finding yourself trying to get a job for the first time in 20 years while your ex-husband tells his new girlfriend that you wouldn’t even have sex with him anymore.

The vast majority of the time we argue that telling people not to have sex isn’t workable, we pro-choicers argue up why women choose to have sex. But I think it’s important to note that abstinence isn’t a legitimate choice for most women in a patriarchy, so having conservatives even bring it up is fundamentally dishonest. I mean, even if there was a way for women to give up sex without having massive personal ramifications, I don’t think that’s a legitimate thing to demand, but it’s important to note that there’s not really an abstinence option in the wingnut model of gender relations that’s workable for most women. While I state repeatedly on this blog that anti-choice is about punishing women for sex, I’d actually therefore argue that it’s about punishing women for existing, really.

Echidne has more:

My take on this wingnut post is that it is an excellent example of one particular right-wing mindset, the type that believes there is a cause-and-effect pattern for all events in this world and that this cause-and-effect can be totally controlled by any individual.

The thinking goes like this: Work hard and you will be rich! Therefore, if you are poor you did not work hard. You deserve to suffer. Have sex and you deserve to get pregnant! If you are now pregnant and don't want to be, don't come and complain to me! Smoke like a chimney and accept that you will die. Don't expect me to pay for your medical bills. Work for an asbestos company and of course your lungs will ossify! What are you moaning about?

There is a certain appeal to this way of thinking, because it makes the universe clear and simple and it assigns the individual enormous powers of determination. If you only do the right thing everything will be sunny and happy and good and you will deserve that BMW you are driving around, polluting the environment. Did you notice the little crack I introduced into the smugness of the sentiment in that last sentence?

Because life isn't quite that simple, and the law of consequence doesn't run as simply as this wingnut wants it to. When we introduce complications, though, we tend to lose the ears of the wingnuts. That is one law of consequence that is always valid, sigh. But still. It's worth discussing the real universe in more realistic terms, for the rest of us.

Take this blogger's example of the nice cause-and-effect chain about drinking and driving and then going out and killing someone with the car. Yes, this could happen, and it is the reason why we make driving under the influence of alcohol a crime. But then I might go out for a walk totally sober and get knocked down by this drunken maniacal driver. What did I do wrong? Where was my control over the situation?

Perhaps the wingnut blogger could amend the philosophy by allowing for some of us to be wholly innocent. We just happened to get killed by a drunken driver, ok. But what control did that leave me over my life? After all, the idea behind this philosophy is that people can control the bad things that happen to them. And what about the child born into poverty? How did that child deserve poverty?

Ok. Now we have two sets of people: Those who should be in control over their own urges and who can decide if they are going to get pregnant or rich or dead, and those who are hapless victims. This is the worldview of quite a few wingnuts, too. But let's add even more layers of complications.

Let's introduce the woman who already had children she couldn't quite support and who chose to have an abortion. The wingnut blogger wanted her to abstain from sex and called her selfish for not doing so. But suppose that she has a husband or a boyfriend who has just been fired from work, whose mother is dying from incurable cancer, who is severely depressed. This partner wants sex, just not to feel like dying, to feel warm and alive for one single moment. And she refuses the sex because it would be selfish to give him that comfort. Er, wouldn't it?

Did you notice how the selfishness of this woman happens in isolation in the wingnut story? She just goes to some store where they sell sex, buys some and swallows it. There is no partner, no social relationship, no questions of the kind I created in my imaginary story above. Selfishness is a difficult thing to measure, you know, and almost every choice we make can be viewed as selfish from some point of view.

Or perhaps she simply really needed sex, really needed the little heaven we people can experience on this earth otherwise so deficient in heavenly things. Working two jobs (as I imagine), dragging the children from home to daycare and back again, worrying about getting the groceries late at night, worrying about the bills and the rent, worrying about the cockroaches and the asthma the children might get, worrying about the future and being tired all the time. Perhaps she really really needed to go to heaven for a minute or two, even if there were no condoms in the house.

I have no idea if any of this is true, but I can imagine. The wingnut blogger doesn't seem to be able to imagine anything. Sometimes I think that this might be the main difference between the wingnuts and the rest of us.

Is that enough complexity for you? I might add another layer by asking why death sentence isn't ok if a woman knew that she might die giving birth. Nothing in the cause-and-effect story would make it wrong to just let her die. If people who choose to smoke should accept their deaths, why not women who choose to procreate? Why not have all the people with AIDS just die? They knew how dangerous AIDS was before they engaged in some risky activity.

The truth of course is that our choices do matter, but they matter in a probabilistic sense, not in the sense of being meted awards and punishments by some cruel wingnut god. And humans are human, which means that none of us can control everything in our lives. Not even wingnuts can do that, though they would love to control other people's lives.

Avedon Carol sums it up nicely:

I've had a lot of arguments with people who support legal bans on abortion, and I have yet to meet one who feels an ounce of human compassion for women who have unwanted pregnancies. They can start off talking about protecting "innocent babies", but you really don't have to scratch very far before you get to the heartless, judgmental core of their real position, and it has nothing to do with protecting innocent life. It usually takes less than three minutes to get them to start using phrases like "these people" and talking about the way "they live". It's about passing judgment on the parents, not about babies at all.

That a complete lack of understanding of the emotions that motivate sexual contact is absent from the lives of these people is clear, of course. But I wouldn't be so sure that they will never feel the heat. Many of them will. And when they do, they'll be phoning Planned Parenthood to find out what to do about something they never realized could happen to them. They certainly think they're too good, but they very often find out the hard way that they are not. [...]

Not being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes extends far beyond the abortion debate into other matters of life and death, as we know. It's abundantly visible in the inability of right-wingers even to see that poverty is not mere individual failure. It's equally manifest in the breath-taking double-standards of those who freely condemned Saddam for killing and torturing people and yet defend going to Iraq to kill and torture people. It's amazing how many "pro-life" people think the death penalty is so wonderful that it justifies getting rid of the safeguards against executing the innocent.

Hard to add anything to all this, just some examples of the great writing and thinking going on in the left-wing blogosphere while the media talks about who was wearing what at the Oscars. It is also worth reminding everyone at this point that Republicans have controlled the executive and legislative branch for going on five years now, and at the federal level, they've purposely done nothing substantive to change abortion laws.

Oh sure, they could've. They could've passed a law allowing for bans on abortion with an exception for the life and health of the mother, incest or rape, but they haven't done so. And the Supreme Court (even prior to Roberts and Alito being confirmed) would've okayed it (I can back that up if needed by referencing a couple of opinions). They won't even let Democrats introduce such a bill, and believe me, it has been tried. A lot of Democrats would favor such a bill. I'd be ok if we allowed first-trimester abortions along with these exceptions, but I admit I haven't thought about it all that much and could be swayed some either way.

Oh yeah, and the story about Frist trying to change the rules to prevent a Senate investigation of the illegal wiretapping? No coverage in our ultra-liberal local paper. Instead, there was a puff piece about how Bush tried to play cricket in India that took up half a page.

Thanks a lot, liberal media!

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

March 04, 2006

The Run Around

Apparently, some Republicans are upset enough about Bush's illegal eavesdropping operation that they're wanting to hold hearings. There's really no question that Bush's actions were illegal. What few paltry arguments have been made by wingnuts on this matter are embarrassingly thin, mostly to the effect that our War President should have unchecked power to fight against the terrorists as long as he needs to or at least until another Democrat is elected to office.

So anyway, Pat Roberts is the senator who has mostly covered for Bush's intelligence problems since the beginning. For example, prior to the election, there was a lot of talk about holding an investigation into the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war, how it was completely misused and misrepresented so that the threat from Iraq was all trumped up. Roberts said he didn't think it would be appropriate to hold such divisive hearings prior to the 2004 elections (gee, what a statesman), but then after the elections, he just dropped the whole thing.

Well, now Bush is trying to get Roberts to cover for them on the NSA eavesdropping thing, and Roberts was ready to hold a vote on whether hearings would be necessary back in mid-February. But when he counted the votes, he found out that three Republicans were going to vote for hearings, so he postponed the vote until March 7. Apparently, the delay isn't working, because they're still afraid to have this vote, so now Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, has threatened to change the nature of the committee so that it becomes another rubber-stamp just like everything else in Congress. That's a pretty serious, radical change to the Intelligence Committee, but all that matters these days apparently is loyalty to the Boy King, so all the mechanics of good government will be thrown overboard as needed.

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, has the exhaustive run-down of this news, and he also has some good comments about the way it was reported:

The ineptitude, sloth and confusion of our national journalists is sometimes so extreme that it's actually hard to believe. Here is an AP article, published by CBS News (h/t David Shaughnessy), which reports on the exchange of letters between Reid and Frist but never even mentions, let alone highlights, the only newsworthy aspect of the exchange -- that Frist threatened to re-structure the Intelligence Committee to block the NSA hearings.

Instead, the AP and CBS simply copy the claim in Frist's letter, base the headline on it, and then blindly recite it as the lede. Thus, the headline of the article is "GOP: Politics Blocking Survey of Spy Units." And the first paragraph of the article simply copies Frist's point and "reports" as follows: "Stifling partisanship is preventing the Senate Intelligence Committee from overseeing the nation's spy agencies, the Senate's Republican leadership says."

Frist's purported concern over the way in which "politics" is preventing the Committee from engaging in meaningful oversight is nothing short of hilarious. There is no oversight from the Intelligence Committee because Pat Roberts uses it to rubber-stamp everything the Administration does. And Frist is trying to block meaningful oversight by preventing NSA hearings designed to investigate the eavesdropping program -- hearings that have bipartisan support on the Committee. That's just obvious (but not mentioned in the article).

Frist's claim that he wants to block the NSA hearings in order to ensure that the Committee can engage in meaningful oversight is as Orwellian an example of up-is-downism as you will find. But you certainly wouldn't know that from the AP article or from CBS News, which "neutrally" mold the article's headline and first paragraph to fit Frist's facially deceitful claim, and then worse, never even mention the only newsworthy part of the whole episode.

I saw the exact same article, and I had the same reaction. I mean, if you haven't been following this closely through blogs, you wouldn't have the foggiest idea of what is really going on in the Senate. It's amazing just how badly the media continues to drop the ball as the very principles of Democracy this country was founded upon are tossed out the window so casually. The media these days is truly all about re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

And so, again, during this season of Lent, I recommend you say a silent sarcastic prayer of thanks that we have such an amazingly, unapologetically ultra-liberal media conspiracy in America that tries to undermine our brave war hero president as he fends off the evil terrorists.

Posted by Observer at 12:29 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

42

In the interest of completeness, I suppose I should fill out more books from my now-completed library shelves that aren't Star Wars books. First on the list is a staple most people have already read, Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". What's there to say about this book? It's a little dated, sure, but it's that dry British humor crossed with science fiction, and that's like rocket fuel for the high school or college age male reader. So many of the plot devices and sayings in this book have entered the popular culture, you have to read this at some point just to understand what all of us geeks are talking about.

Of course, anything so popular is going to create a backlash, and there are plenty of people who dislike this book for perfectly good reasons (writing quality isn't so great, plot jumps around and is very hard to follow, too many characters, too many jokes that don't work). But you have to consider that this was a real groundbreaker back when this was released a couple of years after the original Star Wars movie. This was pitched to a generation that grew up watching Star Trek re-runs and lots of bad science fiction on TV and in the movies, and it still works for me.

The only really coherent thing I can say about the plot is that it starts with Arthur Dent, a normal Earth person whose house is about to get demolished to make way for a new road. Arthur soon finds out that the Earth is scheduled for demolition to make room for a new interstellar thoroughfare, and within hours, he's left the smoking rubble behind and is bouncing around the galaxy in an Odyssey-like (or Star Trek like) series of episodes on different planets with different aliens. The series goes on for another three books, mostly of similar quality, and they're very short, so the whole four-book series is like, say, one Robert Jordan magnum opus.

Anyway, when my friends and I read it in high school, we spent weeks quoting various jokes to each other, and we thought it was awfully clever. I don't know that it aged that well, but I still think there are some good laughs in there, and I know overall I enjoyed Douglas Adams a lot more than the author I think is most similar and still kicking around in fantasy, Terry Pratchett. I never did see the movie they made out of this book. I saw pieces of the old BBC movie they made on PBS once or twice, and it looked horrible, and I think that spoiled the whole thing for me. Maybe I'll see if I can get the kids to watch it and tell me what they think.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 PM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2006

Tatooine Ghost

Troy Denning's "Tatooine Ghost" is one of the more recent Star Wars novels, but it actually takes place pretty early in the timeline, shortly before Zahn's three-book cycle featuring Grand Admiral Thrawn and immediately after Dave Wolverton's "The Courtship of Princess Leia". Being recent, this book has the advantage of drawing on plot points from the prequels, particularly Anakin's youth on Tatooine.

In this book, Han and Leia go to Tatooine in an attempt to recover a piece of artwork that has some important intelligence codes embedded within, but remnants of the Empire are after it as well, and they are unusually competent (thanks to the influence of Thrawn). The pair have just finished with the adventures described in Wolverton's book, in which Han kidnaps Leia to prevent her from being married off to some random prince to cement an Important Alliance, so the two of them spend some time here establishing the ground rules of their relationship for later books.

Leia also spends a lot of time finding out about Anakin's childhood, and that's actually the major attraction here, I think. It's one of the first links to prequel material and how the popular characters deal with Anakin's whole history. I also enjoyed the idea of Imperial forces acting competently, and there were flashes of Zahn's Thrawn influence throughout. I can't say I was really compelled by the main plot of the chase for the stolen artwork, but there were enough interesting sideshows to put this book in a category with the other middle-tier Star Wars books.

Posted by Observer at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

The REAL Scandal

Apparently, all over the news networks now is a videotape showing the president and others getting an extensive pre-Katrina briefing, including a "grave warning" about the levees. Afterwards, of course, the president and his minions claimed no one could have anticipated the crisis, etc. Looks like it was probably leaked by Brown or someone sympathetic to Brown.

At any rate, I suspect that by morning, the REAL scandal will not be the incompetence that cost thousands of lives and untold misery. Nope. It will be who leaked this information to embarrass our war president and why is the "liberal" media so eager to talk it up. Because, you see, the administration is NEVER the problem. Not when there's a potential scapegoat (or distraction) handy.

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

Legalized Bribe

Every once in a while, I get an offer to review a textbook in my subject area. I really enjoy doing this because it forces me to become familiar with more books covering the same material but often in a different way. Anything that exposes me to different perspectives is going to help my teaching, and I really get a lot out of reviewing even bad textbooks. Plus I get paid (a little) for it.

In some respects, review offers are little more than legalized bribes. Publishers are bribing people like me to read their textbooks and consider them for my class. They're not as interested in my feedback as they are in exposing me to the book so I will seriously consider it. I mean, it's not like someone would pay me as a guy off the street to review their textbook. That's ok. I do try to be ethical about it and send back serious reviews. I have been told on several occasions that my reviews are double or triple the length of an average review, and I often hear back from the authors about specific points, but maybe every reviewer experiences that. I'll admit that I don't know.

Anyhow, this latest review offer is pretty bad. They're offering a pretty small commission as these things go, but that's ok. They assigned a certain amount of material for me to review, but they didn't send anything. So I wrote back and asked for the material, and the guy responded that they're sending me a finished copy of the first edition of the book, and I can pick whatever section I want to review!

Uh, hello? Ostensibly, you are supposed to review a book before it is written so that the author can incorporate changes before the final copy is published! But I guess what we're doing now is helping the author get ready for the 2nd edition. Okay, fine, whatever.

Posted by Observer at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

The Source

Tom Tomorrow explains why the ConservaBorg are always telling us there is a liberal media bias. We have to find the source of these Red State Spex. Quickly.

Posted by Observer at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)