November 29, 2006

Idle Astronomical Speculation

They say the reason Titan has an atmosphere while Callisto does not is that Titan formed in a colder environment, which was more conducive to capturing and holding gas.

Ok, fine, so why doesn't Triton have an atmosphere? Well, because it was captured and so didn't form next to a gas giant like Titan. Triton could only be captured if Neptune already had another moon and lost it in some kind of momentum exchange. This presumably ejected the other moon (Pluto?) out into the Kuiper Belt.

This other moon presumably formed near Neptune. So shouldn't there be a decent-sized Kuiper Belt object out there with a thick atmosphere -- Neptune's long lost moon? I wonder if one will be found someday.

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

November 28, 2006

Crass Warfare

From Sideshow again, here's a good article by a guy who has annoyed me for a long time: Ben Stein. This actor has a pretty funny I'm-so-smart shtick. The problem is that he's been using it to talk about how wonderful Republicans are for years, even though most of the arguments have been pretty laughable. Looks like he's finally seeing the light, if this editorial is any indication:

NOT long ago, I had the pleasure of a lengthy meeting with one of the smartest men on the planet, Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, in his unpretentious offices in Omaha. We talked of many things that, I hope, will inspire me for years to come. But one of the main subjects was taxes. Mr. Buffett, who probably does not feel sick when he sees his MasterCard bill in his mailbox the way I do, is at least as exercised about the tax system as I am.

Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.

Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. He had each of them make a fraction; the numerator was how much they paid in federal income tax and in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and the denominator was their taxable income. The people in his office were mostly secretaries and clerks, though not all.

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. “How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. “How can this be right?”

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

This conversation keeps coming back to mind because, in the last couple of weeks, I have been on one television panel after another, talking about how questionable it is that the country is enjoying what economists call full employment while we are still running a federal budget deficit of roughly $434 billion for fiscal 2006 (not counting off-budget items like Social Security) and economists forecast that it will grow to $567 billion in fiscal 2010.

When I mentioned on these panels that we should consider all options for closing this gap — including raising taxes, particularly for the wealthiest people — I was met with several arguments by people who call themselves conservatives and free marketers.

One argument was that the mere suggestion constituted class warfare. I think Mr. Buffett answered that one.

Another argument was that raising taxes actually lowers total revenue, and that only cutting taxes stimulates federal revenue. This is supposedly proved by the history of tax receipts since my friend George W. Bush became president.

In fact, the federal government collected roughly $1.004 trillion in income taxes from individuals in fiscal 2000, the last full year of President Bill Clinton’s merry rule. It fell to a low of $794 billion in 2003 after Mr. Bush’s tax cuts (but not, you understand, because of them, his supporters like to say). Only by the end of fiscal 2006 did income tax revenue surpass the $1 trillion level again.

By this time, we Republicans had added a mere $2.7 trillion to the national debt. So much for tax cuts adding to revenue. To be fair, corporate profits taxes have increased greatly, as corporate profits have increased stupendously. This may be because of the cut in corporate tax rates. Anything is possible.

This is easy to check. You compare the performance of corporations who are headquartered offshore and so don't pay taxes vs corporations who pay their taxes like good citizens and have now had those taxes reduced. In general, is there a difference in performance after the tex cuts? I imagine not, but I don't know where to look for this answer.

The third argument that kind, well-meaning people made in response to the idea of rolling back the tax cuts was this: “Don’t raise taxes. Cut spending.”

The sad fact is that spending rises every year, no matter what people want or say they want. Every president and every member of Congress promises to cut “needless” spending. But spending has risen every year since 1940 except for a few years after World War II and a brief period after the Korean War.

The imperatives for spending are built into the system, and now, with entitlements expanding rapidly, increased spending is locked in. Medicare, Social Security, interest on the debt — all are growing like mad, and how they will ever be stopped or slowed is beyond imagining. Gross interest on Treasury debt is approaching $350 billion a year. And none of this counts major deferred maintenance for the military.

The fourth argument in response to my suggestion was that “deficits don’t matter.”

There is something to this. One would think that big deficits would be highly inflationary, according to Keynesian economics. But we have modest inflation (except in New York City, where a martini at a good bar is now $22). On the other hand, we have all that interest to pay, soon roughly $7 billion a week, a lot of it to overseas owners of our debt. This, to me, seems to matter.

Besides, if it doesn’t matter, why bother to even discuss balancing the budget? Why have taxes at all? Why not just print money the way Weimar Germany did? Why not abolish taxes and add trillions to the deficit each year? Why don’t we all just drop acid, turn on, tune in and drop out of responsibility in the fiscal area? If deficits don’t matter, why not spend as much as we want, on anything we want?

The final argument is the one I really love. People ask how I can be a conservative and still want higher taxes. It makes my head spin, and I guess it shows how old I am. But I thought that conservatives were supposed to like balanced budgets. I thought it was the conservative position to not leave heavy indebtedness to our grandchildren. I thought it was the conservative view that there should be some balance between income and outflow. When did this change?

Oh, now, now, now I recall. It changed when we figured that we could cut taxes and generate so much revenue that we would balance the budget. But isn’t that what doctors call magical thinking? Haven’t the facts proved that this theory, though charming and beguiling, was wrong?

THIS brings me back to Mr. Buffett. If, in fact, it’s all just a giveaway to the rich masquerading as a new way of stimulating the economy and balancing the budget, please, Mr. Bush, let’s rethink it. I don’t like paying $7 billion a week in interest on the debt. I don’t like the idea that Mr. Buffett pays a lot less in tax as a percentage of his income than my housekeeper does or than I do.

Can we really say that we’re showing fiscal prudence? Are we doing our best? If not, why not? I don’t want class warfare from any direction, through the tax system or any other way.

Posted by Observer at 07:39 AM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2006

Propaganda

Via The Sideshow, it looks like Laurie David tried to donate a bunch of copies of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" to the National Science Teachers Association, but the NSTA refused (they didn't want to distribute materials from "special interests").

Of course, they already accept propaganda from the oil industry designed to blunt efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels, showing films to kids that sounds like they're right out of a Simpsons episode. David writes about the experience here.

Posted by Observer at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2006

Giant Meltdown

I saw the highlights of the Giants' meltdown against the Titans today. Woo, up 21-0 with 10 mins to go, and the Giants blew the lead, losing 24-21 on a last-second field goal. That, the three losses in a row, the unprofessional crap in the Cowboys game, all that stuff points to a poorly coached, undisciplined team. They have talent, or at least they had talent before the injuries started piling up (maybe they aren't practicing all that well, which leads to injuries from being out of shape, or trying to compensate for being out of position because you don't know what's going on).

I hope the Cowboys go in there and hammer 'em on Sunday. Of course, this will probably be the game where Romo falls back to Earth. You never know...

For now, at least, the Cowboys have the division lead and upcoming games against the other two main contenders for the #2 seed: New York and New Orleans. We can and should win those games, and then at least we'll get more than one playoff game this year, probably.

Posted by Observer at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

Self-Sustaining

Remember, before the Iraq War, when supposedly intelligent men came before Congress and insisted that the whole war might well pay for itself. Iraq could potentially pay for the entire war effort thanks to the oil revenue and so forth, and the whole war (which would be over in six months, at the outside) would hardly cost a cent.

Funny thing.

Turns out the war has now gone on longer than America's involvement in World War II, and is costing us on the order of a few dollars a day for every single person living in the United States. Meanwhile, the insurgency is paying for itself and may even have money to spare to finance other outside terrorist groups.

This is where putting Republicans in charge has gotten us.

Posted by Observer at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2006

Influencing Elections

In the run-up to the November mid-term elections here in the U.S., violence in Iraq steadily increased. The ConservaBorg all said, in unison, that insurgents were monitoring the polls here and cheering for Democratic victory. The wingnuts argued that the main reason for the violence was that Iraqis had a secret plot to influence the elections over here by killing each other to make the situation seem worse.

The liberal media, naturally, propagated this myth uncritically.

Now that the elections have come and gone, it seems that someone forgot to tell the terrorists because violence is still increasing, just as it has during the entirety of 2006.

Gosh, you don't suppose there was some OTHER reason for the worsening situation in Iraq, do you?

Posted by Observer at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2006

Finally, Good Guys Win

I haven't blogged much about Survivor this season, but it has been pretty good so far. A few weeks ago, there were twelve people left, six per tribe. When offered the chance, two people switched to a new tribe, leaving the nicest four people alone in a tribe against eight others who are mostly unlikeable. The four really worked hard and won all the challenges, so coming into this week, the numbers had reduced to 5-4, and the two mutineers were still on the larger tribe.

They merged, and the larger tribe was all cocky about it and had plans to pick off the smaller tribe, as usual in Survivor after the merge. Fortunately, one of the mutineers is a guy named Jonathan, and he seems to overthink everything and so no one trusts him. He's just kinda slimy, always looking for his own advantage, but he's doing something right because he's still around.

To stay alive with his new tribe, which wanted to kick him out right away, he started doing all the work, including catching all the fish. The younger members of that tribe have been slacking off and letting him do it all, kind of laughing at him. I guess that's part of what made him abandon them and start voting with the good guys. That, plus Yul was really smart in thinking to promise an alliance with Jonathan even as far as the final two, and Yul gave Jonathan good reasons to trust him (who wouldn't want Jonathan with them in the final two?).

Still, it wasn't clear until the very end last night what Jonathan would do, and we cheered when his vote was finally revealed. Usually, at the end, Survivor comes down to the tribe full of jerks picking off the nicer, underdog tribe, but not this time. It looks like the nice tribe is going to make it to the end, which may make the end more boring. Somehow, though, I think it will still be good because it always happens that as numbers get smaller, too many alliance promises start to overlap, which means some are going to get broken.

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

November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

I was sick as a dog yesterday, either a flu bug or food poisoning, but today is mostly better. The worst thing about being sick is not being able to regulate my body temperature. 10% of the time, I'm breaking out into sweats, 20% of the time I feel normal, and 70% of the time I simply cannot get warm. Super hot showers or baths or multiple layers of clothes, whatever, I'm still sitting around chattering my teeth, even though it is 80 degrees in the house.

I'm well enough today that I can enjoy it. Great, great food for supper, beautiful sunny day (good Nerf-throwing weather), the whole family here and nobody with somewhere they have to be by a certain time and, to top it off, a dominating Cowboys performance over Tampa Bay.

These last two games for the Cowboys have been incredible, and everyone around here is jumping on the Tony Romo bandwagon. I'm about 80% convinced that they're got it figured out now, but it's going to be next Sunday before I'm sure. This is the same team that got humiliated by the Giants in Dallas five weeks ago. They had damned well better be fired up and ready to play and beat the hell out of the injury-plagued Giants in New York.

If they can do that, they should coast to the 2nd seed in the playoffs and probably get to the NFC Championship in Chicago (which could be ugly), at least if we don't lose anyone else (like Romo) to a major injury.

Posted by Observer at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2006

The Iraq Solution

Tom Tomorrow has the Iraq solution we've been looking for:

Posted by Observer at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2006

Fantasy Pony Plans

Atrios has some good points to make about war fantasies today, following up on AmericaBlog's comments:

Any time you read something that talks about what Iraqis "must" do, without following it up with, "here's how," you're getting one of the Sensible Centrist Arguments, which are, of course, part of the Magical Plans Never To Be Implemented genre. Experts in this genre are often "liberals" who advocated the war and cannot quite bring themselves to admit that it's a crippling strategic blunder, therefore feeling obligated to propose solutions that have no chance of being tried, much less actually working.

If people want to spend their time writing wankery think pieces about fantasy pony plans for Iraq they're free to do so, but they should understand that such things have one very real impact on the Iraq debate. Their implicit (and often explicit) criticism is that people who want to get out of Iraq are unserious, because if they were serious they'd sign on to the fantasy pony plan.

But the choice will never be between fantasy pony plan and getting out, the choice is between starting to get out or letting George W. Bush continue to fuck things up with HIS fantasy pony plan for Iraq. You know, the current mess. Every person who writes an op-ed with yet another fantasy pony plan for Iraq, no matter how wonderful a pony plan it is, helps to ensure that George W. Bush gets to continue fucking things up for just a little bit longer.

Unless you think that's a tremendously lovely idea, please STFU.

That's why, to me, the burden of proof is on those who insist we stay. Not those who insist we stay and implement their own favorite fantasy plan with a competent administration in charge.

No.

The burden of proof is on those who, quite simply, are insisting that we allow the Boy King to carry on this war for another two years. That's exactly what's going to happen. The only difference between now and the last three plus years is that now, if the media won't sabotage it by complaining about how darned ANGRY Democrats are, we might have some Congressional oversight hearings.

Meanwhile, hundreds more troops and Iraqis will die. For what?

Posted by Observer at 05:55 PM | Comments (1)

Bye?

According to the radio guys, I think the most remarkable thing about the Cowboys win over the Colts yesterday is that if the Giants lose tonight at Jacksonville, the Cowboys have the tiebreakers such that they would be the #2 seed if the playoffs started today! With a 6-4 record! That doesn't seem right to me, since NY beat Dallas a few weeks ago, but with so many home games left, I like Dallas' chances to at least make the playoffs.

Looking forward to a great weekend of football, with the Cowboys hosting the Bucs on Thanksgiving (I'll be sick if they give back this win over the Colts by screwing around like they did against Washington) and then Texas vs the Aggies on Friday, which is traditionally what I listen to on the radio while putting up Christmas lights. I'm still trying to figure out how to light this giant new house we have.

Posted by Observer at 09:46 AM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2006

If ...

If I were talented enough to get paid to write about media and politics for a living, I'd like to think I'd be capable of putting it all together like Jamison Foser of Media Matters:

Elections rarely present perfect tests of progressivism versus conservatism. But they are the best way we have of keeping score, and the scoreboard shows that progressives won a resounding victory last week.

Given the magnitude of that victory -- just two years after the media told us that Democrats had become a permanent minority, they won control of both houses of Congress, a majority of governorships, and denied Republicans the pickup of a single congressional district -- we might expect the media to praise the strategic brilliance of the Left, just as they spent much of the past six years lavishing praise on Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman and, basically, everyone who has ever set foot inside the Republican National Committee.

Given the magnitude of the Republicans' loss, we might expect the journalists and pundits who have so mercilessly mocked Democrats as bumblers and fools, the political equivalent of the Washington Generals, to turn their snide comments and patronizing jokes on the GOP. With Karl Rove apparently wandering around in a daze, wondering what the hell happened, surely his spectacularly incompetent reading of the electorate has earned him months, if not years, of ridicule by the likes of Norah O'Donnell, Chris Matthews, and Mark Halperin.

Better yet, given the thumpin' the GOP took at the hands of progressives -- and given the public's giddy reaction to the election results -- we might expect a rash of news reports about how out of touch the Republican Party is; how its far-right agenda has been rejected; how the GOP is now a regional party, unable to appeal to voters outside of the deep South.

Certainly the Republicans' reaction to last Tuesday's shellacking only feeds into such a narrative. Surveying the smoldering wreckage of the Republican Party (a phrase we first used in September 2005, when the GOP's collapse was obvious to all but the nation's political pundits) and presumably noting that the only one of the "big six" Senate races they won was the one in which they leveled what were widely seen as transparently racist attacks on the Democratic candidate, the Senate Republican caucus chose as its new second-in-command the party's most famous racist, Trent Lott.

We all know how the pundits would chortle if Democrats took an electoral thumpin', then responded by elevating their most liberal members to the party leadership. We'd hear how their policies and their demeanor were anathema to "real Americans" -- and how their reaction to defeat shows just how clueless these effete liberals are.

But those waiting for similar treatment of the GOP at the hands of the nation's political reporters and pundits shouldn't hold their breath. It isn't coming.

[...]

If the public isn't well-served by the sort of inane, substance-free mockery and derision to which the media have subjected progressives in recent years, such treatment of conservatives would merely even the score, not necessarily constitute a move toward more responsible treatment of serious issues. So we might see the lack of sophomoric taunting as a positive.

That would be a mistake. The political media aren't becoming more responsible; they're simply continuing to direct their scorn at Democrats and progressives. Just this week, media have hyped purported Democratic disarray while downplaying or ignoring altogether GOP infighting; falsely suggested that Nancy Pelosi is as unpopular as President Bush; asserted that Democrats -- who do not yet actually control Congress and won't until next year -- are "starting to feel some of the pressure" of catching Osama bin Laden without explaining how Bush and the GOP let him get away; and suggested that Nancy Pelosi, who hasn't even become speaker of the House yet, is already "damaged goods."

Meanwhile, Trent Lott, who has as good a claim on being "damaged goods" as anyone, is the beneficiary of a media whitewash of his history of associating himself with racist organizations and ideas. Fox News, not typically known for subtlety or for downplaying controversy, told viewers that Lott "ran into a little bit of difficulty, but now he's making a comeback." Yes, that unpleasantness about his suggestion that America would be better off had a segregationist been elected president is behind him, and Lott is now ready, we presume, to act as a uniter, not a divider. Right.

[...]

Meanwhile, who gets praised by the media?

Michael Steele, who ran a deeply dishonest campaign, the primary message of which was that he was a puppy-loving (we have no reason to doubt this is true) Democrat (this most certainly is not), is heralded as the most clever of campaigners; a man who ran so masterful a campaign, he must feel like a winner. Even though he lost. By double-digits. That cold, hard reality doesn't stop the likes of Wolf Blitzer from channeling Trent Walker ("Who's the big winner here tonight at the casino? Huh? Mikey, that's who. Mikey's the big winner. Mikey wins").

And, of course, there's John McCain. No matter what the outcome, the political media know one thing: It's good news for John McCain. An election in which the voters made quite clear their disapproval for a war McCain has enthusiastically supported is portrayed as good for McCain. McCain wants to send more troops to Iraq, public support for which is at a meager 17 percent. That's "would you like to go hunting with Dick Cheney?" territory, but CNN's Bill Schneider announces that McCain's presidential ambitions got a boost from "a midterm where Iraq was a big issue."

And it's only going to get worse, as anyone who remembers the media's behavior during the Clinton-Gore era can tell you. The media that treated Bill Clinton's haircut as a bigger story than George W. Bush's avoidance of both the draft and his obligations to the National Guard is most certainly not going to react to the public's strong preference for progressive policies and leaders by treating them more accurately than they have in recent years.

Digby told it like it is:

There are no honeymoons for Democrats. Remember that. And "moral authority" is about haircuts and Hollywood, not torture and illegal wars. It is not merely a fight against the Republicans or a fight over politics and policy. It is a non-stop battle with the press to cover events with seriousness and responsibility. For some reason, when Democrats are in power the press corps immediately goes from being merely shallow to insufferable, sophomoric assholes.

No, it will only get worse. Matt Drudge rules their world, after all. And the Republican National Committee rules Drudge's world. The media's commitment to believing that they hold those in power accountable (if not to actually doing so) coupled with the Right's success in browbeating journalists into doing their bidding, will lead to all-too-predictable results. Don't take our word for it; here's former Washington Post reporter William Powers, writing for the National Journal:

Journalists are more aggressive under Democratic rule. This doesn't jibe with the stereotype of reporters as liberals, but it's the stereotype that winds up undermining itself. When Democrats are in power, there's a huge incentive for reporters not to appear too sympathetic and thereby confirm the old liberal-bias charge. Thus, despite the friendly coverage we're seeing in this honeymoon period, the Democratic restoration will eventually produce tougher coverage than we saw of the GOP Congress, as media outlets strive to prove that they aren't soft on the Democrats.

[...]

The Right, having been spanked at the ballot box, will increase their attacks on the media, blaming journalists for the unpopularity of their failed ideas and leaders. Journalists, already carrying water for the GOP -- wittingly or not -- will apologize for not carrying more, internalize the complaints, and reflect them in new reports filled with an ever-growing deluge of conservative misinformation.

Unless ...

Unless progressives react to the midterm elections not with a sigh of relief and misguided trust that, having flexed their political muscles, they'll start to get a fair shake from the media, but with a full-throated and sustained insistence it happen.

"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," President Bush declared after his 2004 re-election. He spent it incompetently, but he was right that electoral results give the winner some capital, if they are willing to use it.

Progressives must take that lesson to heart and insist on fair and accurate treatment from the media. When media get something wrong, or sneeringly dismiss progressives and their goals, they have to hear about it, loudly and from every direction. From every direction. It isn't enough for progressive leaders to be silently thankful that Media Matters and FAIR and a few other organizations and blogs correct the media. They must join in; they must make clear to news organizations that they won't be pushed around and marginalized. The American people have spoken, they prefer progressive policies and leaders, and it's damn well time the pundits and journalists start internalizing that.

A good place to start, as always, is with the cesspool that is cable news. Nearly every progressive and Democratic organization in Washington has televisions tuned to CNN and MSNBC and Fox News during the day. When a cable channel broadcasts a falsehood, or a mocking, sneering portrayal of a progressive leader, their producers and reporters and executives should promptly hear from those organizations. Washington is a small town; progressive leaders and the media who undermine them with falsehoods and petty smears interact on a regular basis. It's time for that interaction to include pressure to change.

One change that progressives should push for immediately is an end to the imbalance that finds cable channels granting television programs to overt Republican shills like Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck, while progressive hosts are nowhere to be found.

[...]

The imbalance extends beyond the cable shows and beyond the roster of hosts. The Sunday after Democrats took advantage of voter disapproval of the Iraq war, NBC's Meet the Press brought viewers two guests, neither of whom were elected as Democrats, and both of whom are among the nation's most prominent supporters of the war. The Sunday shows have justified their reliance on conservatives and Republicans to fill out their guest lists by noting that the GOP has been in power. Now that Democrats have taken control of Congress, progressives should insist they be represented on these shows.

As we noted last week (and as Glenn Greenwald, among others, has explained), the major media have for far too long continued to treat as "serious" those who have been consistently wrong about the great issues of our time, while dismissing as unserious those who were right. The American people spoke last week. Progressives must use that unambiguous statement to fight back against media that have stacked the deck against them.

Posted by Observer at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2006

As I Predicted...

Republicans are now saying that filibusters are a necessary and important part of government. No longer do they represent an "extra-constitutional" abuse of power. No longer do the Senate rules need to be changed by a simple majority vote to eliminate filibusters.

What a bunch of asshole hypocrites.

As usual with the "liberal" media, they'll stand around picking their noses and failing to point out the obvious. What's okay for one side isn't for the other. For example, when the Democratic party has an election in the House over a leadership position, they are commonly portrayed as a "party in disarray", and the losers are humiliated and "on notice" for their ineptitude. When the Republicans do the same, it is reported on, as it should be, as a normal part of the process, in which elections are held and decisions are made, even though the vote is much closer and far more contentious.

Thanks for enabling that script to live on, "liberal" media! What would we ever do without you?

Posted by Observer at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2006

Am I the Crazy One?

Or are the parents who are purchasing breast implant surgeries for their daughters graduating from high school?

What the hell?!?

Posted by Observer at 04:21 PM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2006

Count Your Blessings

It's something I do every day, sometimes because I'm prompted.

Recently I was helping a student decide on courses for the next semester, and she told me she was going to have to retake some classes from the previous semester because it was around then that she discovered her mom had a devastating illness and would die within a year. This semester was a near total loss for her as well, mostly due to all the travel back home, and the coming Spring may be worse, which will just kill her chances for post-graduate education in her field.

So we set up a bare bones schedule for her, minimum numbers of hours with two tough classes to retake and one blowoff class. As she left, she told me she hoped I would be "prouder" of her grades the next time we met. I talked with her some more and I hope I helped her understand that she has so much to be proud of, taking such challenging classes, sticking it out through so much grief, still determined to make it work, such a mature attitude about her career and what she needs to do. If she makes it through, I will work hard to make sure her recommendation letter is every bit as strong as she deserves.

I can't imagine what I would have done in college had I learned my mom would die in a year. I'm sure I didn't have the maturity back then to handle it.

Being a teacher of so many students, it is inevitable that I see some tragic stuff, including current and former students passing away or going through serious problems. Sometimes it makes me feel like I've skated through life, blessed with so little grief.

I'm thankful, no doubt.

Posted by Observer at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2006

Shopping

We're trying to decide whether to get the little V-tech gaming system for D*niel (and later for B*n). It's a little gaming system with educational games starring Thom*s the T*nk Engine, B*b the Builder, etc. I have to say I'm a little tempted to buy the Nint*ndo Wii system for the kids, just because it looks so cool, but I guess I can wait until there are more games out and so forth. We're already going to be spending a lot on them for various things, and there are a few other big gifts we'd want to get them first, I think.

Posted by Observer at 10:53 PM | Comments (1)

November 14, 2006

Clueless

It should go without saying, but because some people take wingnuts seriously, then I guess it doesn't go without saying. While some of us can manage to have a real debate about various aspects of the war in Iraq, it continues to be true that a large number of wingnuts are still living in a complete fantasy land on this topic.

These people don't even have the basic math skills one should be expected to acquire in primary school, let alone basic logic and situational awareness. It's hard to pity them because they're so damned hateful, but sometimes I just can't help it. And it makes me angry at the things in this world (like the corporations that control talk radio and wingnut news) that nurture such feebleminded beliefs for whatever cynical goal they have in mind.

Posted by Observer at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2006

Out Now

Although it isn't likely to happen, here's a good discussion of why leaving Iraq right now, leaving behind only an over-the-horizon reaction force, is the best of a multitude of horrific options.

Posted by Observer at 08:14 AM | Comments (9)

November 12, 2006

New Recruits

As Atrios points out today, it is interesting that the Republicans are saying we need to increase the number of troops in Iraq while at the same time so many Republican political operatives and lobbyists will be out of work because of the change in control of Congress.

It's a match made in heaven, letting all of these Young Republicans go over there and bravely fight the war they've been cheering on all this time. I'm sure they'll all sign right up.

Posted by Observer at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

Inconsistent

Amazingly, if the playoffs started today, I think the Cowboys would be in them. We took apart the poor Cardinals this weekend, proving once again that this is a team that dominates teams it ought to, except when it doesn't (like last week's pathetic loss at Washington, whose dreams the Eagles crushed this week). Tony Romo has shut pretty much everyone up around here, including me, by being pretty damned solid. He's shining while the rest of the team is inconsistent.

Next week, the unbeaten Colts come visiting a Dallas team that just won two out of three on the road. If we can win the turnover battle by something like 5-1, then I think we have a shot for Vanderjagt to miss a last second field goal and cost us the game.

Posted by Observer at 08:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2006

Razz and HORSE

I finished in the money in two freeroll tournaments this week, and my bankroll is now built up to $10 (would be $11 but I spent one dollar on a tourney that I barely finished out of the money on). The first one was Razz, which is like 7-card stud in structure except the goal is to have the low hand (straights and flushes don't count), so 5-4-3-2-A is the nuts, and usually 8-high or 7-high is a winner.

Took me a few tries to learn it, but I guess I picked it up pretty well because I was about 10th out of 120 remaining (originally 1800) when the power went out. By the time the power came back, I had almost no chips left, but I still finished 27th (top 27 get paid). I like the limit tourneys because I am better at grinding it out, and I don't suffer from the lottery style all-in bets.

Then I tried HORSE a few times, and I must have that down pretty well, too, because in that one I finished fourth despite missing about 45 mins of it to go to the grocery store. HORSE is a limit tournament where you play Hold 'Em, Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, 7-card Stud and Stud Hi/Lo (also called Eight or Better, with the game rotating every 10 mins when the blinds increase). The rules take too long to explain for a couple of those games, but you can look 'em up if you are interested.

I may take up ring games again only this time try my hand at limit games. I'm pretty good at calculating odds and figuring expected value in a limit game, regardless of what exact game is being played.

Posted by Observer at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Old Dogs, New Tricks

M*chelle and I have been attending some parenting classes on Sunday evenings at our church while the kids are doing their youth stuff. We learn something useful almost every week. Some of the highlights:

Reflection: A kid is throwing a tantrum, how do you respond? Reflect their feelings. For example:

Kid: "I want to go to daddy's office!"

Me: "You want to go to daddy's office?"

Kid: "Yeah!"

Me: "Wow, me, too. Wouldn't it be great if we could go?"

Kid: "Yeah!"

Me: "I wish we could go to daddy's office."

Kid: (silence)

Believe it or not, half the time, the issue is then dropped by the three-year-old. He has such a short attention span that really all you need to do is acknowledge his feelings for a little bit, then he'll move on to something else. He knows we're not going to daddy's office, and he just wants to vent. If you are combative in return or repeatedly assert the opposite of what he wants, it turns into a "Yes! No!" match, and the parent never wins those.

When that doesn't work, you think of choices that are acceptable. For example, the child is screaming and crying because he wants to eat a snack instead of his supper.

Kid: "I don't want my supper!"

Me: "Ok, I'm going to give you a choice. You can either sit down here at the table and eat your supper with us, or you can go play quietly in your room for five minutes."

Kid: "I'm going to my room!"

Me: "Ok, that's a good choice."

5-10 minutes later, I repeat the choice, and usually it ends up with the kid eating his supper. Usually, one of the choices is to go play in your room.

Another good one when two of the older kids are fighting is to send them out to the front yard to resolve it. Sounds crazy, but the kids are way too embarrassed to be fighting in public, and I don't really care what the neighbors think when they see two kids standing out in the front yard glaring at each other. It doesn't have to happen more than once or twice.

One of my favorites is asking the kids to design their own punishment. For example, the other night I went up to Ashl*y's room to ask her to help us find a flashlight. She was extremely rude and disrespectful, threw a tantrum, etc. I calmly waited for it to end, then after a while of leaving her alone, I came back and told her that there would be consequences for her behavior. She had until morning to come up with a suitable punishment for herself, and if it wasn't acceptable to me, I would give her something truly nasty.

That has the double effect of forcing her to reflect on her behavior and also relieving me of the duty of coming up with creative, effective punishments. She came down the next morning and offered to write a couple of pages of lines, which she did when she got home from school later in the day. She then proceeded to be snotty to her brothers and everyone else during that same morning, so she spent the day at school figuring out a punishment for that. According to the group leaders, kids almost always come up with an effective punishment that is acceptable to the parent, but they have to be old enough.

Results, as in true differences in behavior, take a while, but I'm willing to see if this works. Some of the advice is tough. When a kid yells at you, it's really hard not to yell back, at some level. Anyway, that's some of what we've learned. Whether we can do all this new stuff consistently, I don't know.

Posted by Observer at 09:05 PM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2006

The Aftermath

Toles has a sequel to his pre-election cartoon from October 30:

Posted by Observer at 11:50 AM | Comments (2)

November 08, 2006

No Blowjobs. Move Along.

Apparently, the president can brazenly lie to the "liberal" media a few days before the election about an issue most Americans have pretty strong opinions about, but as long it isn't about blowjobs, it's no big deal.

Glad that's all cleared up.

Posted by Observer at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

Who Knew?

According to the liberal media, apparently conservatives won yesterday's elections.

Coulda fooled me.

Posted by Observer at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

Comments Fixed

Sometimes when the spam gets to be too much, I have to change the name of my comment script to stem the tide for a while. If that isn't enough or I don't do it often enough, the powers that be that host this blog come in and do a "chmod -x" on my comment script without telling me. That apparently happened a few days ago without me realizing it. Should be fixed now.

Posted by Observer at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

Guess What Just Became "OK" Again?

Filibustering.

For the record, for people like me, it has been "ok" all along. Now that Republicans are back in the minority in the Senate, I suspect it will become "ok" for them, too.

I have no illusions that anything positive (like fixing the tax system and getting us out of debt or ending the Iraq war) will happen anytime soon. The next two years is all about using the Congressional tools we now have to expose the cockroaches crawling around beneath the Boy King's throne for the past six years. With any luck, we can break through the facade of the "wise old men" of the traditional media, who just think partisan hearings about fraud and corruption are horribly, horribly uncivil, and who will never pass up a chance to mention just how "liberal" the "Democrat" committee chairs are.

The battle now will be whether the Democratic majority can successfully expose and get people angry about all the crap that's been going on for the past six years without any Congressional oversight. Or will the media just decide not to cover it, that's it's just "partisan warfare" unworthy of the kind of attention given to, you know, episodes like the Lewinsky affair?

If the Democrats can get around the media and dramatically, effectively expose the crap that's been going on when Republicans were in power, it shouldn't matter much who is running for president in 2008. It will be a landslide, and we'll have both the Executive and Legislative branches back in Democratic hands so that Democrats can be blamed for all the nastiness we have to endure to get out of debt and get out of Iraq. If it all works out, we'll have at least two or four years to clean up after the mess Bush made. If Democrats ever figure out how to sway the traditional media back to objectivity, it could last a lot longer.

Posted by Observer at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2006

Voting Advice

In a neighborhood full of olds, don't try to vote first thing in the morning.

When I voted today, they asked me if I wanted to vote electronically or using a paper ballot. I almost laughed, but I decided not to be an ass, so I just politely requested a paper ballot. It's not paranoid to want a voting paper trail. It's just common sense, and it shouldn't be a big deal to expect it as a default.

It felt good to vote against my Republican representative and senator (and governor), even though it is yelling into a hurricane of morons voting for God Jesus Flag Slow-Motion Eagle Bush Military Terrorist Killer Republicans.

I was thinking about this a lot yesterday, and I decided that even though I really hate what the Republican party stands for right now with pretty much every fiber of my being, I think it would be ideal if they could control at least something. The preferable situation would be a Democratic president and house, plus a Republican senate, I think. The last six years has shown how toxic it is for our country when the legislative branch won't provide any oversight on anything, especially military operations but also wasteful domestic programs.

Whatever party is "out of power" at the moment needs to have a voice, which means control of one of the chambers of Congress even if, God help us all, it means giving Republicans a victory at something. There has to be a "loyal opposition" in this country, not matter how slimy, and it needs to be heard. I hope Dems can win one or both of the houses of Congress this time around. Life will be a lot more fun, and the country will be a lot better off for it, even if we still have the Boy King hanging around our neck for another two years.

Posted by Observer at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Pop Quiz

As the election approaches, one party features a candidate who is pretending to be a member of the opposition party so that he can get votes.

The same party is also trying to intimidate certain segments of voters or prevent them from voting by systematically making it more difficult to vote in some areas.

The same party is "robocalling" people, pretending to be the other guy at first, repeatedly calling back to annoy people and get them to vote against the other guy, etc.

If you have to guess which party is doing this stuff consistently, nationwide, then you need to educate yourself. Here is a good place to start.

Posted by Observer at 08:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2006

Humbaba Diet, Cont.

Three months into the change in habits, and it's going great.

Dark blue is the daily measure, pink is the seven-day moving average, yellow is the fourteen-day, and light blue is the twenty-one-day.

The weight loss may be slowing down a tad, but I still broke through 190 over the weekend. Most of my pants do not fit me well anymore, and I am pretty sure I'm going to have to buy a new belt to at least hold them up without using the very last hole in the belt. Some of my extra-large dress shirts seem to be getting a little long in the sleeve, too, I guess because they don't have such a broad torso to squeeze around. Another 10-15 pounds, and I may have to buy entirely new clothes or I'll look ridiculous.

I'm still going with only one snack a day (I cheated on Halloween a little), like a big peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie or a little bag of peanut MnM's or maybe a slurpee, and I'm also limiting the size of my meals, paying attention to when I get full so I stop eating. And I don't generally eat anything at all after supper. It's working great.

I've heard the new fad lately is this "water diet", where you are supposed to drink an eight ounce glass of water before, during and after every meal. I don't know if I buy that. I've always drunk a ton of water, and I easily down a 24-32 ounce glass of water (or skim milk with breakfast) with every meal, plus I usually have a cup or bottle of water handy to sip from all day long. That didn't stop me from bulking up to nearly 220 pounds.

I guess for people who don't usually drink much water (especially if they drink pop instead), it will make a difference in the short term, but I doubt it will help much in the long run. I always just drink water or, at restaurants, iced tea if I feel like I shouldn't look like a cheapskate for not ordering a drink. Usually, I ask for both tea and water so that the waiter doesn't have to come back to my table five times during the meal to refill my tea glass. I have the water as backup.

Posted by Observer at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2006

More of the Same

So how did the traditional media respond to Jamison Foser's plea last week that they spend the last several days before the election focussing on the issues?

Poorly.

Posted by Observer at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2006

Seriously...

Republicans, it seems, are worried that if the Democrats take control of the House or Senate, the level of discourse may be lowered. Why, those "Gutter-crats" might go so far as to level disgusting personal attacks against the President and other Republican leaders!

Of course, everyone knows that's just a sick joke. They're just trying to get the "wise old men of Washington", you know, the conventional wisdom makers who got us into war with Iraq over nothing, to tut-tut over those unruly, angry Democrats and thus win over moderates and independents (in other words, Moron Americans who haven't made up their minds about what the difference is between the two parties).

Posted by Observer at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

Irony, Thy Name Is Wingnut

Apparently, the 101st Fighting Keyboarders is all excited because the Bush Administration, at the behest of the wingnut crowd, has posted online a bunch of unfiltered Arabic documents supposedly captured from within Iraq that show detailed plans of how to build an atomic bomb.

Their intention, after all this time, is to prove that Iraq really really really WAS about to build WMD's and blow up America. They just won't give up on that myth. The documents pre-date the first gulf war.

Here's the problem. They are posting detailed instructions, in Arabic, on how to build nuclear weapons on the internet. Instructions far more detailed than have ever been posted publicly before.

Iran will likely be interested. But hey, so what if an Islamic nation can use this to build a bomb, as long as our #1 goal, unfliching, unyielding and absolute support for our commander in chief is accomplished! These people have already shown that they'll be happy to support any kind of even treasonous activity, certainly activity that is considered unconstitutional, if the Boy King says it is ok.

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

November 02, 2006

Shirt Blackmail

We're very proud of how well J*stin has been running for his cross-country team lately. Despite a painful injury, he managed to run a decent enough time at the district meet that he helped his team qualify for the regional meet this weekend. This is a goal J*stin and his team have been working toward since the beginning of the summer, which day after day of early morning runs, running camp (that he paid for with his job money). So it was a pretty big deal for them to win (convincingly) their district meet.

So J*stin comes home from school earlier today and basically explains with a very snotty attitude that I have to buy him a white long sleeved Underarm*r garment so that he matches up with everyone else on his team. If I don't get it for him (mind you, it is a VERY busy evening with trips to and from soccer pratice, grocery store, cooking burgers, holding an outdoor lab for students in the evening), then he will be disqualified and unable to run at regional "because the whole team has to match."

I smell bullshit, so I called the coach, who explained that, no, of course not, the boys and the coach had talked about this two days ago, and of course, they don't need to all have this shirt, etc. J*stin was pretty pissed at me, still, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that the coach contradicted him. He's just been really moody and irritable all week, I think because he's stressed out and his stomach is churning about this enormously important race coming up. I hope he does well, and I hope we get some semblance of an easier-to-live-with kid after this weekend.

In some ways, it's nice to see him acting like a normal teenager, but in other ways, I want to kick myself in the teeth for saying that.

Posted by Observer at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2006

Patron Saint of Tools

As Atrios points out today, Saint John McCain, the darling of the "liberal" mainstream media, has sure been outspoken lately about John Kerry's remarks yesterday. He's just playing his part, of course, trying to drum up outrage over nothing since FEAR FEAR FEAR doesn't seem to be as effective as usual in moving the polls toward the Republicans.

I wonder why he hasn't been so visible when Cheney started reassuring people that, yes, we really do torture and it is no big deal. Where is Saint John on our handing over control of American troop positioning to Iraqi politicians? For that matter, where is the whole wingnut crowd on this? Could you imagine the reaction were a Democrat allowing some foreign leader to give orders to our troops? As the Bull Moose says, if the words "command American troops" were ever used in the same sentence as a foreign leader's name during the administration of a Democratic president, can there be any doubt that preliminary impeachment proceedings would be underway within 48 hours, not to mention talk of it on every talk show in the world, even "liberal" CNN?

You can check Memeorandum for yourself, no right wing blogger is even talking about this. They're trying to deflect all of the attention over to Kerry. Surely the super-duper-ultra-socialist-liberal traditional media won't let that happen. Oh, wait, too late, I already read the morning headlines. It's all Kerry.

Imagine that.

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