August 31, 2007

Hoping

We're told now by one of M*chelle's contacts (recommended to us by our pastor, no less) that we are scheduled to be fixed and reconnected tomorrow morning. We'll pay overtime to get it done, but damn will that be worth it.

I'll feel a lot better when this is done, though, given our horrific luck this week.

Oh, and still no call from Mr. 230. What a shock.

Posted by Observer at 02:59 PM | Comments (0)

Ups and Downs

M*chelle this morning after my experience got a few more recommendations, and we found a guy who not only can fix this problem cheaply, he can also hook us back up because we don't need a permit and inspection in his opinion (and a few others we spoke to agree), and the cost will be more like 400 instead of 3k. Now we have to find out if he's willing to fix this (or get someone from his company to fix this) today provided we pay for overtime or something. Otherwise, we wait until Tuesday.

I really hope to hear back from them soon so that when that jackass calls back after 230 today (assuming he even does), I can tell him to go to hell very politely.

Posted by Observer at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)

Waiting

I talked to an electrician yesterday morning who was supposed to get this process started (for a permit to get us hooked back up) and call me back to set up a time to meet after 3pm yesterday. I called him at 5 and 8 last night and left messages, but no response.

I called him this morning from a different number. I figured if he saw my cell number come up, he probably wouldn't answer. He picked up, and I chewed him out for not calling me. He says he lost my number. Dude, I own a fucking cell phone. I know if I call your cell phone then you have my fucking number.

He apologized sincerely and said he would call us by 230 today and be over to analyze the problem, but he also said it is unlikely they'd get our power restored until after the weekend. God, we've had the shittiest luck with this. Power has been mostly out since Monday, and still we haven't even begun to fix the problem.

I suppose this is about a thousandth of the kind of frustration that New Orleans people must feel. I'm trying to call another company, but they haven't picked up their phone, and I doubt they'd come out today anyway with our luck. I hate being so damned helpless.

Posted by Observer at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2007

Podcasts

As I continue to wait for a call back from the electrician that is supposed to fix our problem, I've been looking for some new podcasts. I've tried a few and been mostly disappointed. I'm not much for tech/gadget podcasts, so I haven't tried any of those. I kinda like the MacCast, which had some interesting info about a few applications I use, but it is a bit long and doesn't always cover stuff I care about.

I would really like it if my favorite local sports talk station would podcast their shows, but all you can get is a few five-minute segments per day. I've tried downloading their stream to an mp3 file, but I can't get it to work. I imagine the software that their website uses for broadcast is designed to make that difficult. I'd pay a premium if they offered it for subscription, but they don't.

ESPN's Poker Edge is pretty good when I'm in the mood for poker talk, and Phil Gordon hosts it. There's a really interesting podcast I haven't used yet called Podrunner, which has techno music to a variety of different rates so you can design your own workout, but for now, I would rather listen to my own music. Art of Noise makes some pretty good workout music, actually.

I've tried several liberal political podcasts, but I just haven't been that impressed. The only Air America show any more that I would really like to hear is Randi Rhodes, so of course, that's behind a subscription wall. I finally sprung for it in frustration tonight. The only other half-decent show I tried was Stephanie Miller, but that just didn't click with me, and you can only get short segments without paying. What I heard didn't make me want to pay.

I'm also trying a few other new things, like Slate's podcast and a couple of different science podcasts (I prefer longer segments to the 5-6 minute ones that seem to be the most popular), including NPR's Science Friday, a SETI podcast (about lots of stuff, not just SETI) and the Scientific American podcast. We'll see how it goes, and now that I'm subscribing to Randi, I may not have time to listen to it all.

Posted by Observer at 07:05 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2007

Extended Stay

We've checked in to a nearby extended stay motel for as long as takes to fix the electric problem. If we're insanely lucky, it would be by Friday, but my guess is next week sometime. We were like Mary and Joseph looking for an inn, but we had better luck (got this place on the 4th try). One room for us and the little ones, one room for the big kids.

Costs us, but it is only a fraction of what I expect the electrician's bill to be. This is why I'm so debt-averse, not that that's helped us all that much, but when something like this comes up, it is nice to have money in the bank and lots of room on the credit card if we need it.

We'll probably send one or both of the little ones to stay with grandparents for part or all of this time until we have power back (our four-year-old is already with grandma since Tuesday afternoon, the day after we first lost our air conditioner). I just got done with one final run to the house to salvage everything we could from the freezers. It was like shopping. Good thing they have wireless internet here, and I have my Intel mac here with Airport.

The poor pugs will be lonely while all this is going on, but we're only five minutes from the house, so I imagine we'll be back and forth to check on them. Time to take a breath now and count our blessings. Maybe this will turn into an expensive little mini-vacation if we can get the kids well taken care of.

I've already read the old ones the riot act. If there's trouble, I won't bother listening to a bunch of hearsay testimony about who started it, who hit who, shut up, etc. I will just randomly pick one of them to stay at the house alone with the power off.

I think that promise got their attention.

Posted by Observer at 11:08 PM | Comments (4)

Screwed

The electrician sent out by the home warranty company tells us we need the whole meter base and circuit breaker board replaced and rewired, plus permits, etc. for a total of around $3k. We're getting a 2nd and maybe even a 3rd opinion, and in the meantime, no power. God, what a fucking pain in the ass.

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

Signals

Via Toles:

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

Moving Parts

After many phone calls and frustration yesterday, we are finally going to get the electricity fixed today, supposedly. The problem appears to be a faulty lug behind the electric meter. He could've said is a faulty phase coupling warp field generator behind the electric meter, and I would've nodded just as stupidly.

Since our house isn't wired right, they have to cut off our power this morning before the electrician can fix the problem, then we have to call the power company again to get them to come out and turn the power back on. If we have power and air conditioning both by 5pm today, it will be a minor miracle. Otherwise, it may be time to relocate the crew to the Marriott for the night.

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

August 28, 2007

AAAAAH Hahahahaha

What else can you do but laugh when yet another Republican Congresscreature spends his career extolling family values and bashing gays only to get caught soliciting sex in a popular men's bathroom/hookup spot. Glenn Greenwald catches the wingnut bloggers making fools of themselves again (in other words, just another day in the ConservaBorg collective).

See, it turns out that last year, a blogger (Mike Rogers) known for "outing" prominent people and politicians busted this guy, Larry Craig, based on lots of reports of naughty business he was engaging in. The wingnuts were outraged! How low will those liberals stoop to discredit our leaders, they wondered. This from the Monica Lewinsky panty-sniffing party.

It doesn't even matter whether he is gay or straight or did any of this stuff, they sniffed. Here is one example of many Greenwald dug up:

I couldn't care less whether Craig is attracted to men or women; it's really none of my business, and none of Rogers' either. As long as he's not importuning minors, then it makes no difference to anyone except Craig and his family, and that's if the allegations have any basis in fact.

That same blogger yesterday said "at the least", Craig should confirm that he isn't running again. I also find the attitude toward "consenting adults" refreshing. I just wonder when it will be applied to Democratic politicians who get blowjobs.

It's really amazing just how much the moral values crowd is willing to distance from one of their own as long as an election isn't on the immediate horizon.

Posted by Observer at 10:15 AM | Comments (4)

August 27, 2007

Swampy

That's what our house feels like now. Our electricity is sorta half-on due to a faulty plug/switch/fuse or something at our electric meter, so now we are waiting for an electrician to come out and fix it. If we're super-lucky, it will be today, but who knows. It the meantime, our high-wattage stuff isn't drawing power, but the lights and computers work, so no air conditioning to speak of. The temp started this morning at about 80 and has been climbing a degree or two per hour inside the house.

Posted by Observer at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

Star Wars Picks

Via Bob Sturm's Blog comes this Star Wars themed NFL season predictions page. Very funny.

Posted by Observer at 09:54 AM | Comments (1)

August 26, 2007

Fraud

I remember when it used to be big news that the Pentagon paid $200,000 for a screw or something. Why is the immense war profiteering fraud going on every day in Iraq not making headlines every day?

Does it possibly have something to do with the fact that all of the rich executives with major holdings in these companies are Republicans, giving to Republican candidates, friends of the Republican publishers of all these "liberal" newspapers and networks?

Just wondering.

Posted by Observer at 09:50 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2007

Raising Blinds

We moved the one-year-old, Obi-Wan, into his big brother D*niel's room, but not before M*chelle repainted it the same denim blue that we had in the baby's room in the old house. We also took out the crappy vinyl blinds that were covering a bow window in there and replaced them with a set of 2" faux wood blinds. Wow, what a huge difference. Those are very, very nice and only about a hundred bucks to cover the whole window (30 x 72, 47 x 72, 30 x 72).

We have two more identical windows elsewhere in the house, one in the kitchen and one in the library, which faces the front yard (so D*aniel's window is symmetric with it, one on the left edge and one on the right edge of the house as seen from the front). So today we replaced those blinds plus a large picture window (about 70 x 70) in our main living area, also in the front of the house adjacent to the library (which is meant to be a formal dining room).

Our 13-year-old's (C*dy's) room has the picture window that is symmetric with the picture window in the living room, but we never see that, so we didn't replace it.

Actually, wait a minute...

Writing that sentence made me think to walk out to the front yard to look at our house from the street. The new blinds look infinitely better in the three visible windows, but C*dy's window now sticks out like a sore thumb, so I guess we gotta go do that, too. Blech. We have two upstairs small windows that face outward that should match, but one of them is in the bathroom. I'm not sure I want to put blinds in the window that is in the upstairs shower. I wonder if they are waterproof...

Posted by Observer at 05:19 PM | Comments (2)

August 24, 2007

Bone of Arc

I've found a good Necromancer build, though it is different from any of the builds people have published on the Diablo forums. It's really easy. You put a point in every curse, 20 in raise skeleton, 20 in skeleton mastery, 20 in bone spirit, 1 in revive, then any leftovers you put into things that synergize with bone spirit (like bone prison, which C*dy tells me is handy when fighting Hell Ancients). You also have to waste 4-5 skill points in prerequisites.

I have a level 78 Necro built this way, and with a few +skill items (and a very nice skiller charm I found to boost my bone spirit spell plus a +2 Necro levels and +3 Bone spirit, +20% faster cast wand), I could probably finish the game with what I have. I can summon 11 skellies at once, and my merc is a might aura guy with the rune word Insight in his polearm (which regenerates my mana like crazy).

The nice part about it compared to my first build (in which I wasted a bunch of points in skeleton mage) is that my bone spirit is so powerful, I can tilt the playing field shooting from the back. I love picking off those pesky shamans in 7-8 shots (I'm doing about 900 damage per shot, but this is Hell mode with /players 2) or firing through doorways. If there's an aura enchanted boss, I can target him and wear him down in about 20-30 shots (which takes about 10-15 seconds), then the minions are easy. And my skellies engage the enemy so that I can just stand back and shoot without dodging or running.

Ghosts aren't a problem thanks to Amplify Damage, which breaks all physical immunes (except boss physical immunes with stone skin, which I have to kill with bone spirits while my skellies occupy them). My barbarian used to fear them like crazy.

Oh, and Dim Vision just rocks. Often I'll run into one or two boss groups of archers, often with auras, and those are just total death for my barbarian or my hammerdin (who can't get close enough to hit them or lure them through a hammer cloud). With my necro, I cast Dim Vision, and they just stand there doing nothing (the boss isn't affected, but that's only one firing instead of 6-7) while my skellies fight 1-2 at a time and a pick off the boss.

I really didn't think I would find something easier and more fun to play than my hammerdin, but this necro is really fun. I think a sorceress would be fun, too, but I wonder how I would survive without a bunch of minions to distract the enemy while I cast.

Posted by Observer at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2007

Not For Me

I think the radio thing went well enough, but the same thing happened to me that happened after the new workshop I taught this summer. At the end of it, I got a massive headache from the stress and had to lay down for a few hours in the middle of the day. After that, I was fine, but I guess I'm not cut out for new, stressful things. It was fun, and I'd do it again (hopefully not so stressed out), but you would think after over 15 years of teaching huge classes, I wouldn't have the equivalent of stage fright.

My guess is it all goes back psychologically to that stupid Holland trip, which if you don't know the backstory, maybe I'll tell it sometime.

Posted by Observer at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2007

It Pays Well

I forget the exact quotation, but I remember that it is very difficult to get a person to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it. I think about that anytime one of these stupid stories "discrediting" global warming science starts circulating, like in this smug, insipid column:

The debate continues, fueled recently on the side of the skeptics by a startling admission from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that its reports of increases in U.S. temperatures have been grossly erroneous.

Over on Real Climate, a blog written by, you know, actual experts, we find out just how "grossly erroneous" these errors were:

The net effect of the change was to reduce mean US anomalies by about 0.15 ºC for the years 2000-2006. [...] More importantly for climate purposes, the longer term US averages have not changed rank. 2002-2006 (at 0.66 ºC) is still warmer than 1930-1934 (0.63 ºC - the largest value in the early part of the century) [...]

In the global mean, 2005 remains the warmest (as in the NCDC analysis). CRU has 1998 as the warmest year but there are differences in methodology, particularly concerning the Arctic (extrapolated in GISTEMP, not included in CRU) which is a big part of recent global warmth. No recent IPCC statements or conclusions are affected in the slightest.

Sum total of this change? A couple of hundredths of degrees in the US rankings and no change in anything that could be considered climatically important (specifically long term trends).

The column gets worse from there, but I get tired-head whacking every single mole like Greenwald does when he gets hold of someone.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

Radio

I'll be on for an hour today (Tuesday) to talk about stuff I supposedly know a lot about, unlike what I usually do in this blog. You can even catch the podcast if you miss it live.

Posted by Observer at 12:06 AM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2007

Coverage

"Will an op-ed critical of our leaders' war strategy written by actual soldiers in Iraq get anywhere near the kind of laudatory and concentrated attention as a devoutly pro-war, pro-current-strategy editorial written by two pro-war cheerleaders who went on the dog-and-pony-show trip so common for politicians in war zones?"

No.

I think I may just start doing my whole blog in this format, but then I wouldn't get to quote Greg Sargent's excellent article:

By now you've all almost certainly read yesterday's riveting New York Times Op-ed piece by U.S. troops in Iraq arguing that the belief that the American occupation can win this counterinsurgency is "far fetched."

By any reasonable standard, this should have been big news. A group of soldiers with a first-hand view of the situation stepped forward and publicly proclaimed not just that the prospects for success are "far fetched," but also that the press has been basically misinforming the American people about the situation there. As the soldiers wrote, they are "skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable."

You'd think that the people at the big news orgs who decide whether things are news or not -- the same people who lavished tons of coverage on Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack's Op ed -- would read this and say, "Hey, here is an alternative point of view being voiced by some of the troops themselves, and they say we're giving people the wrong impression about what's really happening here. Our readers and viewers deserve to know about this. Therefore, it is news, and we will cover it."

Right?

Nope -- of course not.

Rather, this Op-ed has been met with near-total silence. TPM intern Benjy Sarlin and I did an exhaustive hunt for coverage of this by the big news orgs. We only found one mention: CBS' Bob Scheiffer brought it up in passing in an interview with John McCain yesterday. The only other news-org mentions came in Editor and Publisher, on MSNBC's First Read blog, and on Time's Swampland blog.

That's all we could find. Nothing on CNN or any of the networks, no AP story, nothing on Reuters, nothing in any of the major papers. (If we missed anything, let us know at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com.) This is really staggering, particularly when you consider that this story has intense drama, too -- one of the authors, the piece says, was "shot in the head" during preparation of the article and is being flown to a military hospital in the U.S.

How the heck is this not newsworthy?

At first glance one is tempted to compare this blackout to the extensive coverage O'Hanlon and Pollack got for their Op ed, as I did above. But I've got a better thing to compare it to -- the media coverage that ensued the last time we heard from some of the troops in a similarly high-profile way.

Last December, newly-minted Defense Secretary Robert Gates held a photo-op sit-down with a bunch of soldiers to hear what they had to say about the proposed "surge." Mysteriously, every one of the soldiers picked for the highly-stage-managed event supported it. Here's a partial list of news organizations and shows that covered this at the time:

The New York Times

The Washington Post

Reuters

NBC's Today Show

CNN's The Situation Room (Wolf Blitzer)

Associated Press

ABC News

CNN Newsroom

CBS Morning News

Fox Special Report with Brit Hume

Thanks again, "liberal" media! What would we do without you?

Posted by Observer at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

First Day

"Dr. Observer, I wasn't there for the first day of class because of [whatever, I'm not listening, la la la]. Did I miss anything important?"

Yes.

This has been another edition of simple answers to stupid questions.

Posted by Observer at 05:28 PM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2007

5%

I was doing my start-of-the-semester copying marathon today, and some quick math led me to a weird sort of revelation. If you add up the numbers of students in all of the classes I am teaching this semester, it works out that I will be teaching about 5% of the undergraduate population of this university.

Yes, it will be busy.

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

August 17, 2007

Tree Trimming

We hired a tree-trimming company to come in and clear out a dead tree plus cut back a couple of hugely overgrown Ash trees in our backyard. The team of four took a few hours this morning, and suddenly, the backyard is sunny and bright. We still have enough of a treeline for privacy, but the yard just got about 1000 square feet larger, effectively.

We had about a week of 100+ degree weather down here last week, and it sucked, but it was the first time all summer it was consistently, horribly, hot and humid. It's just been that rainy all year. Fortunately, that tropical storm blew a bunch of clouds over us, and by the time it clears out, we may see some outflow from the next huge system coming early next week (Dean). It is possible that we might not see 100 again, which would cement this summer as the best weather summer I think I've ever seen around here.

Not much going on around here. It's busy because the semester starts early this year. It's on Monday. The flip side is that I'm completely done with the Fall term on something like December 12, with a break that will last nearly a month (and, unlike summer break, I'll get a couple of weeks of that without kids plus no workshops or other commitments during that time). It's going to be a very busy 15 weeks with me teaching two overloads.

Posted by Observer at 11:24 PM | Comments (3)

August 16, 2007

Fucking Yankees

If my newspaper's sports section read like this, I'd subscribe for life. Don't miss the "Related Articles" sidebar.

Posted by Observer at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2007

Report Card

In September, we are supposed to learn from General Petraeus whether the "surge" in Iraq is working. He is supposed to issue a report, and Congress agreed to fund the whole thing back in the Spring because they figured, ok, we'll give it one last shot and then REALLY hold the administration accountable in September when this report comes out.

Big surprise, the White House itself will be writing the report on the success or failure of the surge. Can you guess what it will say?

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

Homecomings

Alison Hantschel of First Draft has a great column on the homecoming of Karl Rove to Texas:

The man many hold responsible for the most divided and divisive American presidential administration in history announced on Monday he was resigning his post in the Bush White House.

His work completed -- the country having been split by hatred, mired in an unpopular war, crippled by vicious partisanship, beset at home and abroad by policy rudderless and cruel, one city drowned and others neglected to the point of crumbling -- chief political strategist Karl Rove can now shuffle off to live out his life in Texas.

"I just think it's time," Rove told the Wall Street Journal. "There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family."

He perfected the attack dog politics pioneered by Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater, specializing in exploiting people's fears and prejudices while appealing to their selfishness, shepherding President Bush to wins in 2000 and 2004, and Republicans to a Congressional majority in 2002.

Surely it will be a triumphant homecoming for Rove, back in the Lone Star State. He'll make big bucks as a campaign consultant, or write a bestselling book, or just live off the approximately 1.5 million he's already earned, and spend time getting to know the people in his life that were left behind when he went off to Washington.

Reporters are already defining his legacy; the morning TV talking heads noting that he lost big during the midterm elections in 2006 and now "strategized" for an administration nearing record unpopularity. The Republican presidential candidates in 2008 have largely distanced themselves from his influence, fearing the stench of failure will seep into their clothes.

In other words, he's an example of what you can achieve when you read Dante's Inferno as an instruction booklet and not a cautionary tale.

It's another legacy, though, another homecoming that I thought of when I heard about Rove's impending arrival back in his home state of Texas.

Edgar Bustamante Jr. came home to spend more time with his family recently as well. A soldier from Tucson, Bustamante was wounded by snipers in Baghdad this past spring, wounded so badly he could not return to duty.

Bullets pierced his liver, kidneys, lung and intestines. Repeated surgeries saved his life, but he walks with a cane, and after five months in the hospital, still needs further physical therapy.

His family told the Arizona Daily Star he was lucky to be alive.

"I'm lucky because I still have my boy," his mother said. "It hurts to think about all the parents out there who don't."

Bustamante's story, while tragic, is hardly unique. He's not a political celebrity, after all, a fixture at the Washington cocktail parties, with a witty anecdote to make reporters chuckle. His name, and the name of thousands of others wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, wasn't at the top of the newscasts. His photo, and those of thousands of others, wasn't plastered across the Sunday talk shows.

The people in power because of the sacrifices of Bustamante and his comrades likely have no idea he exists.

Karl Rove is their hero. Karl Rove is their role model. It is Karl Rove's future they will remark upon, speculate about, follow with interest.

It is Karl Rove they will honor. It is Karl Rove they will remember.

It was Karl Rove the president hugged on the White House lawn on Monday.

Not Bustamante. Not the 12,000 other badly wounded. Not the families of the 3,000 dead.

Those people don't have the option to quit because they've had a few tough breaks. They won't get the book deals, the consulting gigs, the honorariums. They won't get to live out the rest of their lives in comfort, lionized by reporters who find their quips amusing.

Those who will look for Rove's legacy should look at those stories, instead of the ones about voting districts or attack ads. They're the only legacy that matters.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal if he had made any mistakes during his time in the White House, Rove replied, "I'll put my feet up in September and think about that."

Would that all the wounded, dead and missing could say the same.

If Rove had a soul, he'd spend the rest of his life working to improve the lives of the veterans he sent into the meat-grinder for the sake of rolling out a new product. Why do people like me get mad when members of the traditional media yuk it up at a big party when Rove shows off his rapping skills?

Because we have the proper perspective.

Posted by Observer at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2007

Time Wasters

After working out on the treadmill last week with M*chelle's IPod (while she was in an aerobics class where she can't use it), I finally mentally caved and decided to get an Ipod Nano. I'd like to find some good podcasts for it in addition to the music I already have. Any ideas? I'm still trying to figure out various ways to search the Apple Store for extended dance/club mixes of popular songs I already like. Those are great for exercising.

In other news, the Fall semester begins for me one week from today, giving me a grand total of 10 days of end-of-summer vacation. It's going to be busy this week setting up the web pages and all of the other little tasks that have to be done before it all begins. There will be many tests, many emails and many class deadlines this semester, and I'm going to need a good system for keeping everything straight. Maybe I'll look into the day-planner-type stuff for my Mac.

M*chelle's mom returns home tomorrow, taking a very early flight out. She's been a big help these past six weeks, and we will miss her. She didn't lure me into any of her Pogo stuff like last time, though. I've either been too busy or playing Diablo 2. After a trial run at a Necromaner, I've decided that Skeleton Mages aren't worth crap, so after exploiting the Hellforge (in Hell mode) for a couple of great runes, I'm starting over with a new Necro and spending on other skills, trying a more efficient build that can finish Hell mode.

The first build probably could've done it, but I wanted to do the Hellforge once more. A lot of people apparently get runes by creating new characters and using them to complete the game twice and then get all the way to the Hellforge in Hell mode just because the rune drops are so great. It is arguably a more efficient way to get high level runes than spending the equivalent time doing 15-20 Hell Countess runs, plus it's more of a variety.

Plus doing one more character will open up Nightmare Cow level for me. I've opened it twice (once with my Hammerdin and once with my first Necro), but both times I screwed it up fairly quickly by accidentally killing the Cow King (both times when the portal opened up almost right on top of him). Cow runs are great for item farming, and a Necro with corpse explosion and amplify damage makes it really fast.

Posted by Observer at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2007

Bourne Free

Despite Humbaba's advice, we went to see the Bourne movie today. It wasn't terrible. As an action movie, I enjoyed it, but I would definitely rank it below the recent Bond movie or the new Die Hard movie that I saw last month. At least with Bruce Willis, the movie has the good sense to laugh at the absurd action sequences. I also agree with one critic who offered to pitch in to buy the director a goddamned steadicam.

I understand and appreciate that the shaky cam is a stylistic choice, but it made me physically ill. It wasn't anything that couldn't be cured by a big platter of chargrilled catfish and dirty rice, fortunately.

We should've taken Steven Brust's advice and seen "Stardust" instead. Oh well.

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

Hoping for Another 9/11

Atrios responds to wingnuts who are hoping for another 9/11. About once a month since the Dems won the mid-term elections, the ConservaBorg collective has taken to promoting a column in some local or national venue (or a Fox News commentator) saying, in effect, we need to be attacked again so that America will "wake up" and realize what a brilliant guy George Bush is or what fools liberals are for wanting to give a big hug to terrorists (which is how they perceive our calls to get out of Iraq):

The conservative cult's mass death wish is obviously based on a faulty premise, that if there's a terrorist attack they and Dear Leader will somehow be vindicated. Of course the reverse is true. When it comes to "the war on terra," George Bush and the conservative movement have pretty much gotten everything they've wanted. Democrats and dirty fucking hippie bloggers, despite complaints, haven't managed to stop the Bush administration from doing what they think is important.

So if a massive terrorist attack happened, it wouldn't be a vindication of what they've been doing, it would be proof that they failed to do what George Bush claims is his most important job.

All of these calls for "unity" and prayers that thousands of people die so that people "wake up" have nothing to do with anyone preventing the Bush administration from doing what they want. They're simply expressing a deep anger that the dirty fucking hippies don't agree with everything they say. Ultimately, they're angry that their pet war isn't going well and angry that the dirty fucking hippies don't rely on quite as many adult undergarments as they do.

But if some sort of terrorist attack happens, it's their people who will have failed to stop it. Despite our best efforts, we haven't managed to impact Bush administration policy on this stuff at all.

Actually, while I agree with this comment, I disagree that another attack would be bad for Bush. All big news is spun as good news for Republicans. If another 9/11 happened, it would simply be an excuse for wingnuts to argue that liberals need to be lined up and shot for treason for not clapping loudly enough in support of Bush these past few years.

For years, wingnuts have been saying that Bush is a success, largely because "we haven't been attacked again", as if 9/11 didn't happen under his watch, as if we suffered some major attack on America during the Clinton admininstration. If we were to be attacked again, how many of these people who suddenly start promoting the idea that the Bush presidency, as measured by their own standard of success, has been a catastrophic failure?

Posted by Observer at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2007

The "Telling" Anecdote

Jamison Foser has a must-read column today about the media and the role of the "telling" anecdote, picking on Jay Carney like I did. It's not so much that Carney deserves it more than anyone else. It's just that he and his colleagues at "Time" are putting themselves prominently out there in the blogosphere, and so they're the ones getting exposed to the naturally self-correcting nature of the blogosphere:

In a Swampland blog post titled "Anecdotal hit job," Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney criticized a column in which Brad Warthen, the editorial page editor of South Carolina's largest newspaper, accused John Edwards of being a "phony" based on three ages-old anecdotes. According to Carney, "the anecdotes are flimsy concoctions at best. Only one of the three is personally observed by the author. The other two are stories told to him by others. And all three -- even if true -- say almost nothing substantive about Edwards' true motivations as a politician. Warthen's article is a hit job masquerading as a reported editorial."

Carney's take on Warthen's piece is a useful reminder of the dangers of anecdote-based reporting. But his post began with a defense of the same. "I believe in the usefulness and validity of the telling anecdote -- the seemingly small story that reveals a broader truth about a politician or other subject," Carney wrote. And who can blame him? For the reader, an anecdote -- a "short account of an interesting or humorous incident" -- is often more accessible and enjoyable than a dry recitation of statistics and facts. Similarly, it isn't hard to imagine that relating an anecdote is more enjoyable for the reporter, as well. So if a journalist stumbles upon an anecdote that "reveals a broader truth about a politician or other subject," who can blame him or her for using it?

But there is a danger or three in reporting by anecdote.

Reporting by anecdote is how we got a president who doesn't windsurf, doesn't order the "wrong" kind of cheesesteak, doesn't wear earth tones, doesn't sigh, and doesn't exaggerate -- but who does lie to the nation on the way to war, spy on Americans, torture people, threaten to veto health care for children, allow arsenic in our drinking water, politicize the Justice Department, take an à la carte approach to the Constitution ("I'll have the Second Amendment and a little bit of the 10th, but hold the First, Fourth through Sixth, and the Eighth, please") and generally behave like a despot.

So, you know, there's a downside.

***

Actually, there are a few downsides to the fondness many journalists have for the illustrative anecdote. One is a tendency to repeat anecdotes that aren't true.

For example, the July 30 edition of Time -- Carney's magazine -- included a "Washington Memo" about "campaign trivia." The piece, written by Amy Sullivan and Bill Powell, quite reasonably concluded that "[t]he Trivial Story has its place, but in 2007 it needs to move to the sidelines. With the country at war and a presidency in crisis, this may be a good time to remember that a candidate's foreign policy instincts tell us more about his fitness for office than his grooming habits do."

But along the way, Sullivan and Powell offered an example of the "Trivial Story": "Al Gore wears earth tones on the advice of a consultant." That's trivial, all right, but it is also false, according to all available evidence -- as anyone who has been paying attention should have known for about eight years by now. But Sullivan and Powell don't merely repeat the story as though it is true, they claim it actually tells us something significant:

Reporters argue that seemingly small details can illuminate larger truths about a candidate. And they often do: Gore's sartorial hire told us about his insecurity as a candidate.

No. No, no, no, no. "Gore's sartorial hire" didn't tell us any such thing. It didn't tell us anything at all, because it never happened.

Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney defends the "usefulness and validity of the telling anecdote -- the seemingly small story that reveals a broader truth about a politician or other subject." But at his magazine, to this very day, political reporters repeat "telling anecdotes" that are simply false -- and debunked long ago -- then pretend that the anecdote tells us something about the candidate rather than about the sorry state of journalism at Time magazine.

But there's no reason to single out Sullivan and Powell. A Nexis search for "Gore AND earth tones" in the Time library yields 12 hits. For example, the November 6, 2000, edition of Time referred to Naomi Wolf as the "[f]eminist author behind earth tones and alpha maleness."

And who is listed in the byline of that article? You guessed it: Jay Carney. Carney and his fellow Swampland contributor Karen Tumulty wrote that article falsely claiming Naomi Wolf was "behind earth tones."

A few weeks later, Carney and Tumulty signed their names to a post-election, pre-Supreme-Court-fiat article purporting to explain "the inside story of the key moments that propelled Bush and Gore to a deadlocked Election Day." That article devoted five full paragraphs to the controversy over Wolf providing "the Vice President with everything from wardrobe tips to big-picture theories of the race" -- one of several Time articles that discussed Wolf's role in the campaign.

And it's no wonder the magazine flogged the story so hard: Time reporters Tumulty and Michael Duffy had "broken" the "story" in a November 8, 1999, article headlined "Gore's Secret Guru." Duffy and Tumulty reported: "Sources tell TIME that since Gore 2000 set up shop in January, Wolf has been paid a salary of $15,000 a month ... in exchange for advice on everything from how to win the women's vote to shirt-and-tie combinations."

The Al-Gore-hired-Naomi-Wolf-to-tell-him-how-to-dress nonsense isn't the only "telling anecdote" about Gore that appeared under Carney's byline -- and it isn't the only one that was false. A November 20, 2000, Time article written by Carney, among others, called Gore "the man who invented the Internet." Of course, Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet. Don't take my word for it; here's what Time reported in its August 21, 2000, edition: "He never claimed to have 'invented' the Internet." But the fact that he had never made the claim didn't stop Carney and his colleagues from saying he did. After all, it was a telling anecdote.

To be clear: there's no reason to pick on Jay Carney or Time magazine. False "telling anecdotes" like the claims about Gore and Naomi Wolf are endlessly repeated by countless journalists. The focus here on Carney is only because he brought it up, not because he is particularly guilty. In fact, Carney's willingness to publicly point out flaws in a fellow journalist's work is refreshing. His post is a useful component to a valuable discussion about media use of what he calls "telling anecdotes." Hopefully, as someone who believes in the "usefulness and validity" of the practice, he will continue to weigh in.

***

Even anecdotes that are true can be problematic. Some anecdotes are true, but aren't "telling." Or they don't tell us what journalists say they do.

Pretend for a moment that Naomi Wolf had told Al Gore he should wear earth tones. What would that have told us?

It could have told us, as countless journalists have claimed, that Gore wasn't "comfortable in his own skin." That he didn't know who he was. That he was a big phony who would do anything to win.

But, just as plausibly, it could have told us that Al Gore -- like the vast majority of Americans -- occasionally asks for a second opinion when assembling an outfit. Who hasn't on occasion asked a spouse or a partner or a friend, "Does this shirt go with this tie?" or "Do I look OK in this?" It could have told us any number of similarly mundane things about Al Gore. It could have told us nothing at all.

Pretend for a moment that Gore had said "I invented the Internet." What would that have told us?

Well, it could have told us, as countless journalists have claimed, that Al Gore is a liar, an exaggerator.

But, just as plausibly, it could have told us that Al Gore occasionally misspeaks -- just like everyone else. It could have told us he is a regular guy: maybe even that Matthewsian Ideal -- Someone We'd Like to Have a Beer With.

These "illustrative anecdotes," and countless others like them -- John Kerry windsurfing or ordering cheesesteak, John Edwards' big house and expensive haircuts, etc., etc. -- aren't inherently illustrative. Journalists use them to illustrate not only things they know about the candidates, but things they think about the candidates as well; to dress up their guesses and hunches as factual observations.

President Bush has been widely mocked for saying upon his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, "I looked the man in the eye. ... I was able to get a sense of his soul."

But that's essentially what journalists do when they claim these "telling anecdotes" illustrate something completely subjective about the candidates. They don't really know Al Gore is a phony; they're guessing at what is in his soul, then finding anecdotes that can seem to support their guess.

Take the most oft-repeated "telling anecdote" of the 2008 presidential campaign thus far: John Edwards paid $400 for a haircut. What does that really tell us about John Edwards? Many journalists insist (endlessly) that it tells us that he's vain, or a phony, or a hypocrite. Maybe it does tell us something like that. (For the record: It certainly does not tell us he is a hypocrite.) Or maybe it tells us he is inattentive to detail and didn't know how much it cost. Or maybe it tells us he didn't know how much it cost because he focuses his attention on important things like health care, poverty, and war, rather than on his hair. Or maybe it doesn't tell us anything at all. Sometimes, a haircut is just a haircut.

But the political press corps -- many of whom, according to Marc Ambinder, simply don't like John Edwards -- insist that the haircut does tell us something. They choose to repeat it again and again as though it has great meaning. They do not, on the other hand, repeat this "telling anecdote":

The visiting dignitaries were each issued a hammer, a carpenter's belt, and a pair of brown cloth work gloves. While the actor [Danny Glover] immediately donned his gloves, the candidate [Edwards] chose to stuff his into the empty pouches of the carpenter's belt, an accessory that seemed to irk him a bit, you could tell, devoid as it was of any real utility in his present situation. ... From the start, it was clear that the actor was not quite as comfortable with a hammer as the candidate, employing the tool in a series of choked-up staccato taps, as opposed to Edwards's longer, more confident strokes, the mark of a man who'd spent the summers of his youth mucking out looms, building mobile homes, painting markings on highways.

Seemingly every news story that has anything to do with John Edwards and poverty or health care or any economic issue at all mentions his expensive haircut, or his big house. There's no good reason why his house is mentioned in those articles rather than the "telling anecdote" about his confident use of a hammer, which nicely illustrates the fact that he spent his youthful summers doing manual labor. There's no good reason why his haircuts are mentioned as though they reveal something about his character, while his disinterest in using a utility belt as a prop is not.

The choice to repeat the anecdote about the haircut rather than the anecdote about the hammer is entirely subjective. There is no way for reporters to know that the haircut tells us more about Edwards than does the hammer. But they act as though they do know this. Some, like McClatchy national correspondent Matt Stearns, even insist that it isn't their fault that they repeat "silly, frivolous" stories. In his August 10 column, Stearns criticized those who criticize media coverage of things like Edwards' haircuts and Barack Obama's trip to the beach, concluding: "Maybe the media will stop reporting 'silly, frivolous' stories as soon as candidates stop doing 'silly, frivolous' things."

Think about that for a second: Matt Stearns thinks the media should endlessly report " 'silly, frivolous' stories" as long as candidates do silly and frivolous things. But candidates -- like everyone -- will never stop doing silly things. Nobody goes through life without doing anything silly. That's no justification for treating a trip to the beach or a haircut like it's life-and-death news. You'd have to have a pretty warped view of journalism to think that journalists should focus on the least consequential things the candidates do.

So what's wrong with the "telling anecdote"? The people who do the telling, that's what's wrong.

Recent (and not so recent) history makes clear that it is simply foolish to think that the political press does a good job of deciding which anecdotes are true, which are false, which are telling, what they tell us, and which are anomalous. Just look at the 2000 campaign: The media decided that anecdotes that seemed to indicate dishonesty on Al Gore's part were "telling" and should be repeated over and over. George Bush's dishonesty was not treated similarly; apparently, journalists didn't think his false statements revealed a "broader truth" about him. How does that judgment look now?

So, should news reports consist solely of actuarial tables, pie charts, and other dry recitation of names, dates, and places? Of course not. Storytelling can be a highly effective and valuable form of journalism. But only if the stories are true and mean what we're told they mean.

And that isn't so hard to ensure, if journalists care enough to do so. Verifiably true anecdotes can be used to illustrate verifiably true concepts.

Believe it or not, it actually gets worse from there, with Foser pointing out a couple of egregious examples of papers like the ultra-liberal New York Times refusing to retract an error (despite immediate, irrefutable evidence of the error, a televised interview that said the opposite of the reporter's quotation) that led to a string of "Gore is a liar" stories.

It may seem like trivia to obsess about how unfairly the media treated Gore in the 2000 election or how it screwed around with "flip-flopping" Kerry in the 2004 election, but you only have to watch the disinformation machine crank up in response to the Democratic candidates this year to know that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The battle between the traditional media and the blogosphere over accuracy this year will be interesting to watch and incredibly important for the future of journalism and campaigns, I think.

Posted by Observer at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2007

Truth Has a Liberal Bias

Jay Carney over at Swampland made an off-the-cuff remark in an interview about having a responsibility not to be labeled left or right. This set off a bunch of alarm bells among liberals like me because we see this is EXACTLY the problem. Avedon Carol explained what I've been trying to put to words very precisely:

Jay Carney doesn't understand that saying reporters have "a responsibility not to be labeled left or right" is not the same as saying reporters have a responsibility to the truth. The truth will get you labelled, regardless, but that doesn't make it any less true. Telling the truth about Iraq will get you labelled "liberal" or "left".

Carney's remark is at the heart of why so many supposedly straight news stories from the traditional media are written in "on the one hand..." voice. You know, "A new study revealed today agreeing with John Edwards that 2 + 2 = 4, but some critics still contend that it may be 3 or possibly even 2. And Edwards' haircuts sure cost a lot more than 4 anyway..." That kind of crap.

The problem with people like Carney is that they are FIRST AND FOREMOST committed to appearing "neutral" or "unbiased" instead of being first committed to telling the objective truth. When appearing unbiased is your primary goal, you then become the puppet of whomever you allow to define "bias", whether that is your critics, your editors or your publishers (the latter two being mostly Republicans).

Posted by Observer at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2007

Wingnut Psychology

Sara at Orcinus tries her hand at explaining the inexplicable:

Over the years, my online ex-fundie community has spent a lot of time puzzling over the ways in which fundamentalism arrests the moral, social, emotional, intellectual, and sexual development of anyone who embraces it. (And I could argue that, inasmuch as fundamentalism is authoritarian religion, this observation may well hold true for political and social authoritarians as well.) Specifically, we've come to a consensus that the belief system traps people somewhere around the age of five or six -- and keeps them there for as long as they continue to believe.

In fact, that naivete -- deceptively packaged as purity and innocence -- is one of the main things people are seeking when they're drawn into authoritarian systems. They join up because they feel overwhelmed by the complexity and nuance in the world. There's just too much to keep up with, too much responsibility, too much chaos. Often, they've been caught in the gears of the machinery of modernity, and have had large parts of their lives chewed up by the works. It all feels out of control. (Chris Hedges, in his new book American Fascism, describes how Christianist proselytizers are taught to seek out people going through hard times-- they're the hottest conversion prospects.)

Unfortunately, seeking this regression means giving up on quite a few of the most important attributes of adulthood. First, there's the intellectual sacrifice. There's a huge cognitive leap that occurs around the age of seven (it usually comes in right alongside reading fluency) that enables a far greater level of abstraction -- typically, at the expense of magical thinking, which drops off dramatically once kids learn to read. At this age, kids give up fantasy play and Santa Claus in favor of a more empirical approach to life, and more serious pursuits leading to the mastery of adult-world skills. Developmental psychologists call this leap "the age of reason."

Right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers have little use for reason; but are very invested in their fantasy lives. They take myth and metaphor absolutely literally, because interpreting them requires a level of abstraction they aren't comfortable with. In other words: they are voluntarily choosing to operate at the intellectual processing level of a first-grader.

They also have to give up on adult-level emotional functioning (which, as I mentioned, may be welcomed as something of a relief after adult life has blown up under you a few times). Authoritarian followers crave someone who will keep things ordered and safe, someone who will provide and protect and set firm rules and boundaries; someone all-powerful and all-knowing who can teach you right from wrong and keep the harsh parts of the world at bay. Someone, in short, who looks like Daddy looked when you were about five years old.

RWAs would far rather curl up in Daddy's lap -- even if it means abandoning reason and taking the occasional spanking -- than try to deal with the world by themselves, on adult terms. This is also why RWA family and community relationships (as Lakoff has explained) are necessarily hierarchical. These people still need parents around, because they don't feel emotionally safe without the presence of a strong authority figure. Egalitarian relationships terrify them, because there's nobody in charge to make the rules and set the boundaries that keep people from hurting each other. And that's damned scary, because (as masters of projection) they're quite sure that everybody else in the whole world is also still five years old and playing by sandbox rules. Without a playground supervisor in charge, they know for sure that somebody will get hurt.

This is why this voluntary intellectual regression is accompanied by a similar moral regression. Any parent of a kindergartner knows that a child's morality is determined solely on the basis of outside (adult) authority, which makes and enforces the rules. This is pretty necessary when you're very small, because left to your own devices, id will run wild. At this age, the self-control just isn't there yet.

Still, it's coming, which is why five- and six-year-olds are tremendous rules lawyers. A lot of their social interaction is about what's fair, what's mine, and what's going to get you into trouble. And anyone who's spent time around fundamentalists will recognize fear of external authority (in the form of the pastor or God), rules lawyering (this time involving a well-thumbed Bible) and a constant battle with id as big preoccupations as well. You'll even find tattling: "I'll take it to the Lord in prayer" is just a slightly kinder form of "I'm gonna tell Daddy on you."

Which brings me around to my point, which is that the over-the-top behavior around masculine gender roles Digby and Dave are noticing is pretty classic early primary behavior, too. The games boys play at this age often involve extreme masculine archetypes -- cowboys, cops, soldiers, sports heroes, spacemen, and so on. (It's interesting that Little Boots has, at one time or another, tried to cast himself in all of these roles -- and that the male Kewl Kids just swooned over it, every time. Remember the fuss over Jet Pilot Action Figure Bush's "package"? Damn fool didn't loosen his straps before getting out of the jet. Nobody else on the deck had his crotch trussed up like a Christmas goose; and to them, he looked like a rookie idiot. But Chris Matthews practically had an orgasm on-air while watching him prance and strut.) The fact that so many mainstream and conservative media guys are suckered by this posturing shows that they don't really have a clue about what a Real Man looks like -- though, somewhere deep down inside, they're pretty sure they don't qualify. That's why they're so easily wowed by men who can put on the costume and make it look good.

But they're even more easily cowed by men who can actually fill the boots. John Kerry. John McCain. Colin Powell. Bill Clinton. (You don't have to agree with their politics; but nobody can say these men haven't comfortably worn the full measure of male power and responsibility for some critical stretch of their lives.) Like little boys, the media guys are so awed by the outward forms of masculinity that they eagerly make a fetish out of them; but they also actively fear and resent men who display the authentic internal goods that make an honest-to-God man. These guys' very presence incites such a strong sense of personal inadequacy that the Boys On The Bus can only resort to attacking them in ways that are openly calculated to feminize them -- that is, to bring them down to their own level. He look French. He's whipped by his powerful wife. He's preoccupied with his hair. Translation: This guy has more balls and more maturity than we do -- and we need to take him down before everybody figures out how inadequate that makes us feel.

Whatever the "real" content of manhood is (that's a whole separate discussion), sexual agency and virility lie somewhere near the core of it. It takes a sexually mature and capable man to find and woo a partner, father children, sustain the relationships that make a home, and take his place among the valuable men of the community. When you're a kid, Dad's sexual competence is the very heart of what makes him the alpha male in your family pack. At five or six, the physical attributes that make him a man are magical stuff -- and not only do you not have those attributes, your childish sense of time is such that it's easy to fear that you never will. The whole issue, as Freud knew, is fraught and uncomfortable. The only way little boys can deal with this deep and mysterious discomfort is to make giggly jokes about it. It's either that, or stand in dumbstruck awe about the power that your young life utterly depends on, yet you simply cannot comprehend -- and that's not an option on prime time TV.

The howling conservative and MSM men we're seeing on the air these seem to be stuck in some early sexual stage -- a stage where manliness and sexuality are scary adult mysteries, the obsessive stuff of wild curiosity, rampant misunderstandings, crude jokes, dress-up play-acting, and bizarre fetishes. For all their media power, these guys have sexually scarcely moved beyond playing doctor-- and, at this late stage, probably never will. Scratch any leering old man, and you'll expose a scared kid who, fifty years on, still hasn't come to terms with his own uncontrollable wet dreams, let alone the challenge of engaging productively with his own adult sexuality and that of the real-life adult women he shares the world with.

My first husband -- who as a Latino, a clinical psychologist, and the son of a Marine Corps drill instructor, knew a thing or two about the anatomy of macho -- used to say that the first rule of real macho was that those who possess it never need to prove it to anyone. If you have to prove it or put it out on display, you don't have it in the first place. And if you are intimidated by seeing it in others, you aren't even in the ballpark. The truth of that should come home to all of us every time we hear an MSM or conservative talking head going on in breathless awe about some public figure's "manhood," or asking leering, creepy questions about other people's sex lives.

In a time when we need thought leaders who can help us sort out the issues and navigate the national crisis, we've got a media staffed by sniggering, leering first-graders who exhibit every regressive intellectual, moral, emotional, and sexual characteristic of right-wing authoritarian followers. It's time to clean house -- and to demand new media voices who aren't in business to make fun of the grownups, or shamed by people who show the attributes of true maturity and power. It's time to send the scared little boys home, and put some authentic adults in charge.

There's a grain of truth in this analysis. I mean, it sounds crazy on the face of it, but if you look at the kind of shit wingnut trolls say and believe, it doesn't sound half as bad.

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

August 07, 2007

Skelly Clarkson

I've been dabbling with a new Diablo 2 class lately, after getting kinda tired of aiming hammers at everything that moves with my Paladin. I've always played either Barbarians or Paladins of some sort, which put my characters right in the center of the battle, so I thought I'd try a skeleton-summoning Necromancer, standing in the back and directing the troops, casting spells, etc.

It takes a lot more patience in some respects, but once you develop a fairly big army (11 skeletons and 10 skeleton mages plus a golem and a might-aura mercenary), things die quickly. Plus you don't have to worry about going off to the edge of the map to hunt down every single archer firing at you. The troops do it for me. Even in hell mode, my skeleton army can cut down stuff pretty quickly after I cast Amplify Damage on it.

Plus there are lots of other really cool combat spells. Attract causes big crowds to focus on one another as targets. Dim vision makes ranged attackers stop firing. Decrepify slows down bosses. I've even got a decent magic damage spell that does about 20% of the damage of a hammer. Plus corpse explosion comes in handy an awful lot.

It's a fun character class to play!

Posted by Observer at 08:15 PM | Comments (3)

August 06, 2007

Ask Why

Bob Somerby has some comments about a very good speech John Edwards made recently. Edwards is fighting back against a media intent on treating him like Al Gore. Can he win this battle?

It’s intriguing to see that Edwards spoke just as the great New York Times was correcting.

On Sunday—only eight years too late!—the Times rewrote some treasured old trivia. The paper had pimped this sh*t for eight years. And then—just like that!—it was gone:

NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION (7/29/07): An article last Sunday about politicians' choice of clothing while campaigning referred incorrectly to the role of Naomi Wolf in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. She was a consultant on women's issues and outreach to young voters; she was not Mr. Gore's image consultant and was not involved in his decision to wear earth-toned clothing.

Omigod! How funny is that? With a single stroke of the pen, the history of modern trivia changed! For eight long years, this gruesome newspaper told us that tale about Wolf and Gore. Now, we’re told to forget all about it! How sad that we can’t just forget something else—the way world history got changed in the process, as this most gruesome American paper conducted its War Against Gore. (Note: We still don’t know why the Times still says that Gore made a “decision to wear earth-tones.”)

Readers, how funny was that? To see the greatest American paper rewrite what it had said for eight years, with just a stroke of the pen! But of course, the Times has moved on to new treasured trivia! And that’s why John Edwards was speaking.

Then, it was earth tones; today, it’s those haircuts. And that big house. And that speech, at that college. (And necklines; and letters from the 1960s; and the moral failings of the father of the boy friend of the daughter of one of the candidates.) And this time, they’ve gone after Edwards quite hard. [...]

EDWARDS: This is all—just to be clear about this. You remember the Swift Boat stuff in the 2004 election? This stuff's not an accident. Nobody in this room should think this is an accident. You know, I'm out there speaking up for universal healthcare, ending this war in Iraq, speaking up for the poor. They want to shut me up. They want—that's what this is about.

Let's distract from people who don't have health care coverage. Let's distract from people who can't feed their children. Let’s distract from people who can’t pay for their medicine. Let's talk about this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff so that America won't pay attention.

They will never silence me. Never. I’ll tell you that right now.

EDWARDS: If we don't stand up to these people, if we don't fight them, if we don't beat them, they're going to continue to control this country. They're going to control the media. They're going to control what's being said. They do not want to hear us talking about health care for everybody. They don’t want to hear us talking about a fair tax system. You think these people who make $100 million a year, you think they want to pay their fair share of taxes? That’s why they hire all those lobbyists for in Washington, D.C. They hate listening to people like me. Well, I’ve got bad news for them. They’re going to have to listen to me for the next eight years as their president.

As we said just a few weeks ago: If we could wave a magic wand and tell the voters just one thing, it would be this: Ignore them when they come at you bearing trivia (“this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff”). When they come at you bearing trivia, every alarm bell in your head should go off. You should instantly ask yourself: Why are they selling me trivia?

Whatever motives may be involved in their love of trivial nonsense, Edwards gave a very clear picture of the shape of modern “journalism.” As with the earth tones, so with the haircuts; for whatever reason, the group we still describe as a “press corps” just luvvs to zero in on “this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff.” In 1999 and 2000, they talked about earth tones—and about the string of silly “quotations” they themselves had invented. As a result, the U.S. Army is bogged down in Iraq. And yet, these idiots talk about haircuts—and play the fool about health care plans.

That's always what I like to focus on: why. You know someone is feeding you a line of bullshit. It isn't enough to simply refute the bullshit. There's an infinite supply of wingnut bullshit. If you refute some of it, they'll just make some more!

The way to stop the cycle is to ask, simply, why is the source in question feeding you something the source knows to be false? Whether that source is the traditional media or a talk show host on wingnut radio, that's the question with the really interesting answer. And so, naturally, that's the question that never gets talked about.

For another example of your fine ultra-liberal socialist media in action, check out Atrios today, quoting a piece from Media Matters:

You almost have to be in Washington to appreciate the seriousness of what happened here last week. After years -- years -- of being lied to and manipulated by U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Washington press has sickened of the man. On Friday, I heard something that caused me to pull my car over to the side of the road in surprise: Howard Fineman, editor of Newsweek, on the Rush Limbaugh show, thanked Limbaugh for his work over the past five years keeping public indignation against Clinton boiling. We have to wonder, Fineman said, whether we can continue to respect ourselves as a people if a man like this remains president.

Hey, liberals! Isn't it great to know we have someone like Fineman on our side? Woo hoo!

Posted by Observer at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2007

Vacation

We're back, and we had great fun. It was so nice to just be alone with M*chelle for the better part of two days. We bought some cool gear for the two older boys at a couple of outlet stores (N*ke and Ad*das), and I bought a couple of "training jerseys" myself, and I got some yummy chocolate. We had really good food, and we got to visit with Laurie and Phil, where all sides got to tell kid stories (always cathartic) and catch up. We have to do that more often!

Bad traffic on the way home, though. Next time, we'll try an alternate route, I think. When we got home, we got the lowdown from the two grandmas about the kids' behavior. 15-year-old Ashl*y is going to get some special kind of attention for the next few days from us, that's for sure. She's been incredibly mouthy, selfish, tantrumy and just remarkably unpleasant to everyone for most of the past week, and this weekend was no exception.

She had the gall to ask me when I came in the door if I was going to be taking her to the store on Tuesday to buy the latest Disn*y album coming out that she can't wait for. I told her that I would think about it, and that was before I heard the tales of horror about her behavior today.

Usually, bad behavior on her part has some fairly simple consequences, from loss of privileges to time outs outside (where she is much less willing to throw embarrassing tantrums in full view of anyone else in the world who might be looking our way). This time, though, like in "Pulp Fict*on", I'm gonna get medieval on her ass. Which just means I'm going to be putting my evil genius grown-up Calvinistic mind to use coming up with creative ways to make her miserable and teach her some life lessons this week.

In fact, it may be time for another round of summer school...

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

August 04, 2007

Beauty and the Beat

I imagine someone out there can guess the title of my next post...

We're leaving this morning for our grand 36-hour vacation. It will be nice. I've never gotten to try M*chelle's Ipod car radio thing outside of the city. She says it doesn't work that great, but it would be nice to listen to some decent music on the long drive south.

She uses the Ipod mainly for techno beat music while she works out on the treadmill at the Y. I usually ride the recumbent bike and read a book, but after a while, I often get on the treadmill, too. I can't read on the treadmill. I just don't have the balance for it. If I ever start going much longer than 15-20 minutes on the treadmill, I think I'd have to get an Ipod of my own just to stay sane.

They have TV's there, and you can plug your earphones into a jack and pick which of the four you want to listen to. I (very) rarely see something on any of those TV's that interests me, though.

One of the main reasons we've started working out most nights is that since they remodeled the place, the child care area is excellent. It's as big as one of those mall setups, and they have 5-6 workers present most of the time, all of whom seem to do great with the kids. They have a lot of activities for them, so it isn't just babysitting or watching.

Three nights ago, when we walked in, there were about 20 kids in there, and it was pretty loud. A little later when we returned, there were maybe 30 in there, but one girl had them all sitting together singing a song, and it was remarkably civil in there. Of course, they have really strict rules about fighting and running and all that, and they'll suspend a kid at the drop of a hat (D*niel has gotten suspended for slapping at another kid who was trying to take his toy, and he frequently gets time outs for running).

That helps weed out the real problem kids that parents would otherwise dump for as long as they can. I like that they also don't allow parents to drop kids off and leave. If it turned in to free babysitting, I'm sure it would be massively abused.

B*n is getting really good and climbing the big foam structures they have. As soon as we drop him off, he does his drunken sailor walk over to the padded area, climbs up three levels (about 1 foot per level) to the top, throws his blankey down to the bottom, then turns around and slides down on his belly to pick it up. Hilarious. And big brother D*niel watches out for him to make sure no other little toddlers steal B*n's blankey.

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

August 02, 2007

Talk Show

Looks like I'm going to be on the radio soon. You can find out more info by searching for my (real) name on that web page. Just a local public radio broadcast. I don't think it will be syndicated to who knows where like the last 5-10 minute thing I did. Instead, it will be a live call-in show that lasts an hour.

I trust none of my four readers will pull any pranks.

Posted by Observer at 09:19 PM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2007

Trades

For the record, I'm very happy that Texas could unload both Texeira and Gagne, not to mention Lofton, and get quite a few decent prospects in return. I didn't think we'd get much with other teams knowing how desperate we were to get something for them. Too bad we couldn't talk someone in to taking Sosa off our hands. He's a real out machine these days and certainly not part of the future. I hope he'll retire gracefully when the September call-ups start getting some of his plate appearances.

I'm actually moderately interested in this team again. When we get Otsuka, Kinsler and Blalock back, we'll have some young players mixed in along with some good minor leaguers pushing from below. If we can get back to a .500 record overall with this group (which is unlikely since it would mean going 10 games over in two months against an AL-West-heavy schedule), it would mean new manager Ron Washington has things figured out maybe. He's gone 5 games over for the past two months, but it's easier to do when there's no pressure and no expectations (going 20+ games under out of the gate will do that for ya).

Now we just need some pitching. We're cursed at finding good starters, it seems. Kevin Millwood is doing his very best Chan Ho Suck impersonation this season, but this is actually a surprise because he didn't show many signs of sucking before coming here like Chan Ho did.

Oh, and I'm now an ARod fan. I've been pretty indifferent to the guy during his career (and he's been on the M's and Rangers, two teams I follow very closely), but I want him to break Bonds' about-to-be record as quickly as possible. Too bad Griffey couldn't stay healthy and do it. He's always seemed like a nice guy. Arod may be that way, too, but for whatever reason, he never got the sports media guys to be nice to him, so we'll never know for sure.

Update: Woke up in the morning and found out the Rangers had "the talk" with Sosa last night and have benched him for the rest of the season to give a younger slugger a chance.

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