August 31, 2008

Palin

You know, it really doesn't matter if Palin has a weird or shady past, at least not to me. What matters to me is that McCain voted with Bush about 90% of the time and looks to pretty much continue what Bush wants to do, and that's disastrous for the country. And of course, I want a Democrat to take control of the executive branch and fumigate all of the loyalty-over-competence political appointees that have infiltrated all areas of the government, not to mention declassify a bunch of stuff and stop appointing idiot judges with no qualification other than "wingnut" on their resumes.

But still, Palin has some really weird stuff going on...

This pregnancy thing, for example. She apparently announced it when she was seven months pregnant, and several people associated with her were quoted as saying they didn't even notice. Then she speaks at a Texas rally 30 minutes after she says her water broke. Does she go to a hospital to have the baby? Nope, she flies eight hours to Alaska to go to a private hospital to have the baby.

Meanwhile, her daughter, who I guess is 17, had been in seclusion for the five months preceding Palin's strange day, supposedly with a case of mono. And now Palin is apparently willing and able to leave this four-month old baby to campaign for the vice presidency for the next two months. Is that because baby is already with the real mama?

I really don't know how much, if any, of the above is true. This Kos diary shows a picture of her supposedly eight months pregnant, and she sure looks pregnant to me, but that doesn't really prove anything to the conspiracy theoriest in all of us. After all, another photo from the same conference (bottom left in the photo) makes it look like she isn't pregnant, though it is hard to tell face-on wearing dark clothing.

I haven't read it at what I consider to be a completely credible source, but will this thread be picked up by a credible source? I'm really just curious more than anything. This doesn't change the fact that she's completely unqualified to be Vice President. Surely it can't be close to true because the McCain campaign would have fully vetted her before this process began, right?

I read other things about Palin, too, like Republican delegates are disappointed that the convention is going to be curtailed because they were just hopping with excitement over Palin. I find that even less credible than the "bearding" story about Palin. If Barack had selected Palin's equivalent, say some ultra-liberal hippie female mayor of a medium-large California city, I'd be freakin' mortified and wondering what kind of drugs Obama was taking, and I wouldn't hide that fact.

Posted by Observer at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2008

Not Ready My Ass

When 14-year-old C*dy came home yesterday at the end of his first week of school, he told us that J*stin's old cross country coach wanted C*dy to join the team for the first meet. That meant he would get up today at 5am to make the bus for a meet about an hour away. Cross country is the off-season activity of most of the kids on the soccer team, which is C*dy's primary interest.

On Monday, just to see what all the kids had, the coach asked them to run a mile. C*dy beat everyone else out there with a time of 5:40, so the coach asked him to start running with the cross country team in the morning prior to school. First day of practice? He overslept, but the coach let him run again in the afternoon, and so went the week.

He seemed pretty excited about the meet last night, and he was telling J*stin (who is running for a junior college out west of us) all about it on the phone. So this morning, I get my ass out of bed at 5am to truck him down to the school, but I find out he's asleep. I go in to wake him up, and he seemed confused. What meet? I got him up to speed, and he said, "Uh, I don't think I should go. I'm not ready, it's just the first meet."

I thought about going back to bed, but I was already awake anyway, so I decided to kick him in the ass and make him go. We really think being on the team will be a good influence on him and give him the incentive he needs to keep his grades high, and I want to give the coaches a chance to grab him.

He just called a few minutes ago from the meet to report his time, which was about 9 minutes for a 1.5 mile run through an obstacle course of sorts, beating J*stin's time from last year by 10 seconds. And this is with essentially zero training. I hope C*dy appreciates how much he can enjoy being a contributing member of a good team, either soccer or running. It could make all the difference in his future.

Which reminds me: he'll be working 5-6 community service hours at the church tomorrow to continue his assignment for teen court.

Posted by Observer at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2008

Quayle?

McCain has apparently chosen Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his VP pick. She has no experience in national politics and will now have to deal with leaving her infant son behind for the next 67 days to campaign like crazy. She has a small town mayor two years ago. Apparently, this pick was based on two things: she completely toes the wingnut line on creationism, social policy, abortion and that sort of thing, and she's a woman (maybe trying to reach out to Hillary supporters, but maybe he forgot that they are pro-choice).

Very strange pick. He's been going on and on about how experience is important, and he picks the equivalent of Dan Quayle? Hell, when I first heard it was Palin, I thought Michael Palin, the Monty Python ticket!

On a day like this, I wish I could stomach listening to wingnut radio. I can't wait to hear Randi Rhodes play some excerpts from those shows where they are trying to help their listeners swallow a McCain/Palin ticket. The VP debate is going to be a real treat, although like Bush, Palin will probably "win" in the eyes of the traditional media because they'll set it up that if she simply survives and speaks a few coherent sentences, she has surpassed expectations.

Posted by Observer at 10:34 AM | Comments (4)

August 28, 2008

Darkness

In the lecture hall I use, I like it completely dark at the beginning of class. It makes pretty slides show up so much better, and I only do this for a few minutes. The darkness makes a huge difference in the wow factor, and as I've said before, this part of every class is a big hit.

So you can imagine my disappointment this week when I turned off all the lights at the beginning of class only to discover that at the back of the lecture hall, two 200-watt bulbs were still turned on and shining at me like spotlights. I walked up to try to turn them off, but there was no control switch.

So I complained to the appropriate people, and I was told, well, those are safety lights and they have to stay on, sorry. I wrote back, probably more politely than I should've, and asked why suddenly the room needs safety lights when they haven't been present for the past 12 years I've been in that lecture hall and, by the way, can you put me in touch with the person responsible for implementing this new policy?

Then on Wednesday before class, I simply walked up to the back of the lecture hall with a chair and unscrewed the damned bulbs. Lights off, pitch dark, everything's perfect. I figured my emails weren't going to go anywhere anyway.

Thursday morning, I got an email from the same person who wrote me back originally. He said that he had been to the lecture halls and found that, actually, if you turn all the light switches off, it is pitch dark, so maybe I was just hitting the wrong button. I thought about mentioning to him that the reason it is pitch dark now is that I unscrewed the bulbs and that I know pretty well how the lights work in that room, having used it for 12 years.

Instead, I just wrote him back and said, "Great! Thanks!"

I figure this is the best way to ensure that the unscrewed bulbs are allowed to remain unscrewed, by keeping it under the radar. Now everyone's happy except for students who show up late to class and have to stumble around in a pitch-dark room.

Hey, tough! Don't be late!

Posted by Observer at 08:52 PM | Comments (2)

August 27, 2008

Balance

As this well-researched piece demonstrates, a majority of Americans:

Want universal health care.

Want to expand environmental protections.

Support increasing the minimum wage.

Want abortion to remain safe and legal.

Want federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Want to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for national priorities.

Want same-sex couples to be legally recognized.

Oppose the Iraq war.

So how many pundits or TV opinion show hosts publicly support even half of these ideas, if any? Keith Olbermann is probably the most outspoken of those who oppose the Iraq War, and he is derided as a "freak" who is way out on the fringe. Well, yes, he is out on the fringe compared to your typical group of TV personalities, but compared to the typical American voter, he is right in the mainstream.

Why is the media so far to the right of mainstream public opinion?

Posted by Observer at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2008

What If...?

From Tom Tomorrow:

Posted by Observer at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2008

Biden

Fine by me, I guess. Biden is an old white guy and known for shooting off his mouth kinda like McCain's reputation, so maybe he'll neutralize that part of McCain that seems to charm the traditional media so much. And it'll make some people feel comfortable that there's at least one old white male on the ticket as opposed to Obama picking a female running mate (like Sebelius) or a hispanic (like Richardson), but I really doubt people who feel like that can be won over.

I know Randi Rhodes really really wanted Biden. Generally speaking, if she's happy, I'm happy. I'm sure I'll find out more. I just hope they keep plugging the "how many houses" thing. That's a real winner and is connecting with the low-information Moron American voter, it seems.

I told M*chelle today that if McCain can afford to spend $270k per year on household staff, we could probably spring for a couple hundred for a thorough cleaning by a maid service if she wants a break. After all, since we make less than $5 million per year, we're apparently middle class just like McCain!

Posted by Observer at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2008

Just a Gigolo

Glenn Greenwald helpfully points out that wingnuts have a real problem with politicians who are only wealthy because they married a rich woman. They are "kept men" who have no business talking about tax cuts for the middle class and are not wealthy through hard work, etc.

Or at least, wingnuts *HAD* these attitudes when John Kerry was running for president. Now that John McCain is running for president, it's all good.

Posted by Observer at 12:41 PM | Comments (1)

Teen Court

Since this is my last week before going back to work, I figured I would go ahead and take C*dy down to court to see what we needed to do to respond to the citation he got for breaking curfew. After waiting for a little over an hour in various lines and in various small courtrooms, we finally got to see a judge, and in about 15 seconds, she had sent us off to teen court.

Actually, I should back up a little. The first thing I did yesterday morning was wake C*dy up at 830 so he could help with some chores, then I asked him to read his citation and let me know what he needed to do. He told me it looked like it could all be resolved by mail and might even be dismissed. I read it and laughed. No such luck, dude, you HAVE to show up for court since you are a juvenile, and it will probably end up in teen court where it will only be dismissed after you jump through a bunch of hoops.

The way teen court works here is like deferred adjudication. If you complete the terms of the teen court, the citation doesn't go on your record. C*dy will have to appear in teen court in a few weeks to tell his story. At that time, the jury will decide how many hours of community service he has to perform. There's not much latitude, the jury has to pick a number between 48 and 64 hours. He can start his service now and has to complete it within 90 days of seeing the jury. He will also have to appear on juries twice during that time, on days he chooses.

I've been trying to convince C*dy to start going to church again. He stopped about a year ago because the youth groups were pretty lame, then we got a new youth minister and a big infusion of resources and parent interest in the program. I think now it is a healthy environment for him, plus I know almost most of the youth parents and most of the kids there, unlike the skater punk friends he hangs out with around here.

They don't cram religion down his throat or anything, this isn't a fundie church, but the religion is there and surely won't hurt the boy. Plus there's a lot of really fun and cool things they do, and with lots of parents involved (including me), I know there's good supervision. Most youth parents realize that if you want to make a kid WANT to go to youth group, it has to be fun, so they do all kinds of fun field trips to water parks or laser tag places, that sort of thing.

Anyway, the point is, the youth minister there is named Russ, and he's a great guy. With a new year of groups starting and C*dy moving into the high school group, it is important that he at least be active for the next several weeks just so he can give it a fair chance. Russ has offered to supervise C*dy's community service, and that's fine with teen court, so it's a win-win. Russ will get a good chance to win C*dy over, and C*dy will be active in the church BY LAW for a while.

When this is all over, if he decides he doesn't want anything more to do with the church, then that's fine, at least he gave it a chance. The consequences at home are that he's lost a few privileges for a while, and I'm going to start making sure he gets up early every day and loses his phone at 1030 at night so that he'll be encouraged to get on a normal, healthy sleep schedule. That'll be important for school, I hope.

Ashl*y is very active in the church youth program and has always had her best friends there. She insists on going every week, and that's about the only reason I drag myself in that often, not to mention the fact that it's free child care for two hours every Sunday morning (and the little ones love to go since all their friends and toys from their weekday school are there). Ironically, C*dy is a lot more respectful and tolerant and understanding than Ashl*y (they are both teenagers, so this is a relative statement).

I tried to explain to Ashl*y once that just going to church doesn't make you a good person. You have to act out the message, which means for example treating others with respect or being selfless and doing things for others that don't necessarily benefit you directly. She reacted to that as though I had just recited chapter 8 of a Quantum Mechanics text to her.

I try to believe that it's like the parable of the sower. Sooner or later if they are on good soil, good things will take root.

Posted by Observer at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

Key Rings

Like a lot of others, I like this idea. Give everyone at the Democratic convention a bunch of keys to represent all of McCain's houses and have them jingle the keys all the time. It's really stupid and coarse, but so were the purple heart band-aids, and it least this isn't offensive, just funny. And Americans have shown plenty of times that stupid and coarse tactics is a great way to shift the vote around.

I think it would also scare the hell out of the punditry. One reason the debate in our country over tax policy for rich people is so messed up is that virtually everyone on TV is rich. I'm sure they would find the key rings extremely distasteful and wouldn't hesitate to let everyone know, unlike the band-aid thing.

Posted by Observer at 07:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2008

Maddow

When your garden variety wingnut, say Glenn Beck, gets a show on CNN, it is just business as usual. He does his hour-long rant against immigrants or welfare queens or tax and spend liberals or whatever, and nobody really bats an eye.

But gave a liberal like Rachel Maddow her own hour, and everyone gets the vapors. Partisanship!?!? On our beloved cable news networks?!? This is horrible!

Posted by Observer at 02:21 PM | Comments (3)

Curfew

Our 14-year-old, C*dy, knocked on the bedroom door at 430 this morning, and as the saying goes, nothing good can possibly happen after 2am.

He says the cops are at the door and want to talk to one of us, so I go out. Turns out C*dy and his buddy from down the street snuck out at about 2am to go skateboarding down at a local strip mall. Bad news for them is that the city has an 11pm teen curfew, and this is honestly the first I've heard about it.

So now he's got a citation that he'll have to do something about. Surely a court appearance, but what else beyond that? Does this count as something that he'll have to go to alternative school for? A fine? Who knows?

We're still considering the consequences. As a first pass, the boy is losing his cell phone and will be grounded for a while. I'm also going to wake his ass up at 10 this morning, 9 tomorrow, 8 on Sunday, and I'm going to make sure he stays awake all day so he can get a normal schedule again. He had been sleeping from about 5am-2pm the last few days, spending half the night talking to or texting his friends in his room. This will get him ready for the school schedule on Monday. I'll choose to be optimistic that he will be allowed to go.

As for the citation, I'm just going to let him figure out how to handle it. It may be academic, because his mama is going to skin him alive.

Posted by Observer at 05:47 AM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2008

Fall Semester

The academic year is starting up again on Monday. Like last Fall, I'm teaching two classes on overload because (a) the department has been short a half of a faculty member because of a promotion to administration and (b) the University doesn't want to hire adjuncts to teach classes if possible. Good news for me because it is a chunk of extra money and an easy assignment (teaching additional sections of classes I'm already teaching anyway), but bad news in the sense that it means less flexibility in my schedule. When you've got two high schoolers and two toddlers, flexibility is a big deal.

I'm all ready for the semester as of today. This is actually my favorite time of the year. A new school year is always exciting, and I know I'll have a lot of freshmen in my big survey class. That means my class will be a big chunk of their lives for the next four months, and I'll try to make it a good one. If evaluations are any indication (those of you who know my name can look me up on ratemyprofessor.com), most people really enjoy my classes, so it's kinda cool to have a new crowd of faces to win over (knowing I'll end up winning most of 'em over).

I'm also excited because of the new material I have been adding to the lectures, based in part on work you've seen me write here. That was an enormous hit last Spring, and I suspect the same this Fall. Some day in the future, I fear I may lose this feeling of excitement, the good vibe I get from students, the enthusiasm of a new academic year. I hope not, because then it will feel like I actually have a real job.

Posted by Observer at 09:12 PM | Comments (2)

August 18, 2008

First Visit

Our 19-year-old came home for a weekend visit thanks to an immigration issue that was successfully resolved. He stayed Friday through late this afternoon. He seems to be getting on okay so far. He arrived at college a few weeks early to start training with the other runners on his team, and his dorm and meals are paid for until school starts, after which time he's on a half scholarship.

His main problem out there so far is boredom. There's little to do in the little college town except run (or associated work outs), eat, sleep and watch TV. All the guys on the team seem pretty close, and he says he's fitting in and spends lots of time with all of them. They all hang out in each other's dorm rooms (two to a room) during most of their free time, having video game tournaments or the like.

We fed him well while he was here because the cafeteria food out there is apparently horrible. He got a visit to the Mongolian grill and a full turkey dinner, plus I'm sure I bought him a few boxes of his favorite snacks from Costco to take home. The water out there tastes bad, too, and he must be suffering for that because while he was home, he easily drank 1.5-2 gallons of our bottled water per day. We have one of those big five gallon jugs and a dispenser, and we were going through about 8-10 per month until he left. If he can't drink tap out there, I don't know how he's going to drink the water he needs because he sure can't afford bottled from the store or anything.

It was a good visit. He didn't get his old room back or anything because his younger brother got promoted to J*stin's old bedroom while our little ones are now split into their own rooms (something five-year-old Daniel was very anxiously awaiting, mostly so he can protect "his own" toys from a curious younger brother). Still, we set up a bed in the upstairs game room and treated him as a guest, which basically meant he didn't have to do any chores and got first dibs on TV/DVD/games. I know he enjoyed having a little bit of status.

What he doesn't realize, of course, is that if he ever has to move back in, he gets demoted from "guest" status to "tenant". Heh. :)

Posted by Observer at 10:49 PM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2008

For or Against?

This is a good example of the dilemma of the McCain voter. If you know someone is voting for McCain, ask them why. Not why they are voting AGAINST Obama, mind you, but why they are voting FOR McCain. Specifically, what policy or idea or position of McCain's is making you support him?

The thing is, if you leave out abortion (which goes out the window if he picks a pro-choice VP), he has reversed himself on just about every major issue. Drilling? Was against it for two decades until recently. Tax cuts? Hated the Bush tax cuts, voted against them, now says he would make them permanent. Torture? Immigration? Warrantless Wiretapping? Social Security Privatization? Nuclear Waste? Global Warming? All kinds of flip-flops on the Iraq War though he has always basically supported the general (horrible) idea.

The point is that it is almost impossible to be FOR McCain based on any number of issues, so most McCain supporters are really just against Obama, and usually for reasons that they can't articulate (or are false). Like "he'll raise my taxes" (which is false for everyone making less than $250k per year individually) or he'll "lose Iraq" (ummm, define "win"). Most commonly, it is just know-nothings, the kind of low-information voter the Republican party caters to, the people who still think Obama is a radical Muslim who disrespects the flag.

That's how Bush got the elections close enough to steal. Who knows? It may work for McCain, too.

Posted by Observer at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2008

Serpens

Ok, back to constellations! When I last left off, I had covered Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, and today I'll start talking about the constellation Serpens, split into two parts on either side of Ophiuchus. The head is Serpens Caput (on the west side), and the tail is Serpens Cauda. I discussed the mythology of Serpens and Ophiuchus previously, so I won't repeat that here. This is one of the faintest constellations, though it is one of the original 48. The brightest star is Unukalhai at 3rd magnitude. There aren't many nearby visible references, but a rough way to find it is to look at the center of a triangle formed by Antares (in Scorpio), Rasalhague (in Ophiuchus) and Arcturus (in Bootes), three relatively bright stars.

The name translates as the serpent's neck, though it is sometimes called Cor Serpentis, for the serpent's heart. Astrophysically, it isn't all that interesting, just another one of the many orange giants within about 100 light years that make up a large fraction of the stars we can see with the naked eye. In fact, none of the naked-eye stars in Serpens are all that remarkable, and I'm going to skip a couple of prototype variables (explaining the light curve of W Serpentis is a little too much inside baseball) but the deep sky objects are a different story, as we have some very famous objects here.

In Serpens Caput, about five degrees Southwest of Unukalhai (or halfway between Antares and Arcturus if you can't find Unukalhai), we find Messier 5, a cluster that rivals the famous Messier 13 cluster in Hercules as one of the brightest and richest in the sky. There are a large number of variable stars here, which make distance determination easy. M5 is in the inner halo but moving very fast, nearly at a speed equal to our galaxy's escape velocity, so it must be on a highly elliptical orbit, much like a comet passing through our solar system as it passes near the galactic center.

Over on the Eastern side of Ophiuchus in Serpens Cauda, we find the brightest of the remaining deep sky objects in the constellation Serpens. I'll start with the most famous, Messier 16, also known as the Eagle Nebula. There is a young open cluster of stars here, lighting up a surrounding cloud of mostly Hydrogen gas and dust 7000 light years away in a neighboring arm of the galaxy (the Sagittarius Arm, closer to the center of the galaxy). The surrounding eagle-shaped dust cloud is seen best in this larger view. In this image, normally red Hydrogen-alpha emission is green simply because it makes it easier for the eye to pick up finer details. Red and blue colors are emission lines from ionized Sulfur and Oxygen, which are indicative of different density and temperature conditions in different parts of the nebula.

Near the center of the image is the famous formation known as the pillars of creation. Near the tips of the pillars, you can see in detail the light from surrounding hot stars burning away the dust cloud, creating a corona of ionized gas. Where the gas is densest, where new stars are forming in the cores of thick, dust clouds, you can see little spires of dust sticking out from the main cloud. These are places where the intense radiation pressure has stripped away the surrounding dust and left only the clump of a forming star along with its "shadow", a trail of dust.

You can find this by looking about 10 degrees due north from the point at the crown of the teapot in Sagittarius, so this is fairly close to the line of sight to the galactic center. About five degrees Northwest of this is a fairly nice 9th magnitude globular cluster, NGC 6539, about 30,000 light years distant.

About 2 degrees North of the globular cluster Messier 5 in Serpens Caput, we find an 11th magnitude face-on barred spiral galaxy, NGC 5921. It made the news several years ago when a type II supernova erupted near the intersection of the bar and the lower spiral arm (seen in this image).

Next is the tilted spiral NGC 6070, about 10 degrees due East from Messier 5, seen here in an image that inaugurated the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope. The SDSS image is a little grainy, but the purpose of the survey was not so much for aesthetics but instead completeness, a usable map (including spectra!) of raw data at high resolution for the entire sky. A better image is here from AOP.

Looking now to much fainter objects, there are a couple of really neat targets imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in this region. NGC 6027 is a little cluster of galaxies nearly 200 million light years away known as Stephan's Sextet. This is actually only four interacting galaxies. The one spiral in the image that isn't distorted is in the distant background about five times further away, and the other "galaxy" is really just a tidal tail that has a concentration that looks a little bit like the nucleus of a galaxy. All four of these galaxies are small enough that this group would fit inside our own Milky Way galaxy, just barely.

Still further away and also in Serpens Caput along the border with Bootes, at a distance of 600 million light years, is Hoag's object, a very nice ring galaxy first noticed in the 1950's. Ring galaxies like this are typically the result of a nearly perpendicular head-on collision that creates a wave of star formation expanding outward through the larger galaxy like ripples on a pond in slow motion.

Posted by Observer at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2008

Bump in the Road

So now that I finished this super-long Terry Goodkind series, I thought I would look into some other long-form fantasy, and so my mind eventually turned to the "Wheel of Time" series that Robert Jordan started about 150 years ago and has been slowly releasing books about every other year, etc. This is a series that, back when I was doing book reviews much more often (in the early 90's) on the web, a huge fraction of the email I would get in response was people trying to get me to read Robert Jordan. I basically told them to go away, that I'd read it when it was all finished.

So I've waited and waited and waited, and now I come to find out that book 11 was released in Fall of 2006, and Jordan was working on book 12 (to be the final book) when he died in Fall of 2007. Apparently, he divulged the main plot resolution details to family members before he died, and his editor picked another author to finish the last book based on Jordan's notes and so forth. Now it is due to be finished in Fall of 2009 and will probably be out in paperback around Summer 2010, so that's when I'll plan to get four boxed trilogy sets from Amazon and start reading through it.

So, geez, get off my back, Jordan fans. Only two more years, and I'll read it and probably say it was mediocre, right around the same level as the Goodkind "Sword of Truth" series. A page-turner but nothing epic or re-readable, nothing like Tolkien or Donaldson (shut up, I'll put those two together if I want).

See, I'm trying to lower my expectations so I'll enjoy it. The main reason I will buy it is so that it will be on my shelf for the kids and grandkids someday.

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

August 13, 2008

Continuum

We watched the newest Stargate movie last night (Continuum), and it was a pretty good one. However, season 4 of Atlantis ends with a similar plot, and they've gone to the alternate timeline well an awful lot. If they're going to continue these movies, it is time for a new bad guy and a multi-movie arc like a trilogy or something.

They've already done the parasites (Goa'uld), the vampires (Wraith), the Borg-like collective (Replicators in both series) and the semi-ascended (Ori). Next, I suggest some kind of organic collective, some kind of microorganism that acts collectively but at the same time can do organic stuff, combining the powers of the Goa'uld and the replicators. Or maybe just one really good alien villain, surely they can do better than Michael from Atlantis.

Looking at the Wikipedia page for Stargate, I got a laugh when I found out the name of the original lead scientist for the Atlantis mission.

Oh well, we're done with Stargate for the time being, having burned through 14 combined seasons, so now it is on to the TV series "The Dead Zone" for a while via Netflix. We already watched the first couple of discs earlier while waiting for season 4 of Atlantis, and it is pretty good so far.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2008

19-17

Down 10 runs? Starting pitcher gives up 12 runs?

Bah, who cares, this is the Rangers. We came back and actually led for a while in Boston but ultimately lost 19-17, so all they really accomplished was to get young starter Scott Feldman off the hook for the loss.

Man, Marlon Byrd may be the best hitter in baseball post-all-star-break for the past two seasons. If he could've put the second half of last season with the second half of this one, that man would be looking at a big paycheck this offseason.

In the long run, it is better if Boston sweeps us so no one will have any delusions about getting into the wild card race. With both Boston and New York in front of us by several games now, there's just no hope, so we won't be trading away talent for any mercenaries. I just hope some of our guys clear waivers so we can get some prospects from someone.

Posted by Observer at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2008

That Explains a Lot

The past 7+ years in the White House have essentially been one long Will Farrell movie. I guess that's a nice way of looking at it.

Posted by Observer at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

Headlines

Another great step in pushing the "liberal" agenda by the ultra-super-duper liberal socialist Washington Post: the headline reads that Obama's plan would "balloon" the national debt by $3.6 trillion by 2018, then you read to the end of the article to find out that McCain's plan would increase the debt by $5 trillion.

(sigh)

Posted by Observer at 05:23 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2008

Letter to the Editor

A letter-writer to the paper this morning claimed that if we had started drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1995 as Republicans wanted (but Clinton vetoed), gas prices would be down around two dollars a gallon today. Since I've been looking into this a lot lately and had many facts and references close at hand, I decided to compose a reply. We'll see if it gets published (it is too long, I think, so even if it gets in, they'll edit they hell out of it):

One letter from August 10 claims that if we had started drilling in the ANWR 10 years ago, gas prices would be only $2 per gallon today. If only! Let's assume we had allowed drilling in 1995 over Clinton's veto. The total recoverable oil in ANWR is estimated to be 2-4 billion barrels, so I'll be optimistic and assume 4 billion barrels recovered over a timespan of about 20 years, starting today. You can check all these numbers for yourself by visiting the website of the Department of Energy or many other credible sources.

So 4 billion barrels spread out over 20 years is 0.2 billion barrels of oil per year, on average, and that oil doesn't necessarily stay here in the US. Just like any other oil recovered in the US today from over 500,000 wells already drilled, it would be sold on the world market. Over those same 20 years, global supply will be about 30 billion barrels of oil per year, so drilling in ANWR would increase supply by less than one percent. I know exposure to reality doesn't usually stop Bush supporters, but it just doesn't make sense to assume that such a tiny increase in supply would result in a 50% price drop in gas.

Barack Obama and the Democrats have already acted to bring the commodities speculation market back under US control, something John McCain fought against. That's no surprise, since it was McCain and Phil Gramm who first screwed up that market to benefit Enron. The resulting 20% drop in gas prices over the last six weeks was not only predicted by experts who once worked for the government to oversee the futures market, but it is also a far greater price drop (and far quicker) than could ever be expected from passing every single drilling measure Republicans have proposed. I wonder why this stunning success hasn't made banner headlines in the supposedly liberal media?

I also wonder what was the original source of this $2 per gallon claim. If I were told that information, I would be inclined to ask why I was lied to. Obama has more good energy ideas based on credible information, offering a real change from the past eight disastrous years of government acting exclusively on behalf of the oil companies (who are profiting nicely at our expense). I recommend you check them out.

Posted by Observer at 04:31 PM | Comments (3)

August 09, 2008

Upgrade

Our new V*rizon phones are pretty cool. Reception is great everywhere, and I'm getting the hang of texting since we have unlimited free texting for all phones now. I can also take and send photos to others, and I've sent M*chelle a few of the kids at the playground or library or the pugs at the vet while we're out just to keep her up to date.

Fortunately, we are able to track the usage on all the phones online, so after a few days, I checked in on the kids' phones. The two older ones were fine, but C*dy had already racked up 300 minutes during peak hours, and as a family, we only have 1400. I had warned him not to talk much on the cell during the daytime, but he basically completely forgot or blew that off, so I took his phone from him during peak hours for about a week. Then I gave it back and told him I would monitor it, and if he had a day where he went over 10 minutes peak talking time, I'd take it from him again until the end of the billing cycle.

That seems to have worked, so far. If I hadn't stopped him, the extrapolated bill would have been in the neighborhood of $400 just for the extra minutes he used. I also had to go in and disable downloads on all the phones because they were starting to figure out how to download songs and ringtones and such. C*dy had racked up around 10 or 20 bucks worth of downloaded MB, and he'll get charged for that once we get our first bill. We'll have to figure out how to restrict that. When the kids complained, I simply explained that's how the phone companies make their money, by relying on stupid kids to use features and make their stupid parents pay. We're not going to be the stupid parents in the equation.

In other news, J*stin has finished his first week at his new college. They're running him ragged, and his lack of much running this summer is leaving him struggling. The coach is confident he'll be able to catch up based on his high school times. Unfortunately, we have to put Justin on a bus back home next weekend to do an immigration physical (and he has no doctor near him to do it), so he'll miss a step there. Better to get as much done as possible before school starts, though.

Bad news for him is that the bus leaves his college at 1 in the morning and arrives here at about 530am, so it will be a long night for him and an early morning for me. The return trip isn't so bad, it is in the late afternoon/evening. We've already swapped out rooms, so C*dy is now upstairs in J*stin's old room, and Daniel is in C*dy's old room on the top bunk while we removed the bottom bunk to give him a secret hideout.

Daniel is wayyy excited to be out of the room he was sharing with Ben. I guess Ben was starting to keep Daniel awake at night with chatter and so forth. This way also, Daniel gets to partition some of his favorite toys away from Ben, which Ben doesn't really care about much. Out of sight, out of mind for Ben. If he can't see it, he doesn't remember how badly he wants to play with it.

Posted by Observer at 09:25 PM | Comments (2)

August 08, 2008

Bubble Burst

I find it interesting that oil prices have dropped pretty far from all-time highs just a month ago, a high I felt was due to a speculative bubble but others felt was due to supply and demand issues. At about the same time prices started dropping, Congress passed a law that essentially brought the oil futures market back under US control so we could monitor who was buying what instead of it being a dark market. At the time, many experts testified before Congress that the result of bringing this back under control would be exactly what is happening to oil prices, at least in the short term.

Here is a good diary that makes this point in more detail with graphs and quotes and everything. I wonder why the Democrats aren't taking more credit for this? Republicans are complaining that we need to drill drill drill, but that's not getting done at all (at least not what they want) and yet prices are plummeting anyway. It's the Dems who are the only ones who have done anything about oil prices, and it worked. McSame fought this every step of the way, and it should be an anchor for him if the traditional media can stop talking about Edwards.

And if Edwards really did have an affair and the Enquirer knows what it is talking about some of the time, how about some follow-up on Bush's reported drinking problem? It's not like he has good judgment when he's sober, so it's no big deal, but hey, inquiring minds want to know!

Posted by Observer at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2008

Drilling

Boy, Republicans really don't have anything positive to say do they? They're staking all of the political clout on pounding the drilling issue, trying to force Democrats to pass legislation to open up more land for drilling.

Ok, so I assume the point of this is that if we drill more domestically, we can take care of our own supply and not have to rely on the Middle East, right? So it would follow that CURRENTLY, the oil companies, the heroes who are keeping our economy moving, the brave corporations who badly want to bring down gas prices if only they would be allowed even more drilling rights than they already have ... these oil companies who harvest oil in the United States keep it here, right?

Nope, any oil recovered in the US goes onto the world market, just like any oil from Saudi Arabia. And if we drill more, do you think the new oil we recover over the next 20-30 years is going to be sold exclusively within the US?

God, this is SUCH a stupid issue.

Posted by Observer at 10:27 PM | Comments (2)

August 06, 2008

Goodkind

I just finished the last book of the 11-book "Sword of Truth" series by Terry Goodkind. I don't remember what got me started on the series, but it was probably one of those websites where you enter in a bunch of titles of books you like, and you get recommendations based on the lists others have submitted, kinda like how Netflix recommendations work.

So anyway, I bought the first nine books from Amazon as three boxed sets, pretty cheap, then I bought book 10 separately, and when I finished book 10 last week, I went to the library to look for books for M*chelle to read while recovering from surgery, and right there in front of me on the "new fiction" shelf was the hardback copy of book 11. I hadn't even realized until finishing book 10 that the series was slated to end at the end of book 11, so I was glad to get this book and read it to end the series.

My overall impression of the series is that it is a good page-turner. The only thing maybe inappropriate for teens would be the level of graphic violence portrayed, including numerous fairly vivid depictions of rapes and associated depravities, along with a rather exhausting 100-page foray into extensive torture in one of the early books. But those parental concerns aside, it's really not much worse in that department that most other contemporary fantasy. By comparison, the Paksenarrion series by Moon would register about a 3 out of 10 whereas this series is about a 7 out of 10, roughly matching the Covenant series by Donaldson where the violence/depravity was less frequent but a bit more graphic, and a 10 would be the Gap series by Donaldson.

Anyhoo, good points: The plot was fairly interesting and unpredictable. A lot of different characters are used, and you never really know when some will live or die or turn out to be major or minor. The Gandalf-like Zedd looks to be a central figure of the series at first, but then he is totally ignored for most of books 3-8, while seemingly random bodyguard Cara is present perhaps more than any other character except the main two. A couple of books are half or more from the perspective of new characters who are thereafter relegated to insignificant status, just initially there to provide a fresh perspective on things.

The characters are fairly well fleshed-out and introduced gradually enough that it wasn't hard to keep track of everyone. The strategy and tactics (moves and countermoves) were pretty well thought-out, and Goodkind isn't afraid to run with long, unbroken sequences on a particular plot (instead of maddeningly mixing it up all the time, with 30 pages of something gripping, 30 pages of nothing, 30 pages of something else, then back to the main plot, etc) if it is a good one.

Also, most of the plots were fun to follow. There were a few spurts scattered throughout the series where I simply did not want to put the book down for a couple hundred pages. I was curious enough and engaged enough to really care about what happened next, to see how everything was resolved.

Bad points: The two main characters, Richard and Kahlan, aren't consistent in their level of maturity and common sense. At times, Kahlan is a wise and respected leader of nations, and then she'll spend half a book on a descent into junior high level jealousy which drives her to irrational thoughts and actions. If Goodkind needs his main characters to do something to drive the plot, he needs to do a better job of motivating them.

Also, he sometimes goes a long way for little payoff. For example, in the last book, a great many pages are spent on an obscure argument about magical theory just for the payoff that Richard cannot honestly tell Kahlan (who has lost her memory) that he truly loves her, creating a minor tension that lasts for all of 20 pages. There's 100 pages that could've been cut out with no great loss, but I guess you get that kind of thing in an 11-book series once in a while.

I was fairly neutral on the frequent forays into philosophy. There were several discussions of free will and determinism (portrayed as prophecy), freedom/capitalism vs communism and kind of a Randian individualism sprinkled throughout Richard's frequent speeches. It reminded me at times of Michael Crichton's habit of inserting liberal politics into the minds of his most evil and disgusting characters whereas the brilliant, beautiful, selfless and heroic good guys all seemed to favor lower taxes or corporatism over environmentalism, but Goodkind didn't go quite so far. It was mostly just a slightly more thoughtful version of the good vs evil struggle, trying to understand why a large population would essential buy into an evil philosophy.

Overall, I'd give the series about a 6-7 out of 10. It's a good shelf-filler for a library full of speculative fiction for kids and teens. Hey, they can't all be Tolkien, you know.

Posted by Observer at 08:35 PM | Comments (0)

Happy Anniversary

It has now been seven years since Bush's received a presidential daily brief entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in the US" and proceeded to do nothing for the next six weeks until the actual attack took place.

Ah, sweet memories. It's been so nice to have "the adults" in charge for the past 7+ years, hasn't it?

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

August 04, 2008

Walk-Off

It's too bad the Rangers are basically out of it, because every game is a spectacle. Crappy pitching and great hitting make for a lot of end-game dramatics, not least of which was tonight's walk-off grand slam by Marlon Byrd against the Yankees, who would never have even been in the game if the home plate umpire had been willing to call a third strike on any of 'em (they seem to have a normal "imperfect" strike zone for strikes 1 and 2). He wasn't shy about ringing up Rangers, but the Yankees got 2 or arguably 3 runs directly from very obvious right-down-the-middle fastballs on 2-strike counts that weren't called for strikes.

Again, a reminder of why I shouldn't watch the games on TV. Problem is, the ump was so bad even the radio guys were bitching, and I haven't heard it nearly this bad all season. All these years, and the Yankees are in the top three in on-base just about every season, and I'm sure a huge part of it is that they just get calls that other teams don't. The Yankees draw big crowds wherever they go, and the umpire wants to see the ball put in play when Yankee hitters are up, I guess. Very frustrating.

Update: Broken video link updated to point to ESPN's video.

Posted by Observer at 11:16 AM | Comments (3)

August 01, 2008

Exciting Is Hardly the Word I Would Choose

The Rangers aren't going anywhere this postseason. They will probably finish within 10 games of .500, more likely over than under, but no hope for a playoff spot, not with so many teams in front of them in the wild card. Too bad they didn't unload someone before the trade deadline for a decent prospect, but from what I gather, most of their trade-worthy players are very low value right now (like Blalock and Laird, both coming off injuries).

I would've liked to see Padilla get dealt, just because he's been so solid, surely we would get a nice, young, cheap pitcher or two for him. Maybe we'll get some people through waivers and make trades later.

In the meantime, we still have the best offense and the worst pitching in the majors, kinda like the Tigers in the early 90's only without all the strikeouts (we actually are paying attention to on-base for the first time in franchise history, I believe ... maybe Ron Washington brought some of that mojo from Oakland). So you'll have some exciting games. In the last month, I think we've had 4 games in which both teams scored over 10 runs, and we won three of them. No lead is safe at the Rangers home place. Tonight, we came back from 6-0 to tie it and then were down 8-6 in the 9th and scored 3 runs in the bottom to win it. Too bad we aren't in a real race of any kind, but it is still fun to watch.

Posted by Observer at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)