The Personal and Political Ramblings of one guy in Texas.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Warning, Slow Blogging Ahead 

With the wife-unit either out of town or preparing for her trip out of town, from Saturday 1/31 until Wednesday morning 2/4, I'm pretty much doing the single dad thing. Oh, and there's no school next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So I'll have Other Things To Do, y'know? Do drop by once or twice between now and next Friday and see if there's anything new, but odds are it'll be only after the munchkin goes to sleep that I try do do anything.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hubert's Tail 

We have two dogs (and three cats, but that’s a story for another day). Hubert, a three-year old Great Dane, and George, a 3.5-month old – something. He shows signs of Dane, Lab, and German Shepherd. Odds are he’ll be pretty big, though not as big as Hubert, who is skinny at 120lbs.

Hubert is a peculiar creature. All dogs have personalities of their own, but some have more than others. Hubert is one of those. There’s no need to go into all his traits. For now we need only recall that when he gets upset about something, he has a tendency to grab low-hanging food and eat it. And being a Great Dane, just keeping stuff on a counter or table isn’t enough if he is determined. Being left alone all day when it looked like Trish or myself was going to stay home is something that upsets him; and trust me, he knows by how we dress if we’re likely to stay home. In particular, he takes note of Trish’s shoes. But I digress.

Yesterday, I picked the munchkin up at day care and we got home. He headed up to let George out of his crate, and I let Hubert outside to take care of business.

Then I noticed the onion. Or rather, the bits of dried onion skin on the floor. There was a bag of red onions (big red onions) on the edge of the kitchen table, with the bag opening hanging over the side.

This did not look good.

While Jake proceeded to watch a little TV (PBS, natch), I hurried through the house looking for signs of
onion. I couldn’t imagine Hubert, Mr. Finicky himself, eating an entire red onion, but there was no sign of a partially chewed and spat out onion anywhere. And George had been in the crate all day, so he couldn’t have done it. I tried calling Trish, but she wasn’t in her office or answering her cell phone. I decided I’d better call the vet, a place that should be on our speed-dial.

The vet people were a bit taken aback at the idea a dog would eat a red onion, but promised to look it up. One of the many nice things about having a really big dog is that it takes a lot of whatever is bad for them to make them sick. But the onions in that bag were at least as big as my fist. At any rate, I was hoping that we would only have some really bad gas to deal with (our recently deceased Dane mix Chester once got into some moldy bread. Even the French would have voted in favor of the UN resolution to disarm the resulting gaseous WMD).

No such luck. Although no toxic dose was found for a dog of Hubert’s size, red onion could do unpleasant things to a dog’s liver and thus his blood. They recommended I try to induce vomiting, and if I couldn’t get that to work, to call the emergency vet for more advice.

Oy. I tried calling Trish again, no luck. I made a last-ditch effort to find a partially chewed onion carcass in all the places Hubert normally liked to lie down. No dice. I began to sweat. I fielded a call from Trish’s
father, a retired pathologist, but he had little advice except to remain upwind. I gathered up the hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. You ever try to get something that legitimately wears a horse bridle instead of a collar to take hydrogen peroxide? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The phone rang. It was Trish. I asked her about a missing onion.

She laughed. I resisted an urge to strangle someone. She told me about how George had gotten himself an onion, carried it upstairs, and taken a nice big bite. And immediately spat it back out again and got as far from the offending vegetable as possible. I looked deeply into the trashcan, and found the onion.

“Is everything okay?” She asked. “It is now,” I replied, and allowed myself to fall into post-adrenaline rush collapse.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Question for My Readers -- All Four or Five of You 

Is this font too big? I know its pretty easy to read, but man, it makes my posts look as long as Steven Den Beste's.

The Last Flight of the Columbia 

A description of Columbia's final minutes (via Vodkapundit).

Its some tough reading.

Stop by here and pay your respects sometime.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Late last week a friend of mine said in email something breathtakingly stupid. I called him on it, but he never replied. So I don’t know if he realized he was being stupid, decided I was hopeless, or was simply tired of the argument. Or maybe he just didn’t see my reply.

What he said was (and I’m paraphrasing here), most of the Democratic candidates did not have an ideology, they just wanted to run the government pragmatically. Like I said, breathtaking. Of course they have ideologies!

But so what?

Ideological is a word that had come to carry some negative connotations. It has been applied to True Believers of any political stripe, and is usually followed by an explanation of why they are scary threats to America and Life As We Know It. Ideologies are generally described as negative things. We hear about “Marxist ideology”, “Fundamentalist ideology” (both Christian and Muslim), and so forth. And these people are often called ideologues.

But having an ideology is not in itself bad. It is just a collection of beliefs, hopefully coherent, that form the basis of an intellectual system of some kind. It can be economic, political, social, what have you. Pretty much all of us have an ideology, a way we think things out to work, even if we haven’t sat down and tried to put it all down on paper.

The problem comes when people filter facts through the lens of their ideology, rather than adjusting their ideology on the basis of the facts. Some bad stuff has come of that, everything from bans on dancing to genocide. Therefore, it has become something of a custom in American politics to accuse one’s opponents of being “extremists” or “out of the mainstream” (read “too liberal/conservative”). You know, scary and not to be trusted.

But after a while, I think people doing this branding start to believe some of their own snake-oil. Your people just want good government. Their people are at best fools, or more likely, engaged in sinister conspiracies to perpetuate their own power.

I think that’s what happened to my friend there. In his case, I’m sure it was a temporary aberration. But too often its not.

My friend and a supporter have wandered by to argue that he was not actually saying the Dem candidates had no ideology. Check out the comments. I'm willing to concede he didn't actually mean what I thought he meant. Unfortunately, plenty of other people do seem to think that way, so the balance of my post still holds up.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Wesley Clark: Doofus 

I'm a little late to this party, partially because of yesterday's posting troubles, and so the estimable Robert Tagorda has already covered some of the ground I mean to cover. Advantage to P&F!

But I still want to pile on here, because its worth looking at by a lot of people. I'm becoming more and more convinced that Wesley Clark is something of a doofus. I don't mean he's dumb, you don't get to be a 4-star general by being an idiot. I mean, he says some dumb things, and it may be that its because he was a 4 star general.

I remember when Clark declared he was running. I remember reading people commenting on various blogs and on Fark that he would wipe the floor with Bush, that he was the Man, etc. etc. I just rolled my eyes. I’ve seen too many people who were supposed to be “it” crash and burn (sadly, a lot of them were Aggie quarterbacks).

Well, he’s smoking, but he hasn’t crashed yet, partially because everyone is watching to see if Howard Dean is in a death spiral or just readying to slingshot around the sun, go back in time, rescue two humpback whales and save the Earth…wait, that’s the plot to Star Trek IV. Anyway, the Dean mess has distracted people from Clark, but here’s what they need to be looking into:

The first thing is that he’s poo-pooed John Kerry’s military record as compared to his own. Take a look at this article in the Manchester Union Leader:

“I stayed with the military all the way through,” Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters. “I stayed with the United States Army through Vietnam. I was company commander there. I fought and I was hit by four rounds.”

He apparently did it again on another news show the next day. Knocking Kerry’s military record is not only dumb, but it looks petty, coming from a general, who should be above that sort of thing.

The good general has been endorsed by Micheal Moore, which, frankly, is enough to make a lot of people consider someone else right there. But on top of that, Moore’s statement labels Bush a deserter, right on Clark’s own website. Apparently, Moore said something similar at a campaign stop where he and Clark were both present. Peter Jennings asked Clark about it at the Democratic debate last night. Clark’s response, that Moore could say what he wanted and that he hadn’t really looked into the charges (which stem from irregularities and missing documents from Bush’s last years in the Texas Air National Guard. See here for a critical but not frothing account) is probably literally true. But it don’t pass “What?!?” test.

Folks, you don’t have to like Bush to realize this is dumb politics. Anywhere from half to two-thirds of the country likes the guy personally, and you’re letting some guy skate on calling him a deserter? This association with Moore is a pretty flaky idea in any case (I’m certain Moore will turn off about 90% of all people not already on board with his politics because of his rabble-rousing style) but this is just begging for some killer attack ads.

Tagorda has another good one where Clark apparently guaranteed there wouldn’t be another 9/11 if he was the president:

If I'm president of the United States, I'm going to take care of the American people. We are not going to have one of these [9/11] incidents.

Sure you are, general. Geez, I know its what he would want to happen, but how do you go around making these sorts of promises?

Clark has also dropped a humdinger or two about abortion, suggesting at various times that he would 1) never appoint a pro-life judge 2) that Life begins with the mother’s decision 3) he didn’t think there should be an legal limits on abortion. Check here and here for the stories and quotes.

This is a pretty extreme set of positions to take on such a divisive issue. It may play with the NARAL folks, but I have a feeling it won’t play to the middle. Most people still accept the pro-choice position, but they also tend to support limits, and litmus test is just rank hypocrisy on a subtopic already loaded with it from both sides.

Finally, we close with this.

"I looked at who was asking the questions, and I think that was part of the Republican agenda in the debate."

Folks, Wesley Clark is just not ready for prime time.

Wesley Clark might not have said that quote about the Republican agenda in the debate. It might have been a staffer. The New York Times has run a correction, but its not clear to me who it was that actually made the remark.

Oh Captain my Captain 

Dadgummit. Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, has died.

When I was a kid, I loved Captain Kangaroo. It came on in the morning, and I watched it before I was old enough to go to school. Even after I was of age, I'd watch on holidays and stuff when there was no school.

Another bit of childhood gone. RIP, Captain.

So I need a job 

Me and quite a few other people, though exactly how many is a source of some dispute.

Anyway, I've been looking for other jobs for pretty much the last 18 months. At first, I just turned on my resume on Monster and waited. Then I actively searched Monster. Then other search engines. Then specific company websites. I've applied for a fair number. I've been interviewed twice.

I've been a programmer for about ten years. My real problem is that the language I know most about, and have used the last 7 years, is a smaller language called Progress. There just isn't much of it Austin, Texas. And why should employers grab a guy who doesn't know C++ or Java but could learn when Austin is flooded with experienced C++ and Java folks?

I'm probably a better programmer and better at dealing with users than most of them, but hey, its a buyer's market for employers. They can afford to be picky.

So if you know someone needing a Progress programmer in Austin, let me know. Or a person good in dealing with users who has and can learn new languages quickly, let me know.

So why are you blogging from work? 

Don't do this at home kids. Or rather, only do this at home.

Yup, I'm blogging from work right now, but that's only because I have basically nothing to do. Zip, zilch nada. This job ends in a week.

No, my liberal-leaning friends, this one cannot be blamed on El Presidente. The firm I work for wants to use a common software for its different lines of business (its a health care outfit). And when that happens, they won't need me. Actually, they tried to use a new software last year, and cut me loose in January of 2003, but that package turned out to be a bust, so 3 months later I was back, making important changes to keep things going on the old stuff. But that was a temporary fix at best. Even if they were to keep the old software, the MIS operation, which has been run out of Austin for many years, is moving up to the corporate office in Garland sometime this summer. And even if they wanted me, I wouldn't be going with it. Both these moves make perfect sense, and although it impacts me negatively, I'm not upset about it.

There are two reasons for this. First, to be honest with you, I don't much like this job. My boss is a nice guy, and company policies were really pretty family-friendly, but the environment just wasn't my cup of tea. And marking time for 6 months last year while waiting for my last day was pretty damn boring. The wife-unit said that it was obvious I was much happier those three months than the 6 months prior and for much this past year.

The second reason is financial. I'm in very good shape. Because of a bit of luck and the many years of hard work and careful saving and investing put in by my deceased parents, I've got a lot of cushion. I won't get into specifics, but basically, don't cry for me, Argentina, okay? I'm good. So no anxiety over the loss of a good paycheck.

So anyway, that's why I'm blogging from work right now.

Blogroll Update and Windows Weirdness 

No blogging yesterday, I was mildly ill and at home. Um, yes, I'm blogging from work. More on that anon.

So I'm late in getting my blogroll updated. On it now are Harry Boswell's Kudzu Files and Mike Dahmus' Bake Sale of Bile. Both of these guys are refugees (can you be a refugee from something you still participate in?) from the nearly late, once great newsgroup

As for the weirdness, I tried to blog from home, but when I hit the button to preview my changes, it fried my connection. I couldn't surf the web, do email, news, nothing. I had to reboot. I've seen this before. On a handful of websites, trying to do submit informtion would fry everything. Must have something to do with whatever applet the web page in question uses to do the submitting. I've no idea if it has something to do with my custom security set-ups in Windows 98 Internet Explorer or just some bizarro thing that Windows is often known for (you Mac people don't bother -- I've had really very few problems with Windows, either via luck or skill, and since my wife has a Mac, I've been able to see that they are not, in fact, trouble-free).

I've been planning for and have the money set aside for a major upgrade in the next month or so. I'm hoping that will take care of it. Or maybe I'll just try a default security setting. I didn't feel up to that experiment yesterday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Some More on Health Care 

A Canadian points out that all is not necessarily well with the Canadian single-payer plan, at least in Saskatchewan (hat tip to The Bemusement Park).

Hospitals across rural Saskatchewan have been closed, forcing residents to
travel hours for simple office appointments (phone calls are not billable) and pre-surgical blood tests. Beds are taken offline because of nursing shortages, low pay scales sends Canadian trained doctors to the US or larger population centers, while immigrant doctors take their place - when they can be inticed to do so. There is a chronic shortage of medical specialists.


Also today the folks over at Reason have an article touching on the very issues I was wondering about last week.

Similar to FSAs, HSAs allow employees to set aside pretax money to cover routine checkups, co-pays, prescription drugs, vaccinations, and so forth, while costly medical procedures would be covered by high-deductible insurance policies. But unlike FSAs, employees may keep their own money, rolling over any unspent funds in their HSAs at the end of the year and investing the money for future medical expenses.

Perhaps I haven't connected the dots, but I don't see what if anything their idea of promoting Health Savings Accounts (HSA's) does for low income folks already paying no taxes. As one commenter over on their blog put it, its easy to go without coffee, less so to go without an appendectomy.

Pickering and Judicial Nominees 

Bush made a recess appointment of Charles Pickering the other day. I didn’t mind, because I think Pickering has gotten a raw deal. The charges are certainly serious, but I think the ones that resonate have been pretty well shot down by NRO’s Byron York. The most sensational charge, that of defending a cross burner, is considerably more nuanced than his detractors have made it appear. The Kudzu Files has a comment worth reading as well.

There’s a real charge hiding in there, that he might have gone over the line of judicial conduct in order to fix something he thought was wrong, but his opponents don’t really care about that. Charges of racism are a lot more juicy than judical misconduct.

For their part, Republican’s whining about Democratic obstructionism is considerably overblown. Only 6 judges so far have been filibustered. The vast majority of appointments, something like 169 or so, have been approved. Considering the GOP’s shenanigans with Clinton’s nominees, they should consider biting their tongues. I had a feeling this might come back to bite them on their collective butts, and they should be thankful the Democrats have been fairly restrained (admittedly, they have a lot less power to block nominations than the Republicans did). The only part of this charge that holds water is Bush’s appointments to the much more important circuit courts. All 6 of the judges blocked have been nominees to openings on the circuit courts. For a somewhat confusing (at least to me) chart showing the status of judicial nominations as of late November, go here.

Democrats and liberal-left types complain that they are targeting only the worst of the worst of the Bush judicial appointments. But if Bush were really so intent on stacking the judiciary with dangerous hard-right idealogues, shouldn’t the Democrats be blocking lots more of these nominees? Or is this all a bunch of posturing, with a handful of cherry-picked blocks intended primarily to placate activists and/or slime Bush?


I didn’t watch the State of the Union speech. I was at that moment telling my son a bedtime story (The Lord of the Rings – we’ve made it the Council of Elrond). Even had it not been my turn for bedtime reading and stories, I wouldn't have watched it. I find these sorts of canned speeches painful to listen to, regardless of my like or dislike of the politicians involved. Follow my blogroll for useful commentary on it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Blogroll Update 

Just added The Bemusement Park a blog from an old college football buddy of mine. He's from Iowa originally, so you might go there for some commentary on the caucus fallout.

Another new addition is Southpaw a rather left-leaning site one of whose contributors is also a friend of mine. At the moment I'm recalling that Chris has gotten at least three major political predictions very wrong (though he's still probably ahead of Dick Morris), so his worries about deflation might actually make us safer from economic collapse.

What worries me now is he also felt that Dennis Franchione would be a great coach for my team, the Texas A&M Aggies.

Here's hoping his jinx applies only to politics and economics.

Goodbye Iowa 

...was the title of an epidode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in which her then boyriend discovers his now deceased boss was engaged in some pretty nasty activities, including giving he and his soldier buddies various drugs to boost their ability to fight various demons. Disillusionment and withdrawal sets in, confusion reigns.

Not a totally whack metaphor for what the Iowa caucuses did last night for Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt.

Gephardt bowed out after a 4th place showing in a place that was supposed to be a key stronghold of his.

Dean was leading a little as a week ago, though trends had gone against him. It has to be seen as a major dissappointment for him. Its a major blow heading into New Hampshire.

Everyone has an opinion on what happened. Dean was too angry. Edwards' optimistic message resonated. Kerry's bringing in of Democratic organizer Michael Whouley. Saddam was captured. Dean's peculiar foray in religuous issues. Who knows, some one or more of them might even be right. After all, many of the people delivering these theories thought Dean was going to win big and that Kerry was basically toast two weeks ago.

Many people also have an opinion on what will happen. And most of them will be wrong, too. Me, I'm not going to try.

I think it would be an awfully useful thing for some grad student somewhere to track what pundits say 6 months, 1 month, two weeks, 1 week, and 1 day ahead of time and then see who gets it right most often (Surely someone has already done this?). Because frankly, I doubt anyone is right more than 50% of the time, and that can probalby be chalked up to the laws of probability as much as any sort of skill in fortune-telling. Dick Morris is supposedly an astute poltical adviser, but he's been wrong more than a few times lately (he predicted Hillary wouldn't run, and when she did that she would lose, he predicted the Democrats would pick up seats on 2002, etc.). And he's just a particularly egregous example.

By the way, lots of people are saying Dean freaked out last night while giving a concession speech (of sorts -- can't say I detected any concessions in it). Well, I think they are generally being overly harsh. That was pretty far from a meltdown. Oh, he got a bit carried away at points, no doubt. But meltdown? Please.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Now with Salty Commenting Goodness 

Of course, you gotta have readers before you can have comments, but hey, its a start.

Friday, January 16, 2004

So what's the point? 

The point of the post below is that while I'm not happy about a lot of Americans suffering from a lack of access to decent medical care, I'm also (as a believer that government exists to enhance and protect people's liberty, not smooth out every bump in society -- more on this someday) very uncomfortable with the idea of creating a nationalized health care system paid for by the government. When outfits like The Nation begin to argue that everything from health care to college educations should be a right paid for by the government, I quite frankly get really freaked out. I worry about where it ends.

I'm not a libertarian. There's a place for government policy to deal with certain problems. But I also want to keep that intervention to the minimum necessary.

UPDATE: I might be on to something about administrative costs. The Nation reports that around $286 billion (yes billion) of that could be saved by going to a Canadian style single payer system. Well, its nice to see that a huge chunk of our problem really is waste, but I'd like to find another way to deal with it than handing a big chunk of GDP over to the government.

Health Insurance 

All I know about health care is what I read on the internet. That, and occasional pieces in The Economist. So the following is an exceptionally dangerous piece, as it is backed up by pretty much nothing other than my own ruminations.

One thing about health insurance in this country, especially those of us with "good" health insurance, is that its not really used as insurance. It's more like a service contract. For example: You go to the doc for some reason, say an irritating rash. You pay $20 as your copay. Doc looks you over, prescribes a skin cream which you get at the pharmacy for another $20. The doctor's office and the pharmacy file the necessary paperwork with the health insurance provider to get the rest of whatever is owed them.

Have you ever filed an auto insurance claim for an oil change? For a flat tire? Dead battery? No? I thought not. Myself, I've filed exactly three auto insurance claims that I recall. One for when my car had all four wheels stolen, one for when my truck was damaged in attempt to steal it, and the last when it actually was stolen.

If you are single, its possible you get your health insurance "free" from your employer. Free in the sense that its not deducted from your salary. But its not really free, your employer pays for it (and generally gets a tax break on it). The question is the same as it is with all service contracts: is the cost of the contract worth what I get out of it in terms of service? Much of the time, I suspect it might not be.

The cost is real to doctors too. Every time they interact with a patient, their office has to deal with an insurance company. Every time. Records have to kept, bills sent out, payments tracked, etc. etc. And the insurance companies want to make money, too.

But people came to believe their medical care had to be (almost) free. Now, employers are shifting costs to their employees, and people don't like it.

I cannot help but wonder, what things might be like if health insurance were treated like auto insurance. If people had to buy their own, and it was really only used for major expenses, like fixing broken legs, or very expensive drugs. And if for minor everyday ailments that still took a doctor's visit, people paid out of their own pocket, using some of the money that previously went to the "service contract".

Would people decide not to see the doctor for every ache and pain (assuming that is a real problem to begin with)? Would the system be more efficient if there was less recourse to middlmen (i.e. insurance companies)? And would it therefore be cheaper in the long run? I think it might.

Making things cheaper might help out the 41 million or so who lack private health insurance in this country (though some fraction of that group is covered by Medicaid) have better access to care. The issue for these people is not that they cannot get treated for major illnesses or injuries, but that they won't or can't get care for for minor things, and those add up after a while.

Anyway, its something I wonder about.

The Wrong Way to be Right 

Having discussed the problem the Democratic party has these days regarding racial issues, its only fair to grump about the Republicans, too.

The Republicans problem is, for lack of a better word, moralism. And the source of it is the Religuous Right. The Republicans are considered a party of scolds. Hypocritical scolds, at that. And they offend me on a laundry list of social issues.

Birth control, for example. Birth control is basically biology for cryin' out loud. But the right adamantly opposes teaching anything but abstinence. Nothing wrong with giving abstinence its proper emphasis. But not at the expense of everything else!

Then there's gay rights. I've come a long way on this one myself, from what amounted to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for all aspects of a gay persons life to fully supporting gay marriage. And we have bozos like Rick Santorum (R-Penn) basically comparing homosexuality to bestiality. Trent Lott got bounced (and rightly so) from the leadership for a considerably more oblique comment at Strom Thurmond's birthday that could be construed as pining for segregation. Santorum has pretty much skated.

Pretty much all the people pushing creationism in publis schools are Republicans. I'm a Lutheran who teaches sunday School, not some atheist from Berkely, and I'm here to tell you that is wrong.

And there is the thorny issue of race. The dual retirements of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms were one of the greatest examples of political addition by subtraction in the post-Eisenhower era. Southern Republicans have a past of race-baiting they have to live down, and too many, in my opinion, still secretly long for the old days. And the ones that probably lack a racist bone in their body are sadly tone-deaf on most racial matters. There some signs of hope here (I think Bush and Rove get it, especially when it comes to Hispanics) but this is something thats going to take generational change.

And thus for the Republicans.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


I see that an outfit called the Bull Moose Republicans has got themselves a blog. I remember these guys from a couple of years ago. At the time, I thought their objectives and policy ideas a bit vague, maybe even non-existent. In an email exchange, someone from the group said they were working on that sort of thing.

They still don't have a platform, per se. They do have something they call the the four pillars:

The Bull Moose Republicans are a political non-profit organization dedicated to promoting inclusion in the Republican Party and American politics. We help introduce new voters to the Republican Party by supporting Republican domestic policy initiatives related to our Four Pillars: Civic Responsibility, Government Accountability, Economic Opportunity, and Support for New Americans.

They state they are not a third party, just a group involved in bringing more people to the GOP, and that they don't have more of a platform because they support the GOP platform. I don't actually believe them. I think these guys and gals are in fact MCainites seeking to reform the GOP. I'm pretty sure their original website was about GOP reform first, then about the best way to run the country. I think their current guise is in fact tactical, so as to lessen antagonism from old party stalwarts.

More power to them. The Moosers, that is. The Republicans could use cleaning up, and I hope to get into some of that when I get around to posting a long thumb-sucker on my political views.


President Bush rolled out a new space initiative the other day. The centerpiece is an attempt to land people on Mars. I'm all for it.

A fair number of people seem to think that it's nice, but not really all that important right now. Others, like Gregg EasterBrook, argue that the amount of money required to do the job for real is, pardon the pun astronomical, and pretty close to the height of folly right now in an era of big deficits, a War on Terror, etc. He and others also argue, quite logically, that at this time there is little that people could do that semi-automated unmanned vehicles like the Spirit Rover which cost a relatively trifling $820 million, cannot do just as well.

Bush has proposed $12 billion over 5 years for this project. In another post, Easterbrook grumps that there's basically no freaking way that they can get anything substantial done for that kind of money.

His points are very pointy, his facts correct, and his conclusions logical and sound. And I frankly do not care.

Now you have to know something. I'm probably not the best person to judge this sort of thing. I was a very serious space geek through my teens, and while I no longer have stuff like the average distance of Pluto from the Sun memorized, the idea of a space program still has the power to move me. A lot. Two years ago, Trish and I took our son Jacob to Space Center Houston, the tourist portion of the Johnson Space Center. We saw a film there called "On Human Destiny", which was basically about the history of the US space program.

I cried like a baby. And not just at the part about the loss of the Challenger. It was the whole thing. I'm getting a bit misty right now just typing about it. Last fall we went again and I avoided said film, not feeling up to that sort of emotional response.

Space exploration to me is sublime. Its about humanity stretching beyond itself, almost as if we're trying to reach out and touch the face of God. I think countries and peoples are at their best when they are trying to accomplish something bigger than themselves. I'm probably awfully close to hyperventilating here, but prior to the Apollo project, the last really big thing that Americans got together on was World War 2. Me, I'd rather have space.

I'd better stop now, or I'll have space leading us to world peace and chocolate for everyone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Fear mongering 

It all too common in political discourse these days...actually, we could probably leave off the "these days" part altogether, since I'm becoming convinced there has never been a time when fear mongering wasn't part of the political discourse.

Back in 1996, for example, a radio ad paid for by the NAACP said (I'm paraphrasing a tad here) "when you don't vote, another church explodes. When you don't vote, you allow Republicans to cut school lunches and Head Start." Now its true, they didn't say "voting for Replublicans makes churches explode" but you'd have to be pretty dense not to see the attempt at linkage there.

One thing that I've noticed amongst interest groups is that things are pretty much always in grave danger of going to hell in a handbasket. Always. And of course, the reason for that is money. People give money if they get scared that Bad Things might happen.

Lets take the National Rifle Association for an example. Or more specifically, their political arm, the NRA-ILA.

I've been a memeber of the NRA since around 1993 or so. I donate money to their political wing on a regular (i.e. annual) basis. I get a LOT of letters asking for money from them. And the tone is pretty much always alarmist. No matter how good things have been going, we're always just a couple of steps away from disaster.

Now, truth be told, the 90's were a checkered time for the NRA. The Brady Bill passed, the Assault Weapons ban passed, you had the Columbine tragedy, and gun control seemed to be a winning issue for Democrats--at least in certain areas of the country. Then there was that "jack-booted thugs" comment directed at certain law enforcement agencies that caused George H.W. Bush to resign his life membership. About the only obviously good thing was the 1994 takeover of Congress by Republicans, who as a party had become more hostile to gun control at the same time Democrats were embracing it. Many people, including apparently Bill Clinton, felt that the NRA had a lot to do with the Republican landslide.

But anyway, you can understand why the NRA might have felt a bit worried during the 90's.

It ain't the 90's anymore. From 1991 to 2003, 20 states had passed laws allowing people to carry firearms, either concealed or unconcealed, bringing the total to 37. George W. Bush was elected president, and he's not in favor of gun control. The Republicans continued to hold Congress (excepting the Daschle/Jeffords interregnum). Democrats, especially in the South, began to argue that gun control was a loser of an issue. And the violent crime rate has dropped tremendously, taking with it much of the impetous for gun control.

But the rhetoric of the appeal has pretty much gone unchanged. Here's a bit from a recent fund-raising letter: "According to tracking polls of likely voters...,pro-gun candidates are running neck and neck with their anti-gun rivals in hundreds of federal, state and local races for a very good reason. The news media is working hand in hand with anti-gun politicians..." (emphasis in original). Uh-huh.

I know, I know, fear works. Candidates can be optimistic, but interest groups can't.

Losing Race 

The Democratic party has a problem with race (Republicans have a problem with race too, albeit of a different nature. In other news, the sun is hot). You can see an aspect of it in this article over at The New Republic. Another can be found in this one.

Put simply, it has become almost impossible to be a Democrat and to suggest that the problems of minorities, especially African-Americans, are due to anything except white racism and could be solved by anything except affirmative action and more money. And the further left you go, the harder it is to suggest such a thing and not be branded a racist. Even people of extreme good will on the left will toss that one out at you if they get irritated enough.

Is racism still a real problem? Of course it is. Does past racism have a lot to do with the problems African Americans still face? Damn straight it does.

But when Al freaking Sharpton of all people can call Howard Dean on not having any Blacks in his Vermont cabinet (Vermont being 98% white, by the way), and Dean being forced to meekly admit that was not a good thing on his part...Or the fact that Al Sharpton has to be treated as a serious candidate at all and not as two-bit race hustler who is just using this presidential campaign as a way to make himself a national power broker on Black Issues as opposed to just a New York one...well, folks, then you got a problem.

Its been an awfully long time since Bill Clinton's Sister Souljah moment. And even that was a lot less than it appeared. What are the odds that today, a Democratic presidential candidate could get away with that? Or would even have the guts to try?

Why is this? Paradoxically, I think the fact that 80-90% of African Americans vote Democratic has a lot to do with it. It has been argued fairly convingly that without those levels of Black support, coupled with strong Black turnout, the Democratic party would be all but wiped out. Well, maybe not wiped out, but they would lose a huge number of Congressional seats and could pretty much kiss the White House goodbye. So Democratic candidates simply cannot afford to tick off the African American vote, because even if they just stayed home, Dem candidates would lose in landslides (using the apparently accepted American political definition of "landslide" as something like 55% to 45%).

Its not healthy for a political party to be so deeply in hock to a group (see the Republicans and Christian fundementalists/evangelicals for another example). And I don't think it does the group any favors either. It stifles potentially useful criticisms and creates a sort of echo chamber. Plus, what incentive has any other political party have then to consider your issues at any level deeper than window dressing?

Okay, that last is a chicken/egg thing, it's true.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"A tale told by an idiot..." 

Yesterday liberal and leftish sites were having a great time discussing advance news of the former treasury secretary's new book, which contained quotes like "[the president looked] like a blind man in a room full of deaf people."

Probably the most explosive charge centered around O'Neill's surprise that Bush was interested in getting rid of Saddam Hussein from the very start of his presidency. "Aha!" they would say. "We knew it all along!"

I reckon Brad Delong's citing of Paul Krugman will make for a good example (you'll have to scroll down a bit, his permalink isn't working for some reason).

At first, conservatives mostly attacked the messenger, characterizing O'Neill as a buffoon. Josh Marshall quite correctly twitted them for it, but eventually some more substantive counterattacks began to be made.

Then today O'Neill himself suggests that it's all much ado about nothing. The actual interview on the Today Show is even more damning (or un-damning, I suppose) than the news story suggests. There doesn't appear to be an actual transcript available on the Today Show webpage (though you can see the actual video (it requires Microsoft Media Player, though)), however some people have managed to put one together. I think NRO had it first, but they don't have permalinks, so I'm using one that does. Anyway, its a lot different from the way things sounded like in that 60 Minutes story from Sunday.

Either the negative aspects of the book have been overhyped, or O'Neill woke up with a whole herd of horse heads in his bed (pace Jonah Goldberg). Maybe a bit of both. I have $10 US that says you can predict what political writer or blogger will say is the actual case based upon their political stance.

The book appears to have just been released, so aside from a handful of review copies, I doubt very many people have actually read the thing yet to see how much there is there. Tell-all books from people who have basically been fired after prickly tenures are a hardy Washington perennial, and I think most people are pretty used to this sort of thing. Plus, I don't think there more than about 7 people in the USA who haven't made up their minds about Bush yet, and they aren't the sort who read this kind of book in the first place.

Which is to say that I seriously doubt that this will have any real affect on anything or anyone.

"...Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Monday, January 12, 2004

One more thing for now on Guest workers 

Is it simply coincidence that from the conservative side, the people who like the basic idea of the plan tend to be what Andrew Sullivan calls South Park Republicans? I think not.

Bush's Guest Worker Proposal 

I don't know if anyone has ever compared the political commetariat (is that even a real word?) to a nest of fire ants, but the announcements last week of a new guest worker program by the Bush Administration has certain had the effect of poking at their mound with a stick.

You can get a microcosm of the conservative hive's confusion by wandering over to National Review Online's Corner and scrolling down. And down, and down. My my my. While its no surprise to see tiresome near paleos like John Derbyshire beating the drum, you can't just tar a fellow like Ramesh Ponnuru that way (and isn't Ramesh Ponnuru a totally cool name, by the way? Just rolls off the tongue. Ramesh Ponnuru. Ramesh Ponnuru.

Aside 1. Somewhere on the other side of the world some blogger is writing "by the way, John Smith is such a cool name, the way it rolls off the tongue...Okay, I'm done now)).

Ahem. Anyway, it strkes me that their anger comes from a basic mis-reading. Those conservatives against this plan are utterly convinced its basically an amnesty. Now there is an element to it that is so, namely, that illegals here right now can apply for and get guest worker status. But at this point, they are not only no longer illegal, BUT (and here's the big difference between this and a real amnesty) now we know where they are, and can make them leave when their time is up. And I might add that if there exists the political will to deport millions of illegals, or at least enough to discourage others from coming here (an argument for which I'd say there is no evidence cited in support of, and I suspect much evidence contrary to) then there is the will to send guest workers home at the end of their stays (an unwillingness to do this is part of the objections cited by Derbyshire et. al.).

As for the Left and Center-Left, I don't know yet. The socialists over at the Nation, haven't commented as of this posting. Neither have the DLC types over at the New Republic. I'm not aware of a group blog on the left that is Corner-like where one might be able to get a similar cross-section of views, except possibly Tapped, but they haven't said anything about it all, though the main website has an article which, you guessed it, is highly critical. I think this is the money quote from it:

When I first found out about the program, I found it breathtaking to see how a president could turn America's values upside down. If you buy his line, the program will help ensure national security and illegal immigrants will no longer have to hide in the shadows but be able to work freely and without fear. In reality, it would essentially mark all the immigrants with a little star so that we can get rid of them as soon as they finish their work. It does nothing to place hardworking, taxpaying undocumented immigrants on a path to permanent residency. Instead, it would create a permanent breed of service workers with second-class status.

Both Brad Delong and Calpundit don't think much of it, though from what I can see their objections seem to be mostly of the "Bush is bad" variety. Their comments sections complained mostly about the cheap labor for business angle, echoing argments from the TAP article. Josh Marshall never commented on the plan itself, just snarkily implied that this is all election-year posturing, and Bush neither expects or even really wants this plan to pass. So right now I put the center-left down as cynical about this, but I want to be clear that I don't read a huge number of left or center-left blogs and don't want to go overboard on this characterization.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Testing, Testing one two... 

Ah, my first blog entry. Hopefully, not to be my last Blog entry. Now we just need to learn how to add links. I suppose there's not much more pathetic than a programmer in this day and age who doesn't really know HTML.

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