Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas In Innsmouth

I doubt H.P. Lovecraft would exclaim, "Awesome!" on seeing this, but I sure did...


I'm hearing this morning that Parker Griffith (D-AL) will announce that he's switching parties as soon as this afternoon. That north Alabama seat has been Democratic since time immemorial.

Obviously, more to follow.

Update: Politico concurs. Griffith, not coincidentally, is a medical doctor.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Idiocy at the AP

Check out this eye-roller in an AP "news" article headlined "Dems against Dems in health care vote struggle":

Democrats are "looking for 60 votes," said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the party's second-ranking Senate leader — a statement that has characterized their effort to overcome Republican opposition for months.

Um, 'scuse me, David Espo, AP Special Correspondant, but how is it that the Democratic Party's failure to drum up 60 votes from their 58 senators and two Democrat-affiliated "independents" characterizes "Republican opposition?"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recommended Reading

If this transcendent rant by Fake Steve Jobs, in which FSJ dresses down AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, doesn't make next Friday's Week In Blogs, Martini Boy ought to just go ahead and pack it in. A brief sample:

So let’s talk traffic. We’ve got people who love this goddamn phone so much that they’re living on it. Yes, that’s crushing your network. Yes, 3% of your users are taking up 40% of your bandwidth. You see this as a bad thing. It’s not. It’s a good thing. It’s a blessing. It’s an indication that people love what we’re doing, which means you now have a reason to go out and double or triple or quadruple your damn network capacity. Jesus! I can’t believe I’m explaining this to you. You’re in the business of selling bandwidth. That pipe is what you sell. Right now what the market is telling you is that you can sell even more! Lots more! Good Lord. The world is changing, and you’re right in the sweet spot.

Seriously: read the whole thing. And then forward it to every bureaucratic corporate idiot you've ever had to deal with.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dynamic Polling

One of the wonkier debates over the past couple of decades involved the use (or rather non-use) of what was called "dynamic scoring" for Congressional and/or Administration economic projections. In simplified terms, the proponents of dynamic scoring held that when estimating the impact of tax cuts, government estimators should take into account expected additional economic growth--and thus additional revenues--encouraged by the lower rates, as opposed to assuming growth (or lack therof) would basically stay the same and simply subtracting the difference in the dollar amount of anticipated taxes that would have been collected under higher tax rates.

When reading this bit from Mickey Kaus's weekend Twitter compilation, I was reminded of those old arguments:

Mystery Pollster cites a CNN poll discovering that 10% opposed the [Obama health care] plan as "not liberal enough." And that's not 10% of opponents. It's 10% of all those asked. Add that 10 to the 39 percent who support reform in the Pollster.com poll of polls and you have ... well, 49%. Almost a majority! ...

I think Mickey is kidding himself here. While going harder towards full Canadian/UK-style socialized medicine probably would garner a lot closer to 100% support among liberals, actual liberals only make up about 20% of the electorate. A dynamic score of that poll would have to take into account how much support such a turn to the Left would cost from moderates (to say nothing of the additional conservative opposition it would gin up). You're going to fall way, way short of 49% in that eventuality.

The Left--both hard and soft varieties (I think I'm safe in placing Mickey in the latter camp)--has been kidding itself for fifteen years now about why Hillarycare failed, and they're still kidding themselves over why Obamacare is failing today. Here's a hint: it ain't because either plan "isn't liberal enough"...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Models Versus Reality

This post of Jonah's at The Corner, regarding the relative value of computer models (in this context, as applied to Climategate), reminded me of an experience I had as a young engineer.

One of my first jobs was doing flight test analysis on the AMRAAM missile. My group would take data from actual missile firings and determine what had gone wrong (or right) in the test. Another group in the same building was responsible for maintaining the AMRAAM computer model that was used for simulations and pre-mission testing.

For one set of flight tests, I ran across an anomaly in the way the missile was behaving in a particular flight environment. We saw the same behavior repeated in several tests, and after checking the old wind tunnel reports from when the missile was first designed, we figured out what was causing the problem and wrote a report about it. A year or so later, as a result of that work, the missile software was modified to prevent the problem from occurring.

But a week or so after we submitted the report, the manager of the simulation group stormed into my cube and slammed a copy of it down on my desk. "This analysis is all wrong!" he exclaimed.

"What's wrong about it?" I asked. He pointed at a graph taken from the missile's internal sensors showing the anomalous behavoir. "That! That's all wrong!"

Nonplussed, I just stared at him. "That's from a sensor in the missile, from flight test. It happened several times. What's wrong with it?"

"It doesn't do that in the sim!" he yelled.

So there you have it: to a modeling nerd, when the simulation disagrees with reality, reality is at fault...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New at Pulp Engine- the Story Behind the Story

A new story of mine, "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be," debuts this week at Pulp Engine. More accurately, it's very old story that hasn't seen the light of day in quite a while. Consider this post the "director's commentary."
"Hell" dates way, way back to the mid-1980's. My original idea was to do a story about the fear of driving, which itself sprang out of early experiences in driving through Birmingham, Alabama as a teenager. Compared to the sedate pace of my hometown in south Alabama, the cars and trucks buzzing around I-65 and its multi-laned counterparts were more than a bit unsettling. I often found myself getting a glimpse of a debris-strewn breakdown lane and wondering what it would be like to be stuck there on foot as traffic roared heedlessly by.

By the time I got to college, the bare bones of a story called "Offramp" had percolated to the point of a couple of opening paragraphs and a portentous opening quote from Robert Plant's song "Big Log." The plot involved a single, unpleasant character who would have a nighttime wreck on a filthy patch of crowded interstate, be terrorized afterwards by monstrous cars and chittering roadside animals, and eventually realize that he'd been killed in the wreck, and the awful highways he now found himself on were part of Hell.

Around 1990, in need of a first story for Stephen Gresham's speculative fiction course, I dredged up the bits of "Offramp" and pitched it in his office. Dr. Gresham quite correctly noted that I'd managed to come up with the same hoary plot as a couple of dozen "Twilight Zone" episodes that ended with, "Oh, no--I'm in Hell!" and patiently suggested that I try again.

Not being happy with this criticism of my would-be masterpiece, I sulked for a while. But somewhere along the line the thought popped up, "Hell is probably so crowded these days, the guy would have to wait in line to be tortured." The light came on in my head, and I had my story, which wound up being very, very different from "Offramp"--although the bones of that never-written story peek out a bit on the first page. It practically wrote itself, and it's about the only piece of my juvenalia that I'm still happy with.

"Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be" (the title cheerfully lifted from the flipside of an AC/DC single I'd run across in my high school record-store clerk days) got an "A," but then languished in an obsolete file format on various floppies, CD-Rs and hard drives for the better part of the next twenty years. A couple of months ago, needing more material for the ravenous maw that is Pulp Engine, I managed to get a Macintosh System 7 emulator running, and finally retrieved "Hell" from its digital purgatory.

A quick (and admittedly perfunctory) polish later, it lives again, now on the web. Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Live From Space View Park

My wife and I have been telling ourselves that we'd go see a Space Shuttle launch since well before we were married, or even engaged. With only half a dozen Shuttle missions remaining before the orbiters are retired from service, we finally headed south on Sunday, and after an overnight stopover in Lake City, Florida, arrived in Titusville around lunchtime on Monday.

Titusville is very much "old Florida": most of it looks like the Panhandle of my youth, before high-rises and four-lanes. It sits across the Indian River from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, and years ago the city installed Space View Park, a narrow strip of manicured, terraced public land pointing directly at Pad 39A.

We spread out a beach blanket, and settled in with our dog among hundreds of other shuttle-watchers to wait for the launch. Given the Shuttles' long history of scrubs and delays, we were seriously concerned that the whole trip would be for nothing. If the cloud cover had been too low, or a random sensor in the wrong place had failed and the launch was scrubbed, even for a day, we'd have missed the launch. We couldn't spare another day off.

But instead, the weather was perfect, and STS-129 turned out to have the smallest number of launch faults in the Shuttle program's history. And the launch... well, see for yourself:

I'm still a little surprised at just how exhilarating it was, even though I shouldn't be. I've been a space buff since I was a very small child, and this was the first time I'd ever seen a full-scale rocket of any kind launched. But I figured, hey, I'm over forty, I've flown in a fighter jet and spent years doing live flight tests of missiles. I've seen scores of shuttle launches on TV, I studied that orbiter backwards and forwards in college, and barring a mishap, nothing was going to happen that would be any kind of surprise to me.

And so I was entirely taken aback (although pleasantly) by how great it was. We happened to be next to a local news crew from Orlando, and when the young reporter (who likely wasn't even alive when the Shuttles started flying in 1981) asked me what I thought after the launch, I told him about my grandfather, who'd spent 30 years at NASA in Huntsville, but never got to see a launch in person, and found myself getting choked up. "It's going to be a real shame when that"--I pointed at the lingering pillar of exhaust smoke across the sound--"doesn't happen any more."

There are only five launches remaining, and then for good or for ill, the Shuttle era will be over. If you can make it, go see it while you still can.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ten Twenty Years After

From my proto-blog "Will's World," on November 9, 1999 (who says I'm not in favor of recycling?):

Ten years ago, this very day, the world changed. Of all the "where were you" moments of my generation, this one deserves the most to be remembered with honor and wonder. This was the day when tens of millions of chains were broken, this was the day when the last heirs of Hitler and Stalin were finally shoved onto history's most famous dustbin. This was the day the Wall fell, November 9, 1989.

"This was the year that communism in Eastern Europe died. 1949-1989, R.I.P. And the epitaph might be: Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."
--Timothy Garton Ash, We The People (published in the United States as The Magic Lantern).

In early March, 1991, I was alone and exhausted on a train in northern Germany. The previous several days had been a swirl of Oxford exams finished, end-of-term parties attended, a girlfriend said good-bye to, overdue visits with family friends, and trains (barely) caught in the dark of early morning. I probably hadn't slept for more than four hours at a stretch in nearly a week, and after a very long and late celebratory dinner with one of those family friends, my blood alcohol level was still about 80-proof (a German helicopter pilot who'd been befriended by my parents a decade earlier was determined to pay off his accumulated bar tab through me in one night).

The point I'm trying to make here is, I was beat. Even considering that I was a twenty-three year old, in probably the best shape of my life after three months of tooling around Oxford on a three-speed bike, I'd hit my limits, and all I wanted out of a long train ride from Wilhelmshaven to Berlin was sleep, and lots of it. When the sunrise woke me up, I reached for the window shade--then bolted fully alert.

The train had just crossed the old border between West and East Germany, and the change in the scenery was riveting--and horrible. It was like stepping out of a perfectly manicured garden and into a decrepit slum. The very landscape changed, from lush, green hills to haphazardly-tilled fields, unending rows carved into the grayish soil with no regard for the land's contours, spotted here and there with stunted crops. The train passed the ruins of a station, a mess of blasted, crumbling concrete, scarred with ancient black soot. I found out later that the station had been bombed out during World War II, but nobody had bothered to clear the debris over the intervening forty-five years.

A decade earlier, humorist P.J. O'Rourke wrote about the Soviet Union, "In the end, every little detail starts to get to you--the overwhelming oppressiveness of the place, the plain godawfulness of it." Erich Honecker, may he flambeed in Hell forever, did his level best to turn a quarter of Germany into a fawning facsimile of Stalin's U.S.S.R., and even a year and a half after liberation, East Germany was the godawfulest place I'd ever seen. It was like watching a never-ending car wreck, passing before my eyes mile after mile. I couldn't take my eyes off the revolting sights.

"The counter revolution
People smiling through their tears
Who can give them back their lives
And all those wasted years?
All those precious, wasted years--Who will pay?"
--Neil Peart, "Heresy"

The houses were the worst. Imagine the most run-down, decrepit wrong-side-of-the-tracks shacks you've ever seen. Every home in the East German countryside looked like those shacks, only older. And it dawned on me that the whole country was like this. After a while, I grabbed a small notebook and started scribbling with all the melodrama that a sleepy, shocked college kid could muster: "Communism is dead, but the bloated corpse lies across this continent still, and the poisons of its decay will pollute this blasted earth for years to come."

East Berlin, then just starting to come out of its half-century fog, was nearly as bad as the countryside. The buildings and the people were a uniform gray, all seemingly covered with a light sprinkling of grime and concrete dust. The crest of Hitler's bunker still sat in the old No-Man's Land across from Checkpoint Charlie, which itself was in the process of being turned into a museum.

"Never, until the autumn of 1989, was there a period when, day after day, for many months, newspapers carried headlines that would have been unbelievable six months earlier."
--George Will, Suddenly.

It hasn't really been all that long since 1989, and it's astonishing how little attention is being paid to the revolutions that swept across Europe (and very nearly Asia) that year. When I said that "the world changed," for once, I wasn't exaggerating. In January of 1989, nobody, and I mean nobody would have taken you seriously if you predicted that the Warsaw Pact nations would all rise up and throw off the Soviet yoke by Christmas. Then, in June, ten years of sacrifice and terror paid off in Poland when Solidarity won the first free elections in that country since before World War II--and this was in a parliamentary race which was rigged to ensure a Communist win. Hungary quietly followed suit, declaring the birth of the new Hungarian Republic--the "People's" was finally dropped--in October.

The wave swept across Germany next, as ten weeks of street protests in the East finally jolted Honnecher and his miserable party from power. In Czechoslovakia, the revolution took little more than ten amazing days in Wenceslas Square (read Timothy Garton Ash's short memoir, quoted above and published in the U.S. as The Magic Lantern, for a marvelous behind-the-scenes account). On Christmas Day, Nicolae Ceausescu got off easy (death by anonymous firing squad was far too kind), and Romania was free.

What was it like back then, just those few years ago? It was an astonishing time to be alive. After the horror of Tiananmen Square, just another bloody repeat of Budapest in 1956 or Prague in 1968, the West resigned itself to more and more years of darkness hovering over half of the world. When the Chinese tanks rolled over Chinese children, we doubted whether any of us would ever see a world without Communist dictatorships in every time zone.

And then the Poles said, "There is no liberty without Solidarity!" And the Hungarians cried out, "No more will we be slaves!" And the Germans roared, "Wir sind das Volk!"--"We are the people!" And the Czechs and Slovaks sang, "Now's the time!" And the rest of us watched in wonder as a new world was born.

"One of them even stuck his hand through [a hole in the Berlin Wall] and asked would somebody please give him a piece of the concrete to keep as a souvenir. The hand of that [East German] border guard--that disembodied, palm-up, begging hand... I looked at that and I began to cry. I really didn't understand until just then--we won. The Free World won the Cold War. The fight against the life-hating, soul-denying, slavish communism--which has shaped the world's politics this whole wretched century--was over. The tears of victory ran down my face--and the snot of victory did too, because it was a pretty cold day."
--P.J. O'Rourke, Give War A Chance.

As O'Rourke suggests, it hasn't been all sweetness and light in the intervening decade, but he also reminds us with a laugh just how much fun those magical days really were, when the impossible happened all around us, and half the world woke up and found that it was free. May we see days like those again, sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Introducing Pulp Engine

I'm very happy and not a little excited today to announce the launch of a brand-new project, the online magazine PULP ENGINE.
Pulp Engine is the brainchild of my old buddy Lein Shory, whom I met in a fiction writing class at Auburn over 20 years ago. Quoting from Lein's introduction at the top of the PE site:

Maybe you've read too much.

Maybe you think you've read it all, seen it all. You've pounded your way through books that you were supposed to read, because they were Important. You majored in English, so you spent years reading Literature, and you got jaded.

But then you think back to that time when you first encountered Robert E. Howard. Or H. P. Lovecraft. Or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

And you think, Man, I loved reading that stuff.

This isn't pulp orthodoxy. It's pulp sensibility. We're not going to live in the early 20th century, though we may visit that era from time to time. It's about forging ahead, using pulp concepts to make stories for Now.

That's what Pulp Engine is about.

Pulp Engine is the result of a large group of very creative people who came together at Lein's invitation, and we have had a blast putting the thing together. I should particularly thank Lamar Henderson, who not only wrote (in my opinion) the best story in the first issue ("Incandescent"), he also did almost all of the grunt work to build the site and its artwork. Lamar, take a well-deserved bow.

I wrote one of the stories in the first issue ("Comandante Eternal"), which I'm a bit embarrassed to say is the first piece of fiction I've actually finished since college. Let me know what you think about it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"I Like To Con People, And I Like To Insult People, So..."

From The Australian, this may be the worst advice I've ever read:

[E]ducation consultant Kathy Walker said while reading to babies, singing songs and repeating rhymes was great, they should not learn to read until they were at least five years old.

"They don't need to read and write before school," she said.

Ms Walker said teaching babies to read could actually stress or frustrate the child and/or parent at a time when infants should be having fun and learning through play.

"It distracts us all away from what childhood is about and is another example of a global push to make little or no distinction between childhood and later life," she said.

I can spend the rest of my days being grateful that my folks never encountered an "education consultant" during my youth. I started reading at age two myself, and was completely literate long before I started kindergarten, much less grade school (if memory serves, I tested out at high school level in the first grade).

Having that ability early, learned for pleasure--before it could be made into a chore and ruined by "educators"--was, by far, the single biggest advantage I've had in my life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Greatest Lousy Band In The World, 2009

I wrote the following appreciation of the band Kiss almost a decade ago for my old proto-blog "Will's World." I'm bringing it back this morning to commemorate last night's concert in Atlanta, and also to thank Paul, Gene and company for doing some very nice things along the way.

Kiss is really going out of their way on their current tour to recognize and help out military veterans. Not only is the legendary Kiss merchandising machine featuring proceeds-to-charity Kiss Army t-shirts for the Wounded Warrior Care Project at the shows, they've set aside a ton of prime seats to give away to military personnel.

A work buddy of mine who's in the Air Force Reserve got a few of those seats, which were just a few yards from the stage, and judging by the haircuts around us, most of the section was filled with military folks and their friends and families. Here's a bit of what it looked like:

Once again: well done, guys.

And no further ado, from April of 2000 (very little has changed, other than Ace Frehely and Peter Criss having been retired from the band), here's "The Greatest Lousy Band In The World":

Jimmy Buffett, a great western philosopher, once advised his listeners, "Don't try to describe a Kiss concert if you've never seen it."

The band, founded in New York City in the early 70's by a teetotaling jewish schoolteacher named Gene Simmons, is perhaps the worst consistently successful rock group of all time. Kiss songs rarely rise above three-chord bar band tripe. Their only genuine radio hit was a syrupy ballad sung by the band's drummer ("Beth" in 1976). But they rank below only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in total gold record awards over their career, with 25 (Kiss is tied for third place with a very different group, Rush, but that's another column for another time).

The secret to their success was a Simmons brainstorm. Looking to get noticed on the New York club scene, the band started painting their faces with distinctive black-and-white designs and wearing outlandish costumes on stage. Suddenly, Simmons, a brainy elementary school teacher, was transformed into "The Demon," a tongue-wagging, fire-breathing, fake-blood-spitting marvel, thrashing away on a bass guitar shaped like a headman's axe and stomping across the stage in 9-inch platform boots.

The other three members of the band joined in to the makeup schtick, and teenage legends were born. During the 1970's, Kiss was unquestionably the most successful live act in rock and roll, consistently filling halls of every conceivable size with fanatical members of the "Kiss Army." The group pioneered the modern stadium show, using video screens, over-the-top light shows, and more fireworks than the average small town uses on the Fourth of July.

Simmons' marketing genius helped to keep the band's mystique alive as time went by. For years, the band refused to be photographed without their stage makeup on. A set of Kiss dolls (or "action figures"), lunchboxes, and t-shirts sold briskly to adolescents, and the band even made a so-bad-it's-good TV movie, starring themselves, as a group of superheroes moonlighting as a rock group.

By the early 80's, the old Kiss magic started to wear out. Two of the founding members, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss, were booted from the band because of their drug addictions. Simmons and singer Paul Stanley soldiered on, adding additional sidemen and even losing the greasepaint by 1983. For the next ten years, Kiss kept making albums and playing concerts as a fairly conventional heavy metal band. They maintained their fan base, still sold records and sold out halls, but gradually drifted away from the notice of the mass audience.

Then, five years ago, a one-off appearance on MTV's "Unplugged" program turned into a full-fledged reunion of the band's original lineup. Figuring that everything old was new again, Kiss pulled their makeup and platform shoes out of storage and announced a worldwide tour. To the surprise of most (including, they eventually admitted, the band members themselves) the new shows sold out in record time. The 1995-96 Kiss tour produced some of the most lucrative rock concerts of all time.

There wasn't much new here (Simmons noted that the band had "forgotten ever song we've written since about 1978" for the tour), but for the thirty- and forty-ish fans who'd been around the first time, and for younger people who'd missed the circus the first time around, the tour was a two-hour time machine back to the glorious excesses of the '70's.

I was one of those 'younger people' back in Kiss's heyday. I was never a fan of the group--let's face it, their music stinks, and I was about seven years old when they were in their prime, way too young to go to a rock show. But I did catch a show on the '95 reunion tour, and I freely and happily admit, it was probably the most entertaining of the scores of concerts I've seen in my life.

This is not a "musician's band." Peter Criss plays drums like a girl. Paul Stanley is in love with himself. Ace Frehley could make a freight train take a dirt road. Gene Simmons is scary looking without makeup. But put them all together with some greasepaint and about a million lights, and it's somehow unspeakably cool.

The sheer spectacle of it all is staggering. There's a massive stage set, the band really does look like they stepped out of a comic book, the lightshow is dazzling, and just about every song has some kind of special effect involved. Simmons spits fake blood and breathes fire, then flies over the audience on a wire harness. Frehley shoots laser beams from his Les Paul Guitar, and Stanley runs around the stage like he's 22 instead of well-over-40. And Criss stays behind the drumkit and plays like a girl, but you can't have everything.

The cheesy '70's "dance" moves haven't changed any, but those who aren't impressed by the staging are still well-entertained--I was laughing my head off for most of the show. And maybe most surprising of all--Kiss has actually become family entertainment.

At the concert I saw, there were hundreds of kids there with their parents, soaking it all up, and other than the ear-splitting volume, there wasn't a thing about that show that could be considered bad for children. Nobody on stage so much as uttered a four-letter expletive (which was entirely unique for a heavy metal act), Stanley offered a "don't drink and drive" spiel before launching into a song titled "Cold Gin." For a ten-year-old, it must have been the most impressive night out with mom and dad imaginable.

Kiss has just embarked on what's billed as their "farewell tour." Reading between the lines, this actually looks like a second hail-and-farewell to Frehley and Criss and the greasepaint, as opposed to an actual disbanding of the group. But still, this is probably the last chance to see the '70's reconstructed on stage, in living color and at 100 decibels. I've got my ticket, and I'm heading to Pensacola as soon as I can get out of my office tonight. I'll have to drive back and hour-and-a-half after the show so I can blow up stuff at 7 AM on Friday, but what the heck.

After all, how many chances to you get to see the greatest lousy rock band in the world?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fake Steve Nails It

Fake Steve Jobs (actually writer David Lyons, currently at Newsweek) was decidedly unimpressed with last week's NY Times feature on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. After ripping Microsoft apart, Fake Steve went on to diagnose what's gone wrong with another flailing ex-monopoly:

Really it's the paradigm of the "objective newspaper" that forces them into this weird straitjacket where they can't ever say what they really mean. They have to pretend to be "objective," but what that really means is you put a vague headline on the story and you write the top in some boring way but then you just stack up a pile of negative quotes from people who don't like the Borg -- bam, bam, bam -- but you spread them out, and you put some boring stuff in between them, like so many pillows between so many grenades, and you arrange the whole thing in an artful way such that you can still say the story is "balanced" even though anyone who knows how to read your newspaper -- anyone who knows how to crack the code, so to speak -- will understand full well what you're really saying, which is that Ballmer is a failure and should be booted out.

Reading business coverage in the Times, or in any mainstream publication, is a lot like reading Pravda during the Soviet era -- you have to know the code. That bad review of a Shostakovich symphony? It ain't about the music. Of course, the music wasn't about the music, either. So all of these conversations are taking place all around you, all this information is zipping past you, and everything is encrypted.

Why doesn't the Times just say what they want to say? Why resort to doofy photos and strings of negative quotes cushioned between pillows of pointless prose? Well, see, that wouldn't be "objective" -- and by "objective" I mean keeping it boring enough that you won't scare off advertisers who, if they had their way, would place images of their cars and clothes and jewelry next to complete pablum that would never offend anyone or create any kind of controversy. Ever wonder why there aren't many ads in the parts of the paper where they cover politics? Um, yeah.

So we get this kabuki theater and they call it journalism. And then newspapers wonder why they're losing their audience. To put this another way: Try to imagine what this story would have sounded like if Ashlee Vance, the guy who wrote it, had published it on his personal blog, where he could say exactly what he wanted to to say and didn't have to worry about scaring off advertisers meeting the high standards of "objectivity" espoused by the New York Times. And which would you rather read? Yeah, me too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good Work, If You Can Get It

From The Hill:

The first direct stimulus reports showed that stimulus contracts saved or created just 30,083 jobs, prompting more Republican criticism of the $787 billion package.

The data posted Thursday was the result of the government's initial attempt at counting actual stimulus jobs. Obama administration officials stressed that data was partial -- it represented just $16 billion out of the $339 billion awarded -- but they said it exceeded their projections.

Gee, according to my calculator, spending $16 billion to "create or save" 30,083 jobs means that each "job" cost $531,862.

Pretty good rate of pay there. Where do I sign up for one of those?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Beyond Parody

Obama, Nobel Peace Prize Winner? Seriously? In the immortal words of Mojo Nixon, "For what?"

The Nobel Committee has officially gone off the rails in its quest for new adventures in smug Leftie nonsense. Even The One's most delusional acolytes are going to have a hard time defending this with a straight face.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus offers the best advice Obama will receive this month. No chance in the world The Messiah's ego would listen, though.

UPDATE UPDATE: Jonah nails it:

The only thing that really bothers me is that this comes just days after the Obama administration turned a blind eye to the Dalai Lama and told the world that it's at least considering a separate peace with the Taliban. That's grotesque. Meanwhile, there are real peace activists and dissidents out there whose dungeons will stay just as cold and dark for another year because of this. Indeed, this news comes during a year when the Iranian people rose up against tyranny and were crushed. Surely someone in Iran — or maybe the Iranian protestors generally — could have benefitted more from receiving the prize than a president who, so far, has done virtually nothing concrete for world peace.

UPDATE^3: Turns out Mojo doesn't actually shout out "for what?" in "Rock And Roll Hall Of Lame," although I would have sworn to you this morning that he does. There's over-forty memory for you... but it's still a good song (and so is "Don Henley Must Die," in which Mojo exclaims, "Best rock vocalist? Compared to what?", which is probably what I was recalling in the first place).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fair Warning

In case it wasn't already obvious, posting is likely to be light to nonexistant this week. Sorry, "real life" and all that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Garbage In, "Warming" Out

Last week, NRO ran a fascinating Patrick J. Michaels article on how a major "global warming" advocate (I hesitate to use the word "scientist" in this case) has refused to release the raw temperature data that was used in compiling the UN's infamous IPCC reports on "climate change."

Phil Jones, the keeper of the data in question, after refusing for years to release the raw data, finally admitted that he and other researchers had massaged the data set years ago, and that the original recordings were irretrievably lost. Bear in mind, this manipulated and apparently super-secret data set of... temperatures... is what's being used by politicians to justify massive changes in the global economy.

Apparently Jones was not the only Global Warmening "scientist" who didn't really care to release raw data for peer review. The Register (UK) recently looked into an explosive "global warming" study based on tree rings in Siberia, and learned that the source data had been heavily manipulated to bring about a result only an activist could love:

[S]ince 2000, a large number of peer-reviewed climate papers have incorporated data from trees at the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia. This dataset gained favour, curiously superseding a newer and larger data set from nearby. The older Yamal trees indicated pronounced and dramatic uptick in temperatures.

How could this be? Scientists have ensured much of the measurement data used in the reconstructions remains a secret - failing to fulfill procedures to archive the raw data. Without the raw data, other scientists could not reproduce the results. The most prestigious peer reviewed journals, including Nature and Science, were reluctant to demand the data from contributors. Until now, that is.

At the insistence of editors of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions B the data has leaked into the open - and Yamal's mystery is no more.

From this we know that the Yamal data set uses just 12 trees from a larger set to produce its dramatic recent trend. Yet many more were cored, and a larger data set (of 34) from the vicinity shows no dramatic recent warming, and warmer temperatures in the middle ages.since 2000, a large number of peer-reviewed climate papers have incorporated data from trees at the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia. This dataset gained favour, curiously superseding a newer and larger data set from nearby. The older Yamal trees indicated pronounced and dramatic uptick in temperatures.

How could this be? Scientists have ensured much of the measurement data used in the reconstructions remains a secret - failing to fulfill procedures to archive the raw data. Without the raw data, other scientists could not reproduce the results. The most prestigious peer reviewed journals, including Nature and Science, were reluctant to demand the data from contributors. Until now, that is.

At the insistence of editors of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions B the data has leaked into the open - and Yamal's mystery is no more.

From this we know that the Yamal data set uses just 12 trees from a larger set to produce its dramatic recent trend. Yet many more were cored, and a larger data set (of 34) from the vicinity shows no dramatic recent warming, and warmer temperatures in the middle ages.

The tampered-with Yamil data also played into alarmist conclusions in a paper co-authored by (wait for it)... Phil Jones. In the words of the late 20th Century philosopher Gomer Pyle, "Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise."

Remember all that the next time you read about a conservative/Republican "war on science"... but don't expect to read about it in the New York Times.

All Glory Is Fleeting

Here's some exceptionally cogent analysis that ought to be daily required reading for politicians of all parties and ideologies, courtesy of Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the U.K. Daily Telegraph:

Labour has grown used to the limelight, and has forgotten that nobody has a right to the public's attention. It is a paradox that the longer a Government lasts, even as it suffers cellular damage and approaches invalidity, the more convinced it becomes that its beliefs are obvious, that its arguments are plain common sense, that it does not have to win the battle daily....

The election of a Government does not represent a collective swoon before an ideological blueprint, but something much messier and more numinous: boredom with or suspicion of the other lot, intuitive enthusiasm for what the victorious party represents. That enthusiasm is provisional, probationary, and must be renewed constantly.

H/T: Michael Barone.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Compare and Contrast

"I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
--Muammar Qaddafi, 2003

"We'd be content and happy if Obama can stay president forever."
--Muammar Quaddafi, 2009

I rather prefer it when murderous dictators are afraid, as opposed to content and happy. Don't you?

A Good Point

The real Steve and the Fake Steve both have a great point here: if there's anything that unites the Left and Right in this country right now, it's the genuine and fervent desire of both sides to never hear the words, "President Biden."

Safire's Vision

When I read that William Safire had died over the weekend, I immediately thought of a remarkable column Safire wrote back in March of 1991, in which he attempted to predict what the world would look like five years later.

As is normal for such predictions, Safire got a lot wrong. No intra-European army was ever formed to replace NATO, George H. W. Bush was not reelected in 1992, Norman Schwartzkopf never ran for president; there are plenty of prophesies in the column (many of them obviously tongue-in-cheek) that never came true.

Safire's crystal ball was clearer on a few items, and some of them were not that difficult to predict. The old East did become a massive economic headache for the eventually-reunified Germany. Yugoslavia did crumble into war shortly afterwards--this was possibly the most obvious prediction in the entire piece--and the Europeans, after dithering for years, did finally call Washington for military help.

But the most remarkable display of prescience came in this paragraph. I still remember reading it for the first time in the International Herald-Tribune, and marveling over its audacity with my Oxford tutor in Soviet Politics:

And what to do about the former Soviet republics, with their newly productive market systems? From Yeltsin in Russia to Sheverdnadze in Georgia, a curtain of grain will fall from the separated parts of the old Kremlin empire. Although capitalist Poland is reviving nicely, fresh competition from the former Soviet republics is now causing Central European unemployment.

In 2009, approaching the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, those words appear almost banal, but in early 1991, when Gorbachev was sending black beret KGB thugs into Lithuania to crack down on a nascent independence movement, they hit like a thunderbolt.

Even with the old Eastern Bloc having sloughed off the dead hand of Communism, the Soviet Union itself appeared as implacable and permanent as one of Stalin's grim apartment blocks. Although he lacked the strength and the stomach to crush the external revolutions of 1989, Gorbachev was still determined to maintain his own internal empire, and to keep his Communist Party in firm charge of Russia and the captured Soviet buffer states. For a figure as prominent as Safire to write, almost casually, of Yetsin and Shevardhaze--both still members and high-ranking officials of the Party--as the leaders of independent, non-Soviet states... that was so far outside of the status quo we'd lived under for so long, it sounded like something out of a fantasy novel.

But of course, that bolt-from-the-blue prediction came true, and it happened mere months after the Safire column went to press.

Safire like to recall an anecdote from his early days as a columnist at the New York Times, in which he went to his editor and said that he'd like to write a memo for then-President Nixon, but wasn't sure whether doing so would compromise his new job at the Times. The editor replied that Safire should write the memo, submit it as a column, "and the president will read it, and you'll get paid for it." Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

I've often wondered what the reaction in the Kremlin was like when Safire's March 1991 column was translated and disseminated. Who within those walls had the same reaction that so many of us had, the realization that someone as experienced and (yes) cynical as William Safire still believed it was be possible for the world to change, that much?

It was a remarkable time, and I strongly suspect that Safire, who had a hand in many remarkable things over his long life, played a hand in the days that followed, simply by thinking ahead and writing about what he imagined the world could be.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

David Broder and the Washington Delusion

David Broder, the distilled product of seventy years of D.C. conventional wisdom, opines today about the difficulties Obama is having in molding reality to his policy prescriptions. Unfortunately for Broder, the column says more about the writer's capital-centric blind spots than it does about actual policy.

Broder starts out by complimenting this essay in National Affairs, "Obama And The Policy Approach," by William Schambra. Schambra, as quoted by Broder, says,

"In one policy area after another, from transportation to science, urban policy to auto policy, Obama's formulation is virtually identical: Selfishness or ideological rigidity has led us to look at the problem in isolated pieces . . . we must put aside parochialism to take the long systemic view; and when we finally formulate a uniform national policy supported by empirical and objective data rather than shallow, insular opinion, we will arrive at solutions that are not only more effective but less costly as well. This is the mantra of the policy presidency."

Broder himself is plenty experienced enough to correctly note,

Historically, that approach has not worked. The progressives failed to gain more than brief ascendancy, and the Carter and Clinton presidencies were marked by striking policy failures.

... but it's at this point that Broder falls prey to the Washington Delusion and runs off the tracks, blaming that pesky system of checks and balances for the inability of the enlightened ones to bring about their vision of "change." Not unlike his colleague Thomas Friedman, Broder seems to prefer a government where a race of superior (liberal, Harvard-approved) beings can avoid all the messy requirement of democracy and just "get things done":

The reason, Schambra says, is that this highly rational, comprehensive approach fits uncomfortably with the Constitution, which apportions power among so many different players, most of whom are far more concerned with the particulars of policy than its overall coherence.

The energy bill that went into the House was a reasonably coherent set of trade-offs that would reduce carbon emissions and help the atmosphere. When it came out, it was a grab bag of subsidies and payoffs to various industries and groups. Now it is stymied by similar forces in the Senate.

Schambra's essay anticipated exactly what is happening on health care. Obama, budget director Peter Orszag and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle grasp the intricacies of the health-care system as well as any three humans, and they could write a law to make it far more efficient.

Uh, no, Mr. Broder. I don't care how brilliant or learned The One and his various minions might be, they are not smart enough to "grasp the intricacies of the health-care system." It does not stand to reason that "any three humans" could actually "write a law to make it far more efficient." They simply don't posses anything close to enough data, and they aren't blessed with the Godlike intelligence that would be required to actually comprehend a system that large and complex.

It's much more likely that any law they could write to reorganize such a vast apparatus, one that involves hundreds of millions of individuals, not one of whom will act according to theory in any given particular, would result in unintended consequences far beyond the ken of Barack Obama, Peter Orszag, Nancy-Ann DePearle, or even (gasp) David Broder.

This reliance on "we'll just get the smartest kids from [insert favored Ivy League school of the moment] in the room and figure all this out" Washington-think got us into a great many messes in our recent history, not least including the alleged "Maestro" of the national economy building up an unsustainable real estate bubble, the popping of which led to the current unpleasantness.

The delusion that any small group of "planners" can "manage" much of anything in a vast, continental nation is perhaps the defining characteristic of the Washington class. Having been assured for decades that they are the Best And The Brightest, they simply do not understand--much less accept--their own limitations.

As he has been so many times in the past, Broder is Hubris's herald.

All Your Files Are Belong To Us

How great is it to be Andrew Breitbart right now? Not only is he running rings around the see-no-evil-on-the-Left mainstream media, the guy just got subpoena power over the radical Left's most prominent organization--and they were dumb enough to hand it to him!

Andrew's going to have more fun with that than he'd have managing a Dash Rip Rock Reunion Tour. And he is a big Dash fan...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hotter Than Hell

While one should very clearly not rejoice over the deaths of seven pilots and airmen who, for all we know, were fine and upstanding individuals, one also can't help but chuckle when one reads that Iran's only "AWACS"-style tracking and control aircraft collided with a vintage Northrop F-5E fighter during a military parade... and then the fiery wreckage crashed into Ayatollah Khomeini's crypt.

The last part, at least, might just constitute proof that God not only exists, but also that He has a sense of humor.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Giant Sucking Sound

From Network World, via Slashdot:

Dell has agreed to buy Perot Systems for around $3.9 billion in cash, and intends to make the company its global services delivery division, the companies said Monday.

The deal will allow Dell to expand its range of IT services, and potentially allow it to sell more hardware to existing Perot customers, it said.

Sales by acquisition isn't exactly a prime indicator of a vibrant company; it's more the move a fossilized incumbent trying to hold on to market share. Dell hasn't even been around for 30 years, seeing them acting like IBM or AT&T now is pretty disappointing.

What He Said

Michael Barone:

Actually "mainstream media" is doing its friends in the Obama administration and the Democratic party no favors, at least in the long run. Obama comes from one-party Chicago, and the House Democrats' nine top leadership members and committee chairmen come from districts that voted on average 73 percent for Obama last fall. They need help in understanding the larger country they are seeking to govern, where nearly half voted the other way. Instead they get the impression they can dismiss critics as racist or "Nazis" or as indulging in (as Sen. Harry Reid said) "evil-mongering."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned us that there was a danger that intense rhetoric could provoke violence, and no decent person wants to see harm come to our president or other leaders. But it's interesting that the two most violent incidents at this summer's town hall meetings came when a union thug beat up a 65-year-old black conservative in Missouri and when a liberal protester bit off part of a man's finger in California.

These incidents don't justify a conclusion that all liberals are violent. But they are more evidence that American liberals, unused to hearing dissent, have an impulse to shut it down.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Well Said

An excellent column in today's New York Daily News by Michael Meyers, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. A sample:

To my ears, Obama's speech before Congress was a bundle of contradictions - one big, fat lie. I did not buy his claim that real health care reform, the kind we on the left can believe in, won't add a "dime" or even a penny to our out-of-control federal deficit. Nor did I hear anything credible from him about controlling the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid. The promises he listed simply did not add up. I said to myself - not being on the floor of Congress at the time - "you lie." That heretical thought did not make me a "racist." Nor did the expression of the idea make Joe Wilson a "racist."


As a liberal, I must ask: Why can't liberals who support Obama make an intelligent argument without accusing those who disagree with us of racism, and sideswiping other liberals who, like me, when I heard Obama's speech, reflexively agreed with Wilson's sentiment - to wit, "Mr. President, you lie!"?

Read the whole thing.

Appeasement 2009

From the AP:

The Czech prime minister says President Barack Obama has told him that the U.S. is abandoning plans to put a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Czech Premier Jan Fischer told reporters in Prague on Thursday that Obama phoned him to say that Washington has decided to scrap the plan that had deeply angered Russia.

Fischer says Obama confirmed that Washington no longer intends to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.

Because, you know, it's much more important to appease dictatorships than it is to stand by your allies.

For a bunch that (loudly) prides themselves on "smart diplomacy," the Obama Administration has a tremendous knack for stupidity, to say nothing of historical ignorance. Two of our best friends in the world are less important to these academic twits than "being nice" to Putin and Ahmadinejad, to say nothing of their quarter-century outdated hostility towards missile defense ("you peon--that was a Reagan idea, therefore, it must be bad!").

In the East, seventy years ago, they called this kind of asinine policy the Western Betrayal. Shame on us to repeat the same shameful back-stabs now.

Nile Gardener:

What signal does this send to Ukraine, Georgia and a host of other former Soviet satellites who look to America and NATO for protection from their powerful neighbour? The impending cancellation of Third Site is a shameful abandonment of America’s friends in eastern and central Europe, and a slap in the face for those who actually believed a key agreement with Washington was worth the paper it was written on.

What did you expect from an ideology so blinkered it could look at those countries, most of them free for less than 20 years now, and call them "a motley collection of nations one could buy on eBay"?

UPDATE: Johnathan Adler notes this betrayal occurrs on a particularly inauspicious date, namely the 70th anniversary of Stalin's invasion of Poland.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Mush From The Wimp

Having heard Jimmy Carter's mush-mouthed accusations of "RRRRRACISM!" on the radio this morning, I think Mickey has it exactly right:

Instant reaction: Kiss of Death. Gift to the GOPs. Remember the Carter era of smug moralizing? Anyone want to go back to that? ... P.S.: A good example of how, if the MSM wants to tilt against the Republicans, it's often too wedded to its own conventions--e.g., the desire to 'make news' with an ex-Pres.--to be effective. ... No sophisticated campaign propagandist would say, "OK, let's throw Jimmy Carter at them. They'll be reeling!"

For everybody old enough to remember what life was like under Jimmy's stupefying mixture of sophomoric self-righteousness, boundless naivete and gobsmacking incompetence, shoving Mr. Peanut back under the spotlight in his bitter dotage does nothing to help Obama, who's been looking like Carter II since a few hours after his inauguration.

And for those too young to remember history's greatest monster (thanks, Glenn), Jimmah's empty slander is just another sign of the unbecoming moral vanity at the heart of the modern Left, to say nothing of its overweening intolerance for any hint of dissent. People know good and well that being opposed to socialized medicine or trillion-dollar deficits doesn't make them racist. Calling them ugly names isn't going to make them cower away in fear--it's going to make them more convinced than ever that they're in the right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shouting "Racism" At Politico

Johnathan Martin of Politico has a terrible, thumb-sucking piece today titled, "Democrats imply race factor for Barack Obama foes." The headline at least is honest; as many predicted around the time of Obama's election, "RRRRRACISM!" quickly became the default response to any substantial (or even trivial) criticism of The One among much of the Left.

But instead of making any effort to actually investigate this trope, Martin simply quotes an extensive list of Democratic politicians and activists who were quite happy to read his thesis back to him in made-to-order zingers directed at their political opponents. Martin never bothers to mention that such attempts at debate-silencing are directly in the interests of his interviewees, or the not-incidental fact that the political opposition being gratuitously smeared in the article are currently trouncing the congressional Democrats in the court of public opinion.

But surely, you say, in this brave new world of "journalism," there must have been some sort of rebuttal to these charges? I mean, Politico is allegedly a nonpartisan news outfit, didn't Martin at least go out and find one person who would make a case counter to his narrative?

Uh, no. Check the article for quotes from conservatives, liberterians, or even regular old Republicans? You'll find exactly zero.

Martin's article isn't journalism, or even "journalism." It's stenography.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Walter Duranty, 2009

Thomas Friedman has always been an overrated bore (I love it how a guy with degrees in Mediterranean and Middle East Studies is, in media-land, considered an expert on economics, science and technology--but then again, if you stick "journalist" after your name, you're apparently an expert on everything), but he really reaches a new low in this execrable paen to the dictatorship in Communist China. Making things worse, Friedman once again expresses his own longings for an authoritarian regime here at home that can cut through the pesky mess of democracy and implement his personal list of pet projects. It is a revolting and disturbing display of affection and longing for untrammeled dictatorial power, and one that in a sane world would cost Friedman his job.

You'd think even the New York Times would have learned from their past experience with apologists for totalitarianism like Walter Duranty, but no, the old grey broad and her anointed pundits just keep on carrying the torch for murderous dictatorships, decade after decade. After all, the Friedman and the Times are here to make the omelets of the future, and never mind all those bloody little eggshells.

Jonah Goldberg takes Friedman apart here and here. Jonah's comments are highly recommended; Friedman's column is not--unless you just strongly feel the need to vomit.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

There's Mean, And Then There's Mean.

Last night's resignation letter by Mumiac, Truther, radical whack job and now ex-Obama "czar" Van Jones, loaded up with whining about a "vicious smear campaign" using "lies and distortions," reminded me of something P.J. O'Rourke said after his famous review of Hillary Clinton's ghost-written tome "It Takes A Village" many years ago.

Quoth P.J., "I did the meanest thing I could think of: I quoted her."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Standing Ovation

I had been under the impression--at least until I read this masterpiece--that I was pretty good at blasting out a customer-no-service rant.

I now hereby declare that I am but a rank amateur. A sample of the greatness within:

So I call Maytag. The Maytag. The Mothership. And the agent I get after working through a five-minute maze of PRESS THIS and SAY THIS and PLEASE HOLD is the snootiest customer service person I have ever talked to in my life. And I let her know the entire story, front to back, and that while I'm really upset and sleep deprived, I'm not mad at her because I know it's not her fault. And she keeps saying, yeah, can't really help you, you're going to have to call and have the history faxed over, and then we'll take a look, and even then we'll schedule someone to come take a look, maybe in three to five days?

Why can you not give me a working washing machine in the meantime while you figure out what is wrong with the brand new one that is sitting there broken in my laundry room? Why? I'll take any machine. Any working machine. Give me a machine that works while you figure out why THAT BRAND NEW ONE DOESN'T WORK.


Okay then, I say, almost begging at this point, almost to the point of tears, is there anyone I can talk to who might see what I've been through and understand? And here's where I say, do you know what Twitter is? Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter do you think someone will help me? And she says in the most condescending tone and hiss ever uttered, "Yes, I know what Twitter is. And no, that will not matter."

That is what she said to me.

So I asked if I could please speak to her supervisor. And I am not even kidding she goes, "Uggh. Fine. Hold, then."

She UGGGH'ed me.

(I've just upset the Cro-Magnons.)

And then I spend the next fifteen minutes giving my story to her supervisor, pleading for someone to fix my washing machine today or at least give me a working machine in the meantime, and he says no, but maybe we'll schedule someone to come take a look, maybe in three to five days?

Okay then. I hang up the phone, calmly walk over to my computer...

Oh, go read the whole thing already.

H/T: Megan McArdle.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Credit Where It's Due

Henry Rollins, no man of the Right by any stretch, asks a question (in Vanity Fair, no less) that the major media can't bring itself to ponder: "Where's Mary Jo Kopechnes's Eulogy?"

Good on Henry.


Just one anecdote, of many, from this outstanding Steven Brill article in the New Yorker on NYC's public schools and their radically unionized teachers. The room in question is one of the union-mandated "Rubber Rooms" where incompetent and/or misbehaving teachers are stored (at full pay) while their cases are ajudicated per their contracts:

The walls of the large, rectangular room were covered with photographs of Barack Obama and various news clippings. Just to the right of a poster that proclaimed “Bloomberg’s 3 Rs: Rubber Room Racism,” a smiling young woman sat in a lounge chair that she had brought from home. She declined to say what the charges against her were or to allow her name to be used, but told me that she was there “because I’m a smart black woman.”

I asked the woman for her reaction to the following statement: “If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances to improve but still does not improve, there’s no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”

“That sounds like Klein and his accountability bullshit,” she responded. “We can tell if we’re doing our jobs. We love these children.” After I told her that this was taken from a speech that President Obama made last March, she replied, “Obama wouldn’t say that if he knew the real story.”

Read the whole thing; it's a remarkable piece. What's far more remarkable to me, though, is where it was published. Fifteen or so years ago, you'd only see this kind of critical reporting of a teacher's union in conservative-leaning magazines like Forbes. Seeing an article this tough on what it calls "the [Democratic] the Party’s most powerful support group" in the New Yorker almost gives me... what was that word?

Oh yeah: hope.

H/T: Kaus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Letter To The Editor

Editor, Auburn Magazine,

Even given the abysmal descent into of style over substance, touchie-feelie "Oprah" writing and embarrassing errors that have come to dominate the pages of Auburn Magazine during the tenure of editor Betsy Robertson, this quarter's issue has to be an all-time low. I suppose one could make a legitimate argument for giving a prominent alumnae such as Selena Roberts coverage in the magazine, but turning that coverage into a fawning puff piece is inexcusable [the article is not yet available online; when it is, I'll link to it --WC].

Selena Roberts is not a credit to Auburn University; she is a disgrace upon its good name. I still can't believe that Auburn Magazine--of all publications!--not only brushed over and excused Roberts' serial abuses as a New York Times "reporter," but couldn't find so much as one paragraph to note Roberts' slanderous and unfounded attack on the Auburn athletic department and the Reverend Chette Williams in early 2005. Back then, Roberts ran a breathless column insinuating Williams was guilty of NCAA violations on behalf of AU.

Subsequent investigations by Auburn and the NCAA found nothing of the sort, but Roberts, true to form, never retracted or apologized, and her unsubstantiated hit piece is quoted to this day by representatives of rival schools. And that doesn't even touch on the article's airy dismissal of Roberts' infamous rush to judgement (and subsequent "what, me, responsible?" reaction) to the Duke Lacrosse hoax.

No doubt Roberts' editors at the arch-liberal Times were more than pleased to read an assault on those redneck rubes and their backwards Christian ways written by one of their own, but under no circumstances should Roberts have received six pages of celebrity worship coverage in the University's own alumni publication.

Auburn Magazine is badly adrift, and in dire need of new leadership.

--Will Collier, AE '92

(Cross-posted at From The Bleachers.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Just try and tell me the author of this Investor's Business Daily column isn't a Battlestar Galactica fan:

Kennedy and the rest of the fracking opposition say that since the technique uses a lot of water, we should worry about possible groundwater pollution and the impact on water supplies, rivers and streams.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

David Scott's Sign

David Scott's satellite office, referenced here, is about a mile from my house. I just drove past it on my lunch break, and a brand-new replacement sign was already up.

It's almost like they had a back-up sign ready, just in case.


Dorothy Rabinowitz, at OpinionJournal:

The president has a problem. For, despite a great election victory, Mr. Obama, it becomes ever clearer, knows little about Americans. He knows the crowds—he is at home with those. He is a stranger to the country’s heart and character.

He seems unable to grasp what runs counter to its nature. That Americans don’t take well, for instance, to bullying, especially of the moralizing kind, implicit in those speeches on health care for everybody. Neither do they wish to be taken where they don’t know they want to go and being told it’s good for them.

Who would have believed that this politician celebrated, above all, for his eloquence and capacity to connect with voters would end up as president proving so profoundly tone deaf? A great many people is the answer—the same who listened to those speeches of his during the campaign, searching for their meaning.

It took this battle over health care to reveal the bloom coming off this rose, but that was coming. It began with the spectacle of the president, impelled to go abroad to apologize for his nation—repeatedly. It is not, in the end, the demonstrators in those town-hall meetings or the agitations of his political enemies that Mr. Obama should fear. It is the judgment of those Americans who have been sitting quietly in their homes, listening to him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Cheers For Michael Lind

Leftie Michael Lind, writing in Salon, makes a game and appreciated (at least by me) effort at denouncing liberal bigotry against Southerners, with particular scorn directed at the likes of Kevin Drum and Kathleen Parker:

Oh, those dumb white Southerners! No other group in American society could possibly believe in preposterous conspiracy theories. Well, maybe one other group, the most reliably Democratic demographic in the whole U.S. electorate. A 2005 study by RAND and Oregon State University showed that a majority of blacks believed that a cure for AIDS was being withheld from the poor; that nearly half believed that AIDS was man-made, with a quarter believing that it was created in a U.S. government laboratory and 12 percent naming the CIA as its source. Black paranoia about AIDS is understandable, given the Tuskegee experiments. Even so, the theory that AIDS was created by the CIA to commit genocide against black people is wackier than the craziest Birther conspiracy theories. Would Kathleen Parker write, or the Washington Post publish, a column arguing that black Democrats "have seceded from sanity"? Would Kevin Drum applaud Parker's insult and extend to it to all African-Americans?

Lind's article isn't perfect. He couldn't stop himself from explaining away the polititcal proclivities of conservative Southerners with quasi-Marxist twaddle, painting them as uneducated victims of antibellum "ogliarchy" who want but for their liberal betters to show the way (just once I'd like to see at least one Leftist admit that their ideological rivals just might be able to think for themselves), but even for all that, I applaud his overall effort. It's a damn sight more civil than 99% of the garbage that gets thrown in this direction by the "intelligencia" and the media.

UPDATE: Quoth the Blogfaddah, "But isn’t insulting white Southerners one of the main pleasures of liberalism? I mean, if you have to give that up, what’s the point?" Well, they can always fall back on the self-aggrandizing air of moral superiority...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

David Scott Is Hiding From His Constituents

I noticed with some interest this story about Congressman David Scott, as linked by the Blogfaddah and Hot Air. In the video linked below, Scott screams at a questioner at an open meeting, implying the doctor who politely asked Scott some direct questions was not one of Scott's constituents. As you'll see in the report, this was (being charitable) a mistaken impression on Scott's part.

Fair warning--the volume on the commercial preceding the news report is ear-splitting:

An unedited version of the meeting, including Scott's rant, can be seen here.

Scott represents the 13th District in Georgia, which has been stretched many miles around Interstate 285 to collect a number of localities. As is the case with the doctor in the video, Scott happens to be my own personal congresscritter, and as it happens, I checked last week to see whether or not he'd be making any appearances during August.

It turns out that Scott is planning one and only one meeting on health care during this month-long recess, and he's holding it in the Democratic stronghold of Jonesboro, in Clayton County. In point of fact, this appearance doesn't even seem to be an actual town meeting; it's billed on Scott's website as a "health fair."

Although I didn't know it at the time, I took Scott's advice and emailed his office on Wednesday to ask whether the Congressman would be holding any actual meetings up here in the northernmost spur of his district, the not-remotely-a-Democratic-stronghold of Smryna in Cobb County. Smith's staffer, Michael Andel, replied that Scott holds "events all over the place," and noted that he'd held a town meeting in Smyrna last year, but stopped replying when I asked specifically whether a meeting on health care--which after all is something of a vital issue at the moment--would be held in this area during the recess. I suppose more than one meeting every two years is a bit too taxing on the Congressman's busy schedule.

I can't say I was terribly surprised. Scott very rarely pays any attention to the northern half of his district, which is highly gerrymandered to insure a majority of the votes come from Clayton County. Scott puts up a billboard every two years (and he should update the photograph on it--I didn't realize until I watched the video linked above that his hair has turned grey) and recently put in a satellite office in the basement of a local bank, but other than that we don't see or hear much of him at all.

And apparently, we'll be seeing even less these days. Judging by Scott's behavior over in Douglasville last week, he's got very little interest in being questioned, much less in being disagreed with.

Those darn free citizens. It's like they think Congressmen work for them, instead of the other way around.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Keeping Up With Current Events (in 1986)


The first time I saw the first Alien movie, I was so unnerved I had to turn on the lights a month later when an ad came on TV late at night. The first time I saw “Aliens,” I thought it was the most comprehensively effective thing I’d ever seen. Perhaps you had to be there - if you’re younger than I happen to be, you’ve seen “Aliens” repeated over and over again. But at the time? This was every movie we’d waited for.

This (as usual for Lileks) is exactly right.

When "Alien" came out in 1979, I was ten years old, and only a solid month of wheedling directed at my mother got me in the door of the theater for what was my first R-rated movie (we didn't even have cable until I was about 15). Mom, who had volunteered to screen the movie first, told me as I got out of the car (and before waving to the girl at the counter that it was okay to let me in), sent one last warning: "It's going to give you bad dreams."

Boy, was she right about that. I have nightmares about Giger's monster literally to this day. But on the whole, it was worth it.

"Aliens" was released seven years later, and by that time I had a driver's license and was just tall enough to not get carded at R-rated movies. It opened with a free midnight show in the next town over, sponsored by the local radio station. Two buddies and I piled into my hand-me-down Ford LTD (handed down from my mom, of course), and rolled over to Dothan to check it out. This was obviously pre-internet, and "Aliens" was launched with very little promotional fanfare. We literally knew nothing about the movie other than it was a sequel to "Alien" (which by then we had practically memorized thanks to videotape), and that based on the title, there was probably going to be more than one of the critters.

I remember that I bought a big tub of popcorn, and set it down under my seat just as the 20th Century Fox logo rolled.

I didn't touch that corn for the entire movie. Completely forgot it was there.

To say that we were blown away by "Aliens" is kind of like suggesting that Richard Pryor sort of liked drugs. At well past 2:30 in the morning, the three of us just babbled about the movie for the entire drive home, then carried on about it for another hour or so sitting on the car in the driveway. As James notes above, it was absolutely everything we wanted in a movie at that time. Bill Paxon's Private Hudson immediately became our unofficial imaginary friend, to be quoted at every opportunity--and come to think of it, he's still there, on the occasions when we all get together.

I think my gang of cronies all went to see "Aliens" at least ten times that summer. Every single time, in the infirmary scene where the facehuggers are chasing Ripley and Newt around the room, we'd nudge each other and mutter, "You going to jump this time?"

And every time, we all did.

Try it yourself at home, with the DVD. I bet you'll still jump.

At All Costs

This entire imbroglio reminds me of an old joke: "What is the definition of 'racist'?" Answer: "Anyone who's winning an argument with a liberal."

The Left is losing the current argument--and badly. The propensity of Obama's liberal supporters in the media to automatically blame any dissent from The Savior on racism, it's no surprise that the canard is being trotted out again, and even less surprising that it's being employed by partisans as inherently dishonest as Paul Krugman.

That doesn't make it any less disappointing, though. The quick willingness to play the race card at any time is possibly the most destructive impact of Obamamania on our political and social culture. Unfortunately for everybody, this particular variety of dirty pool doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Outrage in Tampa

In Tampa, with Democratic member of Congress Kathy Castor just a few feet away, SEIU union thugs attack protestors, forcing them out of a "town meeting":

I particularly liked the union goon with his own video camera photographing the faces of the protestors. "Nice family you got there. Shame if anything happened to them."

True to form, CBS News blames and insults the protestors.

UPDATE: Jon Henke catches the St. Petersburg Times airbrushing the SEIU's pre-planned tactics out of their story on the meeting, and replacing those details with Democratic talking points.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Peasants Are Revolting

The Congresscritters are back in flyover country, and from the looks of all these clips, they're not exactly getting standing ovations. This pair of videos from Setauket, NY, is especially good. Democrat Tim Bishop gets taken to the cleaners by his constituents here, particularly including a veteran who lays him out of promoting VA hospitals as an ideal model for healthcare:

Bishop probably likes things much better in Washington, where he's got the press corps to shield him from actual tough questions.

See also the execrable Lloyd Doggett getting his in Austin, TX:

... and here's HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Himselfocrat Arlen Specter getting an earful in Pennsylvania. Reactions to whining from Sebelius about how hard the Congresscritters are "working" and to Specter's insistence on getting a bill past quickly are priceless:

As noted earlier today, the marks are wise to the scam, and they're not happy about it.

I Guess Beer And Pizza Is Right Out

Check out this press release from Obama Administration Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. It's regarding the recent hike in the minimum wage, and this section in particular just about proves that political spin these days simply defies parody:

For families with a full-time minimum wage earner, Solis said, the increase would mean $120 extra per month, which, among other things, would allow the working poor to replace their regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, "which would save the family money in the long term and be an important step toward a greener country."

You read that right. Never mind that ordering raising the wages of primarily part-time teenagers (and effectively cutting the number of entry-level jobs available during a recession) doesn't make a whole lot of economic sense--we can still send out a goofy press release about ghastly light bulbs that hardly anybody actually wants to buy!

You really can't fix stupid.

AT&T: Worst Company In The World

Early this year I decided to ditch my crappy cable company (Charter) for internet service. We cut the old BellSouth landline cord over five years ago, but AT&T is finally allowing dry-line DSL service in Atlanta (after claiming for a decade that it was technically impossible), so I figured I'd give them another shot. I called up the billing number, got what sounded like a great price on bundled service (we already had AT&T wireless thanks to the wife's iPhone), and signed up.

Boy, was that a mistake.

Since then, I would estimate that I've spent upwards of 20 hours on the phone with various Death Star minions. My billing has never once been correct; AT&T refused for months to live up to the DSL rates promised in my original sales call, and has repeatedly screwed up the discounts on the wireless side (I have a wireless service discount through my employer).

It took a certified letter to the CEO to get any action (for future reference, his direct email address is rs2982@att.com), and even now my bill is still screwed up. The executive case manager who's been handling the wireless side finally admitted that even he couldn't fix AT&T's billing system, and pushed through an advance credit to make up for the discount that I won't be receiving thanks to the Death Star's bureaucratic incompetence.

And even that credit, allegedly issued nearly a month ago, apparently hasn't gone through.

I've been hung up on, lied to, patronized, and even today flat-out insulted by phone reps, almost all of whom clearly could care less whether I'm satisfied with my service.

The most irritating thing of all is, every single AT&T employee I talk to tells me something diametrically opposed to the thing the last AT&T employee told me.

And that is why people hate AT&T. You don't want to give a discount or live up to an offer, fine. Don't offer them. You want to stick to your internal policies, that's also fine. But you don't say one thing and then do another, time and time and time and time again.

To Steve Jobs, the Leader, I beseech thee: for the love of Zod and my sanity, please ditch this awful company. I will be overjoyed to cut the Death Star loose approximately one micro-second after we're able to use our iPhones with a different provider.

(And yes, I know about unlocking iPhones and using them with T-Mobile. While I'd love to go back to them--I had fine service from T-M for years--that's not a wife-friendly option.)