Saturday, March 31, 2007

The President Likes Pork

President Bush is making a heroic stand against pork. That's a major reason he claims he will be vetoing the Iraq spending bill once it reaches his desk.

Of course, he hasn't vetoed prior Defense Appropriations bills because they contained unrelated earmarks. For example, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense,
In 2005, earmarked funding is going to projects as diverse as entirely stainless steel bathrooms ($4 million), airbags for aircraft ($2 million) and leak proof transmission drip pans ($3 million). Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) requested $4.3 million for a program that the Pentagon did not request funds for: the SmarTruck, a souped-up Ford F-350 for use in combat. The Defense budget also includes $3.75 million for alcoholism research at the Gallo center in San Francisco. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) earmarked $110 million for two F-15's that the Pentagon didn't request. There is a $1 million earmark for the eradication of brown tree snakes in Guam (Senator Inouye, from Hawaii, is concerned they will spread), and $1.9 million for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Celebration. Other nuggets include $1.5 million for a virtual reality spray paint simulator system in Pine City, Minnesota; $4.3 million for vocational education of Alaskan miners; and $1 million for a biathlon trail upgrade at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

All told, earmarks accounted for more than three percent of the bill's total $391 billion appropriation.
There were 2966 earmarks in last year's defense budget (Nieman Watchdog). But he happily and proudly signed those bills. See? (Okay, so he didn't look so happy about it ... but he was concentrating on his spelling.)

And let's not forget the amazing pile of pig parts that have been falling all across America (and the U.S. Territories) in the name of Homeland Security.

There is nothing new about what this Congress is doing. It's still as wrong and wasteful as it ever has been. And bless the President for his new found dislike of pork and for bringing attention to the problem. But he's ridiculous for pretending that pork has any influence at all on his position now. It's just a way for him to tap into populist sentiments to gain some sort of support for rejecting any kind of Congressional oversight of anything he does, ever.

So which populist sentiment will win, the anti-pork or the pro-oversight?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Waiting to Inhale: Swindled by a Cheesy British Documentary

I watched a few minutes of The Great Global Warming Swindle, a new British documentary that has some skeptical naysayers hooting with triumphalism. Then I felt compelled to do some fact-checking and discovered that Campaign Against Climate Change did a complete transcript and there are rebuttals by smarter people than I (Frank O. Dwyer, British investigative columnist George Monbiot, blogger Coby Beck), so I don't have to watch even one more minute of those naysaying pieces of shit (really, how seriously should we take a documentary that claims volcanoes emit more CO2 each year than all human activity, which doesn't know the difference between regional and global climate and claims the MWP was warmer than today?).

The claim of the documentary is that sunspot activity is the real culprit behind Global Warming (the existence of which they don't dispute anymore) and that man's activity on Earth has nearly nothing to do with it.

I noticed one glaring flaw in that logic, however.

Much is made of the fact that there was a Post-WWII industrial boom which released more man-made CO2 than ever before, yet we actually saw a cooling trend over the next 40 or so years. If CO2 were responsible for warming, wouldn't that have been the time to directly observe it? Since there was cooling (or at least no warming), then obviously, goes the logic, the theory of man-made Global Warming is destroyed.

However, the sunspot theory is also undermined by that cooling period, since there has apparently been an unusually high level of solar activity, a spike not seen in over 8000 years. If sunspots were the main contributor to global temperature, having many more times the impact of human activity, why didn't the temperature increase during those four decades?

There must have been some other factor at play besides just CO2 and/or sunspots. One theory (and I really don't know of any others) is Global Dimming. Whenever volcanoes emit their massive quantities of CO2, the planet cools. They release particulate matter that blocks the sunlight which cools the planet. Similarly, polluting industries. Oh, and nuclear bombs.

Two of those things are man-made, and two of those things started (heavily for aerosols, which obviously started with the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, which could very well account for why the global temperature began to increase before 1940) in the 1940s. Above-ground nuclear testing and industrial aerosols were curbed a great deal in the 60s and 70s, leaving those natural volcanoes, including Mt. St. Helens, which apparently didn't cool the planet as much as artificial aerosols and nuclear bombs, especially considering that volcanoes also emit CO2 (and methane, another greenhouse gas).

If that is the case, then it seems man can have a significant effect on the atmosphere and the temperature, which undercuts the theory that man is a pipsqueak being pushed around by the sun. (Take that, Sun, we can block you out).

Of course, that's just cooling. (Woot! We can cool the planet by causing acid rain and nuclear winter! Problem solved.) That still doesn't prove CO2 warms the planet, because first the planet heats (because of sunspots) and then the CO2 rises (except that apparently isn't a perfect correlation; as this graph via TPMCafe shows, sometimes CO2 rises before temp, sometimes it happens simultaneously, and sometimes they seem to be operating independently of each other, though they do clearly follow each other ... hmm, must be those "other factors" again). If CO2 follows temperature, then CO2 can't be the cause of warming. Under any circumstances. Right?

Except we've always (except for once, and that global effect hasn't been shown either, and even regionally, Europe had already been in its Little Ice Age for, what, 100 years) had spikes of solar activity, but we haven't always had such seriously increasing temperatures, not for several million years. Yes, in the natural world unimposed upon by massive human activity or other major factors, solar activity can cause warming which raises CO2; then during the decreased solar activity, the CO2 is cycled out, getting processed through the oceans and biosphere which are Carbon Sinks (things that soak up and store more carbon than they emit).

But what if that natural CO2 is heavily augmented with man-made CO2, which doesn't relent even during decreased solar activity, or, hell, even during a single year, decade, or even century? We're still in a peak of solar activity (which scientists think will probably abate soon, though having little effect on Global Warming) and we're releasing gigatonnes of Carbon all year round. How much Carbon can the oceans and biosphere absorb before they stop absorbing it? And once they stop absorbing it -- a la the natural cycle that for many millennia has regulated the temperature of Earth despite sunspots and volcanoes, putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than is normally handled by the earth on a normal regular basis -- the excess CO2 will go into the atmosphere.

If the natural CO2 cycle can be likened to the inhalations and exhalations of the planet, then constantly pumping massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, particularly during an inhalation, can be likened to breathing under a blanket. What, you've never tried that? The increased CO2 makes it hot, sticky and stale. And then if methane is released ... that's a planet I don't want to live on. Earth may have to hold its breath for a while.

I don't doubt that solar activity increases the Earth's temperature. I also don't doubt that the unprecedented and unrelenting activities of humans which don't allow the planet to catch its breath have an effect on our climate, thus on all our lives. It seems that the main problem I have with what I've read of this documentary (besides the glaring errors and omissions of fact by discredited "scientists" ) is that it focuses only on the one factor, sunspots. Global Warming attributes many complexities to global temperature, but The Great Global Warming Swindle ignores all that.

In fact, I bet this statement from the documentary is nearly completely correct (those damn "other factors"): "It was the Sun it seemed, not Carbon Dioxide or anything else that was driving changes in the climate," but only if it's read like this: "It was the Sun it seemed, not Carbon Dioxide or anything else that was driving changes in the climate."

A new figure has been added to the equation.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Starfest 2008.

Spring is in the air and you know what that means. Nerds falling in love.

At ...


Last year my husband, dad and brother went with me. Denise Crosby showed her film Trekkies. Because I think I chose to watch improv instead, I missed it, though I did catch the end of her Q&A. So I put it on NetFlix. I just watched it tonight, and it was really good. I almost want to move back to Florida just so I can go to Starbase Dental (there are no pics; it's a dentist's office filled with Star Trek paraphernalia and employees in Trek uniforms).

But it also gave me the yen to go back to Starfest for my third year in a row. Pither doesn't seem to want to go this year, but my older son, Ben, does. He's recently gotten into Star Wars and has taken to dressing in his black karate outfit decked out with a Darth Vader utility belt, cape and lightsaber (he's Anakin). I might even wear my tricorder and Federation communicator pin. And carry a lightsaber so I can fight with Ben.

This year's celebrity guest lineup:

Leonard Nimoy - Spock, Star Trek
Rachel Luttrell - Teyla, Stargate Atlanis
Kate Vernon - Ellen Tigh, Battlestar Galactica
Gil Gerard - Buck Rogers, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Erin Gray - Col. Wilma Deering, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Daniel Logan - Boba Fett, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Andee Frizzell - Hive Queen, Stargate Atlantis
Ray Park - Darth Maul, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Ben loves Boba Fett. He's got a Boba Fett lego and read a book about a young Boba Fett's adventures right after Jengo died.

Tickets are on sale now for the April 20 - 22 event, at very reasonable prices.


Always Naysaying, You Piece of S*&%! *

Last night I saw John Bolton on The Daily Show telling Jon Stewart that he was "historically inaccurate" about his assertion that Abraham Lincoln brought people from different parties, people who were in fact his enemies, into the administration.

It occurred to me that what he did is the perfect example of what the Loyal Bushies do when it comes to inconvenient facts. They just naysay. That's because most people like me don't know things off-hand like Lincoln's varied cabinet. So people can choose to believe either John Bolton or Jon Stewart. Obviously, people who share the ideology of Bolton would choose to believe Bolton, and being the uninformed boobs that they are (that being also the basis for their ideology), wouldn't bother to look it up.

The beauty of blanket naysaying is, even those who would believe Stewart over Bolton even about facts about John Bolton's private life would have doubts about Stewart's facts, and would forget to look it up, just being left with a vague doubt that Bolton might have gotten the better of Stewart.

Well, Stewart did a fact-check for us. And guess what. Stewart was right.

Making John Bolton, in hard historical fact and, by extension, in every other conceivable belief or ideology or idea he has ever had just horribly wrong.

* That's a paraphrase from Tenacious D.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Craigslist Rocks

We got everything unpacked today.

We had to.

Pither listed our used moving boxes on Craigslist before we were completely unpacked because he thought it would take about a week before we heard from anyone. Fifteen minutes later we got a call. Five minutes after that, we got a second call. The lady who called second just came and picked them up.

So when I say we're unpacked, I mean there's a bunch of stuff on the floor in the basement and piled on the guest room bed.

So, though I endorse Craigslist, I would caution users to make sure the unwanted stuff is ready to go.


Friday, March 16, 2007

No Internal White House Investigation into Plame

After promising an internal investigation into who leaked Ms. Plame's name ... do I really need to finish the statement? (via AmericaBlog)

To put a positive spin on it, Bush was just practicing good conservation. Why waste resources looking for an answer you already know?

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia Review

Possible slight spoiler alert.

Yesterday after school I took my 7-year-old son, Ben, to see Bridge to Terabithia. The only thing I knew about it was from the trailers, which made it look like a Narnia-type "children enter a magical world with magic and magical things happen while imporant life lessons are learned" movie.

It felt like it was building up to that, too. And once the magical things started happening, it was pretty clear to me, an adult, that magical things weren't happening. To Ben, it was magic. So when something tragic happened, he turned to me and said, "I'm sure [that tragic thing didn't happen]."

At the end of the film, when the tragic thing wasn't magically undone, he quietly turned his head into my shoulder and cried. I'd already been crying a bit, and that made it even worse. I was proud. Sometimes it seems like he's such a little jerk who enjoys torturing his brother, killing little bugs and pretending to kill bigger things (yeah, I know, he's a 7-year-old boy), so it was heartening to see he had that moment when he understands what it means to feel real empathy, even if that empathy is for a fictional character. Paul Atreides is no more human than my boy.

It also reminded me of when I was about his age. My mom took me to see The Mouse and His Child. There was a bad guy rat that, in the end, had his two front teeth knocked out. It somehow "e-mouse-culated" him to lose those two great tusks and he was saddened and humbled. For some reason, which I still can't really fathom, that made me cry. I cried out of the theater, into the car, at home and in my bed. I cried myself to sleep that night.

Bridge to Terabithia was very well made in all those important ways: music, cinematography, directing, acting. The characters, lessons, circumstances and foreshadowing seemed pretty obvious to an adult, and it could have been just another one of those feel good adventure-lesson films which deal lightly and quickly with tragedy or reverse it somehow with magic; where the bad kids get theirs, learn to respect that kid they've been picking on; the triumph of the nerds, "revenge best served cold" -- all that.

But it treated its subject and characters very realistically and respectfully. There were the stereotypes, a bit of that cold revenge and nerd triumphalism. But it cost more than mere public humiliation, thus making what little triumph there was hollow and meaningless when compared with the really important things in life.

It's easy to gloss over serious subjects in an animated or otherwise patently fictional movie when your suspension of disbelief is already in high gear. Bridge to Terabithia confused and blended magic and reality in such a way that the suspension of disbelief was jarred. And that made it more real.

I don't usually go see movies that make me cry in public. I'm still scarred by my Schindler's List experience, which was nothing like Jerry Seinfeld's (and Bridge to Terabithia is nothing like Schindler's List). But I'm very glad the trailers tricked me into seeing this one.


American Veterans Coalition Letter

The actual letter I sent:

Dear American Veterans Coalition,

Thank you for helping to inspire me to donate money to help our nation's veterans.

When I talked to your representative (which I normally don’t do, since I never give money to strangers who cold call me; but the recent scandals about Walter Reed and the VA naturally make many trusting and well-intentioned Americans, including myself, particularly vulnerable to entreaties to help veterans) I made it clear that I was skeptical about your organization and that I would certainly send $15 if the American Veterans Coalition was what he made it out to be.

Of course I looked up your organization. Although the Better Business Bureau has heard of you, they have no information (a red flag). There are several charity watchdog groups online which also have no listings. Luckily, I found a 2005 article by Matthew Kauffman in the Hartford Courant.1 It said that the American Veterans Coalition, one of several charities run by Robert Friend, gives a very small percentage of the proceeds it collects, if it gives any at all. I was pleased to see by your own website that at least a few thousand dollars have made their way to already established charities, such as local branches of Disabled American Veterans.2

I understand that charities operate as middle men, helping to get money from donators to the needy, and that there are administrative costs. However, it occurred to me that the American Veterans Coalition is a middle man for the middle man. If I were to send $15 to your organization, probably only about $2.25 would actually make it to an established veterans organization, and after their administrative costs, only about $1.68 would go directly toward helping a veteran.

Of course, 1.1% of $15 is better than 100% of nothing. But 76%3 of $15 is way better than 1.1% of $15. So it makes much more sense, purely from a business perspective, for me to send my money directly to one of the charities your organization would send my money to.

So I've decided to send $15 to Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust.4 I know it cost American Veterans Coalition money to send the envelope that I mailed this letter in. But as veterans need my money much more than Robert Friend, his wife, or even their cold callers, and as the goal of American Veterans Coalition is to help veterans, I'm sure all would agree that this was a much more efficient use of time, money and resources than usual.


Julie O.



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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dems Don't Need to Talk to Fox

I like this very much. (via WTF Is It Now?)

Edwards campaign says:
The truth is, Fox News can "report" whatever they want. And when it works for us, we'll deal with them on our terms. But this campaign is about responsibility and accountability, and we need to send the message to Fox that if they want to be the corporate mouthpiece of the Republican Party more than they want to be an impartial news outlet, they shouldn't expect Democrats to play along.
I just wish Edwards had learned that lesson a few weeks ago about Amanda and Melissa.

I don't see a Fox News boycott by all Democrats as being anything other than a winning strategy. Fox News and the extended rightwing Wurlitzer is great at making up phone scandals and distracting from real issues. The people who lap up that crap aren't going to vote for Dems anyway, no matter what. Why play into it at all?

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Osama!

The big five oh.

Did you get the special cake the CIA sent you?

It was an old Saddam Hussein recipe.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Atrios Has My Number

Except for 5, 6, & 7.

I wish the Hillary Clinton for President campaign would suppress my unique and individual voice. Then I'd know she cares.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Helping Americans Get a Tax Deduction Without Actually Having to Help Other Americans

I got a call from the American Veterans Coalition tonight, and I pledged a conditional $15. I told the guy on the phone that if his organization was what he made it out to be, I would definitely send the $15.

With Walter Reed and the wider VA scandal fresh in the news raising awareness and empathy for veterans more than normal, the time is ripe for scam artists to play on sympathies and con unsuspecting people out of well-intentioned cash. I don't like to be conned, and usually hang up as soon as I realize it's a solicitation for a "charity." But how could even I turn down the veterans at a time like this?

Of course I looked up the AVC. It was set up by Robert Friend, who simultaneously has three other charities. For three years prior to starting the AVC, Friend ran a charity called Tomorrow's Abundance, a charity for veterans, kids with cancer, and the blind.

According to a 2005 article by Matthew Kauffman in the Hartford Courant, the AVC, along with the three other charities, raised nearly $1 million in 2003 and spent exactly zero on veterans (though the AVC website shares the statistics on the percentages and numbers of veterans who need help, there's no financial information). In 2004, they had managed to streamline the operation and, out of $1.1 million raised, spent $15,000 on veterans. Of that, $14,500 was sent to established veterans groups.

Why wouldn't I just give my money to an established veterans group? You know, cut out the middle man with the million dollar mansion.

As a comparison, Charity Navigator says Fisher House Foundation -- "There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment" -- raised over $16 million in 2005, spending only about $380,000 on administrative and fundraising expenses, with a carried-over excess of $7.3 million. That's 95.6% spent on the program.

And the American Institute of Philanthropy suggests two other established veterans groups, as well: Armed Services YMCA of the USA and Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which gets four stars just for the name.

In fact, the AVC provides a handy list of links to letters from the recipients of those paltry laundered charitable donations they've dispersed over the last three years, like Disabled American Veterans.

So I think when I get the envelope from the American Veterans Coalition, I'll enclose this letter:

Dear American Veterans Coalition,

Thank you for helping to inspire me to donate money to help our nation's veterans. It occurred to me, however, that if I were to send $15 to your organization, probably only about $2.25 would actually make it to an established veterans organization, and after their administrative costs, only about $1.68 would go directly toward helping a veteran.

Of course, 1.1% of $15 is better than 100% of nothing. But 76% of $15 is way better than 1.1% of $15.

So I've decided to send my $15 directly to Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. I know you had to spend money to send me the envelope that I mailed this letter to you in. But as the veterans need the money so much more than Robert Friend, his wife, or their fundraisers, and as the goal of American Veterans Coalition is to help veterans, I'm sure you'll agree your time and expense was very well spent.

Julie O.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

WashPost's Libby Conviction Idiotorial

There's no other word for it. Fred Hiatt didn't write an editorial, he wrote an idiotorial. (via Atrios)

Hiatt makes several false claims about Wilson:
"he claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration."
After making up things that Joe Wilson claimed, Hiatt then went on to say that an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee found that Wilson was wrong about the things that Hiatt made up.

Here's what Wilson said about debunked allegations that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger:
"Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick ... felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington."
As for Wilson's own assessment:
" ... it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
Here's what Wilson said about Cheney's involvement in sending him to Niger:
"... Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. ... The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer."
And here's what Wilson said about who got his report:
"In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau.

... Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

... I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
[emphasis added]

So it was Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick who claimed to have debunked the allegations, which Wilson independently confirmed; it was Vice President Cheney's office which made a request of the CIA who made the request of Wilson; and Wilson gave an accurate accounting of who he reported to.

And that's just dealing with two small paragraphs of Hiatt's idiotorial!

Hiatt then goes on to claim Joe Wilson made up his wife's CIA status, that Mrs. Wilson was not a covert operative for the CIA based on the fact that no evidence was presented in the trial. Hiatt also makes a big deal out of the fact that no one has been indicted for leaking her name, thus proving there's no There there. First, such evidence would have been irrelevant to the case being prosecuted. Second, it's still classified. Third, even declassified, such evidence may never be presented at anyone's trial, as, without someone like Libby testifying that Rove and Cheney knowingly and intentionally outed Mrs. Wilson, it would be very difficult to prove the underlying crime.

However, there are plenty of sources that state that Valerie Plame was indeed a covert operative of the CIA who had worked overseas within the 5 years previous to her outing, including 11 CIA officials who testified for that bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee.

The biggest crime, according to Hiatt, was the damage done to journamalists.
One, Judith Miller of the New York Times, lost several court appeals and spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify. The damage done to journalists' ability to obtain information from confidential government sources has yet to be measured.
Is he effing kidding? Judith "Never Met a Corrupt Government Source I Wouldn't Be a Willing Dupe and Mouthpiece For" Miller? Try measuring the damage Judith "Queen of All Iraq" Miller has done to journalism and our country.

Mr. Hiatt was, at least, right about one thing: this idiotorial tells us nothing about Whitewater.

Talk about no There there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Shrapnel in the Kitchen

It's the subtitle of an article Pyrex Panic: Shrapnel in the Kitchen. But it just happened here, so I get to use it.

I was unloading the dishwasher while my husband took his Banquet chicken out of the oven. He placed it on the stovetop, which is a smooth-surface countertop stove that's across the room from our convection oven, right next to the dishwasher. I was explaining my techniques for fighting primarily with the handgun in the professional level of Resident Evil 4.

His hand had just let go of the dish, still protected by an oven mitt, when the dish suddenly exploded.

Now, World Kitchen, the company that now owns Pyrex and Corningware, doesn't like the word "exploded." They say

"We want to assure you that neither PYREX glass bakeware nor other glass bakeware 'explodes.' Glass does not explode but it can break. As glass bonds break, people may hear a noise and be surprised."

Surprised!? Uh, yeah.

When glass breaks in a manner that it flies halfway across the room, I think it can safely be described as "exploding."

Fortunately, Andy, our three-year-old, was in the living room, and neither Pither nor I were hurt. But I had to pick chunks of still-warm glass out of the dishwasher. And, thanks to my parents leaving us a shop vac, the clean up of tiny slivers was fairly easy, too.

I understand that sometimes things explode. It's the way of life. But it's nice to at least have an idea of which things might explode. The article indicates that World Kitchen is denying their dishes explode and aren't warning the public to be careful.

The article, by James R. Hood of offers useful advice where World Kitchen fails.

• Wear oven gloves; you won't burn yourself and if the dish blows up, you're less likely to be cut;
• Wear shoes. Being pregnant is fine but being barefoot in the kitchen is out;
• Keep the dish away from your face. You avert your face when connecting jumper cables to your battery don't you? (You don't? You should.)
• Keep kids and dogs away from the cooking area;
• Set bakeware dishes down gently. Banging them around greatly increases the chances of trouble;
• Preheat your oven before putting anything in it. Some ovens use the top heating elements (the "broil" elements) during the preheat cycle, which can cause trouble if you put a cold bakeware dish in there;
• Don't put objects on the top of the stove unless you intend to cook them. Even if the burners aren't on, heat can be vented from the oven. And, most important ...
• Don't let your kids undertake big baking, roasting or frying projects unsupervised. The kitchen is a dangerous place.

Oh, and our advice for Vice President Arnold? Spend a little less time on semantics and give a little more prominence to the safety warnings you now so skillfully downplay.

Thank you. I still have a smaller Pyrex baking dish.

... I'm a bad visual blogger. I didn't take a picture in situ, but here are a few pics of where it happened, as well as the garbage full of sploded Pyrex.

From the oven,

to the stove,

to the garbage.

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The Media Coverage of War Didn't Cause Failures

My parents were here to help us get settled in. Dad spent a couple of days battling the downstairs sink. The previous owner fancied himself a plumber/electrician. He wasn't. There's a lot to fix.

At the end of the day we sat down for an hour or so to chat, and, as often happens, the topic came around to politics. As regular readers [snicker, probably the most regular readers are my dad and husband] know, my parents lean right and I and Pither lean left. I don't think any of us are "extremists" or "radicals," but our rhetoric sometimes goes that way.

It didn't get too extreme yesterday (like I'm going to argue with my parents after all the hard work they were doing on our house). And I thought they brought up an interesting point.

They wondered what WWII or the Civil War would have been like if there had been the kind of media coverage that we see today. If we'd been aware of all the screwups and friendly fire incidents and pictures of dead bodies, would we have lost the will to continue the fights? Screwups always happen in every war, we just didn't see them all the time.

For me, it's not the death toll or the gruesome pictures or the screwups that makes me against Bush and his wars (except Afghanistan, which made sense). I'm not an anti-war liberal. I'm specifically against Bush's awful, stupid and unnecessary warmongering.

I understand that sometimes great sacrifices are called for. I think most people understand that, despite the visuals and media coverage. Many in the military and their families cling to the belief that their sacrifices are worthwhile and continue to support the President and his policies. It's natural, no matter the conflict, to feel that way. I heard somewhere that the percentage of Americans directly involved in WWII (soldiers and families) was 12%. Now it's something like .5%. So during WWII, that need to believe would have been more widespread.

And it wasn't until recently that a majority of Americans started opposing the Iraq War. Coverage has been ongoing since the beginning, but many people thought there was a good reason for the carnage, so they supported it.

So I don't think it was the coverage of the war that caused the change in public opinion. And it's certainly neither the coverage nor the turn in public opinion that has caused the continuing screwups.

Here's an important distinction between the Civil War, WWII, and the current Bushie War on Terra. During the Civil War and WWII, Congress held many hearings, demanding accountability of the Administrations of how the wars were being waged, how monies were being spent. That oversight has been stunningly lacking regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, talk of oversight has earned accusations of anti-American, pro-terrorist treason.

Until the reflection of change in public opinion in the form of the November 2006 elections, Bush kept saying he would stay the course, continuing the same failed policies and strategies that lost billions of taxpayer dollars and caused thousands of lives with little gain. Sure, as my dad pointed out, in one day of training for D-Day, 35,000 men were lost. But then we got D-Day. Bush's D-Day is a surge around Baghdad? Who knows, maybe the surge (and nothing else, since there's still foreign - to Iraqis - contractors, sectarian conflicts, American soldiers training their own killers) will work. Would Bush have even done that if a continually mis-informed American public hadn't stood up to demand accountability?

In this instance, the media coverage that may have helped sway public opinion was a great boon, as it allowed the American public to attempt to provide the oversight and check that the Congress was not providing.

It's not the images of death, it's not the accounts of screwups. It's a realization that we were lied into a war that made no sense to the wider struggle against terrorism; that the war theory (too few troops, no post-war plan, private foreign contractors rather than Iraqi or U.S. military workers, etc.) expounded by Rumsfeld and Bush was wrong; that Bush cronies have been profiteering to the tune of billions of dollars; that Congress hasn't been providing checks and balances; that every rhetorical argument of loving and supporting the troops has been a lie.

The Bush Administration has had carte blanche to wage this war any way it chose. It had public support, it had a great deal of media support, it had Congressional support. And still it was messing up and failing.

I don't think the real question is, "If there had been modern media coverage during WWII or the Civil War, would those wars have failed?" I think it's, "If there had been media coverage comparable to what was available during the Civil War or WWII, would the Iraqi post-war have gone any better?"

Because of the huge differences in casus belli, oversight, and characters of the various Administrations, I seriously doubt it.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

VA Misappropriated Funds for Privatization Efforts

Cookie Jill at Skippy says that privatization played a part in the neglect at Walter Reed.

Though IAP (run by KBR CEO Al Neffgen) only got the contract to run Walter Reed in 2006, replacing 300 Federal employees with 50 contracted employees, money had been diverted, in violation of the law, from VA care between 2001 and 2004 to study the costs of privatization. Specifically,
... the VHA medical care appropriation accounts performed activities in support of cost comparison studies in connection with the CARES process, VA’s evaluation of its medical center laundry facilities, and for some of the 1,626 studies referenced in VA’s fiscal year 2002 PAR.
The VA had requested appropriations in amounts ranging from $16 - $50 million dollars to conduct such studies, but did not receive the appropriations. VA went ahead with its studies anyway because, in typical Bushite fashion, the VA simply disagreed with the GAO's interpretation of the law. Obviously, the Title 38 cost comparison funding prohibition means using VHA appropriations for some cost comparison is allowed.

Government agencies are required to do cost comparison studies, but must abide by the requirements of OMB Circular A-76, which streamlines studies to reduce administrative costs.
Sidestepping that requirement allowed the kind of waste private companies associated with Bu$hCo is becoming famous for.
... VA did not track the time and expense associated with performing cost comparison studies in-house and was thus unable to provide us with a reliable estimate of this amount.


Nonetheless, based on documentation provided by VA, the amount of time and effort spent in support of cost comparison studies likely was substantial. For example, according to VA’s Draft National CARES Plan, issued on August 4, 2003, hundreds of staff across VA devoted a great deal of time and energy to the CARES implementation process, which lasted 14 months.


the CARES process involves: (1) analyzing veterans’ health care needs—referred to as market analysis, (2) developing options to address those needs, (3) evaluating each option, and (4) implementation.
The funny part about the argument the VA and the GAO was having over the interpretation of the statute was when the GAO had to whip out the dictionary to explain what the words "any" and "study" meant.
... the crux of our disagreement with VA is the meaning of the word "study." According to a well-recognized dictionary of the sort that might have been available to the Congress in 1981, a "study" is defined broadly as a careful examination or analysis of a phenomenon, development, or question, or the publication of a report of such an examination or analysis. The other important word in the language of the prohibition is the word "any," which modified the word "study." In our October 2004 legal opinion, we construed "any" to mean "every" and "all." We found no evidence in the legislative history that the Congress intended the words "any" and "study" in their common, ordinary, and contemporary usage to mean only a "formal" (i.e., standard) A-76 study.

Message board argument flashback!

And it's pretty sad how the House Committee on Government Reform had to inform the VA's Secretary, "that timely, accurate cost accounting data are integral to effective budgeting. "

Interestingly, R. James Nicholson, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was made a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX while acting as Ambassador to the Holy See in 2003. Doesn't the Constitution say something about that? person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States], shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

As was explained to me by an expert when I called C-SPAN during the 2000 election recount, an office of profit or trust includes ambassadorships. I did a quick search of the Congressional record, and found no record of Congress consenting to a U.S. Ambassador accepting a foreign title. Goddamned piece of paper. But what was the common understanding of "any kind whatever" when the Constitution was drafted? It must have meant "some kinds, sometimes."

Well, obviously I lost my train of thought on this subject. Goddamned decongestants. Suffice it to say, once again, whether the issue is big or small, Bu$hCo is corrupt.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Am I a Right Wing Blogger?

According to how many times I've blogged about Walter Reed (0 times), yes I am. (Jesus' General via Square State).

Of course, I've been preparing to move, moving, moving, moving and cleaning, and now sick. But that's no excuse.

Patients at Walter Reed have to be ready for 7am formation every day now that someone blabbered to the press about their neglect. Physically disabled patients have to walk up three flights of stairs to their rooms. Wounded patients take care of other wounded patients, and the military and Bush Administration has known about it for more than three years.

And I have the nerve to complain about a head cold?

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Saul Alinsky's Republican Children

I'm sure I've heard of Saul Alinsky before, but the information didn't stick. From what I've gleaned from this MSNBC article by Bill Dedman, Alinsky was a bit of a contradiction. He was at once an ideologue and a pragmatist. He championed the rights of the underclass to demand power from the elites and developed radical tactics he believed would best achieve that goal. And he was not an ideological purist: "He said he was happy to work with anyone — the Roman Catholic Church, black Protestants, the communists — whoever would invite him into a neighborhood."

Because he did work with the communists he has been labeled a Marxist. I don't know why he wouldn't also be a black Protestant Catholic, but whatever.

And because of her association with Alinsky for the purpose of writing a senior thesis for Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton has been called Alinsky's Daughter; that is, a Marxist. In that case I would think she would have a higher rating on free trade from the CATO Institute. But again, whatever.

However, the article and its description of her long-sealed thesis paints a portrait of Clinton that most of us are familiar with: she's in the political center; she's cautious and pragmatic, not an ideologue; she's always been a political animal. She sounds more like the Republican that the Republicans claim to be, specifically opposing a big government solution to poverty.

And so far as she agreed with Alinsky, it was in the belief in the empowerment of the powerless. You know, democracy. In broad historical terms, that is the most radical of ideas, though more recently it's a rather commonplace belief. Well, favorite buzzword, anyway.

There is that other aspect of Alinsky's belief that she didn't agree with, his tactics.

In the end, she judged that Alinsky's “power/conflict model is rendered inapplicable by existing social conflicts” — overriding national issues such as racial tension and segregation. Alinsky had no success in forming an effective national movement, she said, referring dismissively to “the anachronistic nature of small autonomous conflict.”

Putting Alinsky's Rochester symphony threat [getting a few hundred people to eat beans before attending a concert, creating a 'fart-in'] into academic language, Rodham found that the conflict approach to power is limited. “Alinsky's conclusion that the ‘ventilation’ of hostilities is healthy in certain situations is valid, but across-the-board ‘social catharsis’ cannot be prescribed,” she wrote.

If a belief in empowering the weak and a rejection of agitprop makes her Alinsky's Daughter, then what is a person who believes in agitprop to continue the empowerment of the powerful? A bastard son. In other words, Republican political strategists (though "neocon" is a better phrase for these bastards).

In Alinsky's 13 Rules for Radicals, I immediately recognized many of the very tactics neocons have regularly used with recent success.

"Personalize it"
Saul Alinsky's rules of power tactics, excerpted from his 1971 book "Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals"
1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
3. Whenever possible go outside the experience of the enemy.
4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
8. Keep the pressure on.
9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
10. Maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Naturally, Dedman quoted a salivating bastard son of Alinsky in the form of a Republican political consultant.

Turning to an expert at using Alinsky's tactic -- picking a target, freezing it, personalizing it and polarizing it -- Chris Lacivita can also envision such an ad.

Lacivita co-produced the "Swift Boat" ads in the 2004 presidential race questioning Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam service. He told that no fact from a candidate's life is too old for negative advertising.

"I think the last election cycle proved that there's no statute of limitations," said the Republican political consultant. "What someone did or said 35 years ago is certainly fair game, especially if you're running for president of the United States.

"I have not read her research paper. Though I can assure you that I
will very soon," Lacivita added with a laugh.

He began to brainstorm what such an ad might look like:

"You have to make it relevant to world events today.

"Maybe you look at the contrast. What year did Hillary write this paper? 1969.

"And where was John McCain in 1969? A POW in Vietnam."

Yeah, and remember the Bush Administration's tactic of ridiculing McCain's experience in Hanoi, claiming it rendered McCain mentally unfit? A tactic which continues, by the way.

Grassroots organizing of the powerless and disenfranchised was the soul of Alinsky's philosophy, a soul shared by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "After attending Columbia University, [Obama] worked as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago for the Developing Communities Project. Obama and others of the post-Alinsky generation described their work in the 1990 book 'After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois,' in which Obama wrote that he longed for ways to close the gap between community organizing and national politics."

The Rules for Radicals was merely the body that soul inhabited at the time, and as implied, knowing the enemy is essential. The common notion of a leftist radical revolutionary is one who disdains the bourgeoisie. Alinsky, however, warned against making the middle-class the enemy, of spurning middle-class values.
They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default.
Yet it did. In wrongly identifying the enemy, many liberals allowed neocons to use the soulless body of The Rules to stalk around the countryside chanting "liberal brains, liberal brains," infecting the neglected working class. The result is an economic ruling class that has convinced the underclass that continuing to support the ruling class is actually in their self-interest since they have soooo much in common, like music and movies.

I'm not saying neocons literally and consciously used Alinsky's Rules. But, except for rule 13, I think they are good rules, and liberals should exorcise the demons and reclaim the body. Because we do have the soul, and we can make the rules work for the good.

I don't think a stunt like staging a fart-in is a good idea (funny, but not good), but otherwise ventilation of hostilities (like blogging) is great. When Clinton was decrying "across-the-board 'social catharsis,'" there was not as much economic disparity. Sure there was plenty of civil unrest, but it seemed to be a war of radical military- and bourgeoise-hating revolutionaries versus blue collar hard hats.

After decades of increasing polarization per rule 13 by soulless and corrupt zombies that are destroying our economy, military, legal and governing systems, people are beginning to realize that they've actually been divided in order to be conquered. The time is becoming very very ripe for across-the-board social catharsis, a Little Rebellion, if you will.

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