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:: Friday, October 17, 2003 ::

Quicksliver

Just a note: I do plan to do a post on Quicksilver, probably later today. I'm almost done with it, and it's a very good book.
:: Morat 11:56 AM :: ::

Tip Jar

I broke down and added a tip jar over to the left (under the "Donate" header). I'm not begging for money, but neither am I in a position to turn it down if offered. So I thought a fair compromise would be to put the link up there, but not use the gigantic buttons Amazon provides. Simple text is a bit more discreet.

So if you feel like throwing a few dollars my way, by all means do. It'll probably go straight to my six year old's (he turns seven on the 24th!) Christmas fund. Or, possibly, that new computer I want. Or beer. But good beer. A sort of thoughtful, happy beer, rather than a pensive depressing beer.

Who wants depressing beer?
:: Morat 11:09 AM :: ::

Our CEO President

Here's some of that fine CEO management we were promised.
An escalating turf war involving Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has generated an unusually bountiful crop of leaks in recent months, and one result is a criminal investigation of anonymous officials in the White House who are alleged to have leaked the name of a CIA covert officer.
The infighting, backstabbing and maneuvering on such major foreign-policy issues as North Korea, Syria, Iran and postwar Iraq have escalated to a level that veterans of government say they have not seen in years. At one point, the senior official said, Bush himself asked how bad it was.
'This isn't as bad as [George] Shultz vs. [Caspar] Weinberger, is it?' he asked, referring to a legendary Reagan administration rivalry between secretaries of state and defense. One top official reportedly nodded and said it was 'way worse.'
George, you're the President. You should know. If you're havijng to ask, it's a very bad sign.

Looks like the vaunted "CEO White House" is cracking apart. I'm guessing it will only get uglier from here on out.
:: Morat 8:58 AM :: ::

The Sweet Spot

Paul, Paul, Paul...you sweet, shrill man!:
What we have here is a form of looting.' So says George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, of the Bush administration's budget policies -- and he's right. With startling speed, we've blown right through the usual concerns about budget deficits -- about their effects on interest rates and economic growth -- and into a range where the very solvency of the federal government is at stake. Almost every expert not on the administration's payroll now sees budget deficits equal to about a quarter of government spending for the next decade, and getting worse after that.
[...]
One answer is to explain that the administration's tax cuts are, in a fundamental sense, phony, because the government is simply borrowing to make up for the loss of revenue. In 2004, the typical family will pay about $700 less in taxes than it would have without the Bush tax cuts -- but meanwhile, the government will run up about $1,500 in debt on that family's behalf.

George W. Bush is like a man who tells you that he's bought you a fancy new TV set for Christmas, but neglects to tell you that he charged it to your credit card, and that while he was at it he also used the card to buy some stuff for himself. Eventually, the bill will come due -- and it will be your problem, not his.
Krugman then goes on to discuss the tax rollback, suggestion that it would be politically wise to keep the "sweet spot" tax cuts -- those few middle class cuts allowed a very few middle class families to receive a large tax cut -- in place.

That way, according to Krugman, the Bush Administration can't use their now accepted spin ("Middle class families had up to 2000 dollars cut off their taxes) to attack those looking to restore fiscal sanity.

I'm not sure I can disagree. Howard Dean, are you paying attention? You're a pragmatic man, and I realize that the best solution is to roll all of them back. But first priority is getting elected, as you can't fix anything if you're not President. Think about it. You're the only candidate with the background to make a solid fiscal case.
:: Morat 8:18 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, October 16, 2003 ::

HR 2239

It's time for my weekly plea to write your Congressman and ask them to push HR 2239, which requires auditing and accountability in electronic voting. It's got 45 co-sponsers, and has been sitting in a House Committee since May 22nd.

I really wish MoveON would get behind this, as they did the FCC regulations. Fair and trustworthy elections are fundamental to democracy.

Maybe I should pester Not Geniuses to include it in a Flood-the-Zone Friday...
:: Morat 1:46 PM :: ::

Good stuff

Tom Spencer has several good posts up today, dealing with Bush and Iraq. Head on over and give it a read.
:: Morat 10:31 AM :: ::

Senior Federal Prosecutors and F.B.I. Officials Fault Ashcroft Over Leak Inquiry

Senior Federal Prosecutors and F.B.I. Officials Fault Ashcroft Over Leak Inquiry:
Several senior criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department and top F.B.I. officials have privately criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft for failing to recuse himself or appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the leak of a C.I.A. operative's identity.
The criticism reflects the first sign of dissension in the department and the F.B.I. as the inquiry nears a critical phase. The attorney general must decide whether to convene a grand jury, which could compel White House officials to testify.
The criminal justice officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, represent a cross section of experienced criminal prosecutors and include political supporters of Mr. Ashcroft at the department's headquarters here and at United States attorneys' offices around the country.
One of the "checks and balances" built into our government, although not an official one, is the simple fact that while political appointees might head up departments, career civil servants do the actual work.

And most of them don't do it for the money. Especially in places like the Justice Department and the FBI. For every career officer playing politics, there's another whose in it for the sake of the job itself.

It makes it difficult to subvert the process too much, as leaks from the EPA (and now Justice) show...and it also explains why Bush is so gung-ho to exempt Homeland Security from routine civil servant protections.
:: Morat 10:08 AM :: ::

Q3 Numbers

Daily Kos reports the Q3 numbers. As expected, Dean was well ahead of the field.

Dean $14.8 | $12.4
Kerry $4.0 | $7.8
Gephardt $3.8 | $5.9
Lieberman $3.6 | $4.1
Clark $3.5 | $3.4
Edwards $2.6 | $4.8
Kucinich $1.7 | $800K
Graham $1.4 | $800K
Braun $125K | $30K
Sharpton $121K | $24K"
(Numbers are Q3 Total | Cash on hand). Has to be a big boost for Dean. Cash on hand is significant as well (I've heard claims that Dean was burning through his fundraising). If so, he's getting his money's worth, as he's doing well in the polls...and has a five million dollar lead -- three months of anyone else's fundraising -- on money in the bank.

Dean's going to be darn hard to catch, and he's got the money to compete everywhere, while the other candidates are going to be forced to target individual states.


:: Morat 9:42 AM :: ::

Gay Marriage

Via TAPPED, we can see David Frum attempting -- quite badly -- to make the case against gay marriage. One point of interest:
Something similar is going on in Canada, only there the categories are even blurrier. A couple that simply lives together for two years automatically and without any formal act acquires many of the rights of a formally married couple. The exit from a relationship is just as blurry as the entry: In one famous case, a Canadian court ordered a man who had divorced his wife before he became wealthy to pay her an increased settlement based on the income he had begun to earn after the marriage ended.
Now think about what this means. Marriage used to have a bright clear line: you were married or you were not. It was a serious commitment--and most people understood that if they weren't ready for this commitment, they ought to postpone having children until they were.
It's called a common-law marriage, at least in Texas....and at least 10 other states. Admittedly, in most states, you have to act married too. But there is no "bright line". No "clear border". (He mentions common-law marriages, but doesn't bother mentioning that they're fairly common in the US).

As for the "blurry exit", I'm fond of how Frum doesn't mention how that couple got married in the first place...or if divorce is any different between common-law and regular marriages. (It certainly isn't in Texas).

If you want a "shorter David Frum" of the whole piece: "Letting gays get married would be too confusing for straight people to handle. Better not to chance it.".
:: Morat 9:30 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 ::

Dental Question

I have some surprisingly knowledgeable readers out there, so maybe one of you can help me out. My dentist (and my orthodontist from long ago) claim I have something of a crossbite. It's not a terribly bad one, as I don't seem to have any of the normal problems associated with it, other than wear-and-tear on the wrong parts of my teeth.

My orthodontist, a decade or so back, told me that since I didn't correct it orthodontically (I didn't wear the bands enough, I think) that it would most likely need to be corrected surgerically. My dentist is pushing much the same line, although they don't seem terribly urgent about it. They mainly cite concerns with teeth not aligning, and thus wearing down.

In fact, the first thing my dentist said to me about my bite was "Did your orthodontist just give up on your bite?", so it's apparently of the sort that can be corrected with braces...when young.

The crossbite isn't bad, as I noted, and seems to be just a "my jaw is slightly crooked". No underbite or overbite.

So the question is: What sort of surgery are they talking about? Will I need orthodontics again? (presumably, since my orthodontist was trying to correct the crossbite, the teeth should be in roughly the right position already, but who knows.) How bad is the surgery? I've read some stuff about pronounced bite problems, but from the pictures, mine isn't even in the same league. We're talking moving my lower jaw over a few centimeters, not reshaping my upper jaw or moving the lower jaw forward.

So, anyone had this done? Know anyone that has? Is a practicing oral surgeon just jonesin' to give some advice?
:: Morat 1:35 PM :: ::

Dental Update

Well, another cavity -- one of the perils of having very soft teeth. I've an appointment to deal with some of them next month, and I'll need at least one more visit after that, possibly two. (I didn't even ask).

Also, they're urging me to visit an oral surgeon in the spring, as it's about time my bite was corrected. I'm not sure I can really argue, even though I don't particularly like the way they fix it. There's something about breaking and resetting your jaw, even a little bit, that doesn't sit well with me.

:: Morat 11:08 AM :: ::

Off to the Dentist

Time for a routine cleaning. I was supposed to get another set of fillings done (I have two appointments left to finish repairing the damage. Don't got 7 years without seeing the dentist, especially if you have soft teeth), but don't really have the money right now.

I feel sort of bad about that, since this is important. On the other hand, the fillings are being done in priority order...so the ones that haven't been filled yet aren't as bad as the ones that have already been done. And I did chose ceramic, instead of the usual silvery-grey stuff. My dental insurance is good, but they only cover the cost of amalgam, so I have to pay the difference (between 50 and 150 depending on how many fillings).

Oh well. I'll get it done in January at the latest, and in the meantime they're not too bad. I'd just like to get it over with.
:: Morat 9:46 AM :: ::

Electronic Voting

The Independent has a great article up on electronic voting (specifically, American electronic voting). Why do I have to go to a British newspaper to get information on America's own voting methods?

Hmm?

It's a must read and, if anything, makes me feel even more nervous about electronic voting.
:: Morat 9:42 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 ::

Supreme Court to Decide Pledge Case

SCOTUS granted cert on the Newdow case:
The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the Pledge of Allegiance recited by generations of American schoolchildren is an unconstitutional blending of church and state.

The case sets up an emotional showdown over God in the public schools and in public life. It will settle whether the phrase 'one nation under God' will remain a part of the patriotic oath as it is recited in most classrooms.
The court will hear the case sometime next year.
The article notes that the Court will also determine Newdow's standing.

Now, I don't know enough about law to determine whether the Supremes might be looking for a "no harm, no foul" way out here, by determining Newdow lacked standing and that the 9th erred in ever looking at the case. Offhand, if not for recent events (*cough**cough*Bush v. Gore*cough*) I'd say that the Court would want to rule on the issue since, even if Newdow lacked standing, someone else would file within 6 months.

I certainly hope they rule on the issue. I've actually read the 9th's opinion, and I'm really curious as to what the Supremes will do. First off, the 9th's decision is pretty much the straightforward application of precedent. They used the normal tests (all of them, in fact), applied in a manner completely consistent with prior Supreme Court rulings.

In fact, I tend to suspect the 9th used this ruling to chide the Supreme Court for failing to apply it's own standards to hot-button issues. The 9th even spent some time locking out the usual "Ceremonial Deism" (another form of "no harm, no foul") loophole by pointing out that prior decisions place a much higher bar on public schools than the populace at large.

I'm not sure the Supremes can reverse, without either overturning a few decades worth of precedent (Scalia's choice, I'm sure) or crafting a narrow exemption for this issue alone. Perhaps they'll pull something clever out from under their robes. Perhaps they'll weasel out entirely and hope the issue doesn't come back up. Perhaps they'll actually uphold their own precedents and ignite a firestorm of whining and complaining and dire forecasts of the fall of American morality.

And just in time for the 2004 election, eh?

Update: Apparently, Scalia recused himself. It's a bit vague whether he recused himself from the decision to grant cert, or the case as a whole, but I'm not surprised. He was a bit...indiscreet...when the case first came out, making it hard to claim he's properly unbiased.
:: Morat 10:40 AM :: ::

Some thoughts on public education

After ranting a bit on the No Child Left Behind act, I thought I'd post something a bit more substantive about public education.

First off, I think there are good reasons for the Federal government (and the state governments) to set broad education standards. After all, we're not a terribly static society. People move between states all the time, and choosing to attend an out-of-state college or University is even more common. It's in everyone's best interest if 2nd graders in Iowa know roughly the same things as 2nd graders in New Hampshire, because that puts less of a burden on schools whenever children move between districts and states.

However, these standards also need to be loose, because the specific needs and issues vary from school district to school district, and from state to state. A school in New Hampshire isn't going to have to put as much emphasis on ESL (English as a Second Language) as a school along the Texas border.

NCLB has a number of problems. The least important, although the easiest to understand, is that it's not fully funded. Those mandates are expensive, and they're hitting the poorest and least-equipped schools the hardest.

More importantly, however, is they're not targeted to specific problems, but more of a "one size fits all". There's no way (and no effort made) to determine the root causes of problems. Whether it's because of a statistically insignificant variation in good scores, or crowded school rooms, or underpaid teachers, or a large influx of undereducated kids (say, the children of migrant workers).

When schools fail, it's generally for a reason specific to the school. Sometimes the problem is district wide, but most of the time...it's a very local problem.

Nationwide standards are one thing, if they're well thought out (these aren't). Nationwide solutions, however, are doomed to fail. NCLB is the worst of both worlds.
:: Morat 9:27 AM :: ::

:: Monday, October 13, 2003 ::

Moveable Type is looking better and better...

I just added some new links on the right. I like doing book lists (and, as I noted, my brother wants to do a few) and I wanted to give readers a way to access those specific posts without digging through my archives.

Moveable Type categories would work much nicer, but I'm stuck with the tools I have, at least for now.

Until I can afford hosting and switch to MT, I'll simply add any new book lists onto the sidebar. (Yes, I realize that it's not like I'm the Roger Ebert of the book world. Still, I do my best!). As for other posts (like my plea for forethought in creating magical systems, or my stunning epiphany on Attack of the Clones) you'll probably just have to Google.
:: Morat 12:47 PM :: ::

U.S. May Expand Access To Endangered Species

U.S. May Expand Access To Endangered Species:
The Bush administration is proposing far-reaching changes to conservation policies that would allow hunters, circuses and the pet industry to kill, capture and import animals on the brink of extinction in other countries.

Giving Americans access to endangered animals, officials said, would feed the gigantic U.S. demand for live animals, skins, parts and trophies, and generate profits that would allow poor nations to pay for conservation of the remaining animals and their habitat.

This and other proposals that pursue conservation through trade would, for example, open the door for American trophy hunters to kill the endangered straight-horned markhor in Pakistan; license the pet industry to import the blue fronted Amazon parrot from Argentina; permit the capture of endangered Asian elephants for U.S. circuses and zoos; and partially resume the trade in African ivory. No U.S. endangered species would be affected.
Okay, I realize that the White House in general (and George Bush in specific) has no connection to what we consider "reality". I realize that, in the words of Josh Marshall, they suffer from chronic "Up is downism".

But this really takes the cake.

Is there nothing these rejects wouldn't try? Is there nothing sacred to them?

I fully understand "sustainable use" and the concepts behind it, but after seeing how Bush "expanded" AmeriCorps, and "increased" funding for AIDS in Africa, I can't help but believe that this will be the same thing, another "Bush program" whose spin is contradicted by it's implementation.
:: Morat 11:50 AM :: ::

Friday's book list

My brother wants to put together a Stephen King list, and if he gets around to it, I'll post it Friday. Basically it'll be two lists: A list of Stephen King books you should read, and a list of Stephen King books that you should burn.
:: Morat 9:53 AM :: ::

Education Law May Hurt Bush

Education Law May Hurt Bush:
President Bush's No Child Left Behind education program -- acclaimed as a policy and political breakthrough by the Republicans in January 2002 -- is threatening to backfire on Bush and his party in the 2004 elections.
The signature education plan is pledged to improve the performance of students, teachers and schools with yearly tests and serious penalties for failure. Although many Republicans and Democrats are confident the system will work in the long run, Bush is being criticized in swing states such as West Virginia for not adequately funding programs to help administrators and teachers meet the new, and critics say unreasonable, standards.
"Unreasonable" is about the biggest understatement I've ever heard. Try "ridiculous". Try "ludicrous". Try "insane".

Setting aside the "highly qualified teacher" bit (yes, it sounds lovely on paper. But in practice, it shafts poor districts, forcing them to spend more money and end up with fewer teachers. And while high qualified teachers are a plus, smaller classroom sizes have a much bigger effect), you can see the stupidity of the law in it's take on testing.

Basically, you test everyone, and allow very few exemptions. Then you break those test results down into virtually every demographic imaginable. (By race, by primary language, by age, by gender...). Then you compare it to last year's results, and if any of those dozens of demographic groups don't score as high as last years, you mark them as failing.

It doesn't matter if your school is the best in the United States at teaching English as a second language...if your scores for ESL students drops two years in a row, your school is marked failing. Even if, for instance, your pass rates for ESL are higher than any school in the state.

I live in one of the best school districts in Texas. And I wouldn't be surprised if half or more are considered "failing" within three years, even while continuing to offer an excellent education.
:: Morat 9:44 AM :: ::

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