:: Saturday, October 25, 2003 ::
Accident Update: Or why I hate minimum-wage jobs
My wife, who just started at Target (she's 27, has an education degree, has worked since she was 16, and has a child. We're not talking bar-hopping 21 year old here), called in to miss work today and tomorrow.
After all, she was in a bad accident, she's stiff and sore, and she's on some nice drugs that make focusing -- and staying totally awake -- a bit more iffy. Muscle-relaxers, mostly.
We're used to real jobs. The kinds where, if you call in and say "I've been in an accident", they tend to believe you. Now, if you're going to be off a month for an illness, they'll want something. But for the most part, missing a day or two is fine, as long as you call in.
You'd think, given the fact that she doesn't get sick pay at Target, they'd be of the same mind.
Nope. They told her "Bring a doctor's note when you come, or don't come back". Or words to that effect. Lovely, eh? She's bringing her emergency room forms, and if they're not enough, she's going with the "Fine. I start subbing Monday anyways. When can I pick up my last check?" route. It's not like a lot of adults (25+) aren't working there now. Given the layoffs and the economy, there were several people her age hired at the same time, and under similar conditions.
I don't blame her. Subbing pays better, and she enjoys the work a lot more. And she's treated like the professional adult she is.
:: Morat 7:11 PM :: ::
What a fun day..
Well, in addition to getting little sleep last night (my little one turned 7, and have a big sleepover. Keeps you running around), I got another little surprise this morning.
:: Friday, October 24, 2003 ::
I call my wife, around 8:00 AM (she was on her way to a meeting on the other side of town, about her teacher certification, and was going to drop off two of the sleepover kids on the way), and find out she's had a wreck.
In our brand new 2002 Volkswagen Beetle. We've had it less than six months, it's in perfect condition (we bought it with like 2800 miles on it, and less than three months old. Great deal), and my wife dearly loves it. Or, I should say, it was in perfect shape.
My wife is fine, as are the two children she had in the car (as I found out when I bought it, Beetles are tough little suckers, with good crash ratings). My Beetle, on the other hand, looks something like an accordion. The wreck was absolutely not my wife's fault, as the police report will attest. She came to a complete stop in heavy freeway traffic, and a truck piled into the back of her, rolling her into the truck in front of her. To add insult to injury, the driver that hit her was unlicensed and uninsured, and the cop was pretty much of the opinion that it was a case of "Has no license and insurance" rather than "left them at home".
I managed to contact my insurance company (State Farm is really good about this sort of thing). I verified my coverage (no-fault and uninsured motorist. It's a new car), and filed a claim and arranged for a rental car. I'll be picking it up Monday morning, as I was at the hospital this morning (both kids had to be checked out, and my wife couldn't legally sign a waiver even if she was of the mind to. All three are fine).
The claim's already been passed off to the Houston office, so my wife can't give them the police report number or the address of the city lot. However, once she does so Monday, State Farm will have the car towed (I'm pretty sure to a Volkswagen Dealer. Since the car is under warranty, I think all repairs have to be done at a licensed location to prevent voiding the warranty) and appraised.
Worst case, it's totaled..And I have gap insurance, so my car loan will be paid in full and I can go get a four year old Impala or Lumina or something, and replaced the Beetle next fall, when my wife gets a job. She really wants a convertible one, although I think they're rather ugly.
Best case, it's repaired over the next few weeks and we drive a rental. Thank god for mandatory insurance. I can't really assess the damage, as I never saw the car (and my wife, understandably, had other things on her mind). The trunk opened and closed, and the doors opened and closed easily, but the front end was crumpled. No telling if that was just the crumple zones working well, or if the engine dropped or if the frame bent. The car was still running, which is a good sign (as is the functioning doors). We'll see.
Still, it wasn't the way I wanted to start my day, especially after a long Friday night and no real sleep.
Now, if you'll excuse me...I'll go check on my wife. She's pretty sore, but should be fine in a few days.
:: Morat 5:25 PM :: ::
Presidents and the Economy
It's been often noted, especially lately, that the President isn't solely responsible for the economy. Leaving aside, for the moment, that I'm hearing that a lot from people who commonly attributed Clinton's boom to Reagan (sort of ignoring George Bush there), that's both true and false.
It's true in the sense that, rightly or wrongly, the American public tends to hold the President responsible for the economy. Some (myself included) tend to feel that, in the interests of fairness, it's generally okay to blame your predecessor for a time. After all, you did inherit policies and a situation you had little to do with.
And while the Fed can manipulate the economy -- to an extent -- in the short run, the President's fiscal policy tends to have a longer time-frame, not really gaining traction for 12 to 18 months. The tools available to the President (through Congress) aren't as quick to implement, and their effects aren't felt as quickly, as those available to the Fed. And the notion that acts of Congress can affect the economy isn't exactly a new one.
So, George Bush rightly gets a pass for the economy until around the 2002 elections, but not his economic decisions.
The false part, of course, is the notion that the President has no effect on the economy at all. The President cannot, it's true, enact much stimulus. Congress does that. On the other hand, the President has many tools for getting his proposals through Congress, and George Bush has been far more successful than most. His tax-cuts (both sets) passed through Congress virtually intact, and Congress has done little on the economic front that he hasn't supported. Nor has he vetoed a single piece of legislation. I think it's safe to say that Bush got exactly what he wanted from Congress, with few strings.
Clinton had similar luck his first two years, but after 1994 was forced to bring out the veto pen rather often, in order to keep Congress moving along the path he wanted.
The economy, the one right here and now has an awful lot to do with George Bush. The stimulus he proposed, pushed, and signed has had almost three years to affect the economy. And things are no better. The deficits he ran up (a combination of his tax cuts, and his requested increases in spending. 9/11 had surprisingly little to do with it) have worked their magic as well, keeping long-term interest rates high...another negative for a weak economy.
George Bush got the economic stimulus he wanted. George Bush got the budget he wanted. And it's had two years to settle into the American economy. So it's safe to say that, in a very big way, this is George Bush's economy.
But then, taking personal responsibility has never been Bush's strong suit.
:: Morat 12:35 PM :: ::
News without the "Filter"
This is pretty sad to hear coming from the President of the United States:
Minutes after President Bush finished an hourlong meeting with moderate Islamic leaders on the island of Bali on Wednesday, he approached his staff with something of a puzzled look on his face.
I think that it's kind of fricking important for the President of the United States, the man personally responsible for a great deal of our foreign policy to know what the rest of the world thinks about America. (Link via The Left Coaster)
'Do they really believe that we think all Muslims are terrorists?' he asked, shaking his head. He was equally distressed, he told them, to hear that the United States was so pro-Israel that it was uninterested in the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel, despite his frequent declarations calling for exactly that.
But even some of Mr. Bush's aides concede that Mr. Bush has only begun to discover the gap between the picture of a benign superpower that he sees, and the far more calculating, self-interested, anti-Muslim America the world perceives as he speeds by behind dark windows.
"On a trip like this he can get a glimpse of it, but only a glimpse," one senior official who sat in on several meetings said. "Of course, when you are moving at warp speed, there isn't a lot of time to think about what you are hearing."
:: Morat 11:05 AM :: ::
Star Trek: DS9
Randy Barnett, over at The Volokh Conspiracy talks a bit about Star Trek. He notes that he was never able to get into Deep Space Nine. Which is a pity, because as he goes on to talk about what he does and doesn't like about Star Trek, I'm guessing he would have enjoyed Deep Space Nine most of all, if only he'd stuck to it.
Don't get me wrong. I hated the first season, and the second wasn't much better. Couldn't stand the characters, mostly. Especially Sisko. As the show progressed, however, I found that the later episodes were by far the most engrossing, especially once the Dominion started appearing. The Dominion story arc resulted in far more realistic characters.
One of the most memorable episodes, to me, was narrated by Sisko, in which he discusses how he and a few others convinced the Romulans to join in against the Dominion.
Without giving too much away he, more or less, tossed aside Federation ethics in favor of getting the job done. And by "tossing aside Federation ethics" think "murder" and not "failed to properly document expenses."
A lot of DS9 is like that. Some aspects of it I disliked, but what I fond most fascinating was the fact that the crew of DS9 spent at least as much time wrestling with the sorts of ethical problems "normal people" face (if writ a bit larger than my ethical problems), with varying degrees of success and failure, as they did wrestling with warp cores and tachyon bursts. And it was done well, mostly without the scenery chewing or moralizing you find in many of the Star Trek "moral issues" episodes.
I regret that, to this day, I've missed at least half or more of the DS9 episodes. Thanks to DVDs, however, it's something I can fix. It was a darker, more gritty Trek. And reminded me, in a lot of ways, of the best of Babylon 5.
:: Morat 10:49 AM :: ::
Dean, Iowa, and Medicare
LiberalOasis takes a look at the Dean's response to Gephardt's Medicare attacks. They point out -- quite rightly -- that Dean's money and grassroots can probably drown out Gephardt, regardless of tactics or strategy. They're not so fond of his ad, however, and aren't sure how it will play out. They describe the ad as Dean facing the camera and stating:
Instead of fixing the problem, the best my opponents can do is talk about what was said eight years ago.
It's not necessarily -- as Liberal Oasis notes -- a negative ad. First off, it's a responsive ad, not an unprovoked attack ad. Secondly, Dean doesn't name Gephardt (although there's no doubt who he's talking about).
For years the politicians in Washington have talked about health insurance and a prescription drug benefit. And all you got was talk.
But in Vermont, we did it.
Still, I think this will work out for Dean. Unorthodox strategy or not, it's damn hard to argue with success, and Dean has done what Gephardt claims he's against.
All Dean has to do is shine light onto his accomplishments in Vermont, and Gephardt's Medicare attacks lose most of their bite...and Gephardt looses some his luster.
:: Morat 10:25 AM :: ::
Too Low a Bar
Too Low a Bar:
:: Thursday, October 23, 2003 ::
Mr. Bush's employment policies would truly have been a success if he had left the job market no worse than he found it. In fact, even his own Treasury secretary thinks he'll fall five million or so jobs short of that mark.
I think that even Krugman is missing the real point about job creation: It doesn't matter, in the end, how many (or how few) jobs are created during Bush's term. What really matters is how the public feels about the job market.
I know, I know, the usual suspects will roll out the usual explanations. It is, of course, Bill Clinton's fault. (Just for the record, the average rate of job creation during the whole of the Clinton administration was about 225,000 jobs a month. Mr. Clinton presided over the creation of 11 million jobs during each of his two terms.) Or maybe Osama bin Laden did it.
But surely there must be a statute of limitations on these excuses. By the time of the election, Mr. Bush will have had almost four years to deal with the legacy of the technology bubble, and more than three years to deal with the economic fallout from 9/11.
And Congress has given him everything he has wanted in terms of economic policy, even though that has led to a frightening explosion in federal debt: in the current fiscal year the Bush tax cuts will account for almost $300 billion of a deficit expected to top $500 billion. (If that $300 billion had been used to employ workers directly-- a new W.P.A., anyone? -- it would have created six million jobs.)
Yet Mr. Bush's own Treasury secretary has, in effect, admitted that despite the administration's unimpeded efforts, and all that debt, the job market will still be in poor shape a year from now.
Bush can start a tear, creating 500,000 jobs a month for the last six months of 2004, and it won't do him any good if people are still feeling uneasy about their jobs.
I think, at the moment, that too many of us (myself included) know someone who has lost a job, and been unable to find another. Too often they're highly qualified people, well-educated and hard-working...and now they can't find work. I've got a solid job myself (although my wife is struggling) and I've become quite worried about my job, about what I would do if I lost my job.
I don't believe Bush is going to get much out of "lowering the bar", although I don't doubt Krugman's right in pointing it out. Public perception of job growth lags behind actual job growth, and I think the lag time is going to be more than enough to bury Bush, even if the economy starts churning them out tomorrow.
:: Morat 9:42 AM :: ::
Son of a...stupid blogger
Okay. Call for help here. My font has gone real tiny on me. I did NOT modify my template in any way, shape, or form. I haven't touched it in weeks. Nonetheless, I'm on "tiny font".
Blogger support's response is, basically, "It's not our fault. It's either HTML or CSS, and we don't support that".
Anyone have any clues what happened? I make an ordinary post, check my blog, and the font sizes are half what they should be. Not just for the posts, but for all aspects of the template.
Update: Okay, adding in a BLOCKQUOTE style tag has marginally fixed things. However, the rest of the fonts are all screwed up. None of them seem to be right. What on earth happened? Did CSS standards change or something?
:: Morat 11:08 AM :: ::
You know, reading Rumsfeld's Memo really gives you an understanding on why things are so screwed up for Bush.
:: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 ::
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us? Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?
These are all questions and answers that would have been best addressed before we invaded Iraq.
The U.S. is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions. Do we need a new organization? How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools? Is our current situation such that 'the harder we work, the behinder we get'?
Hell, those are questions and answers I would have expected even the Bush administration to have addressed before, or at least during, Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld is, for all intents and purposes, admitting that invading Afghanistan was more reflex than thought, and that "terrorism" was more an excuse than a rationale for invading Iraq. Given his job, he's pretty much admitting it for the whole of the Bush administration.
This sort of reflecting thinking would be more understandable if Rumsfeld was inheriting the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan from a prior Sec Def, or from a prior Administration. It reads like the sort of analysis you do when trying to sort through a pre-existing mess in the fond hopes of finding a way out.
I don't try to hide my low opinion of Bush. But even I find it rather shocking that only now, some two years after 9/11, 18 months after Afghanistan, and six months after Iraq, is the Administration getting around to asking the basic questions of "How to Fight Terrorism". Makes you wonder what they've been doing for the past two years. Not their jobs, that's for sure.
:: Morat 7:54 AM :: ::
Just a thought...
Josh Marshall, in talking about the Rumsfeld memo, notes:
Here’s the line: “Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?”
I hate to ruin a good point, but the idea of building a super-strong ladder isn't exactly a bad one. Oh, we'd call it a Space Elevator, but....still, his point is good. I just wish he'd chosen a different analogy, as some of us are rather fond of the notion of an orbital beanstalk.
Couldn't we just build a super-strong ladder up into space instead of using those rockets?
You can see a nifty animation of how the thing might work here.
:: Morat 8:19 PM :: ::
Wow. My font got really small all of a sudden. As I didn't change the template or my IE settings, I'm wondering why. Anyone else seeing the font size as much smaller than normal?
Update: Apparently, it's not just me. I sent a note off to Blogger support. It looks, honestly, like the Blogger template started ignoring my CSS stuff. Hopefully it'll be more readable soon.
:: Morat 9:50 AM :: ::
I'm not entirely done with Quicksilver yet, but I'm close enough to finished to share a few thoughts on it. In terms of general book review: It's good. Very good. The story is engaging enough, but really takes second place to setting. Stephenson has managed to very vividly recreate 17th Century Europe, and populate it with engaging and interesting versions of the real "movers and shakers" of the time.
As far as historical fiction goes, it's top-notch, and I'd recommend it to anyone with any sort of interest in that genre or that time period. As far as style goes, well..."The Baroque Cycle" is more than the name of the trilogy. It's very descriptive of the style Stephenson uses. Ornate, colorful, excessively ornamented...
The narration ranges over the place, sometimes first person, sometimes third person self-narration, sometimes plain ol' limited third-person, sometimes through letters, even through minutes from meetings of the Royal Society.
But to me, the most fascinating and best part of the book wasn't the style. It wasn't even the story, really. It was the almost painful reaction it inspired in me. It is, after all, nothing less than a tale about the birth of science and rational thinking, two subjects dear to my own heart. I felt a very strong affinity with these early truth seekers, these natural philosophers struggling to understand the world around them.
So to see them, on one hand, reach out and grasp a fundamental truth...and then the next second commit to a horribly false assumption was almost physically painful. There's so much they didn't know, that they got horribly wrong that at times I was overwhelmed with pity.
I realize that science is -- and always has been -- the laborious process of sifting through and identifying dead ends. I realize that 99% of science is being utterly, completely, and horribly wrong. But these people didn't even have that luxury, as they were still grappling with the very tools scientists take for granted, and struggling with concepts that are, here and now, fundamental to our world-view, their mistakes seem orders of magnitude more distressing.
The best example (and a rather simple one), was of Hooke trying to cure his various physical ailments by vigorously exercising and then drinking a glass of quicksilver. To see him grasp half the solution and then to more or less negate it by doing something fundamentally wrong....
The success of science has, to a great extent, made it difficult to see the difficult and painstaking work involved. Joe Laymen doesn't see the hours of tedious work that go into even the simplest experiments, the countless checks and balances, the constant critiquing, and the endless failures for each success. He just sees the final product. Quicksilver, by returning to the roots of science, makes it a lot more clear.
I'm not sure where Stephenson is going with all of this. I'm not sure what he plans to do with Newton's obsession with the dying art of Alchemy, or whether Enoch Root is more than he appears, or any of the other strange threads he's weaving. But I'm looking forward to finding out.
And hey...cyptography based on the I Ching. What more do you need out of life?
:: Morat 8:48 AM :: ::
Donald Luskin: Stalker!
Atrios notes that even Glenn Reynolds referred to Luskin as stalking Krugman...way back in May.
Poor Luskin. It appears the conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid has at least a 50% success rate with you.
:: Morat 8:14 AM :: ::
It's been my experience, at least here in Texas, that teacher's unions tend to be roundly despised by conservatives.
Is it just an outgrowth of their distrust and antipathy towards public education? Or is it something else? Anyone willing to fill me in on why, exactly, teacher's unions are the spawn of Satan to some people?
:: Morat 7:11 AM :: ::
Partial Birth Abortion Ban
I'm in full agreement with Liberal Oasis on this one. First off, there is no way this passes Court muster. It's virtually identical (especially in the key areas) with the Nebraska law struck down just five years ago. No health exemption ("life" isn't the same), no valid law.
:: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 ::
I also agree with Liberal Oasis that the political fight is the harder fight (the legal being something of a slam dunk, and I doubt many "Yea" voters expect the court to uphold the law). I think Howard Dean hit the right note in his response:
"As a physician, I am outraged that the Senate has decided it is qualified to practice medicine. There is no such thing as 'partial birth abortion' in medical literature. But there are times when a doctor is called upon to perform a late term abortion to save a woman's life or protect her from serious injury. Today the Senate took a step toward making it a crime for a doctor to perform such medically necessary procedures.
Oh, and for the record: I find it to be a gross disregard for the duties of office when a Congressman votes for an unconstitutional bill solely for political points, relying on the Supreme Court to prevent it from becoming law.
"This bill will chill the practice of medicine and endanger the lives of countless women. This kind of legislation serves the sole purpose of chipping away women's constitutionally protected reproductive rights and overturning Roe v. Wade."
Upholding the Constitution is part of your job, ladies and gentleman. And while some of you might honestly believe this law is constitutional -- which says volumes about your understanding of the government you're running -- most of you know SCOTUS will overturn it. Which means, basically, you voted for this solely to enhance your electabilty. We hire you to make the right choices, the hard choices....not to hand over your legislative responsibilities to the Supreme Court because you're too weak and cowardly to do the job demanded of you.
No one made you run for office. If you don't have the guts to make the hard choices, to stand up for the Constitution....well, I've no use for you. And neither does America.
:: Morat 7:00 AM :: ::
Lies and Deceptions
I've been sick today, but if you're going to read anything today, read Hersh's new article on the pre-war intelligence game. The Stovepipe:
:: Monday, October 20, 2003 ::
By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.
It's not a pretty picture. The screw-ups in the Administration can be ascribed to about every "bad thing" you can imagine in a government: Yes-men, incompetence, wishful thinking, blind idealogy, and willful deception.
Chalabi’s defector reports were now flowing from the Pentagon directly to the Vice-President’s office, and then on to the President, with little prior evaluation by intelligence professionals. When INR analysts did get a look at the reports, they were troubled by what they found. “They’d pick apart a report and find out that the source had been wrong before, or had no access to the information provided,” Greg Thielmann told me. “There was considerable skepticism throughout the intelligence community about the reliability of Chalabi’s sources, but the defector reports were coming all the time. Knock one down and another comes along. Meanwhile, the garbage was being shoved straight to the President.”
A routine settled in: the Pentagon’s defector reports, classified “secret,” would be funnelled to newspapers, but subsequent C.I.A. and INR analyses of the reports—invariably scathing but also classified—would remain secret.
If there was a leadership mistake Bush and his team didn't make on Iraq, I can't think of it.
:: Morat 1:47 PM :: ::
Donald Luskin still doesn't get it
Donald Luskin writes:
On nationwide television last Friday night, Paul Krugman falsely accused me of committing the felony of stalking. On the popular Hannity & Colmes show, Krugman said of me,
(Bolding in the original).
That's a guy, that's a guy who actually stalks me on the web, and once stalked me personally.
For some time now Krugman has used a multi-tiered rhetorical strategy: To disagree with his opinion is to lie, to advocate policies that conflict with his own is to be 'political,' and to hold a vision of America's future that is different from his vision is to be part of a 'radical regime.' But this is a new twist. Now, to criticize Paul Krugman is a crime.
I am not now nor have I ever been a stalker. What I am is Krugman's most persistent critic. I criticize him in my regular 'Krugman Truth Squad' column for National Review Online, and on the blog of my forthcoming book, The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid. Is that stalking on the web?
Luskin, honey...you are a stalker. You obsess over the man. You scrutinize his every move, his every statement. You probably spend more time each day thinking about Paul Krugman than you do thinking about yourself.
It's not like Krugman's alone in describing your behavior that way. He's not the only one who's noticed. Your appearance at his book signing might have been defensible as innocent, but your post later was more than enough to label it "stalking".
You're a sad and creepy little man, and a stalker to boot, whether you want to admit it or not. If you don't like the label, I suggest you get a life outside of Paul Krugman's.
:: Morat 10:28 AM :: ::
Ah, the sweet stench of hypocrisy in the morning.
David Brooks is fun this week.
It's a lovely article, go read it. In the article, he claims all Democrats fit into one of three molds. "Pelosi Democrats" who are so partisan that they'd vote for Saddam Hussein over Bush. My personal favorite part on the Pelosi Democrats is how Brooks casually shifts from "They don't trust Bush" to "They don't trust Americans". He doesn't do it very well, so I suggest he keep practicing before moving on to the exciting world of pre-owned car sales.
Then there are Evan Bayh Democrats, who aren't quite so partisan but who really don't care about the rape and torture victims for Iraq. They're not quite as evil as the Pelosi Democrats, but they're greedy and shortsighted and not too bright.
And then there are the Cantwell Democrats. They support George, so they're not too bad. Why, they're almost Republicans.
If only those darn Democrats would stop being so anti-American, and start doing what Bush says!
:: Morat 9:15 AM :: ::
Lieberman, Clark to Skip Iowa Caucuses
Lieberman, Clark to Skip Iowa Caucuses:
Joe Lieberman (news - web sites) and Wesley Clark (news - web sites), a lagging candidate and a late entrant, are skipping Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses to focus their time and money on other contests opening the Democratic presidential nominating season. I can't say either decision really surprises me. Lieberman wasn't exactly competitive in Iowa, and Clark simply entered too late.
I doubt Lieberman will take much of hit (or any hit, really) for this. He's so weak in the Iowa polls that it makes no difference.
Clark, on the other hand, is a different story. As current media flavor-of-the-week, any sign of weakness (and skipping Iowa qualifies) is liable to cause him problems. Skipping Iowa is an acknowledgement that he doesn't have the resources -- specifically the time -- to compete in all the early primary states. His late start might have garnered him a lot of instant press (and most of it quite positive), but now we're seeing the downside. And if Clark's campaign isn't careful, the media story will move to hard questions about the compressed time frame of the primaries, and Clark's ability to put together a competitive campaign in such a short time.
:: Morat 6:53 AM :: ::