Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 30, 2006

And in Local News

The Elkhorn Independent reports in today's edition that a James Hartwick, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has won the 2006 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Religion and Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. That's a Lot of Engraving, right there.

The title of this remarkable dissertation is "An Investigation Into the Spiritual, Religious, and Prayer Lives of Wisconsin Public School Teachers: the Inner Life of a Teacher". His motivation? " ... I feel that prayer helped me to be more centered, patient, understanding and ultimately more receptive to my students."

Or to put it another way, I believe my belief helps. Now, I know you'd have to be some kind of secularist asshole, and I am, to suggest that piling belief on belief pretty much leaves one with a pile of, well, faith. And not much else, from a purely scientific, and therefore damned, point of view. How are you going to prove such a thing to the nons, who might be a little uncomfortable with your third recommendation of setting aside a "sacred space" in public schools for teachers to prepare themselves spiritually to face the little gremlins at their charge?

Need more research, and onward marched our faithful charge to all corners of the, well, Wisconsin, to accumulate this scholarly body of evidence. And so it turns out that 60% of the 91.5% of teachers sampled believe that praying does make them a better teacher. Hey, I believe him! The paper may shed some light on this, and I'll certainly never know, but I am assuming the other 31.5% don't pray professionally. Do any of these believers not believe that prayer makes a difference? I doubt it.

And so we come to the realization more or less that all the teachers who believe in prayer believe it works. Brilliant!

Hopefully there's just enough tax dollars left to provide someone who can explain to me what the hell 60% of the 91.5% of teachers sampled means.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Military Intelligence on Military Intelligence, or Fuzzy Navels

Has there ever been a war where the battle for the hearts and minds of America has been so enthusiastically waged on the the New York Times bestsellers list? There's no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacking going on, that's for sure.

I've just finished FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks, another in a long series of the-senior-military-and-civilian-leaders-just-aren't-the-kind-of-intellectual-warrior-to-pull-this-kind-of-thing-off books. Ricks has been a military correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post for about 25 years. He's a career war guy as much as any lifer, and I've heard him before on Wisconsin Public Radio, so I didn't go in thinking this was going to be about pacifism.

And it's not.

It is a very good chronology of the astonishing events of this war, and it would make an interesting project to produce a timeline of the war correlating internal statements about the condition of the battlefield with the preposterous public statements made by the administration.

Okay, we have time for one. On December 17th, 2004, a militarily intelligent Derek Harvey briefed the President about the "insurgency" thusly:

... It's robust, it's well-led, it's diverse. Absent some sort of reconciliation it's going to go on, and that risk's a civil war. they have the means to fight this for a long time, and they have a different sense of time than we die, and are willing to fight. They have better intelligence than we do.

The President, not wanting to believe this contrarian, sent a study group to check things out, this line apparently not squaring with that of all the sycophants in the hall. The report back in February 05 stated, according to Ricks:

... that the security situation was worse than was being depicted, the insurgency was gathering steam, the training of Iraqi security forces was slower than officials had said, and the U.S. intelligence operation continued to be deeply flawed.

Compare that to this Bush speech on March 8th, 2005:

Iraq's democracy, in the long run, must also be defended by Iraqis, themselves. Our goal is to help Iraqi security forces move toward self-reliance, and they are making daily progress. Iraqi forces were the main providers of security at about 5,000 polling places in the January elections. Our coalition is providing equipment and training to the new Iraqi military, yet they bring a spirit all of their own.

As I said, it would make an interesting project. Presidents lie to us for what they perceive to be our own good. I get that. But this one must have set a modern record.

That part's interesting and all, but the book began to wear on me. Inevitably we would get to the part where Ricks would make the point that the war was winnable, but botched. Still is winnable, actually. Somewhere in the library of the National Defense University is a book by some man's man whom Ricks and Cristopher Hitchens can sit around bullshitting about over fouled glasses of cheap scotch, a book that contains just the right strategy for Iraq. There is always a military solution. We have to live with the Iraqis, go out among them. Treat them with dignity. No mega bases and 45 mph convoys sideswiping cars through town. No smashing down doors, terrorizing kids, and humiliating Iraqi men in front of their peers. No big war, big guns, big bombs. Ricks thinks we are slowly adapting to that kind of fight, as Iraqis huddle in the cold glow of our air conditioned warehouses of soldiers in internet cafes wolfing down Pizza the Hut.

Slowly is the key word, here. In his afterword, Ricks's best case scenario is a considerable, but diminishing presence in Iraq for another six or seven years or so. And here is where the old hot dogs, apple pie, and exceptionalism rears its ugly head. Here is where the point is made that it's all about US. Here is the worst case scenario, or as he calls it, the nightmare scenario:

...the new Saladin would emerge first as a relief from the madness of chaos and terrorism. He would be a unifier, bringing together the disparate and weary parts of Iraq. He might even extend his influence beyond Iraq's borders, calling for the revival of the Arab world. Bolstered by Iraq's oil revenues, he might succeed in creating a new wave of pan-Arab feeling. Riding that wave, he might confront the West as it hasn't been―that is, as an Arab leader combining popular support with huge oil revenues. And he may also seek to harness that oil money to a new program to secure nuclear weapons. Such a program could threaten the existence of Israel, or, by secret means of delivery, New York or Washington. Before that happened, the West would have to consider a war of pre-emption―but this time its soldiers might really face nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Holy crap! 439 pages and we're right back at the beginning! How do you know this pan-Arabian good time feeling caliphate won't be more interested in buying Harley Davidsons than chemical weapons? And isn't attacking people just because we can (pre-emption) how we got here in the first place? And just in case we're going to target another 35 warheads on Syria, you threatening bastards!

All of Ricks's scenarios involve oil heavily. Americans will fight for oil eventually, I have no doubt. We're losing this war because that time hasn't come, yet. Junior has been a bit hasty here, burned through a trillion dollars or so in the process, and pissed off the whole freaking world for nothing. He had to burn a pre-emptive card to do it, as this ten year scenario would never have sold on its own merits. We're not that desperate, yet.

And that's the thing these professional killers and their hangers on have to accept sometimes, oh so unwillingly. Morals are fairly difficult to give up for most people, the people who eventually write their checks. Stripped of its Wolfowitzian veneer, this war just doesn't cut it, and never will.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What's a Matta Wid Use, Anyhow?

Hold onto your ergonomic wireless mouse with the scroll button, cuz I'm here to tell ya that today... well, actually yesterday was World Usability Day. It's seems the Usability Professionals' Association wasn't all that good at getting the word out via the media.

It certainly might have been put to good use, though, as lord knows there are some seriously misguided concepts wrestled into the products we all love to hate out here. Remember the metal twist caps on pop bottles that spun and spun and never separated from the lower ring? That's what I'm talking about here.

If there's one thing people have a hard time using, a lot, it's remote controls. the Little Hun will just holler, "Why is it blue again?" and then I go patiently explain that the TV is supposed to be on 4 and if you push the TV button before the channel button, etc., but I wonder, "If the remote can talk to the TV, why the hell can't it tell it she's aiming at the cable box?" And then there's my mom's Direct TV remote. The smallest button on it? That's how you turn the damn TV on! You need a magnifying glass and a flashlight to find that little fucker.

And speaking of TV. In the good old days, you knew where things were. I like all these channels, but does the Bulls game have to be on channel 453? My digital cable box knows who I am. "This is me, Don, the guy who last night watched six straight reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm on demand." It knows where I live, and my channel lineup. It knows 4 is NBC and 6 is Fox and 12 is ABC. Then why the hell is 6 on 3 and 4 on 6? And why oh why is 12 on 10 and nothing is on 12? 58 is on 9, and since this is our sorry-ass excuse for a CBS affiliate, I can live with that. But why not 8? No, channel 41, a low power loser, is on 8. Leave 41 on 41, put 58 on 8, and then WGN can be on 9, like in all it's logos, instead of 17. What the hell?

The other day I must have been a little bit nervous, cuz I bit off all my fingernails. All this nervousness can wear a guy out, so I stopped into the quick mart for a cup of Joe. Being off hours, the only cream available was those little tubs with the foil tops. Whoever thought this was a good idea? This must have been invented by the wife of the guy who invented the rear fastening bra! So I took it black, and went after my fingernails again.

Some things just get more complicated instead of better. How about the digital car clock? Go ahead and figure out how to set it back an hour when you drive your rental car into a new time zone. There was a time when you just grabbed a clock's hands and put them in the right place. That was easy. And digital alarm clocks? How come they never know it's Sunday? What century are we in anyway? I'd rather be late on Monday than early on Sunday, thank you. I'm sure there are 24/7 clocks that program schedules, but do I have to go to the Sharper Image for everything? That's a long drive, and I might need more coffee. I don't think my fingernails could take it.

Then there's all the filling out stuff. Good god almighty, how many times do we have to keep giving these people the same information? We gave up our privacy when they invented Social Security. In exchange, could we be at least be freed from writer's cramp from filling out forms every place we go? And quit asking me what state and town I live in. We have a number for that, and have for quite some time, now! "There is an error. City is a required field. State is a required field. Please be sure to fill out all required fields." No, they really aren't required.

Please fill out this form so that we may have your medical records transferred to us. And please fill out this form describing your medical history, which is the same as the form you filled out at the doctor's office we will be getting your records from.

Software? We don't even have time to go there. Questions arise, such as: In the supposed MS Office Suite, why does Excel save printing preferences with the workbook, but Word saves them only for the session? Don't they have email over there in Redmond? Or when you want to send a clever something to a bunch of people you click on the address book and you get a list with double entries for anyone that has more than one email address in their contact form and you can't tell which is which cuz they only list the name and you really shouldn't be sending this clever something to the person's work or maybe to a joint account with the person's wife or something cuz someone may end up in sensitivity training or court or something. Just in Office, I could write a book of huh?s.

Well, I gotta go now. I have to set up a wireless network so the littlest Hun can connect to fantasy football while he visits home. I used to have a game called All Star Baseball. The stats were represented around a disc for each player. A cardboard disc. You put together a team, you played the discs and spun the spinner. It was fun. And you could play any time of the day or night. It was, well, more usable.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Mandate Ends With a Kiss

It's The Morning After, The Aftermath, what have you, of Decision 2006, and it's potentially better than I had imagined. The Democrats have won a large majority in the House, with many long time Repugs out on their ears for lock stepping with the neo con world domination shtick. The Senate hangs by the slimmest of threads, tied 49/49 with Dems leading in Virginia by 6,000 votes and in Montana by 2,000 votes. Recounts are likely, the irony being that the Republicans are going to have to ask for them, contrary to their howling in 2000 about such recourse.

There is a glitch in this. The true Democratic count is 47, plus two independents. One independent is Bernie Sanders, of Vermont. He is actually a Democrat in practice, but for reasons I guess you'd have to live in the woods to understand, refuses to be identified as one. He will caucus with the Dems, and that's how all the critically important committee seats are decided. With the 47, plus the two in contention, plus ol' Green Mountain Boy, that's 50. Need one more.

That would be Joe Freaking Lieberman, from Connecticut. Joe lost his primary, possibly quite literally from too much kissing up to the President. Joe is very much in favor of Americas adventurism in the Middle East. As a very visible supporter of Israel, he's a natural ally of the neo con agenda. When Joe lost the primary, he ran as an Independent. The Republicans, preferring an ally on the war issue to the prospect of a liberal Dem, yanked all their support from the already piss-poor candidate they had intended to sacrifice to the expected Lieberman landslide. And voted in Gore's running mate, in the strange bedfellows segment of the day.

Lucky man, this Lieberman. Had Harold Ford won in Tennessee (against one of the most vile campaigns of the season), the Dems would be over the top, and might very well have backed off of their quiet assurances to Lieberman that they would maintain his valued seniority. "Go play with the minority Republicans, Judas, and see how that flies with Connecticut voters in 2012!" If the Dems fall short, even with him, he becomes a hanger on, and in opposition of the foreign policy directives and investigatory procedures that are sure to come.

But the best scenario now for Dems must sadly empower this dufus, quite possibly to superstar status as "The Negotiator" in breathlessly heroic accounts of bipartisan nonsense.

You might note just a pinch of sarcasm in my voice, and that has to do with the meme of the day, centrism. This is all supposed to be a lurch back to the center, the pundits say. Conservatives couldn't be more proud to bleat that the new Dems are a center to conservative lot. Bill Bennett puffs his mighty gut up into his chest and smiles 'cause he knows the agenda remains conservative, only now he gets to make a killing going after the ins.

But out there beyond the pundits there are some very unhappy conservatives, and more unhappy corporate interests that are going to find themselves with a lot of explaining to do.

I'll talk a lot about the specter of more Clintonian centrism, to be sure. For now, however, I'll be content with the House, be thrilled with the Senate possibility, and worry about Joe. (maybe it's something in those reservoirs they drink out of in New England) For now my mode will be as obstructionist to the evil cabal in the White House and, in the run up to 2008, we will see if any of this carries a scent of progress.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

There's No Vocal Hokum Like One's Local Yokum

For today's inspiration we need turn only so far as the local Elkhorn Independent, to the lead story "Supervisors hear taxpayers' proposed budget complaints".

The county is proposing a budget increase of 9.55% in 2007. "This is insane!" wailed a Bob Barrow, of Lyons, "If there was ever a poster child for a TABOR Amendment, this is it." (TABOR is an acronym for we stingy bastards have grown children and can afford our own retirement and health care and the rest of you can eat cake)

True, the county has been spending a bit of money lately. We have a new courthouse, and a new nursing home. In addition, our county maintains it's own special education school, and is proposing rebuilding that. All this building means debt maintenance. And then there's health care. The cost of providing health care to county employees will increase 35% in 2007. Youza! A Jim Simons put forth a solution for that, toot de suite:

County employees don't have to make a contribution, there is no incentive not to go to the doctor for everything.

His company, the one he runs, requires a 50% premium co-pay and a $1,500 deductible.

When we went to that, doctor's visits went way down.

Eureka! Save on health costs by charging your employees half the cost of something they can't afford to use anyway. (and there's probably a golf outing or two in it for Jim Simons, too) "We offer health insurance," undoubtedly go the want ads. Good old American style health care, with none of that doctoring crap mucking up the works.

And toss in a raise or two into the budget. David DeHaan, small business owner, offered:

When I fund (sic) out what increases to wages and benefits county employees are getting, it fried my eggs.

Quaint. DeHann is probably crabby because sales of his RVs are down, what with the gas prices and all. Still, a decent Coachman Class C goes for about $65,000 over there, a pretty good jump from the $28,000 or so I remember similar models going for when I sold them in 1974. That's about 3% a year, I think, finance not being my strong suit. Sounds like a soft boil to me, and so I would expect these raises to be way, way beyond anything of that scope to turn DeHaan over hard, wouldn't you?

Actually, the figure given is 1% to 6% per cent. I'll bet the average is pretty close to 3%.

So, back to the increase. As a result of this 9.55% increase in the budget to pay for new buildings and health care and raises and stuff the tax rate will, get ready for it, decrease from $4.40 per $100,000 to $4.24! The value of a home in my town is up 11% in the last year. A $200,000 home paid $880 for the county share of taxes in 2006, and in 2007 the same $222,000 home will pay $941. Let's say you're retired or cash poor for some other reason. Take out an equity line of credit, borrow $200, pay the extra $61 to the county, take the old lady to The Auctioneer Inn for a first class steak and a couple of nice bottles of wine, get laid and too happy to go carp at a county board meeting, and you're still up $21,800.

Problem solved.