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My Dinner With Brian

I was back in the training groove this week, and on Monday morning one of the attendees had to duck out at one of the breaks.  “I have to talk with Brian, who’s consulting for us.”  I must’ve looked blank, because he said, “Brian Foy.  Do you know him?  Works with Randall Schwartz.”

I’ve been reading Brian‘s missives from Iraq on the O’Reilly Network for a year now, and was really psyched to meet him.  As it turned out, we both were planless on Monday night, so I picked him up at his hotel and blundered around the neighborhood until we found a Thai restuarant.  Over appetizers, Brian told me his wife (an opera singer) has been doing her own Web design for a while now, and was getting into CSS.  Then he mentioned buying the O’Reilly CSS book for her, and as he talked about why he’d bought it, I quickly realized that he’d picked it up because it was an O’Reilly book, and recommended.  He literally didn’t know he was having dinner with its author.

After a couple of minutes, I finally told him who’d written the book.  I should probably feel bad about not admitting it right away.  I wasn’t going to say anything here either, but he already blogged it, so… what the heck.

It was very interesting to talk about Iraq with someone who’d been there.  I was able to ask him the question I’ve wanted to have answered for a while: “How does the news coverage compare to what’s really going on over there?”

“It’s horrible,” he said.  “We got CNN and Fox on the Armed Forces Network and they were both just terrible.”  He said that he’d literally been present for things that were being covered on TV by the time he got back to the barracks, and nobody ever accurately represented what had happened.  Not even close, apparently.  Brian made the observation that images are so overwhelming, so powerful, that the story was always driven by whatever footage had been shot.  Not by the actual event in its totality, nor the context.  Just the visual.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that, but it left me saddened and frustrated.

WMDs In The Wild

Thinking conservative Keith Burgin points out that the presence of a sarin-containing shell means far more than a single incident on an Iraqi road side.  What it would mean is that there is very likely more such material out there, and the media is effectively teaching future attackers how to better use that material.  I agree.  I thought that was understood, but upon reflection I was negligent to leave it implicit.

We could always hope that this is an isolated incident, a freak use of a single forgotten shell left over from the first Gulf War period, but that doesn’t seem very likely, I’m afraid.  And I mean that literally.

WMDs on the QT?

“WMDs Found in Iraq” ran the headline across the top of FoxNews.com last night.  I flipped over to CNN.com, where the headline was “Busy hurricane season ahead”.  What?  A coverup by the vast left-wing media conspiracy?  Um, no.

Even this morning, where the top Fox News headline is “Bremer: June 30 deadline stands” there’s a sidelink to “Sarin, Mustard Gas Discovered Separately in Iraq“.  When you go to that article, it starts off with:

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent (search) recently exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday.

Bush administration officials told Fox News that mustard gas (search) was also recently discovered.

Then, just a few paragraphs later, the very same article says:

…Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the [sarin] results were from a field test, which can be imperfect, and said more analysis was needed. If confirmed, it would be the first finding of a banned weapon upon which the United States based its case for war.

So at best, there is strong suspicion that a sarin round has been discovered, which kind of belies the top-of-article claim.  I’m not saying there is no sarin, mind you; there may well be.  I’m saying that the article (and headline) are at best misleading.

As of this writing, you do have to dig a bit into the CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and MSNBC sites to find information about the possible sarin incident, and none of them mention mustard gas at all.  Interesting that Bush adminsitration officials would tell Fox News about a possible mustard gas find but not share that with anyone else, but never mind that now.  By looking at various sites’ information about the possible sarin-laced round, it appears that the current thinking is that even if it was a sarin round, the person who used it to create an improvised explosive device probably had no idea it contained sarin.  I’d tend to agree with that assessment, since if I were fighting an occupation  force and knew I had such a weapon, I wouldn’t use it in an attempt to blow up a convoy; instead, I’d detonate it upwind of the occupying force’s headquarters.  (If you don’t like my word choices in the previous sentence, then if I were a terrorist trying to strike at U.S. forces… same result, different motives.)

These kinds of inconsistency are bothering me more and more as we approach the serious phase of the Presidential campaign, to which I intend to pay attention once the party conventions are over.  It seems like one has to do more work than should be necessary just to try to figure out what’s really going on—a subject to which I’ll be returning in a near-future post, as it happens.  To paraphrase a signature file often seen in a newsgroup where I hang out, I must be getting annoyed because I’m starting to pay attention.

Oh, one other thing.  While I was wandering around through various articles, I found something interesting, if unsurprising.  Most every time I mention Fox News and how I think they tilt right, I get e-mail from folks who say that actually, Fox News is fair and balanced and they just look right-wing compared to the Liberal Media, like CNN.  Bad news, guys: given the advertising links I came across, the free market seems to have reached a different conclusion.

A set of nine advertising links, of which four are clearly to the right of the political spectrum, and another two could be considered to be so.  The four are: 'Republican singles', 'Hannity Book Free', 'USS Reagan Cap Free', and 'Mel Gibson Book Free'.  The two are 'Meet military singles' and 'Retire Overseas!'. A portion of an ad for the 'Conservative Book Club' taken from a Fox News article.

All Taxed Up

On this, the day on which citizens of the United States owe their income taxes, it’s worth reflecting on the effects of tax-code changes over the past few years.  After all, President Bush claims that those changes are responsible for an economic recovery, while Senator John Kerry insists the economic situation is miserable and that the tax situation is making things worse.  The truth, as ever, appears to lie between those views.  And, of course, both views can be supported by citing specific facts while not giving attention to others.

What it comes down to, in effect, is that things have changed very little; tax cuts and the economic slump have basically balanced each other out, leading to a very minor drop in median household income.  There was one interesting statement:

At least part of the reason for the decline in median income at the same time that average income rose is that the wealthy have seen more gains from both the tax cuts and the overall economic climate, according to economists.

It left me wondering exactly what definition of “wealthy” is being used in this context.  I also found this passage to be of interest:

“The debate about tax cuts shouldn’t be whether they helped or not — they clearly helped taxpayers,” said Vitner. “The debate should be whether we can afford them and whether they can lead to a sustained recovery in economy.”

That’s long been my concern.  I’d like to see an interactive budget-and-tax simulator, something that would let you adjust spending levels and find out how much tax revenue would be required to cover your budget.  Oh, look, there is!  Well, not exactly, but hey, it’s a start.

I’d actually like to see a simulation that doesn’t let you run a deficit—one where tax receipts must match expenditures.  That would deliver a much better idea of what taxes should be in order to support the budget.  It would be even better if you could plug in what you owed this year and see what you would actually owe if the government couldn’t rack up huge debts.  Or, conversely, just how much would have to be cut in order to keep your taxes from increasing.  Let’s put it this way: if the budget deficit were divided equally in classic flat-tax fashion, every man, woman, and child in the country would owe somewhere around $1,250.  I got that by dividing $350 billion by 280 million.  So my household would—one might even say should—owe an extra $3,750 this year.

For some reason, instead of crowing that I got away with something, I find myself concerned about the long-term consequences implied by those figures.  I’m trying to imagine how many years of budgetary surplus would be required just to fill in the hole we’re digging, and I don’t like the answer.

Crosswinds

I can’t, or more likely don’t want to, believe that there are still six and a half months to go before the U.S. presidential election is held.  My usual approach to such election years is to tune out everything until early in the actual year in which the election is held; I steadfastly refuse to pay attention in calendar years before that one (so I wasn’t paying attention to the campaigning that happened in 2003).  I take a surface reading of the situation as the party conventions approach, and between conventions and election, I dig into the positions of the two candidates, tolerating the flying mud in the process.

At least, that’s the usual plan.  This year, though, the race is basically settled and the muck is already thick in the air.  Is Kerry more or less of a flip-flopper than Bush?  Which candidate has the better or worse economic plan?  Who will be a better or worse leader in the “war on terror?”  Who can tell?  If I believed everything each side said about the other, I’d probably conclude that my clear duty as a patriot was to practice my sharpshooting and plan to attend both party conventions.  Or else flee the country.

Not that the latter idea hasn’t already occurred to some who are being made to feel a lot less welcome these days.  (Thanks for the pointer, Phil.)  I wonder: would gays be willing to give up the right to marry if conservatives gave up the right to divorce?  ‘Cause most of those leading the fight for “family values” have had more than one family, and apparently believe so deeply in the “sanctity of marriage” that they’ve gone back for more sanctity, if you catch my drift.  I’ve also sometimes wondered if women would give up the right to abortion if those opposed to abortion would give up the right to reproduce.  It seems like a place to start negotiating, anyway.

The media, as usual, isn’t helping in the slightest.  Know how much Bush’s plan to go to Mars will cost?  No, you don’t.  The trillion-dollar figure we’ve heard so often is about as accurate as Percival Lowell’s maps of Martian canals, and based on math that makes about as much sense as planning to cut deficits by raising spending while reducing revenue.  So while getting to Mars certainly won’t be cheap, we’ve all been handed a thoroughly false picture of just how not-cheap it might be.  What else is getting lost in the shouting?

I do have to wonder how many times we’re going to see former Bush administration officials claim that the priorities there are or were sorely off kilter, and then have those still in the administration dismiss the critics as partisan, wrong, irresponsible, mentally deficient, or (more usually) all of the above.  (See: Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, et. al.)  I mean, sure, every boss has former employees that don’t like him, but there does seem to be sort of a trend emerging.  When it’s paired with the recent statements by current and former IAEA officials, the brow does furrow with a bit of concern.  But hey, the IAEA site uses valid XHTML and CSS for layout!  So that’s cool!

Should I be worried that the valid IAEA site seems like cause for celebration?

Probably.

I do feel oddly proud that I suspected it was a validating, tableless site the instant I laid eyes on it, and my diagnosis favelets simply confirmed that impression.  It’s an odd thing to get a feel for the underlying nature of a page just by looking at it.  If only I could translate that skill to evaluating investment opportunities.

Gathering Stormclouds

Okay, maybe Tantek’s right and the CSS I devised yesterday wasn’t the greatest (note to self: avoid writing journal entries at 4:45am).  And yes, it would be more elegant, at least on the markup side, to use the href values to determine how to style links.  It feels a touch clumsy, for some reason, maybe because the selectors end up being so long and I’m used to short selectors.  Go check out what he has to say and suggestions for better selectors, and while you’re at it go take a look at substring selectors to get ideas for how to do even better.  (I don’t think anyone supports *= yet, so you’re likely to have to use ^= instead.)

Back in high school, my best friend Dave and I devised a scenario where water shortages in the American southwest became so severe that states literally went to war with each other over water rights and access, fragmenting the United States in the process.  It never really went much of anywhere, just an idea we kicked around, and that I thought about trying to turn into a hex-based strategic wargame but never did.  It’s always lurked in the back of my head, though, the idea of climate-driven warfare.

According to Yahoo! News, a Pentagon report asserts that climate change is a major threat to national security; well, actually, to global security.  And that if the global climate crossing a “tipping point,” the changes will be radical and swift.  In such a situation, economic upheaval will be the least of our concerns—we’ll be more worried about adding to the climate shifts with the aftereffects of nuclear exchanges.

I actually read about this on Fortune.com a few weeks ago, and although now you have to be a member to read the full article at Fortune, there’s a copy at Independent Media TV.  The Fortune article characterizes the report as presenting the possible scenarios if global climate shifts occur, but not claiming that they are happening or will happen.  It also says that the Pentagon agreed to share the unclassified report with Fortune, whereas the Yahoo! News article says the report was leaked after attempts to hush it up.  For that matter, the Yahoo! News article makes it sound like the report claims that The Netherlands will definitely be uninhabitable by 2007, and so on.  According to the Fortune article, that was one aspect of a scenario, not a concrete prediction.  This is probably due to the Yahoo! News article being a summary of an article in The Observer, which is a production of The Guardian and claims to be the “best daily newspaper on the world wide web.”  Uh-huh.

So I guess I’m saying read the Fortune article, as it gives more information and takes a more balanced tone—not that it sounds any less disturbing, really.  The fact that the report was commissioned at all suggests that the subject is being taken seriously at the Pentagon, which is not exactly a gathering place for leftist wackos.  I’ll be very interested to see what reaction, official or otherwise, is triggered by this report in the weeks to come.  My fear is that it doesn’t matter any more, that whatever accusatory words might get thrown around will just be insignificant noise lost in the rising wind.

Bonding

There’s something about this picture that really works for me—there’s joy and hope and melancholy all wrapped up together, and that’s a mix I can rarely refuse.  It’s available as a 16″ x 20″ poster from Cafépress, and I’m seriously considering making the purchase.  If you like the image, or if you support the cause to which all proceeds will go, then get on over there and buy it!

Personally, I do support the cause benefiting from sales of the poster, which is to resist any attempt to amend the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.  I primarily support that cause because in my view, there’s no good reason why the subject of who can or can’t be married should be a part of the Constitution, amended or otherwise.  I mean, if we’re going to start amending the Constitution to prohibit behaviors we don’t like, then when do I get my amendments banning civilian ownership of vehicles that get less than 30mpg on the highway, poorly formed HTML markup, and televangelists?  And if those seem silly, how come my dislikes are less worthy of being Constitutionally enshrined than somebody else’s?

Beyond that, I’m generally supportive of what’s happening in San Francisco, at least in a general sense—I’m not sufficiently informed about the specific legal situation in California to have an opinion about the legalities, but the fundamental purpose is A-OK with me.  Because as longtime readers (all four of you) can probably guess, I see no reason why homosexual couples should have any less ability to marry than heterosexual couples.  I once was friendly with a couple who had been together twelve years, wore marriage bands, and had thrown a ceremony in which they exchanged the bands.  The works, pretty much.  Yet they couldn’t get married, legally speaking.  They were a far better example of loving pair than a lot of hetero couples I’ve known, and yet they could never be spouses.  You might be wondering… were they male or female?  It doesn’t matter.  Which is, I think, sort of my point.  It isn’t original, but I thought it was worth repeating.

Especially since we now have a new federal appeals judge in place, one who said that homosexual acts are comparable to “prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia.”  I’m sorry, but if you can’t perceive a difference between activities engaged in by consenting adults and, say, an action perpetrated by a person upon a corpse or an animal, then you aren’t intellectually qualified to sweep the floor of the federal appeals court, let alone sit on it.

Deep breath.  Move on.

I guess Saturday was a day for talking about aggregator experiences; in a post made that day, Meryl put forth a different perspective on the topic than I did, and at about the same time.  I agree with Meryl that an aggregator that can present a styled article should provide the option of disabling that behavior, and just delivering the text content.  I just suspect that she and I would have different settings for that preference.

Confess! Confess!

Okay, so I can’t count.  I claimed yesterday that there were three new XFN tools, and then listed four.  Plus I missed one.  So… among our many XFN tools are rubhub; Rubhub It; Autoxfn; the MT template; Daniel Glazman‘s Nvu, which supports the editing of XFN values on links as part of the UI; and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

Based on the feedback to my question yesterday, it seems the #1 reason to link to your Amazon wish list is to help out family members who can’t seem to remember what you like whenever a birthday rolls around.  The other reason given was to provide a window into your interests, which is felt to help foster a sense of familiarity in what can sometimes seem an impersonal medium.  Fair enough.  I did something along those lines when I added the “Reading” feature (with archive) to my personal page.  Perhaps the only real difference is that I’m giving a current and backward glace at my interests, whereas the wish list link provides a forward look.

A couple of people also wrote to say that they actually have had random passers-by send them something off of the wish list, sometimes in thanks for a favor they’d done online, and that it was pretty neat.  I’m not sure I’d feel the same way, but I thought I’d pass along their feelings on the matter.

Speaking of passing things along, I promised that I’d summarize the suggestions I received regarding books presenting reasonable arguments for the conservative point of view.  Here’s the summary.

  • Letters to a Young Conservative by Dinesh D’Souza
  • Radical Son by David Horowitz
  • The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele
  • The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce
  • First Principles: A Primer of Ideas for the College-Bound Student by Hugh Hewitt
  • The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski
  • A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat by Zell Miller

I also received e-mail from liberals who had been looking at the same issue, and wanted to mention some books they thought were good.  They are:

  • Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell (for a look at both sides)
  • The 2% Solution by Matthew Miller
  • The Politics of Rich and Poor and other books by Kevin Philips

Please note that I have not read any of the books I just listed, and so am neither recommending nor condemning any of them.  Similarly, I’m passing along an unchecked recommendation for The Weekly Standard, not to be confused with The Weekly Standards.

Those of you more interested in the latter of those two links will probably also be interested in the Web Standards Awards, with three awards to be given every month.  You can submit any site for consideration, whether it be your work or someone else’s, but be sure to check the competition criteria first.  The first three winners are already listed on the site.  Check them out—there’s some great work there—and then go check out Wasabicube.  It’s elegant, lovely, and I love the current-page effect in the sidebar.  Now I want to redesign meyerweb again, except if I did it would be a ripoff of Peter’s design.  So I’d probably better refrain.

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