So Kim and I are watching TV. A Weight Watchers commercial comes on, and Fergie is in it. I shout, without thinking, pure brain stem, "does anybody know who you *are* anymore?" Kim immediately answers, "In two years she'll qualify for an Old Navy commercial." Ouch!
Okay, this is cool: BART QuickPlanner for PalmOS. I don't really ride BART very frequently - more like every month or two - but it's still nice, considering how complicated BART is and how confusing their schedules are. Or maybe I'm just not used to them but that kinda proves my point about their being complicated - if I have to take a night course in BART schedule reading then there's a problem. I just hope that the SFO extension is ready by mid-April so I can use it for my trip to Vegas.
"Voivod: Respected. Influential. True. 13th Album In Stores March 4." But you can download three tracks from MP3.com now. My take on it: it's less death-metal crunchy than Phobos or Negatron; it's closer to straight-ahead 4/4 heavy rock this time, kinda like early metal was. Of course it still has Piggy's unique chord choices and progressions, and Snake's distinctive gritty voice.
I'm really irritated by the stupid things that protesters are saying about the potential war with Iraq. Even the leaders of various liberal causes who speak out against the war reveal that they haven't really paid attention to the administration's justification for the war, and so they fall back on a few very poorly reasoned arguments against it that make it all too easy to dismiss them. This isn't helping the protesters' cause.
Let's take a look at the main anti-war arguments:
No blood for oil - this is just uninformed nonsense. Yes, we get 17% of our oil from Iraq, but that just goes to show that we already have access to their oil. In fact, we buy it at artificially discounted prices because of economic sanctions against Iraq, so if we were to invade Iraq and put an independent democratic government in place, we would actually lose that discount, and Iraqi oil would cost us more when its price returned to market levels after we left. Yes, that's a big "if", but there are a lot of people watching, so chances are we wouldn't get away with making it a total puppet government.
We're not worthy / we aren't the police of the world - in other words, our foreign policy has historically sucked, so we should be consistent in sucking rather than doing something right. Or maybe, "who are we to judge Iraq?" Well, we're 350 million people, some of whom are capable of making moral judgements, and others of whom are busily carrying out immoral acts. That doesn't mean that we're 350 million morally bankrupt scumbags. It's valid to debate the morality of Iraq needing to be invaded for the purpose of regime change by someone first, but if that debate yields an answer of "yes Saddam Hussein must be overthrown", then we as members of the international community have a duty to participate. This too is a big "if", but the point is that the concepts of our historically crappy foreign policy and the morality of invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein are separate. And by the way, yes we are the police of the world, as members of the United Nations. If we start to act like a bad cop, then we're being bad, but that doesn't mean that there should be no police, or that we shouldn't be expected to fall back into line and return to being good cops. Our badness doesn't excuse Iraq's badness.
Economic sanctions are terrorism - I'd like to meet the person who thought this up, and ask them what the hell they think would be a favorable alternative. Economic sanctions are, or at least used to be, the liberal ideal of a diplomatic stick, instead of use of military force. If a country pissed us off, we wouldn't kill anybody, we'd just deny the government any financial aid via the World Bank or IMF, and we wouldn't trade with them. Then the government would collapse or suffer so badly that they'd have to capitulate to the will of the international community, and everything would be peachy-keen. Of course, economic sanctions have been perverted into an instrument of economic control of other countries via the World Bank and IMF - instead of being used to prevent human rights violations, economic sanctions are being used to force trade agreements, labor regulations, etc. that favor US interests onto stuggling countries. Perhaps that's why they are no longer considered to be the ideal diplomatic stick? But to call them terrorism is totally ridiculous, and reveals a total lack of understanding of what terrorism is in the first place.
War is never a solution - this is the most infantile and infuriating of the claims I've heard so far. Let's take it one step further - violence is never a solution. So, no more police; we'll just have a lot of signs posted saying "don't commit crimes". When someone gets mugged, we'll just use harsh language and hope that the emotional distress prevents the attacker from doing it in the future. We'll disband all women's self-defense groups, since they promote violence as a solution, and violence is never a solution. Right? Does this seem stupid yet? The use of military force is a last resort, but it has to be there, or else someone will just invade your country. What's the alternative to the use of force, when someone invades another country? Do we use economic sanctions aganst them, and try and talk them into un-invading that country? Or maybe that's too harsh; we'll just hope that one invasion was enough. Well, we tried that; it's called "appeasement" and six million Jews died while we tried to clean up the mess that resulted from appeasing Hitler. The very fact that we threatened Saddam Hussein with the use of even more military force than we are already using on a constant basis in enforcing the no-fly zones within Iraq is the reason for the minimal cooperation he has ordered so far for the UN inspectors. Remember, economic sanctions have been in place for 12 years, and we've been enforcing the no-fly zones for much of that time as well, conducting military air patrols deep inside Iraq's borders. When French PM Chirac said that war was totally out of the question, suddenly Iraq started resisting the inspections (according to Hans Blix's report). Bush screwed up by saying that the US's goal was regime change instead of disarmament, because that eliminates the incentive for Saddam to disarm -- being allowed to stay in power. But the threat of a war, balanced with the promise that no war would take place if he were to comply fully and proactively and disarm, is the correct approach.
It would cost too much - this is strange to hear from liberals; I would think that this would be a conservative argument. Does this mean that morals only apply when it's financially convenient to have them? Survival is one thing, but America is so far beyond survival as a country, as a whole, that we shouldn't be turning our pants pockets inside-out and shrugging when faced with a moral obligation. There is a problem with the distribution of wealth -- there are lots of poor people in America and I'm sure they'd like to have some help from the government. But if there's a moral obligation, financial convenience doesn't enter into the equation. Also, there's this nifty concept of "reparations" that we seem to have forgotten about. Reparations are basically a financial burden placed on the loser of a war when they surrender, which go to pay for the costs of the war, and for reconstruction of destroyed property, and maybe some punitive costs as well. We shouldn't select our moral causes based on which ones are least expensive -- neither up front, nor after reparations -- but even if we did, in the case of Iraq, they do have a hell of a lot of oil revenue out of which reparations could be paid for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the humanitarian aid that would come during the war, and the expense of rebuilding the public infrastructure of Iraq (bridges, ports, etc.).
We have domestic problems - yes, and that's why there are separate branches of the government that deal with welfare, labor, and defense. The projected cost of the war itself is a small fraction of the defense budget, and as any cold-war conservative will tell you, the military-industrial complex creates jobs. So, it's not valid to say that the cost of the war (which hasn't even started, by the way) is taking money away from entitlements. The money is being taken away from entitlements in order to give tax cuts to the rich. We could afford to pay down the defecit, and fund entitlements, and fund the war, but we'd have to do something crazy like make Microsoft pay federal income taxes (they pay none), or stop handing multibillion-dollar bailouts to crooked airlines and car companies. We have a national crisis that we pass off as privatization, when what we're really doing is taking regulated monopolies, turning them over to crooked executives who bribe politicians for tax breaks, loot their own companies, declare bankruptcy, lay off workers, bribe politicians for a government bailout, and then loot some more. As a result, there's a lot of money moving around in the economy that stays out of the federal budget because it isn't taxed. We should be tapping into that before we increase the deficit, cut entitlements, or tell Saddam that he can do whatever he wants and there won't be any consequences. Nor is it valid to claim that the sucky economy is a result of the war on terrorism. If you remember, the stock market crashed in April 2000, and the administration's war on terrorism began in September 2001. We are still feeling the financial losses of Enron, WorldCom, the California "privatization" power scam, and countless dot-bombs. The stock market is shaky because of uncertainty about the war on Iraq but that's layered on top of a recession that was already there. In short, our domestic problems are not a result of a proposed war; they are the result of the "dot-bomb" market crash of April 2000, and over 20 years of corrupt legislators (and the current administration) favoring large corporations and the rich. As a whole, America is rich and we still have a tremendous economy. We can afford both; our leaders just choose not to.
There are some arguments that anti-war protesters have made that weren't so silly, but which have already been answered convincingly by the administration. These arguments should be dropped:
Why the sudden need for war in Iraq? - because of the "Bush Doctrine", as people are calling it. The previous policy with Iraq was one of containment and economic sanctions. The idea was that we give them a minimal ability to trade with the world, so that the Iraqi people can survive but not thrive, in hopes that they will replace Saddam Hussein, and that we prevent Saddam Hussein from becoming strong enough to threaten his neighbors again. The economic sanctions part is a failure; because he has weapons of mass destruction and is willing to use them on his own people in order to remain in power, even a large force in opposition to the Iraqi government can be quickly eliminated. Also, the mandated prices forced on Iraq when selling its oil, which were below market rate in hopes of denying Iraq the opportunity to become rich off its oil resources, have backfired. Iraq simply chooses oil buyers who are willing to split the discount, pocketing part of the discount for themselves and sending the rest as a kickback to Iraqi government officials. But containment was working, in that Hussein knew that he couldn't attack a neighbor or the US without fear of retaliation. The "Bush Doctrine" basically states that in a world where suicide bombers not representing a specific nation are willing to attack American targets and kill thousands of civilians, containment is no longer enough -- it is possible that Saddam Hussein could supply weapons of mass destruction to a non-Iraqi terrorist, i.e. an al Qaeda member, and that this would be used to attack the United States -- and that pre-emptive use of force is justified in order to prevent that from ever happening.
Send in more inspectors - the inspectors' job is to verify that the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq has already admitted it has have been destroyed. Iraq has simply said "we don't have them anymore" in its 12,000+ page declaration, but they haven't proven that is true. Inspectors can't solve this problem -- Iraq has to solve this problem by providing the evidence. It is possible that Iraq destroyed all their weapons of mass destruction and just forgot / chose not to / were unable to retain any proof of this, but they haven't said so. They simply say that they can't prove that they don't have something that they don't have, which is an attempt to mislead an uninformed international community since they already admitted years ago that they did have them. Even if (as the French U.N. delegate suggested) the U.N. were to send in 1,000 inspectors, they can't create proof that isn't there for whatever reason, and more importantly, they can't ensure that Iraq isn't making more WMD somewhere else, such as on the alleged mobile units mounted in the back of trucks. Even if we had a million detectives combing the country, there could be underground facilities, or mobile facilities, and we'd never be able to find them all. If Saddam Hussein is determined to decieve us, inspectors whose job it is to verify his cooperation will only be able to tell that he's not cooperating, not that he does or doesn't have weapons of mass destruction.
We can't do this alone - the U.S. is hardly alone in supporting an invasion of Iraq. Several countries that are members of the U.N. Security Council officially disagree, but this is vastly different from saying that we are all by ourselves and that the whole world is against us. A majority of European nations officially support the proposed war against Iraq. France, Germany, China, and Russia officially do not. Of course there are US and UK citizens against the war, and very likely some French and German citizens in favor of it. But what these nations say now, and what they will do later, are different, and it's hard to predict whether those voicing opposition would act after we invade, or in the event that we invade and then Iraq starts using weapons that they denied having against our troops, or if they don't but we still find such weapons in Iraq after we invade. What's more important is the political signficance of defying the U.N. security council - not can we do this alone, but should we do this despite a U.N. Security Council veto by France or Germany. In that respect I think Colin Powell has convinced Bush that we need to at least try very hard to convince the international community of the justness of the war, to emphasize the continued validity of the U.N. Whether we should proceed without allies who say things like "war is out of the question" that undermine the diplomatic process is another question.
The administration plans to stay forever - whether or not you choose to trust the Bush administration to keep its word (I don't), Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell have emphatically stated that ongoing occupation of Iraq would not be the outcome of the proposed war, instead favoring international oversight of a restoration to Iraqi democratic rule, which is already being planned by expatriate Iraqi citizens. I personally don't think the Bush administration is crazy enough to cross that line.
I would rather see the anti-war protesters focus on these points:
Is the Bush Doctrine (pre-emption) valid? - The Bush Doctrine is a rational one, but is it moral? That is, it makes sense but are the premises right? Do we have the right to invade any unstable nation that harbors terrorists? If so, why not Pakistan, since that's where we think Osama bin Laden probably is hiding? Exactly how unstable/hostile does a state have to be? Iraq is clearly stable, just hostile; Afghanistan was unstable and hostile. Why doesn't the Bush Doctrine apply to North Korea? Or is it limited to "almost has WMD", so if a nation can get WMD, they are safe from preemptive invasion by the US, and can then supply terrorist groups with WMD to use against us?
Why should we trust this administration? - Let's face it, Bush and Cheney have some serious skeletons in their closet relating to the oil industry and recent corporate financial disasters. The proposed war isn't just an oil grab, but there would certainly be some serious back-room dealing afterwards. This needs to be watched closely. Also, Rumsfeld is very intelligent but extremely agressive. What sorts of things like the quasi-legal indefinite detainment of "illegal combatants" can we expect if this war happens? Exactly how convincing is the evidence that is not being shown to the public - is it objectively damning evidence, or a pattern of behavior, or just a lot of circumstantial stuff? What happens if we invade and find out that there were no WMD, or that there was just a tiny amount and that most of the intelligence that we had was inaccurate? Would we plant evidence? Would we sweep that story under the rug?
What's the exit strategy? - OK, so we're not going to stay forever. Exactly what are we planning? Some of this has been answered but not all of it, particularly in the area of humanitarian aid immediately after the invasion.
Do you really think we forgot about all the other national issues? - I'm not contradicting myself - we can afford the war and to solve our domestic problems. We just aren't, and that's the problem. The American public needs to stop buying duct tape and plastic sheeting, and start asking questions like, "if privatization is so great, why do we have such a quantitatively shitty health care system?" and "what about WorldCom" and "why will a tax cut for the rich help the economy now when it didn't help when Reagan called it Trickle-Down Economics the first time around?" We should be putting pressure on the President and his administration and Congress to actually address domestic problems, while a subset of the government worries about Iraq.
I bought the QCast Tuner software for the PlayStation 2. It's pretty cool - if you have a bunch of MP3s on a computer on your home network, and maybe some MPEG and AVI videos, and maybe some JPEGs or something, you can use your PS2 to play them back. (I have a little over 2,200 JPEGs that Kim and I have taken with our digital camera, over 5,900 MP3s, and about 100 MPEG or DivX ;-) movies or video clips. I'd have more if my home file server had any more space, but that's a different issue.)
Why is this cool? Well, usually the computer has a little 21" monitor (or smaller, horrors!) in an office-type area with no couch and wimpy speakers (maybe with a murky bandpass subwoofer). But usually the TV is bigger than that, and has nice speakers hooked up, possibly through a separate reciever, and best of all, there's a couch, with pillows and blankets and that whole soft cushiony thing goin' on. So if you want to look through a bunch of pictures, or watch a movie you downloaded, or listen to a bunch of MP3s on a real stereo while you make a big mess in the kitchen, it's super cool. Fifty bucks, man (plus the $45 PS2 Network Adaptor).
One of my music teachers said today (in front of the class) that I was one of two students who was obviously "way ahead of the rest of the class". Yay. Let's see if I can keep this up.
My Beginning Piano class is held in the piano lab at CCSF which is basically a classroom full of old, shitty electric pianos where the desks would otherwise be. I have a fancy consumer keyboard (not the pitiful $40 Casio kind; something OK but not professional quality either) that I practice on at home. On Wednesday I decided to check out the piano practice rooms at school and man, what a difference! Well, the first piano I tried had a strange rattling noise, so I tried another. But still, even these beat-up upright pianos in a practice room at a community college sounded huge; practically anything I played on them sounded great. I did notice that my form sucked (I kept hitting adjacent black keys, such as A+Bb when meaning to hit A only) which none of the other instruments had revealed since on the other instruments that flub didn't result in any sound, whereas on a real piano it sounded awful so I focused on not doing that. I also learned that I need to practice on a real piano more often, because although the other keyboards I practice on have velocity sensitivity and (at least in the piano lab) weighted keys, it just ain't the same. When playing an exercise that requires me to hit the white keys towards the back of the key, such as a five finger exercise using Eb-F-G-Ab-B, keeping the volume consistent is really hard. You have to really nail that G with the middle finger or else it sounds much quieter than the rest. It's hard in terms of concentration, and hard physically as well - I definitely have to build up some piano stamina. I thought that the combination of 20 years of typing plus 14 years of bass playing would give me Popeye forearms, but no. Maybe the fact that I was able to practice for 45 minutes solid before my forearms started to get sore is something I should be happy about, but I have nothing to compare that to.
On the positive side, I came up with some modified exercise patterns that sound a lot more like music so I'll be more likely to practice them. I also noticed that practicing with a metronome is really important. I'm going to start bringing a metronome to school so I can use it in the lab. I'm also going to write out a specific practice routine and follow it every single time I practice, tacking on the evolving coursework at the end.
There was a minor earthquake this morning. It felt like being on a waterbed with a dog that was scratching behind his ear. Wobble wobble wobble. I thought, "hmm, is that one of the cats next to me?" but no, they were in the other room. D'oh.
On Friday night a bunch of us went out to El Mansour. Awesome. Eating with no utensils is a bit disconcerting at first, but a few glasses of wine and it seems natural enough :). The belly dancer was really cheerful and engaging, which was a pleasant surprise.
Holy cow, it's, like, February already! And we haven't gone skiing this season yet!
Here's an interesting story from about a year and a half ago: Senators Challenge Shuttle Safety Spending. "We're starving NASA's shuttle budget and thus greatly increasing the chance of a catastrophic loss," said Florida Senator Bill Nelson.