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Labor Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The land of make-believe Permalink to this item

For some reason that did not make any news account I saw, but presumably involving status- and fund-raising, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia visited Boise recently to help southern Idahoans celebrate the apparently successful adjudication of water rights on the vast and essential Snake River basin. There were plenty of knowledgeable parties on hand (not pictured) to talk about the necessity, the technical details the Native American reserved water right settlements, and basin-wide issues. Scalia lent the proceedings three cheers for private property rights and congratulations on keeping almost all the issues out of the Supreme Court, where the waters could only have been muddied.

Randy Stapilus' estimate of how we managed to distill success out of such a complicated sea was that it boiled down to "trust, cooperation, and luck," with a fair part of that luck being getting five good judges "in the order [we] needed them." If he's right, our experience may not translate to help for any other state's problems, no matter how fervently visiting Californians examine the record for useful ideas.

The SRBA wrap-up and dinner party is not the end of the story of fighting over water by any means, it just marks the end of one (very) large chapter. Water quality issues remain significantly unresolved as Richard Manning's reporting in the High Country News last month made clear. The role the Environmental Protection Agency will play in monitoring or encouraging improvements is contentious to say the least, so much so that Congress is imagining it needs to pass a law about what constitutes "science." (Perhaps the EPA will respond by defining what of Congress' output constitutes "toxic waste"; Administrator Gina McCarthy gave it a shot, of sorts back in April.)

The connection between these disparate dots is Adam Liptak's "sidebar" describing the Supreme Court's pulling "facts" out of its briefs, when said briefs support an argument they'd like to make. Scalia's self-satisfied mug adorns the story, for his criticism that as an appellate court, they shouldn't even be talking about facts that weren't originally in evidence. It wouldn't be the first time a strict legal argument swims against the flow of common sense, but both are subject to the tide of confirmation bias. And meta-confirmation bias:

"In the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. pushed back against the recent trend, refusing to consider “an intensely empirical argument” in an amicus brief. “We do not generally entertain arguments that were not raised below and are not advanced in this court by any party,” he wrote."

Which would be nice if it were so, but it is not so. College of William and Mary law professor Allison Orr Larsen, quoted in a colleague's blog post:

"This descriptive statement by Justice Alito about Supreme Court practice is simply incorrect. As I have documented before, independent judicial research – research beyond the records and outside of the party briefs – is very common at the Supreme Court. See Larsen, Confronting Supreme Court Fact Finding, 98 Va Law Rev 1255 (2012). In fact, Justice Alito himself was actually called out by Justice Scalia for his 'considerable independent research' on violent video games when the Court found such games protected by the First Amendment a few terms ago. Nor have the Justices been shy about citing 'intensely empirical' amicus briefs or even their own independently-discovered empirical studies in the past on subjects as varied as economics, medicine, psychology, and even terrorism-funding practices. In short, they do it all the time."

Note the citation, since "blog posts" are one of the sources deprecated here, along with "emails or nothing at all." Professor Larsen has another journal article coming on the subject: The Trouble with Amicus Facts. Shorter:

"[A]nyone can claim to be a factual expert. With the Internet, factual information is easily found and cheaply manufactured. ... The result is that the Court is inundated with eleventh-hour, untested, advocacy-motivated claims of factual expertise. And the Justices are listening."

29.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A right-brained computer Permalink to this item

Trying to figure out why my iPad wasn't doing something it used to do, and not having the vaguest clue how to whack it up side the head with the 2x4 it seems to be asking for, I figured maybe I should download that iOS update to 7.1.2 from 7.1, where it is now. It's a mere 20-some MB this time, and says it downloaded after a few minutes, and in just 8 seconds, it would install and restart the whole shebang.

That's cool, let's go. I touched the INSTALL "button" so as not to wait any extra seconds.

It said "Software Update is not available at this time. Try again later."

I simply do not understand how Apple has such rabid fans.

It did work when I tried again later... but third try to email that photo, now on the new o/s, and it still ain't going anywhere.

(Time passes, and other means are employed.)

Here's what I'm talking about:

Pie photo from iPad

Solving a nonexistent problem, or something Permalink to this item

There's a pithy aphorism for the engineering trade: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Post-modernist "innovators" have turned that on its head and/or flogged nonsense for a business book called "If it ain't broke, BREAK IT!" After the most dramatic election larceny in the country's history, after which George W. Bush was installed into the Oval Office, some clear breakage led to calls for fixery, and we got the Help America Vote Act and a new bureaucracy called the Election Assistance Commission. I wonder what all they do? Besides shuffle billions of dollars out to states, that is.

As of the end of September, 2006 (the most recent report for the state I get from, Idaho had managed to report just over $10 million spent over the course of 4 years, most of that from Oct. 2005 through Sept. 2006. For $5,876,999 we got three central count tabulators and 900-some "AutoMARK ballot marking devices." My first thought was... we mark our optical scan ballots with pens, are those pens? Maybe not, maybe they're for "an accessible voting device for persons with disabilities, including the blind and visually impaired." And a million bucks for some sort of statewide voter registration list, and $131,954 for annual maintenance, and $30,470 for a help desk, staff education and training.

Fast forward past two presidential and a dozen other state and local elections, lots of cocked-up concern about "voter fraud" that never amounts to even a drop in the bucket, but manages to expunge a lot of people from registration rolls, to fall 2014, and some folks in the Ada County clerks office getting overzealous about preemptive purging. They sent out 3,243 letters out to registered voters telling them "they had registered most recently in another state and, therefore, that their Idaho registration had been canceled."

By their count, almost a quarter of those were mistakenly revoked, but if I were among the 2,478 they think were legitimately revoked, I would want more than the clerk's word.

First I heard of this was from former U.S. Attorney Betty Hansen Richardson who was one of the mistakenly revoked folks, telling the story on Facebook. This morning's paper filled in a few more details:

"The mistake occurred when staff compared Ada County voter registrations with registrations from 27 other states as part of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which aims to remove duplicate registrations from voter rolls.

"The county received from the Crosscheck program a list of people with the same name and birth date who are registered to vote in Ada County and in another state. Staff members were to further winnow the list by crosschecking middle initials or middle names and the last four digits of the voter's Social Security numbers to determine if the names matched before revoking the registrations."

As of last November, the Washington Post reported that 28 states had joined this Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which it said is "run by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office." (They have a nice web form for reporting voter fraud, but I didn't see one for administrative bungling, and of course Ada County is not the Kansas Secretary's concern, is it? I also didn't find any sort of public information about their program... beyond the presser that Nevada was the 25th state to sign up for it.)

A FOAFBF had this to say about our local issues, which may apply to Kansas and other states equally well, but Idaho:

"Every Idaho constitutional position is GOP; the Legislature is overwhemingly GOP; every one of the 44 county commissions is either unanimously GOP or GOP controlled. If there IS voter fraud in Idaho, it means one of two things: A: The Democrats are really, really bad at it, so inept they can't even steal a county commission seat, much less a seat in the Legislature or the governor's office; or, B: The Idaho Republicans are very, very good at it. I go with B."

ThinkProgress's take, back in January about Kansas' "Crosscheck," brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former Bush administration lawyer, anti-immigration activist and defendant in a lawsuit challenging Kansas' "two-tiered" voter registration system, is that it was "error-riddled."

That's even before the business-as-usual mishandling that could produce well over 20% false positives in one county in the middle of nowhere.

27.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some of his random thoughts Permalink to this item

Speaking of stuff that should have been "off the record" but wasn't, here's Mitch McConnell talking to his billionaire pals at the Koch Brothers Donor Summit.

MITCH MCCONNELL: "Is this working?"

[Yes sir! We're waiting with bated breath.]

"I know it’s been a long, but very inspiring day. And I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you, and um, and I want (inaudible) for rallying, uh, to the cause."

You can read on, thrilling to the reminiscences of a man who's been part of "filibuster after filibuster" to make sure nothing gets in the way of billionaire's money and as much "free speech" as it can buy, and Mitch McConnell's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day:

"The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law in the early part of his first Administration."

But now yay, we have John Roberts and Sam Alito on the Supreme Court and got rid of Sandra Day O'Connor and "we now have the best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech." Now "you can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government. Give, give, give! The Democrats "are the party of government," the takers but the Republicans are the givers.

Did I say that out loud? Permalink to this item

The United Dairyman of Idaho intended their letter to their dear dairy producers to be CONFIDENTIAL but someone kicked over the pail and the Idaho Statesman posted a small, but readable image, along with the second round of the story. The CEO of the trade group wants to clarify that

"In hindsight we understand how our Aug. 13 letter to United Dairymen of Idaho members might make someone think otherwise, but it is not the intention of the United Dairymen of Idaho to deny media access to Idaho dairies."

Call that slightly implausible deniability, after the recommendation that producers "coordinate any requests for television, print or radio interviews" with them or their fellow trade groups, and follow up with "suggest responses" (that you should "always repeat" as you "remain calm, polite and professional" and do not reconsider. "Organizing on-farm tours is one of the primary roles of United Dairymen," she wrote.

The comments under the Statesman story are interesting to read through, along with a linked article from Dairy Herd Management, reporting that it was all a "mischaracterization" don't you know, and an alternate public relations model, from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, a Wisconsin Farm Tour Kit that introduces itself by answering the question "why give a farm tour?" with the answer What an Opportunity!

"Today’s consumers are at least three to four generations removed from the farm. The importance of giving educational farm tours now becomes apparent. People outside of the agricultural community no longer experience or understand production and farming practices like they did in years past. Your tour will offer a realistic, first-hand experience of farm life to those who might otherwise never get the opportunity.

"Hosting a farm tour offers unique opportunities to showcase the dairy industry to the general public and demonstrate its importance to the state’s economy. ..."

26.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Under the hood Permalink to this item

Back in the day I started blogging, there were a lot of people making up the whole business of how to put posts together and make links and allow comments (or not) and have a blogroll and so on as they went along, and I tried a couple of third party things. One was called "Edit this Page" and has sort of come and gone, now existing as "functionality" within UserLand's Manila product, which bills itself as an "Enterprise Class" website and weblog publishing system.

As you probably don't know or care, I wrote my own code to aggregate my hand-edited "dailies" into the monthly view that's published, inserting the permalinks to days (which is all there were at first) and individual posts, combined the sidebar and navigation stuff, and push it up to my server. Somewhere along the line I added the RSS feed.

Now there are lots of blogging software packages to choose from, and blurring of the lines between "blogging" and "content management" systems. WordPress is perennially among the top N choices in both categories. It's mostly free, importantly, and ubiquitous, so lots of others have found and solved the problems you're likely to run into. I've tried it... and may use it more than I do, someday.

It comes to mind because I tried to load a post from a friend's blog today, with a relatively simple payload of a photograph, and an extended caption for the photograph. It failed to load the photograph, but in the course of failure, the status line flashed a rather incredible number and variety of things that were going on while what I wanted to go on wasn't going. What the what? Futzing around to find the console logging feature in Firefox, I sought to answer the question what all is happening when I load this page?

The console log shows almost 150 GET commands, each with a URL, result codes and a duration in milliseconds. There must be a lot of parallel processing, because the raw total for the 148 commands is 110,477 milliseconds, which is to say almost 2 minutes. On the re-run (when everything worked), 21 of the GET commands returned status 200, "OK," 2 returned 302/Found, and the other 125 returned 304/Not Modified, which means no action was needed, I guess. In any case, it involved 28 servers on 16 different domains. On top of the author's own, my request for one day's post on one page generated GETs to, 2 servers on,,,,,,, 3 servers on, 2 servers on, 2 servers on 3 servers on and 6 servers on

The time for the parent page shows just under two seconds at the top of the list... and 127 GETs later, there's another, half-second GET of the exact same URL.

Most of the time—rather remarkable, it seems—all this stuff "just works," and quickly enough no one notices. Having a reason to look behind the curtain (as it were), it's amazing to contemplate that it ever works at all.

On my own blog, there are more GETs than I would have guessed, but a lot less variety. Only two servers involved, and (thanks to my long-ago, unremediated and mostly unremunerative dabble in the Amazon Associates program), four total GETs with status "OK" and another 19 "Not Modified" images and supporting tidbits.

25.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The EPA comin to getcha if ya dont watch out Permalink to this item

Apparently since it's reportedly "bipartisan" there was no need for any sort of fair or balance in Jake Melder's remarkable opinion piece on local Journal Broadcast Group teevee, Idahoans fight latest rule change from EPA. The "battle is underway," not just for the future of American farms; the Environmental Protection Agency could be coming after your lawn in its obsession to extend its hegemony to "every ditch, hole, and puddle in the United States."

Confluence of the Boise and Owhyee rivers with the Snake

Did the EPA really mention "holes" and "puddles," or did Jake just cadge his copy from Senator Risch's press release from back in June letting it ferment in the summer heat until it was ready for campaign season? One will have to go beyond the commentary of Idaho partisans to find useful information on the topic. Thad Cochran of Mississippi (of all places) at least had links when he press-released in April, starting with a link to the page with the joint announcement of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clean Water Act Definition of "Waters of the U.S." Forces in opposition generated enough heat that the original 90 day comment period was doubled, now through October 20, 2014.

Idaho's senators have an answer to the use of "the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature," with the rule "not [to] be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete."

Crapo and Risch are cosponsoring a bill, don't you know, to prohibit the EPA from "proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible." Yes, you can call it the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014," or H.R.4012 or S.2613 or just a summer postcard that wound up in the dead letter pile, because that's not going anywhere, is it?

Anyway, the EPA has provided media resources for the likes of "reporter" Jake Melder, who could have taken a look at Ditch the Myth:

MYTH: The rule would regulate all ditches, even those that only flow after rainfall.

TRUTH: The proposed rule actually reduces regulation of ditches because for the first time it would exclude ditches that are constructed through dry lands and don’t have water year-round.

MYTH: The federal government is going to regulate puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds.

TRUTH: Not remotely true. Such water is never jurisdictional.

Also, the proposed rule doesn't change the exemption for farm ponds, actually reduces the regulation of ditches, and preserves all historical exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. (Or so they say, but who are you going to trust? Some faceless bureaucrats supposedly "protecting" "the environment" or a squeaky little Senator running for re-election and trying to drum up controversy to hide the fact that he hasn't done jack diddly during his six years in D.C.?)


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007