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30.May 2001

This month's issue is a little slim, because I left the online world to spend two weeks on the lovely island of Kaua'i, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

It was quite pacific yesterday, the trade winds having taken the day off. We took a tour of the wildlife refuge at Kilauea Point and then hung out at Anini Beach. I snorkeled my way into a reef cul de sac and when I turned around to exit, I found a 4 foot needle fish eyeing me. We both stopped, then swam around each other, clockwise (viewed from above), verry carefully.

It's nice to get out once in a while.

Now, catching up on the news... Microsoft back to its usual monopoly tactics (no news there, really). The Senate goes 50-49 Democratic. That was unexpected!

Reading the reader reviews of Bobos in Paradise turned up this gem, from "a reader in Washington DC":

Question: if these simpering, self-righteous Al Gore types are now our new elite, what is the new counterculture? Rednecks, perhaps? I believe that a new oppositional culture will arise, based on the tastes of those the Bobos disdain. Characteristics: pick up trucks, pit bulls, shotguns, plenty of red meat, beer, cigarettes. Latte towns will be overrun with rebellious kids dressed like they are going hunting. Sears, NRA memberships, and fistfighting will be in vogue. And I, for one, cannot wait for that day.

I got news for ya, city boy, you don't have to wait. We got that right here, right now, just c'mon out to Ideehoe.

Bobo dog watching TV

Coincidentally, I also purloined this bit of light from the Kaua'i Museum show of Bobos...

This could be interesting: is Ecoworld environmental news with an open mind?

While listening to an overly emphatic Californian tour guide on Kaua'i talk about "his teachers," and how his (choose one or more: etymology, herbology, political science) had a better pedigree than brand X, I was struck by that great divide between shamanism and science. The former depends on a high quality lineage of teachers to get good results. The latter is about good results never depending on the teacher (or observer). It rewards an open mind, clear thinking and attention to detail.

We need to share concern for the interdependent web of life of which we are a part, but we also need good science to solve the difficult problems we face.

Wired's piece on Dave Winer ("Almost Famous") is an enjoyable discursion into Dave's world, mediated by someone other than Dave, for a change.

14.May 2001

Riddle me this one: if the Supreme Court rules that Congress trumped the states by passing a law saying there's no medical use for marijuana... haven't they practiced medicine without a license? Call the Sergeant at Arms to round 'em all up.

13.May 2001

It's an old story in Montana - a big corporation working with state politicians to extract wealth from the country and the people. Overshadowed by California's troubles, the story hasn't been given as much ink (as many pixels?), but Butte is the perfect setting for it. Montana Power outlived its creator, Anaconda, but PPL (Pennsylvania?!) ended up with the assets that matter.

How about a thirteen hour shareholder's meeting? They could probably shorten it by cutting back on the beer and sausage...

12.May 2001

Val Callahan, assistant principal at Taft Elementary School in Washingtonville, NY, sent me a "pre-web" (we used to call it "paper":-) version of the "shrink the earth's population to a village of 100" meme, and unlike every previous version I'd seen this one had a citation:

From an ERIC Search of United Nations Demographic Data, September 1, 1985. These statistics were compiled by a Chicago Public Schools administrator and were taken from the Association for Retired Citizens Newsletter, Vol. 16, Issue 6, June 1990.

Now, of course, I want to see that ARC newsletter, and find out who this anonymous public school administrator is, and how s/he distributed the original compilation.

I ended up searching old Usenet posts (on google's dejanews archive, unfortunately only going back to 1996), and then following the Donella Meadows "World as 1000" track which is just as variegated as the 100 line. She wrote hers for the Rio de Janeiro Conference in 1992, it appears, with the greater detail and precision offered by an additional order of magnitude, but perhaps less persuasive power. Our social brains have some specific evolved capability to deal with a group of 100 to 150, but not of 1000.

Industry can move pretty fast when the price is right. It will be nice for them to have the Bush/Cheney administration running interference, but it's hardly necessary at this point. Perhaps they would like some price protection when the race to fill currently unmet demand is over, and we have oversupply again.

I wonder how blaming environmentalists is going to play with John Q. Public? In spite of the lack of evidence of that being a problem, there sure are a lot of politicians and pundits eager to stab the straw man. When the industry gets its whipsaw treatment, they'll have to find a different scapegoat for the inevitable volatility that comes with deregulation.

More likely it's just cover for another round of Reaganesque appointments to environmental posts. Some of them are more than just "esque," they worked in the Reagan administration.

I have hayfever which is occasionally annoying, but lately hasn't bothered me so much. (I'm allergic to cats, too, and losing our tomcat helped that quite a bit.) But I almost never feel the urge to take drugs to relieve the symptoms. One reason was that I didn't like drug side effects, and the latest "non drowsy" formulations are supposed to fix all that. (They might be acting as nothing more than placebos, too, but let that be.)

Now the FDA proposes they should be available without a prescription, and the drug companies are scrambling to keep their high-margin business from being eroded, as it is in several other countries.

It's almost funny to see them skate between "it's really safe" "it should only be dispensed with a prescription!"

11.May 2001

Started reading The Inmates are Running the Asylum on the way home last night. Interesting read, but I found that I was all the more keenly aware of just how rude most software user interfaces are when I had to use some this morning.

Delete this, are you sure? Yes/No. (Yes, I know I can't proceed unless I say Yes) Oh wait, no, Undelete. Oh, undelete doesn't work for that sort of thing, just other, smaller things.

Union Pacific draws the line at being captured in Microsoft's virtual world. Given the number of foamers out there who probably have their own copy of locomotive operating manuals, I suspect their concerns are misplaced. Keeping people from killing themselves by getting run over by trains is a bigger issue.

Cringely has a simple solution to the California power crisis, learning from the Alberta and British Columbia power generation system. If only we really had batteries so good that putting them in millions of homes was an OK idea...

Honesty is a virtue, right? We all seem to honor it in the breach, in a delicate social balance between what's right, what works, what feels good, and what feels not-so-good. A hundred or more University of Virginia students are finding out that undetected plagiarism isn't such an easy commodity anymore, and it will probably feel not-so-good to be expelled for violating the Honor Code. What if states had a similarly easy way of tracking sales from out of state and assessing so-called use tax? There's a section in The Tipping Point illustrating how our virtues are less inherent to our beings than inherent to particular situations.

Paul Krugman calls bullshit on our Veep's sneering about conservation and threatening us with a return to the Bad Old Days when we lived in the dark. (I can't vouch for the sneering, per se, but I watched a little bit of his "Drill We Must" speech, and I was struck by how weird his mouth contorts when he speaks. It's a distraction for me.)

If you're tired of all these left-leaning links to Krugman and Dowd, you can try this antidote and read about "Gore's harpy," "The New York Times resident shrew." That's how it looks Down Under, I guess.

Messrs. Bush and Cheney were the first two employees at the White House to take a drug test. I feel so much safer just knowing. And we have a new czar: "Our efforts rest on the knowledge that when we push back, the drug problem gets smaller.... This fact is beyond question today, even if it is not always beyond denial."

In other words, we don't give a damn if things aren't working, and we're shooting innocent people out of the South American sky, full speed ahead!

9.May 2001

Good ball game last night: Stanford came from behind to win it in the bottom of the 9th, 11-10. The only bad part was that the final run was walked in with the bases loaded. My heart always goes out to the pitcher for that.

The stomper in #236 woke me up at 5:30 again this morning. I wrote him a note and slipped it under his door; the civil, suggestive note, rather than how I really felt. :-/

But I made lemonade out of it, got up and out on my bike for a beautiful just-after-sunrise ride through the foothills. Bole Park to Arastradero to Purissima to Elena to Naloma to Black Mountain Rd to Altamont and then down Page Mill to work by 7:15.

Monday evening I went on another ride in the area, through Los Altos Hills on Manuella, Fremont and Robleda to the 280 underpass at the end of Purissima. There was a young diamondback rattlesnake (I think that's what it was) halfway across the road at the underpass. I tried to encourage him to get off the pavement lest he (?) become a snake-skin rug. It's rather hard to push a rattlesnake, I found; they tend to get defensive and just do that rattle thing. But I had a lot of bike between me and him, and we never got all that close. A few cars took their time working their way around us while I was on guard. Eventually, it became the snake's idea to get off the road and we were on our way.

8.May 2001

Laurence McQuillan (USA Today) quoted Whitehouse spokesman Ari Fleischer responding to the question of whether Bush "was considering a campaign urging Americans to change their lifestyles and conserve gasoline":

That's a big no. The president believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. We have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we're able to get those resources... into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day."

They also reported on the Texas Transportation Institutes' 2001 Urban Mobility Study, finding things like the "average annual delay per person climb(ing) from 11 hours in 1982 to 36 hours in 1999." They figure $78 billion worth of time and fuel wasted. How blessed are we, as Randy Newman would sing.

Blessed be my SUV
Mighty chariot for you and me
Cushy ride, way up high
Pumping oxides to the sky
No one's faster, or has more might
Racing to the next red light.


Looking at a story about Bush's budget proposal that I clipped out of USA Today last month, I noticed that the chart mixed billions and millions rather freely. It showed "winners" and "losers" in the budget process, with big winners, and rather miniscule (but important) losers. Was this short list really the biggest cuts they could find?

Then today I saw where we could easily cut as much as all those losers were having to give up on just one program: subsidizing sugar. That's worth almost $2 billion out of consumer's pocketbooks, compared to the six "losers" giving up $1.5 billion. Of course, the six winners are getting $33 billion. Here's the numbers that the USA Today reported from the OMB, on April 10th (with all of them in $billions):

Winners'01 Funding '02 ProposedChange
Elementary, secondary and vocational education 25.90044.50072%
Higher education11.00016.70052%
Local assistance for reading education 0.1800.23430%
National Institutes of Health 20.50023.20013%
Diplomacy and international aid 18.90020.70010%
Veterans benefits and services 47.70051.8009%
Training for health professionals 0.3530.140-60%
Renewable energy research and development 0.2790.157-44%
Low-income home energy assistance 2.2001.500-32%
EPA clean air, water and pollution-prevention science 0.3830.265-31%
Community-Oriented Policing Services 1.2000.926-23%
International nuclear weapons control 0.1700.139-18%


Computer Associates is now blaming a typographical error for overstating earnings. Yeah, that's it, it was a typo. Their make-believe pro-forma earnings were almost a $billion, but by standard accounting rules (and after correcting at least one mistake), it's down to $130 million.

Wouldn't you want to run, not walk, away from these guys?!


Took a while to get started this month! This begins "volume 2" of my weblog, which I started a year ago a week from Monday.

The latest Tweney Report, "Open Secrets," tackles the issue of privacy in the electronic age. He does a fine job of describing the issues and making a sensible call to action. One of the incidents he mentions is Amtrak sharing customers' travel information in return for a 10% kickback of any goods the DEA seizes on the train as a result.

As Dylan Tweney points out, the 4th Amendment isn't an answer to all the question about privacy, but it sure seems like it should cover that one.

The Christian Science Monitor reviews and serves up Images of Sprawl from a couple thousand feet. Here's a sample to get you started.

I think it's good I got to Doc's summary before reading all the other stuff. His three virtues of the net are wonderfully succinct:


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 01-Jul-2001 16:29:52 MDT