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30.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Two days on the road, three days with kids and grandkids for the holiday. It was a warm and cozy Thanksgiving, with unseasonably good weather for driving. Everything from north of the Blue Mountains to Spokane was inverted and tending to fog, but we didn't see any of the black ice that was advertised. And today, when we got to the top of Cabbage Hill outside Pendleton, we popped out of the thick fog into glorious blue sky and sunshine, and temps in the 40s.

Acorn harvest time

Ed Meese is worried about the free-riding poor again. The story of the "new" conservative idea of the poor paying too little taxes reminds me of the conversation I had with one of Spokane County's public defenders, talking about people in old cars getting arrested, fined and in financial trouble for trivial offenses that don't trouble the better-off. I seem to remember that an equipment violation (taillight out, for example) garnered a warning to get it repaired within 10 days, or face a fine. Now it's get fined and fix it. Don't pay the fine? Lose your license. Get caught driving to work after your license is suspended? Go to jail. And so on.

It isn't an intelligent arrangement, but it sounds like there is no recourse against cops who are wasting the public's resources (court time, costs, prosecutor, public defender) on cases which get thrown out. Those are the good results from the system.

(What, you don't remember Ed Meese? One of his famous quips was about how folks go to soup kitchens 'cause it's easier than paying for dinner. He was the attorney general who presided over the Iran-Contra "investigation." He got out of the White House while the gettin' was good, but you can still book him on the speaker circuit.)

24.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Results from the latest National Geographic survey of 18 to 24-year-olds are in, and the performance is abysmal as ever. 1 in 10 couldn't find their own country on an unlabeled map of the world. Almost 30% couldn't identify which was the Pacific Ocean. (You know, that body of water that covers almost half the globe?) More than half couldn't find Japan. Only 1 in 6 could find Sweden or Afghanistan, and only 1 in 7 could spot Iraq. The questions were multiple choice, typically with 4 possible answers (not counting "I don't know," which appears to have been technically correct for the majority in most cases). Young Americans are lagging in knowledge of the world, but they by no means have a monopoly on ignorance.

Dropped into a different sort of world this weekend, reading Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters. Oh-so English literary (and ideological) criticism, read with the big dictionary at my side. It was interesting to learn more about Orwell's biography, but I'm afraid the depths of allusion were mostly "by me," as we say. Amazon's reviews are lukewarm, accusing "Hitch" of excessive gushing, and or canonization, but I enjoyed the diversion.

RIAA vs. Navy: no, not a college football game, but copyright patrol, confiscating Navy Plebe's computers that may have the demon spawn of stolen MP3 files.

First is was Scott McNealy and then Larry Ellison who said we should "get over" our need for privacy. Now the courts are agreeing.

It's a little too precious to be outraged by anything in a football game, so I'll have to settle for just being really annoyed... but what is up with a blind-siding cheap shot by Warren Sapp going mostly unremarked and with no penalty? Can you say "unnecessary roughness"? Or "unsportsmanlike conduct"? (To be honest, I don't know if that's considered a foul anymore in the NFL.) The Packer wasn't even in the play, and they had to cart him off the field. Meanwhile, they hand out flags to Green Bay for a shove here and there, and change the likely outcome of the game. (That was before the last two of the four interceptions Favre threw.) It sucks to lose, what can I say? And no football in Green Bay in January? That's like a day without sunshine. But there are a few games left yet.

23.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Richard Perle tells British MPs the truth about the Bush administration's war plans: we don't need evidence, an accusation will do.

Speaking of our leaders, it might be a good time to review the Chickenhawk database, noting those who stand out for "bellicosity, public prominence, and a curious lack of wartime service when others their age had no trouble finding the fight."

The thinking behind switch-hitting Senators has moved into the strategy phase, and I like the sound of it. Who better to lead than the folks who can't abide the right-shift from the Republicans but who aren't yet left enough for the Democrats? If nothing else, it would be worth it to hear Trent Lott howl about how the Democrats stole the election back from the American people; as if we all voted for him to be leader of the Senate! He wasn't even up for election in his own state this year.

Ok, here's the website of the What Would Jesus Drive folks. Not sure why the big splash in the news recently didn't have that URL in any of the stories. (Thanks to the piece proposing we excommunicate Jerry Falwell from public discourse for that.)

Shuffling through old newspapers, I see that the Army Corps of Engineers has decided that Lucky Peak Dam doesn't need quite as much security, and besides there's no other way for boaters to get to the water: they're going to open the road 24/7, at least for the moment. They want everybody to know they could change their minds at the drop of a hat, though. It's a bit late to do anything for windsurfers, but if it stays open, it'll be nice next spring and summer, and especially next fall. Maybe our epic tales of The Hike will be just a distant memory we'll tell our grandchildren some day.

Among the other things that sine died with the end of this Congress was Cheney's energy bill.

Here's something to chew on as the holidays and solstice approach, and that mammalian urge to "stock up for winter" kicks in: Tips to Avoid Overeating. You folks in the southern hemisphere never mind, and go out and play.

2002.11.22 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Do you think Congress is in touch with the heartbeat of America? Well... one of the things they couldn't get to before the session wrapped up was the extension of unemployment benefits for 800,000 workers. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, but the House refused to bring it up for a vote today.

The benefits expire on Dec. 28th. Congressional salaries, on the other hand, are for "full time" work, and exceed the poverty line by $100,000 or more. They take off for the holidays the week before Thanksgiving, and don't come back till next year. Dick Armey's comfortable that the new Congress can consider them in a timely fashion, although I don't think that means the same thing when you've been out of work for a while. Merry Christmas to all!

Cringely decries the end of the upgrade cycle, which he says was 3 years long. It's been 5 years for us at home, for 2 decades now. (We're due.) At work... let's see, I got an HP350 unix machine when I changed jobs in 1986, got it upgraded to a 370 somewhere along the line, took it to Stanford in '89, and replaced it with whizzy 730 in early 1991, I think. That's a 735 now (swapped the motherboard), but it's still in service and handling all my email and a webserver. I use an NT box for a workstation now, I think that's getting close to 5 years old. A portable PC came and went in about 4 years as I traveled a lot and then stopped doing that.

Nope, no 3-year cycle for me. But I'm sure he's right about the reasons for the industry being rather moribund at the moment. He thinks next Christmas might be good... that puts us out of synch.

David Pogue describes how Microsoft has managed to formalize the 3-year upgrade cycle: with a monopoly and 85% profit margin, they have companies paying for their 3-year upgrades in advance.

Are foreign students USA Patriots? Presumptively not, and that has the research community looking over their shoulders to avoid 10-year jail sentences.

The intellectual property is sold (for $8 million), but the hard assets and the t-shirts remain, until they're auctioned off at dovebid. Don't miss out on your chance to get a piece of Napster next month.

I downloaded the software once upon a time, but I never got around to installing it or stea^H^H^H^Hsharing any music.

Ruth Lilly got only rejection letters from Poetry Magazine, but on her way out, she left them 100 mil or so.

Six million broken bones a year in this country; it's time we get that bone cement working.

Seeing all, the eye that never sleeps

Did you know the US has a top secret kangaroo court? Me neither, but it says here they've been in business since 1978. I wonder if they'll wear black hoods on the way to making the Total Information Awareness program -- "the most extensive electronic surveillance system in history" -- a reality.

M. W. Guzy's piece on the resurrection of Voodoo Economics raises the interesting question of why Brazil isn't the most prosperous nation on earth if wealth at the top is all it takes. "Relieved of the strictures imposed by a hostile legislature, (Bush is) now free to test the theory that our economic doldrums are the result of rich people not having enough money."

One could argue that the outrageous wage increases that airline pilots wrested from United Airlines have driven the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Yes, there have been other factors, but now they -- and the other United employees -- have agreed to give a big chunk back, to try and save UAL. 18% cuts for the pilots gives you an idea of how far past reasonable they'd gone.

21.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Religious and environmental groups are starting a What Would Jesus Drive? campaign to encourage the government to increase fuel efficiency standards. I think Jesus would walk and ride a bike, mostly. The Christian Science Monitor reported on a similar "movement" more than a year ago.

19.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The bad news is that I set my alarm clock to 2:30 PM by accident. The "good" news is that when I woke up at 4am, the cloud deck was still solid, so I hadn't missed any of the Leonids I might have seen. My part of SW Idaho was shut out.

Earthlink's spam filtering service is pretty good, but not perfect. I do my part to help improve it by forwarding most of what junk slips through to their "junkmail" address. From Outlook Express' index view, ctrl-F brings up a forwarding compose window (configured to put it in plain text, thereby avoiding HTML tricks), I type in enough of the address for it to be recognized ("jun") and then ctrl-Enter to queue it for sending. While doing that to one message today, something about "NO dangerous surgery" caught my eye, and I brought the message back up to read it.

"Experience the results you've always wanted with a MASSIVE scientific breakthrough: Our Doctor-Approved Pill Will Actually Expand, Lengthen And Enlarge Your Penis as seen on TV."

They must have me confused with someone else; my penis has not been seen on TV. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that their program involves NO Agonizing Hanging Weights, NO Tough Exercises, NO Painful And Hard-To-Use Pumps, and as I'd already noticed, NO Dangerous Surgery.

At work, where I manage my own mail server, I just set up bogofilter which uses a very interesting adaptive algorithm to classify messages, and have been happily sorting incoming messages to "spam" and "nonspam" and running them into the program to train it. After just a couple days, it's ready to start filtering my mail, and banishing the much larger stream (older address, and no ISP filtering service) of garbage I get there to /dev/null, where it belongs.

My webhost is now set up for merchant accounts, they tell me. I'm not selling anything here, so it's only of passing interest, but I was amazed to see what the credit card company's take in this e-commerce business is: at least $49/year, 30 to 50 cents per transaction and 2.35% or more of the net amount. International currency transactions go up to 5.45%! The bank's take is euphemistically referred to as the "discount rate."

18.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You can now reserve your Segway for just 10% (nonrefundable deposit) of the not-quite $5,000 purchase price. If you do decide to do that, please do it via my link and make my referral day, month and year. Even if you're not buying, the details of the technology are nicely described and illustrated on Amazon's site.

I'm thinking of that wonderful Joni Mitchell song, the one I like to sing in the shower: "Both Sides Now." Clouds are threatening to get in my way for the Leonid meteor shower tonight. The good news is that I don't have to get up at 2:30 and drive to somewhere dark. The bad news is, I don't get to see the wonderful show.

David Gelernter's "essay" on the computing frontier of connecting users to information is a curious blend of advertising for his beta software and excuse for their single-platform development decision.

The article is ostensibly about the Microsoft antitrust trial, but he doesn't have much of use to say on that subject. His concluding statement that "we rely on the courts and antitrust laws to keep Microsoft from abusing its enormous power" could be witty sarcasm, if only he weren't serious.

After telling us what we need, and that "our company has built it," he notes that "Microsoft has similar goals for its Longhorn system, but Longhorn won't be available for two years. We needed one-screen narrative information management yesterday." He's a smart guy, but you have to wonder what planet he's been away visiting: a better solution 2 years ahead of Microsoft is meaningless once the behemoth from Redmond embraces and extends itself around your niche (starting with its vaporware proclamations to scare boogie men away). I wish Gelernter success, as I do for all software innovators, but I'm not going to count on it.

It's not a publication that I read very often, but this collection of essays in The American Enterprise was interesting: "The roots of today's epidemic of lying in high places." Coming from 1999, none of the 5 authors had any reason to cite members of the Bush Administration, of course, but this is definitely a non-partisan issue.

17.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

BUUF's Trollhaven bridge

A group of so-called (or self-consciously categorized) young adults did the service at BUUF today, titling it "Bridging the gap." It had some nice moments, including an acoustic trio singing a young adult anthem from an earlier time: Jesse Colin Young's "Get Together."

Get ready for the Leonids Tuesday morning -- a spectacular show if the forecasters have it right. The only drawbacks are a full moon, and the fact that it happens in the wee hours of the morning, 3:30am (MST). (The other peak, at 9pm MST Monday, will be too low for my longitude.) Such is the way of meteors, however.

Is the Project for the New American Century writing Bush Administration foreign policy? It looks that way.

What would you call public harassment, death threats, getting fired, having your passport revoked, and being forced to sign secret agreements not to talk... about driving a car. Sounds like terrorism, doesn't it?

More than half the households in the US now have a wireless phone subscription, according to this NY Times piece. Ours isn't one of them. Apparently, service is going downhill. Remember when the telephone "just worked"?

Homeland security sounds like a good idea. A Department of Homeland Security sounds like it could be a nightmare, the Mother of all bureaucratic reorganizations.

Wyman vs. Wyman: who gets to keep using the name? (Why not the one who was born with it?)

16.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The phenomenon of stochastic resonance seemed like one of those interesting things with little practical application. But here's one: noisy sneakers to help us keep our balance as we get older. Introducing noise pushes some weak signals over the detection threshold and allows them to be perceived (unconsciously) and acted upon.

At last night's Senior Thesis art show at BSU, one of the exhibits was a slide show, projected onto an uneven curtain formed by strings with fragments of apples tied at the bottoms, remembering grandma and her apple orchard. The images were fragmented, but still understandable between the curtain and the wall a foot or so behind it, and more evocative for the fragmentation. Stochastic resonance applied to memory: interesting idea, eh?.

WorldCom did indeed announce the hiring of Michael Capellas as their new CEO yesterday. The NY Times' background piece on the guy is interesting. "Mr. Capellas's résumé says a lot, mostly about his restless ambition." He officially starts his new job on Dec. 2nd, and still works for HP. Even with $14.4 million of HP's in his pocket, I doubt they're expecting much out of him in the next two weeks.

The Internet Scout pointed to the Hoover Institution site this week, and I strolled over there to see what they have. There's a long list of "Weekly Essays" that look interesting, such as the July '02 vintage The Case for Not Invading Iraq. Seems almost quaint in its simplicity, but nothing that's transpired has changed the apparent truth of this -- and the CIA's -- position.

In contrast, Charles Hill's Six Front War from early October reads rationally enough until we get to front #6, and the recitation of Bush's "Axis of Evil" promotion. Consider that as a trial balloon for the 2002 Election campaign; it didn't really fly that well, and it was the "we must go to war with Iraq" that won the day. How else could we explain North Korea's revelation of the nuclear weapon program being a non-event? Good and Evil are, as always, more nuanced than pulpit pronouncements.

While they're interesting snippets, they do seem a little on the short side. Robert Zelnick's Iraq: The Critics, Then and Now is not much more than "look how wrong these people were before, that doesn't mean they are now, but they probably are." His nightmare "what if" scenario gives pause: "Had that advice convinced four more senators... Iraq would today dominate the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the other gulf states would be mere vassals; Kuwait, a wholly owned subsidiary. Iraq's arsenal would include nuclear weapons. The threat of a terrorist-inspired catastrophe dwarfing September 11 would be terribly real." The history of Nazi Germany tells us that appeasement can be dangerous, to be sure, but it also occurs to me that if Iraq had come to dominate the Persian Gulf, as described, it's more likely that al-Qaeda would never have become what it did. Saudi Arabia, that unnamed waystation on the Axis, was the breeding ground, after all, and Iraq is a dictatorship, not a pluto-theocracy.

For a slightly more filled-out opinion to balance the Hoover Institution, consider George Johnson's piece on for Veteran's Day, The Chicken Hawks' War. "Combat teaches you that war is a serious, deadly business. Too many of the officials in Washington never learned that lesson the hard way. For them, war is a theoretical exercise, like playing chess, or sports."

15.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

While watching the Gun Land segment on NOW tonight, Jeanette observed that the government isn't tracking information on gun purchasers, but it is tracking the reading habits of library patrons. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I guess. You would think in the administration's rush to forfeit your civil liberties in the name of homeland security, guns would figure in there somewhere, but you'd be wrong.

How can you tell when the right-wing nuts have gone too far? When Safire says so. Poindexter again, eh? Just think how much better off we'd be if we'd rooted out the cancer at the bottom of Iran-Contra. Instead we've got pardoned and free-on-a-technicality pundits and unprentant spooks.

The new secessionist movement: California. "East of California, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction--towards preemptive war, attacks on reproductive freedom, massive deficits, restrictions of civil liberties, environmental rollbacks and free reign for corrupt corporations."

The most disturbing part of the Airborne Laser promotion (?) site is the map of the "layering" diagram. Is that South America running into the eastern seaboard? Looks like some damage has been done already.

We had our own version of the exciting movie chase scene in Boise yesterday, but this one was not make-believe. Two stolen cars, half a dozen smashed up, and the perp gunned down by more than a dozen cops shooting 80 rounds. Coming out of the car you stole and smashed up downtown with a rifle in hand is probably not such a good idea.

14.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Helen Thomas has been covering the White House for a long time. It would be respectful of Republican Family Values if George Bush would pay attention to what she has to say: "I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war. Bush's policy of pre-emptive war is immoral - such a policy would legitimize Pearl Harbor. It's as if they learned none of the lessons from Vietnam."

Peg Phillips, known to many as Ruth-Anne on Northern Exposure, died last week, and was remembered on NPR's All Things Considered. I knew her as the mother of our minister, and visiting talent for a local talent show we held as a fundraiser for 2 years, "Idaho Exposure."

It should be two years of Clash of the Titans with Tom Delay ("former pest exterminator from the Houston suburbs") and Nancy Pelosi ("liberal from San Francisco") leading the two parties in the House, taking over from Dicks Armey and Gebhardt.

12.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Williams Energy says it's tired of battling with California. Less involved observers say they got off pretty lightly for $400 million and renegotiated energy contracts that will save the state a $billion or so. The other three "horseman of the apocalypse," Duke, Mirant and Reliant, are up next.

China is smoothly converting from a left-wing dictatorship to a right-wing one, according to this piece in the NY Times Week in Review. It's good for business, at least.

Webster's done at the SEC now, too. Should we bring back Biggs?

George W. Bush is a liar. I wonder why the majority of the American public doesn't seem to care?

Dan Gillmor: on the aftermath of the election: it's going to get ugly.

On the tech side, the slashdot interview with Dan Gillmor is out.

Scott Herhold explains why "absolutely no one should be surprised that Michael Capellas left Hewlett-Packard on Monday." Actually, he's not officially gone until Dec. 1st, but the point remains: he got paid big time to go do something else. It turns out that HP's SEC filings weren't enough to put the puzzle together: you had to also read Compaq's Jan. 30th filing, adding one more definition to the list of "qualifying terminations" that would deploy the golden parachute. The new scenario was the one that was at the very least anticipated, but more likely planned: Capellas leaves within a year. So much for all the gushing about Carly and Michael being a "great team."

Here's an alternative to going to war with Iraq: Buy Bush a Playstation.

2002-11-11 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Michael Capellas, once CEO of Compaq and currently COO of the new HP, decides the grass is greener somewhere else. Worldcom, maybe?! It doesn't much matter; the grass is $14.4 million greener anywhere else, thanks to the sickly sweet severance agreement included in the merger earlier this year. Doesn't that amount to a severance incentive? It would have been a bunch of years before the regular stream of salary and bonuses would've totaled $14 mil. And the nice part of the deal is that HP didn't even have to fire him - he decides he'd rather go somewhere else, HP pays him off.

Good work if you can find it. I wonder what the just barely over 50% of the shareholders who voted for the merger are thinking now? The market sucked $4 billion out of HPQ's market capitalization today on the news.

Not exactly a surprise, but some specific detail about how money rules politics. "Just over 95 percent of U.S. House races and 75 percent of Senate races were won by the candidate who spent the most money."

The Reader's Digest put 1100 wallets on the line to find out how honest people are. Chances of getting your wallet back? Excellent in Scandanavia, pretty good in Japan and the US, poor in China and Mexico.

When Good Interfaces Go Crufty got famous by being slash-dotted. I found a copy by our group printer. Since I've been using computers for more than 6 months, a lot of the complaints seem to be about things I don't think about anymore, but they do explain a few of the things that give Jeanette (and many others, I'm sure) trouble. Post-PC, many of these problems will go away. (And many more will be introduced.)

The pointer to the interface hall of shame for Win95's Explorer was interesting, too. It's amazing how many bad interface features the brain can work around; sort of like vision, where everything is imaged upside-down, but the brain sees it rightside-up. (And why isn't the opposite of "upside-down" "upside-up"?)

2002-11-10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bill Moyers' commentary on this week's NOW didn't leave much doubt how he feels about Election 2002. Maybe he's over dramatizing it. I hope so.

"(I)t is a heady time in Washington - a heady time for piety, profits, and military power, all joined at the hip by ideology and money."

Subdermal ID chips: they're not just for pets anymore.

Tapped in to the extensive tales of the background vibration, by starting with the keyword "Taos hum" suggested by a reader. Check out the update of my "Neighborhood buzz" story for more.

9.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Part of Zion

Our former next-door neighbor, Zion Warne, now lives up on Robie Creek and has built himself a fine studio for blowing glass. We joined the party tonight, and did a little early Christmas shopping to boot. We'll probably keep this wonderful 6" glass sphere for ourselves, though...

Daniel Ellsberg has a new book out: Secrets. It's his memoir of the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers. We heard him on NPR's broadcast of the Commonwealth Club on the way back through the dark and stormy night (the snow level was below 5000' last night, and feels to come lower tonight), and were suitably chilled by his inside view of political lies and mistakes from Truman through Bush Jr. You can read chapter 1, and more, on Ellsberg's site. (His Nov. 1 weblog entry includes a transcript of another interview in which he made some of the same points as he did at the Club.

One of the interesting points he made was that we're making the same mistake we've made in past wars of the last half century: ceding decision-making power to a single man. The folks who drew up this country wrote the Constitution specifically to put an end to the reign of kings, but Congress doesn't seem to get it. Bush says he hasn't decided yet whether or not we'll go to war on Iraq... but it was Congress who was supposed to decide that.

I looked for the talk by Ellsberg in the Commonwealth Club's archives; it's not there (yet?), but there is a lot of other interesting stuff. Try this from the Q&A with Christopher Hitchens:

Q: You've written a book calling for criminal charges to be brought against Henry Kissinger. Recently, however, the U.S. sought to exempt American officials, not just American soldiers, from the International Court of Criminal Justice. How does this affect the effort to bring Kissinger to justice?

A: ...Some of the oxygen from around the guy's been sucked out, and he's not free to travel anywhere without consulting lawyers each time; there are some countries he wouldn't dare go to. This is not good enough but it's a start; something like a consistent humans rights ethic of international law touching war crimes and crimes against humanity is beginning to apply to him....

In a recent article by Elizabeth Becker in The New York Times and other reportage it's been made clear by senior members of the administration that their reason for wanting to withdraw the American signature from the International Criminal Court is the protection of Henry Kissinger, that they are aware that this could be a grave embarrassment to the Republican Party and to the Bush administration and they think, because they want to implicate all of us in his crimes, the United States. Think about the insult that that involves for American society, American culture, for everyone here who pays taxes, although it's much worse than that. Think about what they haven't done for Saddam Hussein. What's the obvious thing the U.S. administration should have done? Asked for his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, asked its ambassador of the United Nations to lodge this complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Committee, or perhaps made an application to The Hague for a warrant for his arrest. It's the first thing you would think that a government bent on regime change would do. Why haven't they done it? Because they can't do it, because they've thrown away - to defend Kissinger - a weapon that could have punished Saddam Hussein....

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is unanimous that the government can't gag doctors who feel medical marijuana is warranted.

The US-instigated resolution against Iraq gets unanimous support from the Security Council, somehow persuading Mexico, Russia, France, and -- mirabile dictu -- Syria.

Big party in Florence, with some hundreds of thousands out to protest the coming war.

Pigs being mistaken for small cows, with litters of a dozen at a go... Welcome to San Jose!

8.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Four gems from the Scout Report:

The Library of Congress takes us on a tour of The Wizard of Oz, an American fairytale.

The University of Idaho has an exhibit dedicated to the Life and Legacy of Lionel Hampton, a jazz musician who died this year.

Take a ride on the Tacoma Narrows.

And a time machine, going back to the days of bomb shelters.

In a story from Reuters that I just read, dated November 09, 2002 06:53 AM ET (even though that's some 10 hours in the future), Rep. Nancy Pelosi, from California declared the contest over for minority leader of the House. She replaces Dick Gebhardt, whose strategy of capitulating to the Administration on the Iraq saber-rattling didn't work out so well in the mid-term elections, and pre-empts challenges from the right wing of the party who wanted to win by being more Republican.

(Another story on Reuters, Bush Says Iraq Faces 'Final Test', is datelined 07:59 ET tomorrow morning. I'll have to see if I can get stock market news from 10 hours in the future, too.)

In my county, 69% of registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election. (I suppose the total of registered voters included those who registered on election day?) The Democratic candidate for Governer, Jerry Brady, edged out the Republican incumbnet, Dirk Kempthorne. Democrat Bruce Perry beat Jim Risch for Lt. Governor. (The rest of the state disagreed on those choices.) In my district (16), two Democrats won races for State House. District 19, in Boise's North End, did us one better, with both Representatives and the State Senator race going to Democrats. This is what passes for a hotbed of liberalism in Idaho. (And why the county is split between the two Congressional Districts, lest we send a Democrat to Congress.)

Unlike the national results, Democrats gained significantly in the State Legislature, 10 seats total.

Now that Pitt and the SEC's chief accountant have quit, Wm. Webster is looking a bit shaky, too. It seems the accounting firm that was fired says he did it -- after they'd warned him about serious problems at U.S. Technologies. Webster says he doesn't recall... (where have I heard that explanation before?)

The Bush Administration apparently prefers that the IRS not have enough resources to pursue tax cheats.

6.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mostly commiseration, as it turned out. The economy? Corporate scandals? Civil liberties? The environment? Deepening budget deficits? Use of taxpayer's resources for campaigning and fundraising? Fuhgeddaboudit. The "wag the dog" strategy worked to perfection, without the need to fire a shot. Yet.

(Oh wait, we did too fire a shot. The new rules are that the President doesn't have to approve assassination, and as long as the targets aren't technically "leaders," it's OK. Oh, and the ban on assassination doesn't apply to Al-Qaeda anyway.)

Fuhgeddaboud Harvey Pitt, too, as it turns out.

I was amused by the story of Mr. Gates goes to Colfax, because I know that corner of Washington State. It's definitely the sort of place that time forgot, which was one of the attractions of its neighboring cities of Pullman, and Moscow, Idaho. (I was never that fond of Colfax because it has low speed limits, and enforcing them is one of the local industries.) Nice places to collect ash from the Cascade volcanoes, but high-tech libraries don't seem to be enough to keep the local populace there; 10% of the population has left in the last two years, according to the NY Times story.

5.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I got to participate more fully in the democratic pageant of the general election today: I spent the afternoon poll-watching in my precinct. It sounds like it might be boring, but the 5 hours sped by long before I was ready to pull out the reading material I'd brought with me.

First, since the process varies from place to place, let me describe how one votes in Ada County's precinct 55. Once you've found the polling place (this year in "Leisure Villa," tucked in a quiet neighborhood on the West Bench), you confront a friendly bank of poll workers, and either register (day-of registration is a new thing), or stand in the "A-L" or "M-Z" line to have your name found on a long printout. When found, you sign your name, without having to show any ID. (Most people prepared to show some.)

You're then handed a punch-card ballot (yes, the kind with chad to knock out) in a paper sleeve, and directed to one of 15 or so little booths with a cardholder, a punch stylus, and the booklet with all the candidates and propositions printed to match the column punch guides. Paging through the booklet, you punch out the chads (completely, please), then remove the card, return it to its sleeve and carry it back to the worker at the end of the line who tears off the blank stub for counting, asks your name, and announces "So-and-so has voted" as she drops the sleeved ballot into the ballot box. Poll-watchers, if they so desire, can see if So-and-so is on their list of supporters, and cross him or her off, leaving a list of people to call and urge them to go to the polls before 8pm.

We happened to have two poll-watchers in precinct 55, both Democrats, one of whom was the mother of the candidate for State Senate from District 16. We're not supposed to talk to voters, and certainly not to interfere with the process or promote any party, candidate or proposition. Sitting next to the ballot box, we did a lot of waving toward the lady at the end of the line, indicating where to take the completed ballots, but we followed the rules. We exchanged some friendly non-partisan banter with acquaintances, and one in-the-know Dem who asked us slyly, "which one's the Democrat?"

Turnout was pretty good, and there were few dull moments. We had 900 votes in before I left at 6:30, not quite 50% of the registered voters in the precinct. Mostly it was fun to see the variety of people exercising their civic right and duty, from teenagers voting for the first time, accompanied by proud parents, to practiced oldsters who knew the drill and proudly announced their name when the time came. (Most people rather confided their names to the ballot box lady.) They had a "play" ballot set up in the center of the room to entertain youngsters who came with mom and/or dad, and who could vote for George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or Jean Luc Picard, or James T. Kirk in various races, experiencing the thrill of punching chads on dummy cards (color coded to stay out of the real box).

A number of middle-aged guys were there voting for the first time, which I guess is a good thing, but I had to wonder where they had been for the last 10 elections, and why they couldn't be bothered. One fellow didn't know how the whole thing worked, and had the misfortune to come at a chaotic moment, with chatter going in a noisy room, lines at the check-in, and the booths mostly busy. He took his ballot to the booth, but didn't figure out how to work it, and came back to the ballot lady, who painstakingly directed him how to put it in the sleeve and hand it to her, got his name, and said "So-and-so has voted." Except he hadn't, and dithered in the crowd trying to figure out what next. The commotion by the play ballot had the flavor of instruction, and it drew him in. Empowered by the new information, he took one of the play ballots and prepared to go back to a voting booth.

When the poll-workers stopped him from that action, and figured out what had happened, there was an awkward moment when we realized that a blank ballot must have been dropped in the box... but no one could know it was blank, of course... and the ballot given to the guy had been dropped into the box! Hmmm. Before anyone could act decisively, the guy gave the "bah" gesture, and said "aw, forget it, you're making this too hard" and walked out the door. Bummer. He probably won't ever come back, unmanned by a punchcard ballot and a platoon of little old ladies (and one guy), embarrassed by his failure to perform the most basic act of citizenship. No doubt he'll tell his friends that politicians are all crooks anyway, what does it matter which one is in office?

Other than that one bad moment, however, the whole thing was a model of decorum. Nothing more irregular than 2 spoiled ballots happened on my watch, and those were duly replaced by fresh ones. When two people were at a booth at one time (one giving instruction to a newbie), they got intense scrutiny from both poll workers and poll-watchers. Was there coercion? Was the contacted wanted and helpful and appropriate? One blind fellow came in and voted, and I got to hear the decision making process, which was mostly "the Republican." When the choice was between a Democrat and a "Liberal," the choice was to go with the Libertarian. All sorts of bad jokes occur to me about blindness and the Republican Party, but I'll let you think of your own.

Now it's time for that other sort of Party - the election night gathering to watch the returns come in, to celebrate and commiserate as the need arises.

3.Nov.2002 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our Day of the Dead communal altar

One way to measure the progress of technology, politics and economics is to consider those endorsements you to get to your auto insurance every so often. The company is trimming the risks it will accept as greater knowledge is acquired. This half-year's batch from State Farm included reducing their liability for "payment of expenses incurred by an insured for first aid to others at th etime of an accident." Call it the anti-Good Samaritan clause. You want to help? You're on your own, bub.

The medical coverage was also amended to exclude coverage for bodily injury or loss to a vehicle resulting from fungus or fungi (including mold), and from "nuclear reaction, radiation, radioactive contamination or detonation or release of radiation from a nuclear or radioactive device." Sorta like back to the future, eh? Should I be looking into fallout shelter design again? I should be making sure that my fallout shelter's garage is mold-proofed, at least.

I bought a copy of Stephen W. Hawking's The Theory of Everything a while back, thinking I should know about that. Without having opened it, though, I think I was a little initimidated and kept putting off getting started reading it. Today I had a little time to kill and decided it was time. What a delightful book! Big print, small pages, an engaging and readable style, a charming wit, and... well, the Theory of Everything, after all. I haven't got quite that far (it's the last chapter, and I still have that and "The Direction of Time" to go), but I can certainly recommend the book.

Last night we had a relatively quiet but cheerful potluck at the church, shared a few stories and constructed an altar for Dias de los Muertos. Jeanette and I brought a picture of Dee Dutton's woodpile, an origami stand-in for Mr. P. and we made miniature altars: Jeanette for her mom, who has Alzheimer's, me for the HP Way.

2002.11.2 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We went out for some political action in the cold sunshine this morning, distributing campaign literature. Our first assignment turned out to be a "private retirement community," that owns their own roads and has "No Soliciting" posted, and furthermore they don't want the likes of literature distributors in there, either. Once informed (by an iron-jawed woman in a huge pickup truck, cruising the quiet streets), we apologized and cleared out, went back for a different assignment.

(Reviewing Idaho Code, I see that we probably didn't break any laws, since "Soliciting" is asking for something of value, and we weren't doing that, nor did we contravene any signage telling us not to leave literature. But what about walking through the open and unattended gate into a gated community? The first street signs I saw did not say "private" on them, and were of the standard local green; further in, there were some "private" (blue) street signs. Perhaps only the retirement community only owns some of the roads in there...)

There's something strangely intimate about walking up to someone's front door and slipping a bit of literature in the handle or under the mat. In a lot of cases, I learn more than I want to know about them: their landscaping preferences, tidiness, automobile choices, accident and repair records, awareness of insulation and energy efficiency... In the gated community, all was prim and proper, garage doors closed, cars put away, sidewalks swept. In the wilder realm north of Ustick, life is not so pristine, and our bills were duly posted.

Remember all the years of angst over Whitewater? Doing it all over again seems pointless, but on the other hand, Bush's actions in the Harken affair seems a bit more obviously fraudulent. Now we learn that the firm's lawyers warned him against selling if they had significant negative information about the company's prospects. Somehow, the document didn't make its way to the SEC until just after they'd decided that the Bush deal was ok. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Whether or not there was bad news then, and whether or not Bush knew about it before he unloaded at $4 a share, whoever bought those shares didn't do so well -- Harken is down 99.5% since then.

2002.11.01 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We've had some brisk weather to close out October and start the new month. Little bit of snow on the Boise front earlier in the week, above 5,000 feet or so. I played tennis in the cold and light rain on Tuesday, Thursday was colder, but nice and sunny and turned out to be pleasant enough for a game. Rode my bike to work this morning, in 17°F, majorly brisk, but not unpleasant with the right clothes on. As a Boston bicyclist once observed: "there's no bad weather for bicycling, just bad clothing choices."'s Regime Change poster

The White House must be scared witless at the thought of Fritz Mondale coming back to the Senate. Not just the Vice President and President, but also our First Lady Laura Bush will be traveling to Minnesota to stump for Mondale's Republican opponent.

In Idaho's Senate race, Larry Craig is pulling the insider/parental card by hinting darkly that al-Qaeda operatives were, at some time, inside Idaho. Our governor, seen pulling the wagons and Jersey barriers in a circle around the statehouse about this time last year concurs. The implication is that this is no time to be changing horses, but remember, regime change begins at home.

For those of us who still have a landline at home, cordless phones provide domestic convenience. David Pogue tells us that the state of the art is maturing, with a bundle of clever and useful features. He hints at a failing, though: "their curved backsides feel great in the hand but are virtually un-pinchable between your neck and shoulder -- a good thing, spine experts would probably say." It's not a failing that they're unpinchable, but that they don't have headsets. Telephones should have headsets, that's all there is to it. When I first converted, so many years ago I can't remember, I knew I would never go back. The bit of fumbling required to put it on when the phone rings is repaid in about 5 seconds, and most of my calls last longer than that.

I've got a few pair of forgettable 'phones that came with little cassette players, but when I think of headphones my mind goes back to the first pair of Kloss that I tried on as a kid. They were a portal to a new and amazing aural universe. Technology has come a long way since then, and maybe it's time to think about buying a new pair.

Can you be a good Scout and not believe in God? Yes, as long as you acknowledge some "higher power." Mauna Loa is certainly a higher power than me, I believe in that. It may not be so easy (or flip) a decision for this 19-year-old Eagle Scout, who rightfully values Truthfulness. When in the half of his life he's been in Scouting did the belief slip away, I wonder?

Latest gerrymandering maps and polling locations for Ada Co. Good, effective web design with all the information voters need: what districts am I in, where do I vote, who is going to be on the ballot I'll receive? (Of course, knowing how to find this page could be an issue -- if you make your way to the site, the link label of "polling places" doesn't tell you all you'll find. And "District/Precinct Maps" gives a numerical list of links to 133 PDF files, not exactly what you'd want to answer the question "what district (or precinct) am I in?"

Microsoft settlement a-ok with Judge Kollar-Kotelly. They're guilty but essentially no penalty required (or did I miss something?). Attorney General Ashcroft couldn't be more pleased with the outcome, I'm sure.

The business press scooped SatireWire on this one: SEC Chairman calls for investigation of himself.

I used to love the glossy pages of the World Book Encyclopedia that showed the flags of the world. Now you can get the up-to-date version from the CIA World Factbook. The tastefully spooky black background on the site works really nicely with the collection. I don't know if they have the full set (you'd sort of think they would), but if so, the world was at a neat binary moment on January 1, 2002, with 256 of them. Oh wait, they cheated - Wake Island uses the US flag, Tromelin Island uses the French Flag, etc.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 01-Dec-2002 22:32:02 MST