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unraveling

28.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I received several copies of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation from the US Foreign Service in email. I can understand his wanting to get out, even as it saddens me that the best people may be driven out by the current administration. A few excerpts here:

"The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security....

"(T)his Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to do to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?

"...We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has oderint dum metuant really become our motto?"

Muslims in Idaho are understandably on edge after the arrest of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen on a variety of charges, "seven counts of visa fraud and four counts of making false statements," that purportedly connect to terrorist activity. At least the accusations and arraignment were public, like it used to be in the good old days when the accused were presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Three-fourths of Idaho's Congressional delegation is falling all over itself to help out Micron Technology, one of many tech companies on the skids. Micron's attempt to buy a South Korean competitor, Hynix, fell through last year, and the story is that the SK government is unfairly subsidising them.

27.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mr. Rogers passed away, at 74. The world has lost a gentle and beautiful soul. Daniel Lewis wrote a nice obituary in the NY Times. Davy Rothbart has a touching memory there, too.

Bush's popularity was on a long slide down from the pinnacle that 9/11 took him to until last summer when his push for war in Iraq gave him a bump and rising plateau (just in time for the midterm elections, what a remarkable coincidence). It looks like the populace might be catching on to the fact that war isn't a win-win (and just might be a lose-lose). The latest Harris poll numbers show just over half give him an "excellent" or "good" rating, with 46% "fair" or "poor."

Graph of Harris polls of US leaders' popularity since 9/11

The graphic describes the responses more succinctly than Harris' tables. Other than the pre-9/11 Cheney, everybody's "positive" is north of their "negative," which roughly translates to popular support. The less well known a leader is, the further from a total of 100%; for example, Attorney General John Ashcroft's positives are down to close to 50% along with everyone else (except Colin Powell), but his negatives are just now getting up to the high 30s. He's still below the radar of more than 10% of the respondents and the population they represent. Colin Powell is well known, and has a better than 3:1 ratio of excellent/good to fair/poor ratings while the rest of these guys are going 50/50. Once they start the shooting, they'll all get a "support our country" pop, no doubt. That's what you call a "negative feedback" system.

I'm guessing that if Wolfowitz were included in these polls, he'd be underwater by now. Especially if they polled the brass at the Pentagon, whose professional estimates he's more than happy to ridicule.

A million or so Americans marched on Washington, yesterday. Virtually. I was one of them, with two faxes to my Senators. The White House "declined to comment" on how many calls they'd received.

More interesting poll results from Harris: "The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003." I'm a solid "no sale" down the list of Table 1, which puts me in a slim majority for the top half, and a strong majority of astrological and reincarnation disbelievers. But ghosts?!

No more benefit of the doubt for HP. Scott Herhold of the Murky News reports on why analysts' glasses are half-empty after Carly reported half-full quarterly results.

Yet another amazing thing about butterflies: some of the color in their wings is from photonic crystals rather than pigment.

It's kind of interesting that the White House now has some solar power, but the Park Service isn't making a big deal out of the installation. Noting how small the PV setup is (on the roof of a shed), the writer notes that "in the first four months, the panels generated about 1,100 kilowatt-hours of power." That's about how much electricity we use in 4 months.

After Iraq (maybe after), there will be North Korea to deal with. Nicholas Kristof has an unreasurring take on the US' "Secret, Scary Plans."

On the environmental front, the problem is a shortage of plans. The administration now proposes to "examine" climate change, with an insufficient budget, and intentions to study questions that have already been settled. Other than that, the plan lacks "a guiding vision, executable goals, clear timetables and criteria for measuring progress, an assessment of whether existing programs are capable of meeting these goals, explicit prioritization and a management plan." It's still under development.

25.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

41 failed to get his second term due to that (lack of) vision thing (or was it the economy?). 43's nemesis may be the honesty thing. Paul Krugman notes that continued lying has a way of eroding trust, let alone credibility.

Nicholas Kristof proposes that we consider what Ike would do, providing a useful history lesson for those of us who weren't paying attention in the late 50s.

After the Saddam and George debate, maybe we should have the S&G arm-wrestling contest and call it good.

Can you imagine saying something about killing someone and then not remembering what it was you said? There may be some uncertainty in Senator Fitzgerald's mind about what Bush did or didn't say (I kind of doubt that), but what is certain is that he won't be riding on Air Force One again for a while.

Behind the scenes as the Bush administration reshapes the judiciary.

This makes it sound like real grass (as opposed to RealGrass, which we all know must be fake) is on its way out in sports stadia. If the players like it, maybe it's OK, but it seems disgusting to me to play American football on carpet of any kind.

Here's a model ordinance to identify corporate "personhood" as the unnatural, unConstitutional fabrication that it is, and more importantly, to revoke it. Interesting idea.

For your next flight, this is your Captain speaking... (Flash-y humor.)

Just in case you can't find enough reading enough about our wars in the middle east, there's the War Report, suggested by the Internet Scout Project. "Select articles, key documents, and analyses compiled (and updated frequently) by the Project on Defense Alternatives." At the moment, the numerous links are in two categories, Iraq War and Afghan Aftermath.

24.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The plan for "Patriot 2" was most likely to spring it on the Legislature once the next military adventure was underway, providing for the same careful (NOT!) consideration that the USA Patriot act got. The draft text was leaked, however, offering citizens the opportunity to preview this piece of rancid sausage, and perhaps to do a little pre-emptive attack of their own. The ACLU has posted a detailed summary of egregious provisions, as well as section by section analysis.

Swami Beyondananda's State of the Universe address is a wonderful tonic to current events. "Each time we let laughter bubble up from the well, we experience deep wellness. Levity helps us overcome gravity, especially when we shine the light of laughter on those poorly-lit corridors of power."

Gender scientists explore a revolution in evolution: "At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, leading researchers and theorists in the evolution of sexual behavior gathered Monday to present the growing evidence that Darwin's idea of sexual selection requires sweeping revisions."

In 2001, more than half the autos sold in the US were light trucks, according to this NY Times story. They mention the EPA ratings for the 2003 model year, which has our lovely car at #2 behind the Honda Insight. (Our other car, the Windstar, is a mediocre 5, so we drive it only when we need the "RV" thing.)

The diesel truck that pulled out in front of me as I rode my bike to work this morning ranks about a -2, dumping buckets of unburned fuel and exhaust in my face and spoiling the crisp (low 20s!) air.

23.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ever wonder where whacky ideas like "windows of vulnerability," CIA support for covert wars, the denigration of international institutions and treaties, using deficits to rein in government and freeing corporations from regulations and accountability come from? Robert Borosage takes a look under the hood of the Heritage Foundation's first 30 years.

When I saw the Internet Scout's blurb for Simpson's Contemporary Quotations I thought it might be a compilation of Bart and Homer's best witticisms, but no. It's James B. Simpson's collection of quotes from 1950 to 1988. It's some fun (in spite of the pop-under windows for the Sylvan Learning Center from every page you load) to just wander around in it.

"America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair." -- Arnold Toynbee

"Kissing power is stronger than will power: Girls need to 'prove their love' like a moose needs a hat rack." -- Abigail Van Buren

"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are." -- Gore Vidal

You're not supposed to actually use that duct tape and plastic sheeting that you bought when we went to orange alert, but deep in this story about our protectors in government is some useful information, from our Senate majority leader (wearing his "doctor" hat), noting that "the interests of public health would be better served if people paid attention to more obvious threats to their physical well-being, including stress."

22.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

SUVs are still burning gas like there's no tomorrow, but they got great mileage in the big snowstorm back east. So now we know that once every couple of decades, it's good to have hundreds of people who drive inefficient, oversized vehicles. Maybe we could have an organization that coordinates this sort of effort, and reserves resources for such rare emergencies. We could call it... oh, I don't know, something like "The National Guard."

Thomas Friedman is still support war on Iraq, even as he describes how the Bush team is totally bungling the statesmanship required. Is there any reason to suppose they'll get a clue and turn that around? No. Is there any reason to suppose they're prepared to do what Friedman says is necessary, "years of occupying Iraq and a simultaneous effort to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to create a regional context for success"? I don't see it. (Neither does Paul Krugman: "This administration does martial plans, not Marshall Plans...")

Bill Keller thinks we're committed at this point, and the risks are greater if we don't follow-through with our threats. In other words, Wolfowitz' planning of a decade ago has finally produced a fait accompli.

I wonder what the spin-doctors who are doing the marketing for popular support make of Friedman's headline, "Tell the Truth." Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen, either. You can't handle the truth.

Amos Oz, on the "arousing a wave of fanaticism" argument against war: "(T)he evil of Saddam Hussein's regime, like the evil of Osama bin Laden, is deeply and extensively rooted in vast expanses of poverty, despair and humiliation."

You would think the media's promotion of the coming war would have killed the notion that they have a liberal bias, but old notions die hard. Richard Blow gives a capsule history of the sea change in the balance of power, "Conservatives Have More Fun."

Also on TomPaine.com, Arianna Huffington examines The Bottom Line On Iraq: as Bush economic guru Lawrence Lindsey put it, "The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy."

And we learn that the First Lady wasn't so sure she did want to hear Poetry and the American Voice after all, when it started to look like the poets might not all have opinions she liked.

Speaking of Tales of Airport Security, we have two recent stories from the Boise airport. The first was in the news, when an "unknown substance" was discovered in some drink cups on a Horizon flight, and they held the plane -- and everyone on it, of course -- while they checked it out. We heard this story on the radio, and it ended with the report that they decided it wasn't hazardous, but airport police chief Mike Johnson would not say what the substance was. (We can't handle the truth?) Non-dairy creamer? A busted sugar packet? Everyone went along with the gag, peacefully, so maybe it's better we don't know.

That was last Saturday, so perhaps things were still a little tense when I took Jeanette to the airport on Tuesday. They now have a uniformed officer at a little guard booth with a stop sign as you drive up to the front of the terminal, and he checked us out real good. He looked in the back seat, at the bag there. And then waved us on ahead. Ah, what if we had a bomb in the suitcase? Or something in the trunk? What kind of nonsense is this? If you're going to stop and search (oh wait, the Constitution says you can't do that, or has that part been rewritten?), at least do something useful, but just looking in the side window?

3.2.21 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jim and Tim, the Duct Tape Guys, remind us that "no home is truly secure without duct tape." Homeland security on a roll.

eTravel: a step beyond teleconferencing, creating an immersive depiction of the real world. This sounds like a funny little lab project, but I'm betting that it'll be tremendously useful.

It hadn't occurred to me that you can calculate the value of pi with toothpicks, but I guess you can.

Watched a presentation from the Digital Aboriginal authors. They talked some about the world of blogging, and some other worlds: Dweezer, Cranium, E-bay/Party central, House concerts, Legos/Mindstorms +Creativity Institute. I don't think I need the first 2, but the E-bay thing sounds like a good time, and I've got a good set of Legos. I realize I am taking part in at least one product-related network, the one populated by happy Prius owners. The idea of Superplayers is nicely illustrated by one node of that network.

Business creation process idea: take 5 things that don't make sense together, and make a business out of it. (Of course, their business idea was to come up with a catchy two-word phrase and make a book and lecture tour out of it.)

They mentioned Mecca-cola, too: the hottest selling cola in the mid-East, from a French company that didn't exist a year ago. 10% of the profits go to charities operating in Palestinian territories and 10% to European NGOs, according to the BBC story. "Ne buvez plus idiot, buvez engagé."

February could be the cruelest -- and last -- month for Salon.

20.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I heard a poem last August that moved me, but I didn't make a note of the author or title. Then I came across it again today, and read it aloud to myself. It still sounds good, but as the title says, it's really A Ritual To Read To Each Other, by William Stafford. The stanza that was emphasized in August, and that I keep remembering is:

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

19.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How many protestors were out last Saturday? This site has an estimate of 11 million, with photos from around the world.

The truth behind today's popular music... And just when you thought it was safe to go out and play! What happens if you play a music video backwards, I wonder?

Our favorite monopolist up to dirty tricks again: apparently they're still fighting the browser war. Most times when a site doesn't work for me, I assume carelessness or stupidity rather than malice.

The Swiss may not have a coastline, but they've got a team (of New Zealanders, as it turns out) in the America's Cup, and they're up 3-nil. Today's race was canceled due to light and shifty winds. It's best of 9, so it's time for the Kiwis (on the New Zealand team, that is) to buck up.

Some amazing facts to consider from deconstructing the Slammer worm: 90% of the 75,000 hosts it infected were infected within 10 minutes. Its doubling time was 8.5 seconds, at least until it started saturating the internet bandwidth (after about 3 minutes). (Thanks to the Harrow Technology report for the link.)

Something more useful to think about than buying duct tape: how to prevent a terrorist attack (or at least how to prevent being paralyzed by fear).

18.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A lunchtime conversation today prompted me to describe the reasons why I oppose the US going to war with Iraq, and I posted them as a new essay here.

More bad news for the local economy: Micron to lay off more than a 1,000 in Boise.

The Arab News editorial page is an interesting place to browse. Today's offerings include a letter to Osama bin Laden from an American Muslim; one to Tom Friedman, wondering why he's all hawk on Iraq these days; a ramble about conspiracy theories that doesn't sound so far-fetched; and a powerful call for granting more independence to Saudi women.

From Hussein Shobokshi's speculation about the US' hidden agenda: "It is quite clear that foreign policies are influenced and directed by people with dual loyalties and secret objectives like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. These peopleís have a hidden agenda that is an integral part of every key foreign policy decision, particularly the fantasy linking Saddam to Al-Qaeda in the name of the war on terrorism. That is the work of dreamers who believe that a war will deter terrorism...."

An earth flag at Moscow, Idaho's rally on 2/15/2003

A few days before the Senate bogged down in the filibuster to prevent a confirmation vote for Estrada, and then took a two week recess (?!), Robert Byrd made these remarks: "...On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate. We are truly 'sleepwalking through history.'"

The speech is powerful. If only his colleagues and this administration would pay attention.

Here's something useful the Senate did get to before the recess: putting the brakes on the Total Information Awareness program's ability to spy on citizens.

That may lesson the boon TIA promises for IT vendors, but only a little.

And just in case you're starting to feel comfortable with your supply of duct tape and plastic sheeting, consider that you're no longer allowed to take pictures around the Golden Gate bridge, among other places. It's just too dangerous to allow that sort of thing.

Canon shifting operations from China back to Japan might be a statement about the limits of outsourcing, or it might be a statement about the Japanese economy. They're still talking about efficiency through automation, so things can't be too dire back home.

On butterfly flight, in Technology Research News: Free-flying butterflies "use all of the known mechanisms to enhance lift -- wake capture, leading-edge vortex, clap and fling, and active and inactive upstrokes -- as well as two mechanisms that had not been postulated, the leading-edge vortex during the upstrokes and the double leading-edge vortex." Who knew?

An online resource for getting rid of Windows annoyances: annoyances.org

Evan Williams finds an exit strategy, sells Pyra to Google! 200,000 Blogger users told to expect no immediate change in service, while Evan goes from entrepeneur to presumably well-endowed employee. In the blogosphere, and especially in the California metropoli where bloggers can get together and schmooze, this is huge. In the mainstream press, this is a non-story, but in a month or quarter or year, you'll be reading feature pieces about how Google's hegemony has been extended by its subsuming (part of) this other universe.

Howard Rheingold drops in on Cooltown to chat about mobs, online communities and such. My first sight of "moblog" <- mobile blogging <- mobile web logging.

Since I'm not wireless (other than premonitions and stuff), I can't play, but since it's on the web, we can all see what it looks like at least. Sorta like a blog with small pictures, a lot of "is this thing on?" posts and scattered gems. "I'm missing a button on my work shirt..think anyone would notice if I just took a sharpie and drew a button in there?"

I guess the Joe Millionaire thing is over? We happened to flip over the finale last night (and also the continuing saga of Michael Jackson - can we have the finale of that, too?) before settling on the decidedly more interesting story of Mt. Rushmore & Lincoln and Gutzon Borglum. Anyway, the Motley Fool goes with the flow advising Joe what to do with the real million he got for being the star of the show.

17.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Moscow, Idaho Peace Rally, Feb. 15, 2003

Pictures of Saturday's Peace Rally in Moscow, Idaho: I was standing atop one of the play area's columns to take it, and the two girls in the foreground were on another. There were tie-dyed banners strung between the trees with "peace" in 50 different languages, and the square was jam-packed with more than 300 people. There were so many that the "sound system" (a boombox with a microphone) was overwhelmed, and the nearby music store (Guitar's Friend) produced an amp and another mic to help out. A dozen or so pre-arranged speakers, including old friends Stan Thomas (shown below) and Nick Gier and one local minister stated their reasons for opposing US military action in Iraq. It was beautiful and patriotic; citizens peacefully assembling to have their say about a terribly important political issue. Are our leaders bold enough to listen?

Some of the signs:
Leave no child an orphan
Where was Dubya during Vietnam? A.W.O.L.
Sleepless Women Say No to War in Iraq
Bombing Spawns Terrorism

Stan Thomas at the Peace Rally, Feb. 15, 2003

Kenton Bird (just behind Stan, in the hat) was the M.C. for the organized speakers, and the open mic session afterwards, and at one point, he asked us to take a moment in memory of George Driskell, Jeanette's ex-husband, whose sculpture provided the backdrop for the "stage" and which has long been a favorite of children in the square. Another speaker remembered our friend Frank Seaman. UUs were out in force, with a busload from the district annual meeting taking time out of the weekend conference to join the rally. Our minister had a sign that Bird spotted and read to the cheers of the crowd, "UU Ministers for Peace."

We cruised home from Moscow in record time, thanks to our early-rising hosts. We've never pulled in close to 2pm Mountain time in the summer, let alone mid-winter. The Palouse was icy after last night's thunderstorm (!) and snow shower, the Lewiston hill dry, Winchester grade had rain sprinkles turned to snow by the top, and slick conditions on a snow-covered road across Lawyer's Creek. The Salmon R. canyon was warm and dry, and even with some rain, snow and graupel along highway 55, the road never got worse than a few slushy spots. The Payette canyon was warm and spongy, the snow long out of sight before we got below the trees, and then sun over Horseshoe Bend hill and almost 50°F here. We had regular updates from NPR about the huge blizzard out east as we drove -- two feet of snow in New York and Washington, D.C. -- just to make the "winter" scene more bizarre.

Now to try catching up after 4½ days away... after dealing with the messages requiring my immediate attention and deleting the spam, I still have 100 unread to go, a folder full of reading, some music to transcribe and 3 dozen more pictures.

My soccer index has been moribund for some time, reflecting my acceptance of age and apathy and giving up playing, in favor of other sports. But I can still appreciate a good story from that part of the world that puts football first in the world of sport. I especially liked Sir Alex' nickname, and the gossip about former Spice Girl Victoria and biggest-man-in-sport Dave. Nice to have something other than war to talk about once in a while.

16.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Today's editorials in the Lewiston Morning Tribune provide an illustration of how the state government works in Idaho. We have regulations about the burning of agricultural fields, "enforced" by the Department of Agriculture and the Dept. of Environmental Quality. Being as there is not penalty for non-compliance, it isn't clear just what enforcement could mean, though. Greg Nelson is sponsoring legislation to protect farmers from lawsuits over burning, and justifying it by saying that we have existing state regulations. Suck it up folks!

It's interesting to think about how this compares to California's state regulations concerning medical marijuana, which the Feds saw fit to override in the name of the War on Some Drugs. It's also interesting to think about how it meshes with the general libertarian, "less is more" attitude to government around here. Citizens should have no recourse to farmers who injure them because... there are state regulations with no penalties? When my daughter called the DEQ about her tenant farmer neighbor burning two fields on opposite sides of the road, with no help to assist if things got out of hand, they said "he didn't register with us for that." Duh, why should he bother with the red tape?

15.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What Would Jesus Bomb?

Listening to Hans Blix yesterday, I was thinking about how the Bush administration seems to have committed itself to war regardless of the course of events. No weapons found? Iraq's still hiding what they have. Weapons found? See, we told you so! The case for that country being an imminent threat just does not seem to exist, beyond the attempts at proof by repeated assertion and the Condition Orange general scare tactics. (Got your duct tape yet?)

More than anything else, I think Bush's failure to come up with a constructive answer to the situation is a failure of imagination. Iraq was our ally once upon a time; it's arguable that their belief in our support emboldened them to attack Kuwait in the first place. Since then, none of the statesmanship and enlightened self-interest that brought about the positive results from WWII has been in evidence. In all the talk about UN resolutions, there is none about those concerning Israel, which have been breached and ignored for some years. Solving the problems of the region is not possible without solving the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, and the resolve to do that seems to have evaporated.

STOP MAD COWBOY DISEASE

I hear there were millions of people demonstrating today. In my neck of the woods, it was proportional to the small town we're visiting: several hundred of us packed Friendship Square, listened to speeches, waived signs, howled as the dogs of peace and just said no to Bush's immoral push for war. It was a wonderful, patriotic outing. Pictures to follow when I get a little more bandwidth.

14.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Valentine candy heart - NO WAR

Happy Valentine's Day to all lovers, would-be lovers and those who have the capacity to love.

I'm writing remotely, on a mind-numbingly slow computer: P1-100 w/16MB RAM and a 14k modem (remember those?). Hours after fixing this thing's email setup and updating it from IE4.0, I was able to check my email with Earthlink's Webmail service. That went from execrable to pretty slick and then back to execrable in its last 2 revisions. The latest is larded with Javascript, messages popping up in a window that's too small or too large, a one-at-a-time interface for the narrow-minded. We should give developers underpowered computers with the o/s and apps a few revisions behind the latest and greatest so that they don't come up with this "works great on my machine" crap.

I'd write more, but I see that this file is as big as Notepad can handle. Notepad. What more can I say? (Nothing, it's out of memory.)

11.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Russ Baker has some Questions Of Faith for our president, concering the federal government's support of religious groups. "Iím assuming you donít want to make selections, so I guess youíre good with taxpayer money being used by the Raelians and L. Ron Hubbardís Church of Scientology, the Hare Krishna, and so on?" On TomPaine.com.

Here's another issue concerning the government trying to limit the power of juries: so-called "tort reform." TomPaine.com serves up a series of articles on the topic, along with the observation that insurance reform may work better than limiting how much juries can award deserving plaintiffs. Insurance companies have taken a beating in the stock market the same as you (may) have, but unlike you, they can make it up by raising premiums, even as they wail about jury awards doing them in. (That's why their profits were up almost $12 billion in the first 3 quarters of 2002.) Since money buys influence, and insurance companies have a lot more money than you do, tort reform is getting the air time rather than insurance reform.

Do you remember gas lights? Me neither, unless you count the car kamping mainstay of Coleman lanterns. In a decade or two, incandescent lights may seem as quaint to us, as LEDs take over. The ones I've seen so far (like the blinking taillight on my bike, going "forever" on a couple AAA batteries, or the traffic lights or the stop lights on cars) look great.

Doc reports on a clue smackdown, courtesy of Coca-Cola: "We will use a diverse array of entertainment assets to break into people's hearts and minds. In that order. For this is the way to their wallets. Always has been. Always will be."

I used to drink Mountain Dew as a kid (in the tall green, 10 cent bottles), and had the habit as an adult for a while, too. I used to drink a Coke a day, until an overdue visit to the dentist had me posing for drilling into 5 teeth some years back. It wasn't that much fun! Now I find that water adds life, tastes great and is less filling, and the price is right, too. Coke can have a little piece of my heart, I don't mind, but no part of my wallet. Go ahead, entertain me, you little clown.

Spaceflight Now has a detailed account of Columbia's last minutes, examing what we have of telemetry, communications, sensor readings and a telling photograph from a ground-based Air Force tracking camera. It's dated Feb. 7, but more detailed and informative than I've seen in the mainstream press. Lots more from their main index.

It looks like the Big Crunch is off, according to the people who know how to make sense of a full sky map of the oldest light in the universe. Apparently they did not get the memo that the universe is beige (the color of my blog's background, in case you were wondering) though, rather than aqua, but the comparison between COBE's image and the latest one is very, very cool. (The nominal temperature of the microwave background radiation is 2.73K, just above absolute zero; the variation has now been mapped to better than one part in a million.)

NASA's principal investigator for the WMAP project reports on the "gold mine" of results it has returned: "Number one, we have produced a new detailed, full-sky picture of our infant universe, the afterglow of the big bang. Number two, we have discovered the era when the very first stars in the universe turned on, ignited. Number three, WMAP lays the cornerstone of a coherent cosmic theory with a new set of accurate and precise numbers. An example of that is a new determination of the age of the universe."

The bigger picture is incomprehensible, and unsatisfying: the universe is said to be made up of 4% ordinary matter, 23% some sort of "dark matter" we haven't figured out, and the rest -- not quite 3/4ths of it! -- "dark energy" which we also haven't figured out, but which is repulsive. As John Bachall of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton puts it, "we have to learn to understand this unattractive universe because we have no other choice."

The universe became transparent at T + 380,000 years (the story goes), but it took another 200 million years for there to be any starlight to shine through it.

Finally, how old is this little bubble of spacetime/energy/matter? 13.7 billion years. Plus or minus 1%.

10.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bill Moyers' NOW publicized the Center for Public Integrity's story about "Patriot 2," the bundle of "protective" assaults on freedom and democracy that the Bush Justice Department has been polishing in secret, waiting for the right time to roll it out. Or maybe the marketing campaign is still unfinished, you think? This is a package that would sound best during an undeclared war, or perhaps in the aftermath of the next big terrorist act on American soil. Turning the temperature up to "Orange" or even "Red" won't be enough, we need something on the news with live footage to make secret trials and forced expatriation to sound like a good idea.

Dick and Dennis (otherwise known as "#2" and "#3") got to see a copy, but the House Judiciary Committee did not. Folks in the Senate were told "no such legislation being planned." Hmm, I guess that was a big, fat lie, wasn't it?

M.W. Guzy, a retired detective who teaches criminology seems like a good person to tell this related story: comparing Desert Redux to Operation Just Cause, that other Bush I military adventure.

9.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Steve Chapman writes on Intellivu about the surprisingly emotional response from conservatives to Bush's State of the Union speech. David Brooks lauded the president's "moral vision," of all things. Bush has his strong points, but only a vivid imagination could number moral vision among them. The rational part of the call to war -- Hussein's undeterrability, his irrationality, his links to al Qaeda, his record on torture (as compared to, say, the Phillipines, Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt) -- does not withstand the light of dispassionate analysis.

Wendell Berry's Citizen's response, which ran as a full-page advertisement in today's NY Times is similarly disenchanted. Quoting Bush's "we will not hesitate to act alone" statement, Berry asks about that first person plural:

A democratic citizen must deal here first of all with the question, Who is this "we"? It is not the "we" of the Declaration of Independence, which referred to a small group of signatories bound by the conviction that "governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed." And it is not the "we" of the Constitution, which refers to "the people [my emphasis] of the United States."

This "we" of the new strategy can refer only to the president. It is a royal "we." A head of state, preparing to act alone in starting a preemptive war, will need to justify his intention by secret information, and will need to plan in secret and execute his plan without forewarning. The idea of a government acting alone in preemptive war is inherently undemocratic, for it does not require or even permit the president to obtain the consent of the governed....

One reviewer thought it was a "fine paper," before the news (and now the admission) that the authors pulled it together from "a variety of sources." The subtitle was "Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation," but there seems to be some competition for who the "it" shall refer to.

Speaking of defending the Constitution, Jacob Sullum's column in Reason online gets to the heart of the matter in the case against Ed Rosenthal: juries are our last resort against the tyranny of the state. That's why jury tampering is such a serious crime, unless of course it's the judge that's doing it. If you're on a jury, remember what Nancy Reagan told us: Just say No! (Thanks to reader Lee Killough for more links on the case, and for setting me straight on what year this is.)

Lee also sends a pointer to The Memory Hole, a site acting as that Orwellian repository where things "go away," but what makes it interesting is that the web means they're still here. Mystery Nations Aided 9/11 Plot is one banner headline you didn't see, after the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence talked on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Could it have been... Saudi Arabia? We damn well know it wasn't Afghanistan or Iraq he was talking about, because the administration would have been writing the headlines for that revelation in its own PR.

"Half of Wisconsin's residents favor requiring that public schools teach the biblical theory of creation along with evolution, according to a poll conducted by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the merged remnant of the two newspapers from my hometown reports with this rather astounding observation on the state of science awareness. You can almost hear the respondents thinking, "since I don't have a clue, one story seems about as good as another to me."

8.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Iraq is
just a
Distraction

I got out to the corner of Milwaukee and Fairview for another of the weekly peace demonstrations. Probably the nicest weather we've had in a month, with sunshine, but the temperature not too high in the 40s, and a brisk wind. The turnout was slimmer than last time, but the 30 or so of us were in good spirits spreading our terse messages against war. I was standing next to a fellow with a "Honk" sort of sign (which had amusing and contradictory fine print that read "Don't [Honk] it's illegal...") that prompted lots of responses. We got cheerful waves, and thumbs up, and a few thumbs down, and one pantomimed gun shot. Sentiment was running better than 15:1 in favor of our demonstrated sentiments.

There were a few men who tried to express their contrary opinions en passant, mostly failing to make themselves understood or to demonstrate coherent thought. One guy on a motorcycle was shouting into his full helmet as he drove off and we couldn't make out a single word. Another stylin' dude in yellow fleece and yellow sunglasses made a go at spewing out his most risable pro-war invective to get a reaction out of us. I smiled sweetly at him and said "you don't really believe that." He didn't skip a beat until he had to save his elbow from the woman driving hitting the mute button on him, powering up his window.

One fellow two lanes over with some time on his hands at the green light leaned over to roll down his window, and with my full attention, launched into his rant: "If you hate this country so much, why don't you just move outta here!" I love my country, I replied. "You pervert!" was his clever rejoinder. I admit, this left me struggling to connect some dots, but I tried "God bless you, man" to see if a kind word does indeed turn away wrath. (It didn't in this case. Maybe if I'd been closer to him.) After some curse about long hair (my buddy's, I cut my hair just this week), his last try was "get a job!" eliciting nothing but warm chuckles from the two of us, both gainfully employed and enjoying our weekend.

Kasparov was happy not to lose, and Deep Junior wasn't able to beat him, so we're going to call it a draw. This time.

If you remember a group named "Chaos," it may be as the nemesis of secret agent Maxwell Smart on the 1960's TV series "Get Smart" (although technically, that was "KAOS"). Coincidentally(?), there was a no-joke Operation CHAOS back then, which the ACLU characterizes as "the CIAís most notorious political spying and harassment program," which "collected dossiers on upwards of 7,000 Americans." Sounds like it's just what we need today, eh? Indeed, one of Bush's pitches in the State of the Union speech was for a new umbrella agency, headed by the CIA for just that sort of thing, and much, much more.

Bare trees, Boise front, suspension footbridge, mirror, sky

Charles Sheehan-Miles, a 20-year-old Abrams tank crewman in Gulf War I, has started Veterans for Common Sense to oppose GWII. "I can say from personal experience, the media got it wrong. The first Gulf War wasn't clean, it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't precise. In the chaos and destruction of battle, anything can happen. We killed a lot of people." Of course, those were mostly Iraqi people, so we didn't have to care too much about it at home.

The BBC reports that British intelligence rejects the claim that there is a current Iraqi-al Qaeda link. (And the US intelligence agencies don't believe what Bush is selling either.) Such a link of course is a big selling point for the war: we were attacked, we must return fire. But blindly?! Of course the plan to get after Iraq predates the terrorism of 9/11, and is far from a blind rage. That's what gives the whole thing the stink of pretense. It wouldn't be surprising if Iraq and al Qaeda do (soon) find reason for common cause -- they share an enemy who is ready and apparently eager and willing to kill their people.

There is also the Constitutional issue, which Congress punted on last October. Did they give Bush a blank check? Given enough air time and so-secret-we-can-only-share-little-bits intelligence (real, fabricated or plagiarized), the Bush administration seems ready and willing to market any military adventure to the public, defying the UN in the bargain, as if this is a sign of strength. Yes, we can defy the UN, but it is a sign of stupidity more than strength, I'm afraid.

Is there an imminent threat from Iraq? Is it not possible to deter Iraq's belligerence, short of a preemptive war upon them? These are the points that don't stand up well to scrutiny, but they are not being (and I suspect will not be) addressed directly by the people making the decisions. The questions are certainly out of Congress' hands, by their own doing. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt provide a historical background to the Iraq situation and illustrate why the claim that Hussein is undeterrable is false. Too bad Blair and Bush aren't plagiarizing better sources.

If you're fascinated by those tiny little dot portraits in the Wall Street Journal (they call them "hedcuts") but can't handle the rest of the newspaper, you can stop in at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and enjoy a show around artwork donated by the Journal. Thanks to the Scout Report for turning up that gem.

And they tell me that the Devil's Dictionary is now online. For example...

AGE, n. That period of life in which we compound for the vices that we still cherish by reviling those that we have no longer the enterprise to commit.

7.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One German politician noted that "Rumsfeld is no diplomat." Wie sagt man "DUH!" auf Deutsch?

The GAO backs down and our vice president gets to keep his wheeling and dealing with corporate kingpins secret with his "just say no" disclosure strategy.

The radio news this morning said something about North Korea threatening a "pre-emptive" strike on the US, and I couldn't help but notice the eerie parallel between US and NK tactics. "I know you are, but what am I?" I seem to recall the way to break such deadlocks is to admit "I'm an idiot," the other guy is tricked into admitting that he, too, is an idiot, we all have a good laugh and start a new game.

Tony Blair didn't get his homework done in time, and so he cobbled something together from some stuff he found on the web. One wonders how strong the case for war can be if this is the kind of supporting documentation proponents come up with. One also wonders about the quality of the staff that would cut and paste without even editing the typos out of the original. And finally, one wonders if Mr. Blair is going to keep his job much longer.

6.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When we contemplated a temporary move to a foreign land (well almost, California), we realized our friendly local ISP was not going to be able to make the trip. I asked "what ISP should I use?" one day at lunch with coworkers, and one fellow answered without hesitation: Earthlink. That was a worth a month's free ride for him, eventually, as we switched and stayed. My website used to be there (in the "free" 5MB, now 10MB? of web space), before it became fortboise.org. Now, we get a fairly reliable dialup connection, email service with good spam blocking and web access, and... well, what else is there for them to provide? Our need for technical support is nil (as long as their reliability holds up), so the main thing they could do is charge less, but I don't think they're going to do that. They'd like to charge more actually, and sell us broadband, but we haven't bitten yet.

I was never interested in their "easy to use" prepackaged stuff, as I already knew how to work email, surf the web, use ftp, etc. Now I hear from Cringely that their "Total Access 2003" is worse than bad, but more like a Trojan horse. In exchange for blocking popups, "Total Access 2003 trashes your e-mail, can't import favorites into the new browser, and it has automatic updates, which means Earthlink can load anything else it likes onto your system at any time. And it can't be uninstalled." What are these people smoking? From their point of view it's your "launchpad to the internet." Thank goodness I'm inoculated by not having their minimum O/S - win98 (soon to be obsolete, btw, even obsoleter than my win95).

Oh, and pop-ups? With Opera's tabbed browsing, I just right-click on the suspicious tabs and Close them without ever seeing them.

5.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The "protato" - potatoes enhanced with a gene from Amaranth to produce a third more protein, with extra amino acids lysine and methionine. Selective breeding of food crops is OK (presumably), can the anti-GM crowd accept this?

Internet Week looks at building a better browser.

Game 4 is a draw, and it's 2 pts. apiece for Kasparov and Deep Junior. Man and machine are tied.

Bananas not on the verge of extinction, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.

Reading articles about nanotechnology, it seems that every press release author is required to mention that a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Since that's not particularly meaningful compared to anything we can experience, they add something like "a fraction the width of a human hair." Well, micrometers ("microns" for short) are a fraction the width of a human hair, too... and since any number can be expressed as a fraction, everything is a fraction of the width of a human hair.

How about this: a nanometer compares to a meter the same way your forearm compares to a trip to the moon.

1 out of 20 (a record turnout) of the voters in Boise's Auditorium District rejected the Convention center, as they reelected the incumbents on the board that brought the proposal to the voters, go figure. The district gets to try again, of course... better luck next time, maybe in May.

4.Feb.2003 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, otherwise known by its abbreviation for et cetera (and previously known by the less catchy "Rural Advancement Foundation International"), is stirring the nanotech pot with fears of runaway technology. "The Big Down: Atomtech - Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale" is an 80 page manifesto, urging us to hold on just a dang minute. "The ETC Group proposes that governments declare an immediate moratorium on commercial production of new nanomaterials and launch a transparent global process for evaluating the socioeconomic, health and environmental implications of the technology."

Hmm, caution is warranted, but I have to wonder if they have any other proposals that might have more than a snowball's chance in hell of going anywhere. Turn off all "new nanomaterials"? Even if we had a governing body with scope and jurisdiction, they'd be fussing over what that term meant for years. (Of course, the lack of a forum to discuss regulation, much less a governing body is one of their concerns.)

If Appendix B is any indication, the paper might serve as a good introduction to the subject, though. I haven't read the whole thing just yet...

Joel Spolsky finds himself a Canadian colo and lives to tell about it. The colo gets some great word of mouth advertising for contributing some bandwidth and 2Us of rack space.

One of the benefits of spam (no really!) is that it creates a shared cultural context for humor. This send-up of the Nigerian money-handling scam is elegantly done (although I don't really think it needs to be in ALL CAPS, DOES IT?). I hope someone has sent it in email to Nigeria...

"I KNOW THAT A TRANSACTION OF THIS MAGNITUDE WOULD MAKE ANYONE APPREHENSIVE AND WORRIED. BUT I AM ASSURING YOU THAT ALL WILL BE WELL AT THE END OF THE DAY. A BOLD STEP TAKEN SHALL NOT BE REGRETTED, I ASSURE YOU."

I forgot to mention the graupel yesterday morning - little pellets of snow falling down and somehow keeping their 6 points on the way. They looked like little cartoon snowflakes. I learned their name when I told a friend at work about them and he said, "oh, graupel?" Aka "soft hail." I guess when things get fully graupelized, there aren't any points left, but then they wouldn't have caught my eye, and you wouldn't be reading about them.

3.2.3 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A bonus palindromic date today, tersely symmetric in 2 of 3 numbering methods.

My comment about cell phones elicited a reply from my Buffalo readership, asking me "really?" about my claim to $.05/min long distance. Well, no, not really, it's that and a $.50 minimum and now a $2.95/mo fee. That last bit had escaped my notice, so thanks for the heads-up, jqt.

I did notice that VarTec sent me something in the mail last week, and that they hinted that "fees may be increasing in some areas," but scanning the 8-sided foldout's fine print did not turn up anything explicit. I sent it to recycling, but checking their website today revealed the new regime. Bummer. I gave a call to their "customer care" line and let them know I thought it was b.s. that they didn't have the honesty to tell me in big print about their rate increase. The first line at CC probably sends that sort of complaint to the bit bucket, but I had to try.

As a side note, his (?) voice sounded rather strange, semi-robotic as if I was talking with a relative of Stephen Hawking's. And the accent was impossible to place, rather like someone from Jamaica or India or Australia trying to fake an American accent and not succeeding. I asked him where he was from, and he said "we're not allowed to reveal that." In some recent story about outsourcing, I recall reading that American accent coaching was part of the deal. I hope this guy hasn't graduated, yet.

Anyway, it's time to go shopping for VarTec's replacement, I guess. Everdial looks like the front runner, $.06/min (billed in .01 increments), no monthly fee, and no other tricks, but you have to sign up ahead of time. Oops, scratch that! Their in-state rate in Idaho is no good, $.22/min (your state may vary!). How about WorldxChange, with a $.40 minimum (better than the $.50 minimum we've been living with), $.049/min after the 10 minute minimum, and $.065/min-ish (with the 9.5% USF) within Idaho on the Penny Plan.

Whew. www.10-10phonerates.com is a great resource to cut through this morass. Now we just need someone to do that for cell phones, but it's probably 10 times more complicated.

Groundhog Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

It was sunny here, anyway, with ice in the shadows and a brisk NW wind after yesterday's rain. If Punxsutawney Phil were in Idaho, he would've been scared by his shadow, and guaranteed us 6 more weeks of winter. Tell that to the crocuses, tulips and irises that are sending up shoots right now!

Terry Tempest Williams tells us why we should care about Groundhog Day, with some praire dogs in the shadow of extinction.

The NY Times offers to solve the Cellphone maze for us, but I'm skeptical. I haven't found a pressing need for a mobile phone just yet, and I have an adverse reaction to people trying to sell me things without making all of the details explicit. "They're trying to cheat me," I think to myself.

"(T)he average mobile phone customer spends $50 to $55 a month for service and uses 500 to 600 minutes a month. But the industry spends $300 to $400 a person to acquire each customer..."

I'm sure we don't spend hundreds of minutes on the phone each month (as long as we don't count the dialup time!), and our average bill is closer to $40 than $50 for our landline and all our long distance (at $.05/min.). If someone wants to "acquire" us for $300, they must be expecting to milk the deal for a while.

The only really solid advice in the article is what you knew already: "it makes sense to talk to your colleagues or your neighbors before selecting a plan."

3.2.1 (get it?) Permanent URL to this day's entry

Saturday mornings are usually pleasant affairs, time to sleep in a little, roll over and turn on the radio to hear our favorite DJ's show. The news headline "Columbia shuttle missing" was a punch in the gut, though. It seems small comfort to know that it wasn't the result of sabotage or terrorism, and even less to know that's now the first thing we wonder about.

Condolences to the family and friends of the 7 intrepid explorers who gave their lives in the quest at the frontier of knowledge.

News of the conviction by a federal jury of Ed Rosenthal is more bad news. For growing plants that provide medical benefits, he faces a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. I can't fathom the logic that imagines this to make our society a better place. On top of the direct injustice, there is the fact that the federal government has overridden the will of California voters. I suspect that if the jury had been aware of their power of nullification, the result might have been different.

When John Ashcroft was a Senator, and Bill Clinton was in the White House, he had a slightly different point of view: "The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights."

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Friday, 14-Mar-2003 15:15:45 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200302.html