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31.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I love the idea of Commencement, and strains of Pomp and Circumstance never fail to give me a thrill. The occasion is also the biggest softball in the field of public speaking. Here's Norman Lear, hitting one out of the park: "It has never been so clear that what we need is to fling open the doors that contain the worlds' religions to find new ways of learning more about each other's values and spiritual conditions and what the peoples of the world hold in common as a species."

Speaking to communication school graduates, on a topic he knows something about, he also has words about the FCC's forthcoming decision to allow further concentration of media ownership.

Microsoft finalizes the crushing of Netscape for 7½ cents on the dollar: $750M payoff to AOL to settle the antitrust suit. Business Week surmises that Gates waited until the management team at AOL was rearranged to his liking. It seems like a lot of money, but just "pocket change" to Microsoft, with $40 billion in the bank. It's good to have a monopoly.

E.J. Dionne, on the Politics of Terror: "Terrorism has transformed American politics and has given Bush advantages he never anticipated. And he has shown that he'll make good use of every single one of them."

"The Empire State Pride Agenda said donations from the Santorum fund reached "major donor" status ($1,200 minimum), qualifying the named donor for the Empire Club. A letter thanking the senator and outlining the benefits of club membership was mailed and faxed to his office on Friday."

Paul Krugman on Stating the Obvious: "It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues -- that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut -- was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories. Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)"

And more: Waggy Dog Stories "An administration hypes the threat posed by a foreign power. It talks of links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; it warns about a nuclear weapons program. The news media play along, and the country is swept up in war fever. The war drives everything else -- including scandals involving administration officials -- from the public's consciousness.

"The 1997 movie Wag the Dog had quite a plot."

The decision to go to war was made in December. WMDs were a bureaucratically convenient justification, but now that we find they're not there, they don't really matter to Paul Wolfowitz. "It was the one reason everyone could agree on," indeed. The scariest part about it is that "for the time being, the public doesn't seem to care -- or even want to know."

Stay tuned for the Showtime docudrama showing Fearless Leader making "long, stirring speeches that immediately become policy" in response to the Sept. 11th attack.

This sounds worse than secret deportation: trial, conviction and execution all in the "comfort" of your new home on the island of Cuba. No juries, no appeals.

Barry Lando asks the now familiar question, where are the WMDs? and supposes that the Bush administration already knows what it needs to know about them. "There is no doubt by now that the Bush administration has a 99 percent complete picture of what Saddam was up to with his WMD. And that they no longer posed a threat, if they ever did -- which is why U.S. forces are no longer seriously searching Iraq." As before, what isn't said is at least as telling as what is, but only for the people who actually care about the questions and answers. That seems to be a decided minority.

Letting the record speak for itself makes an even uglier case.

Matt Labash deconstructs conservative media, and is deconstructed in turn by Richard Blow: "Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket."

Arianna Huffington lets the Democrats have it with both barrels: Profiles in Spinelessness she calls it. "The Party leaders are so timid, spineless and lacking in confidence that to compare them to jellyfish would be an insult to invertebrates."

The annoying Office Assistant has become decidedly more direct in its questioning.

30.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Held in secret, tried in secret, and deported in secret. Doesn't really sound like the American Way, but it seems to be now. "Look for secret trials in this country to gather momentum. Justice and the Pentagon are trying out the procedures in Guantanamo. They may soon come to a federal court near you."

They've heard of our cloned mule, Idaho Gem, all the way over in Britain at the Guardian. When I first heard his name, I thought it was "Idaho Jim" which sounded down home enough. With enough cloned horses, we can tease apart nature vs. nuture. In the world of horse racing, anyway. That's interesting, but is it important? If you're trying to make money at racing horses, I suppose so.

Alexander Tabarrok asks What Tax Cut? No matter how many times we hear that there's no such thing, we still want to believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch. But no, you can't get something for nothing. Tax less, spend more, and somebody still has to pay. As long as it's not on a tax return, the government must figure no one will take them to task for the dunnage. "Is there no room at the inn for an honest conservative?"

Thanks to Mark O'Dell for the link.

29.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Now that Bush has signed the vote-buying -- er, tax cuts -- into law, people want to know what it means to them, and this morning's USA Today (I'm in a hotel, what can I say?) has a chart titled How much you could save. The on-line version, apparently from last week, has examples of a married couple with $100,000 in income, $50,000 in income, and an older, single taxpayer with $30,000 income. Today's print edition had examples of a single taxpayer with no children and $100k income, a married couple with 2 kids and $100k income, and a married couple with $300k income and a couple kids.

Talk about your aspirational marketing... what percentage of USA Today readers are going to land near those examples? The windfalls vary from $1511 to $6919, by the way. The earlier examples netted $2842, $1233 and $350, with the common example -- $100k/2 kids/$15k deductions/$5k cap gains -- coming out $350 different. "Your mileage my vary." Of course, these are not "windfalls," but rather your money that the government is letting you keep, as the Repubs like to emphasize. These are also your state and local government services (things like schools, libraries, community education) that are getting cut to the bone, too. People will like more money coming in, and they'll be annoyed (if not unemployed) by the cuts, but I'm figuring that it mostly matters whether the economy has turned around by November 2004 how well this will work.

Either way, it'll be the administrations of 2008, 2012 and beyond that have to deal with the mortgage and the crash between the elderly boomers and the "spend now, pay later (or never)" approach to government.

Explore the "Singularity": "a wall, if you will, where humans are one side of an event, or short series of events, and the other side is populated by trans-humanists or post-humans. The other side of the singularity is populated by something - or some ones - wholly different than we are now." In The Futurist.

Getting a feel for nanotechnology: "NanoFeel, based in Switzerland, is producing and commercializing manipulators for atomic force microscopes, enabling manipulation at the nanometric scale. The company's flagship product, the NanoFeel(TM)300, is a force feedback manipulator allowing exceptional force sensitivity while manipulating nano-objects."

This reminds me of the gospel standard, "Jesus on the Mainline" (I like the Ry Cooder version): now you can call Him up and tell Him what you want. Sort of. Not everyone's happy about it, but some are taking advantage of the windfall.

If I got the National Geographic channel, I would tune in for their 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest special. Failing that, the interview with "Mr. Everest" will have to do.

Memorial Day (observed) Permanent URL to this day's entry

An extraordinarily beautiful day for tennis, and my match was mid-morning. Sunny (but with a thin high cloud layer to soften it) and in the 60s at game time, and an opponent who would really rather play indoors and who had a long, 3-set match in mixed doubles last night. Perfect! I got off to my usual slow start, but had psyched myself for dealing with a southpaw (spin serve goes left, backhand's on the left side for my return) and handled his slow pace and backspin on most everything. When he did pick up the pace in the 3rd set, it felt good to return some the same way; up 'till then I had to wait and watch (and watch) everything that didn't have to be run down at the net. 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 over Steve Calverly and yours truly is the 2003 Idaho Open winner in the Men's 3.0 singles. Woo hoo! My trophy is a cheap wine glass with some printing on it. I suppose I need to build a trophy case now... I figure to make it modular, so that it can always be full.

Democracy is untidy, as Donald Rumsfeld reminded us. After a few weeks of untidiness in Iraq, we decided that they were not ready for democracy after all, and that we needed to run things for a while. The groups that were trying to patch together a government are none too happy about the change of plans.

Tom Engelhardt examines Iraq's New Order in Mother Jones.

Who knows if the story from Le Journal du Dimanche is true, but it seems like an intelligent way to fight a war: bribe the opposition to quit with suitcases full of dollars. (When I saw it, the Balochistan Press's account had flashing graphics on the righthand side for "Boycott Israel" and "UBL" with flashing red "No" symbols through the Israeli flag and UBL. I guess that's balanced reporting?)

ArabNews had the same story.

But Ariel Sharon's statement overshadows events in Iraq: "The decision I made is based on the recognition that the moment has come to cut, the moment has arrived to say `yes' to the Americans, the moment has arrived to divide this tract of land between us and the Palestinians."

That makes progress possible. The complex negotiations that must follow, and the various parties who would prefer the plan fails make progress excruciatingly difficult. It's a long road from "declaration of diplomatic intentions" to change on the ground. The expected popular reaction in the settlements won't exactly be anti-peace demonstrations, but they might as well be.

The comparison between Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie speaks volumes about the complexity of the path forward in Israel. Both young women put their lives on the line for what they believe in. Corrie was murdered by an Israeli bulldozer driver, but the news faded quickly, and no C&W songs were written about her courage.

Beatlemania isn't dead yet -- 20 years later, it's back in the (former) USSR. It would've been a lot of fun to see Sir Paul rocking in Red Square.

The biggest impediment to building a supercomputer these days? "It took a lot of time because you have to cut all of these things out of the plastic packaging." ( NYT story) 70 Playstation 2s, a pinch of Linux, and you're off to the races.

Remember that record time for climbing Everest, set by Pemba Dorjie 3 days ago? Broken. Lhakpa Gelu did it in 10 hours and 56 minutes. As the Reuters report and Alan Arnette's personal account describe, "once you leave Base Camp it is a week-long process to attempt the summit and return." Unless you're a Sherpa! Reuters that there are (or were, I suppose, by now) 65 expeditions on the mountain this season.

It's party time in St. Petersburg, whose 300th birthday is (by legend) May 27th. With just about no nighttime up there this time of year, it should be a good long one.

25.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Spent the morning in music, directing the BUUF choir for the last time this season, with two challenging pieces (Jason Shelton's Life Again and New Hymn by James Taylor and Reynolds Price) and 10 (!) songs from our hymnal. Times 2 services, that's 26 songs altogether. Whew.

From there, we dashed back home, quick change and off to... the tennis courts. Day 3 of the 2003 Idaho Open tournament, my first ever, and my semi-final match in the men's 3.0 singles. My opponent was ever so slightly more than half my age, with a first serve like a rifle, pretty good strokes and court coverage equal to my (in)ability to put things away. The nice thing about 3.0 tennis is that you can count on your opponent to make lots of mistakes, though, and only a handful of those wicked first serves landed in. (I managed to return exactly one of the ones that did, in two sets.) The bad thing about 3.0 tennis is that you can count on yourself to make lots of mistakes, too.

I had my share, but my share was smaller than his. I came back from an early break in the first set and forced a tie-breaker. That started OK, but I fell to 2-5 before turning it around to 6-6 and then 8-6. Here I was, trying to concentrate on playing good tennis and just staying in the match without worrying too much about winning, and I had the first set! Old age and treachery held out over youth in the 2nd, as I wore him out with weak putaways (good get!) that started to be strong enough after a while. 4-3, 5-3, then 6-3 and we're done. One more match to play -- tomorrow morning, for the championship. Woo hoo!

I have to enjoy this while it lasts; there are plenty of 3.5 (4.0, 4.5 and 5.0) players hanging around waiting to kick my butt if I do well enough to get bumped up. No hurry.

Vijay and Annika faced off (virtually), and Annika took home the prize. She's ahead in the sportsmanship department, too.

The bottom line on heading into an era of Republican dominance: "If you think about bombs and rockets most of the time, you're probably going to vote Republican." Unless you're on the receiving end of those, presumably.

24.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Civil liberties in Guantanamo Bay: "Should the poor prisoner like to have a civilian lawyer, Rumsfeld will arrange for that. As long as he approves of the attorney, the attorney has a secret security clearance, will work for no pay, will agree to have all attorney-client meetings and conversations monitored, and will abide by a life-long gag order about what transpired there. Oh, and one other thing, they wonít get to see or hear all the evidence against their client. The judge, prosecutor and jury (consisting of military officers) will, but not the attorney and the defendant."

From one of the many Twin Cities Babelogue blogs.

Death of a boondoggle: SFO's runway expansion plans are history. Good riddance! The Mercury News reported on some of the waste that showed up in an audit sampling by a budget analyst for the San Francisco supervisors. has a blog now, too.

Bob Harris' entry on Tom Tomorrow's blog, "Today Iraq, tomorrow Iran," on Tom Tomorrow's blog is a useful primer on the religious sects in and around those two countries.

And Lew Rockwell explains Neo-Conservatism for us: "(T)he core of their ideology never changed: these people had then and have now a remarkable faith in the uses of state power, at home and abroad. Their intellectual formation in Straussianism convinced them of the centrality of the elite management of society by philosophers, and their background in Trotskyite organizing kept a ruthless political strategy as the operating mode."

Salam Pax has managed to get some photos up on his (I assume!) blog.

Is uranium behind Gulf War syndrome, now found in Afghanistan as well?

Excerpt of's temperature time series for Boise, ID, wk ending 5/24/03

It did cool down nicely last night, after a day in the 90s and a warm evening. I was going to draw up a graph of this week's run from the low 30s into the 90s, but I see that the Weather Underground has already done it. Last night's low was just a bit under Sunday's high temperature.

Later -- that truncated peak today was the thunderstorms coming through, dropped the temperature abruptly to about 70 (at our house - the graph shows it above 75), dampened things just a bit, and left the sky stacked with dark clouds.

The temp./dew point/barometric pressure graphs are good to show the trend at a glance, but the wind speed/direction graphs are not as effective. I'm still waiting to see (or come up with) an effective way to show wind information in a time series. gets my vote for effective data reduction on a massive scale, though! (As long as you don't mind some illegal cookies, pop-under ads, and jerky banners anyway.) "Weather for any City, State or ZIP Code, or Country" is a neat trick. They tell me it's 115°F in Makkah, Saudia Arabia right now.

David Pogue gushes over the first consumer (well, "prosumer") HDTV videocamera: "When played back on an HDTV set, the video is gasp-inducing; if you're an image-quality purist, seeing your own backyard, living room or children in high definition will rock your world." Somehow I think the world-rocking effect of seeing my backyard on HDTV would wear off after a while.

I do like the part about JVC's engineering, though: it uses existing mini-DV cassettes; records in 720p, 480p and DV formats; plays back in existing formats; comes with HDTV editing and DVD burning software (although Windows only - D'OH!).

23.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

There's a big crowd on Everest this season -- forty-plus expeditions! -- including one very fast sherpa, going from base camp to the top in less than 13 hours. From 17,500 to 29,028 feet, at almost a thousand feet an hour. I can't even imagine it.

Some coworkers had posted a printout from Alan Arnette's website chronicling his 2nd attempt for the summit. I hadn't looked at it for a while, and it appears that I checked in at the climactic moment. It's a good long read, starting in early April, and my preference is in "forward" order rather than "blog reverse." (I wonder if any blogging tools have a convenience link to reverse the time sequence? I haven't seen one.) Base camp has an internet café this year.

This sounds like a fun summer activity: surfing camp. If you can't get to the Times, you can still get to Club Ed (featured in the story), Paskowitz Surf Camp, and Surf Diva in California, or Surf Camp Inc. (sounds a little too business-like) in North Carolina.

It's full speed ahead for military funding, with approval for research into "low-yield" tactical nuclear weapons, and $9 billion for missile defense. (I think $9B in aid to North Korea would probably be more effective than anything that's going to buy in R&D.) $400 billion worth of defense for the next fiscal year.

SARS might have come from outer space, but at the moment, the masked palm civet (Paguma larvata), a tree-dwelling cat, seems more likely to be the proximate source.

Frank Rich deconstructs Bill Bennett, the former Mr. Virtue. "It's not clear that Mr. Bennett ever really cared about culture, scholarship or any of the other ideals he pretended to be defending against the onslaught of the heathen hordes."

Who would have imagined that the fiscal irresponsibility of Republicans would become so obvious that even Andrew Sullivan would figure it out.

21.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A guy pulled up next to us at the Cole and Ustick light, gave the international symbol for "roll down your window." He wanted to know how we like our Prius, and we answered in unison "we love it!" and I added that it's the best car in the world.

"Does it have any power?" he wanted to know. I said "sure, you want to race?" He politely demurred, apparently certain that his car was more powerful than mine. The light turned green and I put the petal to the metal and was ahead of him when I'd hit the speed limit and backed off for our left turn. Haven't done that in a while! :-)

The canonical collection of Tom Swifties, from A ("I'm wearing my wedding ring", said Tom with abandon.) to Z ("Your fly is undone", was Tom's zippy rejoinder.)

20.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher, by John Taylor Gatto.

The first lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong...."

Dogs bark, cows moo, politicians lie: David Biggs, on belaboring the obvious, and where we all stand.

Perhaps we should consider Donald Rumsfeld's protestations as the limited nature of our interest in research into new nuclear weapons in that light. "It is a study. It is nothing more and nothing less. And it is not pursuing. And it is not developing. It is not building. It is not manufacturing. And it's not deploying. And it is not using."


This is more insanity, if you ask me.

HP reported its quarterly earnings, saying its glass was more than half-full, and the Murky News gave it a half-empty headline: HP cuts 2,300 jobs and expects more.

Einstein Archives Online.

Are we ready to let another species into the genus Homo? Somehow I don't think so, but some scientists say we should. We all still think we're pretty special.

More casualties on the Gaza strip: thousands of citrus trees. Sowing the wind.

Doc Searls, from this weekend, on the subject of printwashing:

"On the whole, blogs are highly compliant with the ethics of the periodicals section, the ethics of the stacks, the ethics of sourcing and archiving, the ethics of giving credit where due.

"The bottom line: In the age of the Web, the practice of charging for access to digital archives is a collossal anachronism. It's time for The New York Times and the other papers to step forward, join the real world and correct the problem. Expose the archives. Give them permanent URLs. Let in the bots. Let their writers, and their reputations, accept the credit they are constantly given and truly deserve.

"In other words, stop the printwash."

I couldn't agree more. I just recently accepted Amazon's offer to have a tool called Alexa (hmm, Alexa® is "an Amazon company") run over my site to see what's broken, and it sent me a list of the first 50 of 344 pages I'm pointing to that are "Not Found." That makes cruising through old editions of my blog rather like kicking around a junk yard. My pithy comments that refer to more interesting things on the web are left dangling. We're still just learning how to use this world wide web thingie, 10 years on.

Of course, there is the business end of the argument. Sheila Lennon and Christopher Coulter remind us.

Doc also pointed to the Microdoc News piece, Dynamics of a Blogosphere Story, which is itself a blogosphere story, of course. We could all disappear inside our navels shortly.

War spin: what really happened in the Private Lynch rescue? She might never remember, and we're not likely to find out, either. The guys with the full record of the events don't want to give them up. Classified, I suppose.

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

The California DMV administers a law that provides new ease for getting even instead of just getting mad. An unsubtantiated complaint against you, and you get to visit the DMV at their convenience and explain why you should get to keep your license.

Worldcom continues to astound with business results off the scale of comprehension. After amassing $41 billion in debt and executing $11 billion in fraud, they're going for the trifecta with an agreement to pay a half-billion dollar fine.

Without admitting any wrongdoing, of course. They hope to write off 90% of that debt before popping out of bankruptcy.

After making several attempts to get Microsoft to close the Passport account I set up a couple years ago (to get Microsoft support? I don't remember exactly what made me go against my better instincts to set that up, but I never put credit card information into it), the recent flap about their gaping security breach prompted me to try again. The first response was a replay of what had gone before, in January 2002, I had to answer the secret question, and so on, otherwise they couldn't do anything. In frustration, I gave it one more try, and after pointing out that they apparently hadn't read the attached correspondence with comprehension, I challenged them:

"Please, convince me that you are honest, thoughtful people running a service that is intended to satisfy customers and not just mindless automata who can't respond to a unique set of circumstances appropriately."

Somewhat surprisingly, they finally gave me the response I was after, and closed my defunct account. Today, I got an email asking me to fill out a survey about my customer satisfaction. Most of the closed-ended questions did not offer me a way to express what I was thinking, but this open-ended one did:

What could Microsoft do to make .NET Passport a better product?

What could make me trust Microsoft? Tough question. Perhaps if you had explicit standards of business conduct, and started to build a track record of honest and above-board business dealings.

Dennis Overbye, author of Einstein in Love (which I recently enjoyed reading, thanks to my sister's Christmas gift), reviews Martin Rees' Our Final Hour, and its gloomy subtitle, "A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century -- on Earth and Beyond." The sky might be falling, although it's not necessarily clear what we should do to prop it up.

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

Scott Rosenberg on "Bush and God, church and state," responding to Bill Keller's column in the NY Times.

"The real arrogance in Easterbrook's stance -- and one that I think also undergirds Bush's worldview -- is this implication that only people who have accepted Jesus, or Yahweh (or, Bush will add, opening the flaps of his 'big tent,' Mohammed), can possibly find meaning in life. And only they can be trusted to find a moral path through life."

Being in charge these days means never having to say you're sorry. But with "increasing arms exports to regimes with terrible human rights records or dictatorships," we might have a lot to be sorry about.

A nice introduction to Edward Tufte's work, thanks to a 6-year old archive on Salon. I put in an order for a copy of The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, and enjoyed the clean simplicity of the ordering process on his site. Anything less would be a shock, of course.

From there (the "Graphic of the Day" feature), on to the archive of Google holiday logos, which always amuse me, but which haven't caught my eye for a little while.

17.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A fresh cone from our Larch tree

Dang it, missed my blog's anniversary. On May 14th, we turned 3. The original issue seems somewhat quaint, and stripped-down, although I'm still going with a pretty bare-bones look here.

Ed Garvey, on grading on the curve:

"(S)uppose the White House of Bill Clinton had lied to the media by explaining that Clinton had to fly by jet because the ship was too far out to sea for a helicopter, and then admitted that the story wasn't true when reporters could see San Diego from the deck.

"Suppose Clinton had given no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars to Democrats who contributed to his campaign. These would be high crimes and misdemeanors, and most of us would agree. Bill Clinton would be impeached and found guilty. No speech by Dale Bumpers could save him."

Also from Ed, we learn that not all of Tommy Thompson's home-staters are excited about him re-entering Wisconsin politics.

16.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One explanation for the emptying of the museum in Baghdad: Laissez-loot.

"The makers of U.S. culture are averse to memory. Memory brings pain, imposes obligations, and makes political manipulation more difficult....

"Iraq has a lot to forget in order to become a well-mannered U.S. protectorate. Iraq must forget how the U.S. helped the Baath party take control. It must forget how the U.S. drove Saddam Hussein to militarize and supported him in the war against Iran in order to punish Iranians for throwing off the U.S. puppet regime of the Shah in 1979. Iraq must forget how good the relations between Saddam and the White House were before 1991. It must forget how the U.S. allowed Saddam to massacre the rebelling Shiites in 1991. It must forget a decade of murderous sanctions and half a million children who could have been alive today but for U.S. foreign policy. It must forget the thousands who died from U.S. bombs. It must forget it is a country that was already a victim of colonialism before."

How big is your bribe?

I just love the idea of the Texas Republican legislators calling Homeland Security to help them find the missing Democrats.

"Country singer Willie Nelson sent the Oklahoma Democrats red bandannas, whiskey and a note saying, 'Way to go. Stand your ground.'"

It's a picture of my cat, but hey, it's arty.

Paul Krugman: "The administration's antiterror campaign makes me think of the way television studios really look. The fancy set usually sits in the middle of a shabby room, full of cardboard and duct tape. Networks take great care with what viewers see on their TV screens; they spend as little as possible on anything off camera."

"Fair use and the DMCA have been on a collision course since 1998. The judge's ruling in this case will tell whether fair use survives the crash."

Monopoly tools: lying, cheating, stealing. The story's only about the first two, explicitly.

More than 825 million email messages led to four felony and two misdemeanor charges against the Buffalo Spammer, Howard Carmack. Thank you, Eliot Spitzer.

Two hours ahead of departure may not be early enough at the airport if your name is David Nelson. Or any of a couple hundred other names that you won't find listed anywhere handy.

Elisabeth Bumiller: "...(T)he Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before."

Barges of patriotic lighting, set designers for military briefing venues, turning an aircraft carrier around on its way back to port, and it's working like a charm. The brilliantly staged event on the Abraham Lincoln (complete with the name of the ship!) was deemed "appropriate" by 59% of those polled.

Yes, it's practically dripping in appropriateness to use our military men, women and hardware for a backdrop at a media event kicking off the campaign to re-elect the President.

The eclipse was pretty much a bust here in the city; lots of dust from a dry front coming through, and as always, too many city lights. We looked around from the edge of the bench just after sunset, and then I went back out about 10. The red moon was reduced to a faint smudge behind the dust and didn't get interesting until it was higher, and totality's end brought out a crescent.

The next chance, in November, is another just-after-moonrise event for us, centered about 6:18pm MDT, and sunset at 5:28pm. There's a total solar eclipse at the new moon right after, but it's way down under, over the South Pole. See the Navy's eclipse information page for more details.

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

Remember when you used to hear "there's plenty of fish in the sea"? Well, there aren't so many these days. Scientists at Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Kiel in Germany estimate that 90% of the "blue frontier" has been scraped clean. "This isn't about just about one species. The sustainability of fisheries is being severely compromised worldwide."

Hey, next time I'm up to see the grandkids, I can rent a Segway! Who knows, maybe I'll fall in love with it and buy one for $5k.

Total eclipse of the moon tonight, centered at 9:40pm MDT. It'll be full-on just a few minutes after our moonrise, 8:56pm.

13.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our beautiful desert weather broke forth today after what seems like a month of rain. High up around 70, maybe into the 80s tomorrow! It'll get cool and breezy for the weekend (so they say); maybe we'll go sailing.

I checked in on Doc to see if he'd blogged yesterday's letter (he had, thanks) and along with the too-many other fascinating links, I found out that Salam is back, with an account of recent weeks in Iraq.

Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Donít let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you donít think about your "imminent liberation" anymore.

It's an amazing first-person account of what it's like to be an ordinary person in the middle of a 21st century urban war.

Kuro5hin recounts the birth of an urban legend, the need for a Klingon interpreter in Multnomah county.

A first go at having an infinite number of monkeys type up some Shakespeare: need closer to infinity than 6, I guess.

After the a crash, time to reconsider just how much those passengers and their bags weigh. With all the other things going on at airports, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't mind getting weighed-in, too. Throw in a blood-pressure measurement, and call it the Healthy Check-in®.

Here's an alternate approach: calibrate the spring/shocks on the wheel struts so that you can read how much weight is on board directly. I emailed that idea to the "comments" address for the FAA, I wonder if I'll hear back.

It's a little bit strange to find out about the new $20 bill from The Moscow Times, but then it may be more important to commerce there than here. Or maybe not - they say 80% of the dollars changing hands there are hundreds. And the Euro is kicking the greenback's (soon to be peach, green, blue and yellow) butt, 2:1.

"Before (U.S. Treasury Secretary John) Snow took the platform, a handful of scouts read an oath and paraded around with an American flag." Nice touch.

We didn't get travel insurance for our China trip for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that travel insurance seems like kind of a scam. We've never had something like SARS get in the way of our taking a trip before, though. What about the folks who did get the insurance? A letter from our trip leaders suggests that it was no help:

"We have several tour members who have been applying for actual claims against the trip cancellation insurance provider, Travelex. Perhaps we will learn from their experience. Unless they have cancelled their travel for a reason other than SARS, they have been told that SARS or anything related to SARS is "not a covered benefit". Even the closing of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the shows that were part of the itinerary is not considered justification for cancelling a trip, specifically because it is related to SARS. To be a covered benefit, one needs to actually contract the disease, the insurance company said."

Such a deal.

12.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Alvie J. Mitchell
VarTec Telecom, Inc.

Dear Alvie,

Thank you for thinking of me, and sending the nice card with the picture of tulips on it.

As you noted, we have stopped using 10-10-811. I didn't mind the extra numbers, or the call minimum, but the monthly access fee did indeed bother me. The way that you slipped it into some fine print in a mailing that had no clearly announced purpose seemed dishonest. And the timing; midway through a billing cycle, so that when the first payment showed up on our bill, we'd already used your service for the next billing cycle. That seemed like an intentional trick to cheat us out of some money.

Coincidentally, I was thinking of you today, too. I just payed my latest phone bill, which included $4.39 to VarTec for absolutely nothing. No calls, no directory service, nothing. My "long distance needs," as you put it, have never included the need to be billed something for nothing.

Fortunately, I'm not depending on your help to save me money. It's pretty darn easy to look up 10-10 phone rates anymore, and find a fair plan that meets my needs. If you really want me to consider VarTec, why don't you start by returning the $6 (plus a couple more in taxes and fees) that you tricked us out of? That would mean even more to me than a greeting card with tulips on it.

Thomas von Alten

11.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sunshine and raindrops on a red/green fringed tulip

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers in the audience. Thanks for all that you do and have done. Our cool, wet weather has kept the tulips going for extra innings, with clutches of reds, pinks, and these red/orange and green fringed ones still going strong. Temps in the 70s next week might be the end of the party, though.

The description of the 2 minute commercial for the Honda Accord is rather florid, and not nearly as interesting as the video itself, which is great Rube Goldberg fun. (You'll want a good bandwidth connection to watch the Flash.)

Jayson Blair won't be writing for the NY Times anymore, but perhaps there's a career for him in fiction. He'll still have to fix that plagiary problem, though.

Our President is glad he took the ride out to the Abraham Lincoln to personally thank the troops, but the calculated nature of the "Op Gun" footage is receiving some flak: "The White House admitted that its original stated reason for using the Viking jet instead of the presidential helicopter -- that the ship was too far offshore -- was bogus. The real reason for the stunt was that the president wanted to have fun and film a campaign ad."

Bob Cringely explains a little bit about refactoring and why he thinks it's a bad idea.

10.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I started the day by doing something that was familiar to me 23 years ago: working on other people's bikes. A local woman got the idea to start a "Bikes for Refugees" program, to get refugee kids on wheels. The first bike I worked on had already been designated as Samoud's, and he watched eagerly while I tried to make it right. Unfortunately, his pick was not a very good one, and replacing the chain fixed the drivetrain skipping problem, but not the bent chain ring. I tried to straighten it out with a pair of vice grips, but it was absurdly soft stuff, and my efforts did not improve it. The lowest gears (largest in back) weren't usable because chain angle would pull the chain off at the bent spots. I remembered one of the things I hated about being a bicycle repairman: the low-end discount (they were "department" back then) store bikes that were not worth the time it takes to do a professional repair job on them.

Other bikes went better, though, with most needing just a few small adjustments and perhaps some tires fixed. We had half a dozen mechanics, a bunch of North Junior High students to wash the bikes and pump tires, and at noon, a bunch of beaming refugee families happily picking out the best of the lot.

It hasn't reached the scale of the amazing Village Bicycle Project started by my buddy Dave Peckham (latest? update here), but hey, you've got to start somewhere.

I've long forgotten what motivated me, but I obtained a Microsoft Passport account some years ago. I didn't give them any critical information (such as a credit card number), because (a) there was no reason to, and (b) I don't exactly trust them. Upon receiving some promotional email a while afterwards, I decided I didn't want to be in their database and tried to opt out. But I couldn't recall my password, or the correct answer to whatever trick question they had salted away, and they wouldn't let me go. This in spite of the fact that they had sent me an email, from which address they were now receiving my correspondence. I've thought about writing them again, and asking if they'd noticed no activity whatsoever on this account for the intervening 16 months, and would they please delete it now? But it hasn't been worth the trouble.

They have more than enough trouble of their own at the moment, after someone whose account had been hijacked discovered a critical flaw in the system, giving a simple web interface to "reset my password and send a new one to the email address I give you." Only about 200 million accounts put at risk with that. Jiminy Christmas am I glad I'm not in that mob scene.

If you are, you might want to check out this Microsoft page. As they put it, "Here is how to tell if yours was are among them."

108 death row inmates exonerated now. It seems like we should be concerned about the prospect of the state depriving persons of their right to life, although our president says he's not worried that he ever executed anyone wrongfully.

Bill Keller's piece in last week's NY Times Magazine is a thoughtful exploration of the important question of nuclear arms control - counterproliferation, the US' "Home Depot of new nuclear gadgets," missile defense and so on. It's long, but worth reading.

"A new arms-control regime should distinguish among threats and offer a menu of options appropriate to the danger, from inspection to coercion. It would draw on military pressure and economic sanctions, along with the softer diplomacy that the counterproliferators scorn. It would not disdain international agreements but would demand smarter treaties, backed by intrusive inspections and rigorous enforcement."

As the Walter Pincus wrote in the Washington Post last Sunday, that doesn't seem to be the direction we're headed. "The fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill contains language that eliminates current restrictions on researching low-yield nuclear weapons, gives added money for research on a high-yield nuclear bomb for use against deeply buried targets, and completes funding for reducing to 18 months from three years the preparation time required for resuming underground nuclear testing."

The flip side comes from Adm. James O. Ellis Jr., head of U.S. Strategic Command, who says that his goal is to raise the threshold that would cause us to go nuclear. I'd like to see some action that shows his point of view is the dominant one in this adminstration, but I'm not holding my breath.

The SARS panic in China is reaching new depths. Taking it out on pets?! It sounds pretty horrible. Had we been on our original itinerary, we'd be in Beijing this weekend, hoping to get out safely and return Monday. It would have been the "trip of a lifetime" as one friend put it when we first decided to sign up, but not in quite the way she was thinking. If we got mixed up with the 19,000 Beijing residents in quarantine, for example, that would be a once in a lifetime experience.

8.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

With all the rain in April and May, we're up to par for the water year as of May 1 in many of the basins around the state, but not all. The Willow, Blackfoot, Portneuf basins are only at a quarter of average, and the Bear River is at 43%, but the Boise and Payette are above average. Seems like that could be enough, already, but there's more on the way this weekend. Rain showers and lows in the 30s coming in. Of course, if you're reading this from tornado alley, never mind. Our weather is wonderful.

William Safire calculates how big a billion dollars in hundreds would be, where it might have gone, and what it might be used for.

The plans for world domination are going to be costly, but the bill seems to be dodging about in some sort of shell game.

We've all been taking military advice from this guy, but how about investment advice from Richard Perle? He's a generous guy, sharing "advice on how to cash if war broke out in Iraq and/or North Korea," according to one participant of his conference call with Goldman Sachs.

7.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Granite State lost the Old Man of the mountain over the weekend. I'm sure I must've looked at the rock formation when I bicycled through the White Mountains 27 years ago, but it's not my strongest memory of the ride. I did spend the night somewhere around Franconia Notch, and went for a foggy morning hike in the park some hours before they were charging admission.

Afterwards, I went up and over the Kankamugus highway, enjoying the first genuine grade I'd had since two months earlier in the Rockies. The wonderful climb into a clear August morning was spectacular enough, but as I rolled up to the very tip top of the pass, an old van that was off on a pull-out started up and came up behind me. I was a bit concerned about mischief, but that early in the day it didn't seem very likely. The young driver matched my speed as they pulled alongside, and I was surprised to see they had the side door all the way open with a couple guys in the back. One of them smiled at me with a brown bottle in his hand and said "beer?" I said "sure!" and he popped the top and handed it over just as I started the loooong coast down the ocean side.

As for the Old Man -- I say let him rest in peace, while we wait for the next granite apparition to be exposed.

The MSN iLoo: Imagine trying to make the Portaloo an interesting and inviting place to hang out. It would take something more than URLs printed on the toilet paper, I think. (Shouldn't this story be dated April 1st?)

6.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Apparently it was a "software error" that had Soyuz land 270 miles or so off target. The short account including description of the "ballistic descent" sounds a little hair-raising.

Saddam reportedly loaded up his pockets with a billion dollars on the way out of town. That's U.S. Dollars, of course... in $100 bills. Ten million $100 bills. Those must be some big pockets.

"...Meanwhile, China has gone into quarantine overdrive in its effort to contain the still rapid spread of the disease there, instituting measures to isolate as many as 10,000 people in Nanjing, where only 4 cases have been reported." The article includes a pointer to an official Chinese SARS tracking site with "transparent data."

Aschroft admits that the looting of Iraqi museums was done by organized teams. That leaves the question, of course: who organized them?

5.5.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Toad a la Mode offers up a menu of comic relief, including signs that you're about to be laid off. Presumably the place is dimly lit.

Also, how to use Operation TIPS to enhance your career.

As Harry Shearer puts it, "now we know whatever his other moral proclivities might be." He's a gambler.

This is a big fat softball, so take your pick of who's hitting it out of the park. Michael Kinsley works for me: "Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number. The news over the weekend--that Bennett's $50,000 sermons and best-selling moral instruction manuals have financed a multimillion dollar gambling habit--has lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts."

Potentially more entertaining is the right wing defending Bennett's habit, but I have to say that the original article in Washington Monthly is more persuasive.

The one thing that doesn't get mentioned is how he was (at least) a tobacco addict while his moralizing was ascendent in his role as drug czar. The gambling is just stupid (he's broken even on $500 a pull slots? Yeah, right), and arguably helps spread his ill-gotten gains around, but his work in the War on Drugs has left a lot of broken lives in its wake.

Deborah Wilker says the Dixie Chicks are still rocking, and the need for apologies seems to be behind them. I'm no particular fan of C&W, but I like the Chicks.

Toad a la Mode offers up a menu of comic relief, including signs that you're about to be laid off. Presumably the place is dimly lit.

Also, how to use Operation TIPS to enhance your career.

Laurie Garrett's story about the Chinese SARS lab on is fascinating, but not necessarily in a good way.

I hope web advertisers are paying attention to Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman in this essay: Making Web Advertisements Work. Learn how to get useful information about your products to me when I want it, and you've got my business.

5.4.3 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's not quite the same as being there (fortunately), but this story by Jason Halperin provides a chilling introduction to living in a police state, à la USA Patriot Act.

Along those lines, this looks like a useful reference to carry around, courtesy of the ACLU: What to do if you're stopped by The Police

The Museum of Unworkable Devices: "a celebration of fascinating devices that don't work."

The Nature Conservancy has become a big business -- a billion dollar business according to this special feature section (with two more parts coming on Monday and Tuesday) in the Washington Post. It's certainly possible to do more things with rich and powerful corporate allies, but it's also possible that it makes it harder to do the right things. "Its governing board and advisory council now include executives and directors from one or more oil companies, chemical producers, auto manufacturers, mining concerns, logging operations and coal-burning electric utilities."

In this case, 300 miles off the target is "close enough." Everybody got down from the space station in good shape.

3.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The larger neocon agenda: Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Syria. And of course Iran and North Korea. Ahmad Faruqui writes of battling for the soul of the American republic.

"The flag conservatives have taken the view that America needs to fight a long war of self defense until the last one of the cold-blooded killers of September 11 has been hunted down and killed and until all regimes in the 'axis of evil' - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - have been changed."

I tend to worry more about places where we've started something but have failed to finish them: Al Qaeda may be down, but they're probably not out.

The drama in Iraq can only get more interesting as the conflicting post-war ambitions are played out. (Remember when Yugoslavia was one country, the least objectionable of the Communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain? If there's a way to put that Humpty Dumpty back together again, it may be some generations before we see it.)

The Kurds want autonomy, preferably a greater Kurdistan that comprises portions of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. (The Turks and Iranians want no such thing, of course.) The Shi'ites want a theocracy, something on the order of the Iranian revolution, view the Americans as the army of Satan (occasionally useful, but not someone you want hanging around), and oh, by the way, are in the majority. The Ba'athists probably want anonymity more than anything at this point, and a good vacation home in some other country. America's viceroy Jay Garner apparently wants to keep his head down, too, leading to Lt. Gen. McKiernan pulling an Al Haig but failing to motivate Garner's lackeys to post the handbills announcing his coup. (McKiernan's demand is a sensible one, calling for "the immediate cessation of all criminal activity to include acts of reprisal, looting and attacks on coalition forces." This sounds like a job for the Shi'ite clergy and religious zealots, doesn't it?)

The Bush Administration and its cadre of expatriate Iraqi intellectuals would like democracy to magically appear, although our head-man-in-waiting Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress might be satisfied with a comfortable plutocracy. France would like to see the US fall flat, one supposes, and re-establish its commercial interests. There are a lot of commercial interests waiting to be re-established, and these are the most motivated opponents of anarchy. But this is going to take more than corporate security guards, a role for which the American military, who want to go home more than anything else, have no heart for.

Speaking of Chalabi, this piece by Julie Flint (in the Lebanon Daily Star) who says she's a friend, is the most positive I've seen. Kaleem Omar's sarcasm and Andy Borowitz' satire are decidely less kind.

Toyota's diagram of their series/parallel hybrid system

Toyota has a great series of pages describing the details of their Toyota Hybrid System "THS II" to be rolled out in the 2004 Prius. (The schematic shown here applies to the "THS" in the 2000-3 Prius as well.)

Hawaii's Legislature has resolved to prevent its resources from being used to support the unconstitutional provisions of the USA Patriot Act, "including but not limited to":

How do you spell "disconnect"? Unemployment hitting a new high, Bush insisting that his program of big tax cuts is the very thing we need, and poll results showing "57 percent say Bush's tax cuts will either hurt the economy or have no effect, compared to 36 percent who say they will help."

Are you good to fly? Take the ACLU's quiz and find out if you'd pass the Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System muster. Have you protested against the School of the Americas (a.k.a. the School of Assassins), for example? If this doesn't worry you yet, consider this coalition of groups opposed to CAPPS II: the ACLU, The Free Congress Foundation, The Eagle Forum, and the Christian Coalition.

University of Illinois students think they've figured out who was the Deep Throat character in the Watergate scandal, and they've got a pretty good story to tell.

World population density as of 1995 in a wonderfully expressive graphic, hyperlinked to more detailed data. One of many interesting things linked to by the Internet Geography site.

The longest legislative session in state history ended tonight, at 6pm. Sine die.

Tom Friedman's column in tomorrow's NY Times calls for the U.S. to rally around the task of nation building in Iraq. The Republicans are going to need help from the Democrats.

Quote without comment, from the Washington Post: "Bush's much-touted first exclusive one-on-one since the war, with NBC's Tom Brokaw, was beaten Friday at 9 p.m. by a rerun of ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos featuring a dog that could jump a fence to fetch a ball and a dancing pooch in a tutu."

As a mechanical engineer, I'd heard of "von Mises" in regard to stress analysis; that was from Richard. His older brother Ludwig was an economist, and now has an institute named after him. This interview with Morgan O. Reynolds of the "Austrian school" (started by von Mises?) on the institute's site is interesting. (Thanks to Mark Odell for the link.) His predictions include 7% unemployment before we get out of this downturn, a return to the gold standard (within a century), the continued withering of unions, the return of suits and ties instead of casual Friday.

"It really angers me with Republicans in particular, who talk good free enterprise rhetoric on the stump but when they get there, the reality is completely different. It almost leads one to vote socialist in order to get fewer socialist policies."

2.May.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coming up Leslie Gulch, just before spring rain

When Republicans come selling something called the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act, get ready to give up some time and be more flexible. It's all about corporate flexibility to get more out of the workers and pay less. Molly Ivins spells it out for us on

The Boss says the Dixie Chicks are OK, good for him.

May Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

How the Norton-Bush anti-wilderness move at the BLM shakes out on the ground: four years of work, thousands of hours of volunteer effort that the Feds may not bother listening to.

Did you know that you can challenge your property tax assessment and maybe get your taxes lowered? Micron Technology does, and they're going to be saving $6.8 million this year as a result! The Statesman reported that "Robert McQuade, Ada County assessor, agreed to lower the value of Micron property at its Federal Way plant and another parcel by 25 percent to about $1.1 billion. The company, Boiseís largest property taxpayer, had sought a 35 percent reduction." Guess who'll be making up the difference (or suffering the loss of county services)?

This could make SARS an even more ghastly threat: apparently recovered victims who may still be contagious. But there are a lots of unknowns. We're still learning.

President Bush delivered his "the war is pretty much over" speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, in military regalia. The subtext is pretty clear: we've got a kick-ass military, and we're not afraid to use it. In fact, we rather enjoyed using it.

The way he avoided mention of you-know-who's name, you'd almost think Bush was running for election against him. Does it bother any of the audience that Bush and his speech writers continue to try to confuse us about linkage between 9/11 and Hussein's regime (none has been reported), and between Al-Qaeda and the regime (factual accounts suggest there was precious little)? I don't suppose so; military action is all about simplification: superior or subordinate, friend or foe, black or white, life or death, good or evil. Uncertainty is not welcome.

Speaking of uncertainty, there's still some about whether we're going to find the smoking gun that justified the adventure: "We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated." We've begun the search?! Fortunately, "the dictator" is evil, evil, so our actions need not be substantiated by specifics. (It would be nice to actually have assurance that "no terrorist network has gained weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime"; the regime is gone, but if the WMDs are, too, where did they go?)

Krugman: "Does it matter that we were misled into war?"

The best drama on TV for three seasons running has some significant personnel issues: creator, writer and executive producer Aaron Sorkin is leaving. Ouch.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Thursday, 12-Jun-2003 15:03:45 MDT