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

The heat wave continues, but I guess it's going to run out of gas this week. Trees are in color, our Russian Olive's leaves are falling, but the days are still sunny, and in the 80s.

Amazingly enough, the Justice Department has been applying its newly granted anti-terrorist powers more broadly. Crime fighting is all good, isn't it?

Scott McClellan gives the Administration's faith-based statement of the outcome in Iraq, at the end of a long press briefing mostly devoted to the leak of a CIA operative's name:

"America is safer, the world is better, the world is safer because Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime have been removed from power. Saddam Hussein will no longer be able to oppress the people of Iraq. He will no longer be able to carry out the brutality that he did in the past. His regime is gone, it is removed from power, and it is not coming back. And it's very clear that America is more secure because of the action that we took."

I'm sorry, but it is not very clear that America is more secure because of the action that we took. Our military is over-extended on an open-ended mission, in a country that we have made a magnet for terrorists, our economy remains moribund in a jobless recovery, and we're in the process of leveraging the work of future generations to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. It might turn out to be a wonderful thing and God bless the planet if it does, but what passes for "very clear" at the White House is very scary. Ok, ok, I'm not supposed to try to deconstruct ideological rhetoric, but you just know this is going to be a statement in the Bush Catechism that we'll be hearing repeatedly asserted for the next 12 months.

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

A fundraising spam from today had this, from Ken Mehlman, the Campaign Manager for Bush-Cheney '04:
"Last week, I warned you that liberal special interests had pledged to spend over $400 million to defeat President Bush. Since my message to you, the Washington Post has revealed that these liberal groups have already raised over $185 million of their $400 million goal. They have already begun spending it on ads to defeat our President " (Emphasis in the original.) The pitch was for me to "Join this campaign by making your contribution of $2,000, $1,000, $500, or even $250 or $100 today!" They've upped the ante; last week the suggested amounts went all the way down to $50.

Since I seem to remember reading in the news that GWB was raising ungodly amounts of money for the 2004 campaign, I had to wonder how the anti-liberal special interests were doing in the comparable fundraising. I searched the web for this Washington Post report, and for recent statistics.

This story must be what Mehlman is alluding to, reporting on the Center for Public Integrity's numbers that "Democrat-leaning" (IRS tax code section) "527" committees have raised $185 million in the last 3 years, and indeed surpassed "Republican-affiliated" groups by more than 2 to 1. This is the "soft money" realm; in "hard money," the Post story reports an even greater ratio in the Republican's favor: $115 vs. $43.5 million for national races (other than President) in the first half of this year. For President, the latest public figures show GWB has raised about the same amount as the whole Democratic field. (It isn't clear to me where the Post got $185 mil out of the CPI numbers, actually. The CPI project home page has lots of good information about 527 committees and the changes in campaign finance laws if you want to try to figure it out for yourself.)

Now go back and read that little snippet of fundraising pitch introduction: this scary amount of cash was not raised in the last week, nor was it raised or will it be spent entirely on the Presidential race. The fundraising letter is for "hard money," but the scare stats are about soft money, and the past 3 years, covering the whole 2002 election cycle, and at least some of the 2000 election. It starts to feel like gross deception is just the way the Republicans intend to do business. I have no doubt they'll do it successfully, too, and continue to outraise and outspend their opponents in the aggregate, if not at every possible level.

27.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of China's "liberal" attitude toward intellectual property rights, they're having their way with Hillary Clinton's autobiography. The Chinese publisher's claim that "competition from pirate publishers" led to a hurried translation is funny. Apparently "delete all references to China" is easier to do in a hurry than just translating the book. Simon & Schuster has responded on their website, offering the missing pieces to Chinese readers.

Now that we have a teenager in the house, there's another reason to think about joining the world of wireless phones. The "where are you?" inquiry and "come home now" command are of interest to us. I picked up a "simple. flexible. prepaid" AT&T brochure at Walgreens and read through the fine print. It's surprising what a bad deal it is. You buy your own phone, and then can pay $10 for 20 local minutes that you have to use within 45 days. Put more money up front, and the per minute cost goes down to as low as $.12 (that's if you can use $100 worth in 45 days). If you want long distance, the "National Plan" rate is about double, but you aren't set up for the $.85/minute roaming charge. The one trick they give you is designed to keep you hooked: pump in more money before your 45 days are up, and you don't forfeit what you've already paid. You can also spend your money on "ring tones," at a minimum of $.99, plus tax and delivery charges. And sending text messages. And VoiceInfo, for when you're lonely and no one else will talk to you.

Or maybe this is a good deal, and other plans are even more expensive? You'd think these people would be making a lot of money at this.

For every gouge plan, there's bound to be a counter-plan. Cingular's making a big deal about "rollover minutes" which is probably aimed at the more conventional X min/mo. wireless plans, and the people who got burned by the over-the-limit fees and triple-digit monthly bills. (Ah, but not people where I live.) The prepaid plan is aimed at those people too. Not much is aimed at people who want something simple (as opposed to "simple™"), inexpensive, penalty- and incentive-free.

I suppose most anyone reading this has a cellphone, right? Tell me your story about what you pay, what you get, how you got rid of your landline and satisfied everyone in the household and everyone who calls you. If you got a good one, I'll put in print for the rest of the audience!

26.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

More digital image fun with 'The Sky's The Limit'

We're in some kind of weather time warp this week/end: the lengthening, cool nights and the color coming out in the trees say that autumn is here, but somebody forgot to tell the thermometer. It hit the high 80s today with the forecast for the 90s through Monday. (And yes, it's a dry heat, so we all love it.)

An elliptical quote from JFK's speech in honor of Robert Frost sent me searching for what he was talking about when he said "artists are not engineers of the soul." His allusion was to an expression of Josef Stalin's, from the early 1930s, which was presumably still well-known at the 1963 height of the Cold War. This description of Frank Westerman's book "Ingenieurs van de ziel" ("Engineers of the Soul") tells of Stalin enlisting artists as propagandists: "I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul." I searched for and found a longer excerpt from JFK's speech that spelled out the American response:

"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. In a free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul."

His hopeful vision of the future might still provide guidance, as we're not quite there after 40 years' work:

I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

Marc Lynch, writing in Foreign Affairs, describes in detail the risks and opportunities the US faces in taking Arabs seriously:
"Unless the United States reaches out, it is unlikely that Arab attitudes will change spontaneously, for as it stands, ambitious politicians and public intellectuals have powerful incentives to criticize the United States in ever stronger terms and almost no incentives to defend it. Anti-American rhetoric earns one a reputation for authenticity, courage, and clear thinking, whereas a pro-American line -- though praised by Americans as the height of courage -- is usually perceived in the Arab world as cheap opportunism."

The NY Times' story on the extent of file sharing and theft of copyrighted material outside the US gives one pause. "'I don't feel like I'm infringing on the artists,' said Mike, a 26-year-old business student in Berlin, who says he has burned 700 to 800 CD's, many with downloaded songs for himself and his friends." Mike didn't feel like having his last name published, either. China's "deeply rooted culture of counterfeiting" puts it in a class by itself, with an estimate that 90% of its recordings pirated. The fact that not even Singapore has figured out how to control piracy is telling.

eBay has the technology to stop theft of (some) copyrighted material, and I, Cringely's user experience report of the system makes interesting reading. He's not thinking about file sharing (this time), though, but rather how we might turn marketing into a science rather than an art. A former rocket scientist and a marketing executive have applied Taguchi methods to the problem and are getting results.

More good work from Congress, they've pulled the plug on Poindexter's Information Awareness Office and the Total Information Awareness project (renamed the "Terrorist" IA after the public reacted to the idea of being "picked up by their ankles and turned upside down then shaken to see if anything funny falls out," as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon put it.

This week's GOP Team Leader missive warns me not to believe the "hate speech" from the Democrats, "unprecedented for any presidential contest." (Can you say "overstated rhetoric"? Sure you can.) In attempt to put the $87 bil into perspective it notes that it's "about the same amount as Americans spend on cosmetics." The strategy for spreading the good word seems to be consistent from top to bottom: "Talk to your friends and neighbors. Tell them what a wonderful job our President is doing and when they ask for proof, tell them."

That's the ticket: when they ask for proof, tell them.

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

For its proposal to tap taxpayers (or perhaps just the Treasury, pushing the expenditure out into the never-never land of inflation and future generations) for $87 billion, the Administration has been using the post WW2 Marshall Plan as the benchmark for how successful this might be. As Patrick Leahy pointed out in the Senate , the deliberation for that plan was considerable: "The Senate held 30 days of hearing. There were 100 nongovernmental witnesses. There were 1,466 pages of testimony."

Sen. Robert Byrd made the point at greater length. An excerpt: "The Marshall Plan was not a huge bill presented to Congress for its rubber-stamp approval. It was a comprehensive strategy to provide $13.3 billion to 16 countries over four years to aid in reconstruction. In current dollars, the U.S. share would be about $88.2 billion spread over four years - very nearly the same amount that has been requested by the President for one country for a period of mere months. Moreover, the total amount of aid that the President will ultimately request for Iraq is anyone's guess....

"The reconstruction of Europe was undertaken in the context of spirit of internationalism, multilaterialism, and collective security that led to the formation of the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The same can hardly be said today."

(His full text will be posted on his website soon, presumably.)

4+ months down the road, and there's still no sign of the WMDs in Iraq. It's possible that in spite of all the other problems in Iraq's infrastructure, and the collapse of the military under the US' attack, they were really, really good at hiding (or exporting) what they had, and we just need more time to find the stuff. It's also possible that the weapons inspection process after the first Gulf War actually worked. We're left with that trio of multiple choice answers to explain the Administration's performance: deception, mendacity or incompetence. The deception part comes for free, as we acknowledge and expect that a great deal of intelligence will be and should be kept from the public. We expect less withholding from Congress, and from select Congressional committees, though.

From Donald Rumsfeld's point of view, the search is proceeding in an orderly fashion, and the team is working well. Not even the Voice of America can make that report glossy.

The FTC is not slowing its promotion of the national No-call registry, expecting that Congress will act to circumvent Judge West's ruling against the Oct. 1 rollout. Congress should be smart enough to recognize that the vast majority of its consituents really, really want this, whether or not it's Constitutional.

Later: Whoa, Congress scooped me: drew up a bill and passed it in a single day. 95-zip in the Senate, 412-8 in the House. Take that, Judges!

Just as gas prices were easing down from the Labor Day gouge, this shot across the bow, from OPEC. From the NY Times' report, "This was a message to Washington: 'You can send a delegation to OPEC, but we control the oil price,'" said Mehdi Varzi, a private energy consultant in London.

What, you mean it's not legal to push all those protesters over there out of the camera's view? The ACLU offers a helpful lawsuit so that we can find out. It seems the Secret Service has extended its duties to protection from unpleasant expressions of free speech as well as from risks of bodily harm.

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

In spite of the fact that the Administration lied to us, misled us mightily, or was completely inept in its budgetary forecasting (or some almagam of those three explanations), I don't yet have a knee-jerk reaction to the $87 billion budget request for rebuilding Iraq. It's nation-building, in a big, big way. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea, necessarily, but it's reasonable to be cautious with large sums of money, even for an outfit that has its own printing press for currency. The Center for American Progress has compiled some statistics about how much money we're talking about: enough to clean up all the state budget deficits, for example, or 10 times what the federal government spends on environmental protection in a year.

I gather that the public in general was surprised -- not in a good way -- by this explicit statement of how much we're going to have to invest in the PNAC Iraq undertaking. Even without a $300 per capita tax increase to pay for it, the idea of that much foreign aid doesn't sit well with Joe Sixpack. Questions about how much of this money are going to Dick Cheney's friends and business associates are suddenly a bit more pointed, and recognized as pertinent by more of the populace. It's still the economy, stupid, and in spite of the captains of industry being quite happy with Bush's term to date, the steadily increasing unemployment rolls mean there are a lot of unhappy voters.

Joel Spolsky's programmers now have offices to die for. When you own the company, and can do whatever you want, go for the drama! If nothing else, you'll set something the rest of us sub-99th percentile grunts can aspire to.

The 6th annual Mindset List from Beloit College is out, offering us oldsters a clue about youngsters in the Class of 2007.
2. They are not familiar with the source of that "Giant Sucking Sound."
18. They would never leave their calling card on someone’s desk.
35. Directory assistance has never been free.
and many more.

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

I started fall in and on Lucky Peak Lake, with no fellow sailors, and a small audience of shoreline fisherpeople. The water was lovely, the air was cold, and the lake at sunrise was a great place to be.

Morning wind and the first day of fall over Lucky Peak Lake, 2003

Bush's speech to the UN was underway as I enjoyed a cuppa after packing up. I hope that the best of what he had to say was true, and truly felt by members of his administration. "The primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government for the people of Iraq, reached by orderly and democratic process....

"(A) transformed Middle East would benefit the entire world by undermining the ideologies that export violence to other lands. Iraq, as a dictatorship, had great power to destabilize the Middle East. Iraq, as a democracy, will have great power to inspire the Middle East....

"As an original signer of the U.N. Charter, the United States of America is committed to the United Nations. And we show that commitment by working to fulfill the U.N.'s stated purposes, and give meaning to its ideals."

The last moon of summer, waning into fall

So, Bush no longer sees the UN as irrelevant, in spite of its failure to explicitly authorize or endorse the US military adventure in Iraq. The UN is now very relevant, as we want and need other countries' troops and contributions to help in our nation-building effort. Bush demonstrated his contempt for the President of France (or perhaps just his opinion that Chirac is irrelevant) by not sticking around for the speeches after his own. And Chirac seems to have downplayed his posturing as the other great world leader, trying to dictate what the US must do next. Maybe there's a way out of the quagmire, who knows?

The speechifying at the UN was definitely a more impressive show than last night's hour with the President and Brit Hume, which vied for most embarrasing television with the Raiders/Broncos football game and yet another installment of Fear Factor. The incredulity meter broke when Hume asked Bush how he managed when things were going badly, such as they were in Iraq, and Bush replied that he thought things were going well: "we're making progress." The non-answer provided the answer: when things are going badly, he just tells himself they aren't, with utter certainty.

22.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boise's last elected mayor resigned after a relatively minor scandal involving misuse of city money for personal adventures on nominally business travel. That's opened up field to shiny new candidates, and Dan Popkey gives a glowing endorsement to Dave Bieter as the best of the bunch. We've got a real estate developer who doesn't want to be know as that (endorsed by another developer as the best mayor the developers could buy), the county sheriff who's looking for a more interesting job, and Bieter, a native Boisean (who didn't have to move to get back into the city before running, as the other two did) who's "joyful, charming, humble, engaged and deeply rooted" and has been campaigning the old-fashioned way, door-to-door. May the best man win!

Gretchen Morgenson finds (albeit small) reasons for cheer in the realm of corporate governance, but this week's Market Watch column is worth reading for the introductory sentence alone: "Never mind the $140 million paid to Richard A. Grasso for his work as a casino greeter...."

I'm not the only one who can't get a straight answer to a letter to a politician: three members of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations are still waiting for straight answers to their 10 questions for Dick Cheney, about the "intelligence" that was used to promote the war in Iraq. Their estimate is that his admission that the claims were inaccurate is about half a year overdue.

After months of carefully orchestrated juxtaposition, leading more than 2/3rds of the populace to infer that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, the Administration's PR machine now insists that such a claim was never made.'s blog offers entry points into a parallel universe.

I wonder how many millions of people first heard about Flash Mobs in a recent Doonesbury? Here's an information piece on the topic, with an amusing riposte for critics, by Howard Rheingold: "I think it's fun. It's self-organizing entertainment. The tut-tutting doesn't make sense to me. Why is flash mobbing less meaningful than paying to get into a giant stadium to watch grown men in tight clothes play a game?"

Visit the halfbakery for a dip into ideas strange and sometimes wonderful.

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

Rob Walker's look at downloading "free" music: "We can dismiss right away the notion that most file swappers would stop if only they understood that what they're doing is wrong. One of the most amusing research results from the various studies of music piracy is the finding that most file sharers apparently don't care if they're violating copyright laws."

We don't have to bemoan the failure of Sunday schools to teach ethical standards; the fact of the matter is that the consequences of our acts make a difference in our decisions. It's difficult to stay at or below the posted speed limits all the time, and law enforcement acknowledges the difficulty by (usually) not paying attention until we're 5 or 10mph over the limit. We respond to an effective limit of 5 or 10mph over the posted limit. With a proper foundation, a moral sense of right and wrong is built up over time, and into adulthood, but we all experience the first lesson of childhood punishment acutely: whatever you do, don't get caught, for something unpleasant will happen when you do. We do not ask ourselves "what is the higher principle that this punishment is intended to teach me?" but rather "how can I avoid ever getting this again?" Kate Zernicke's companion piece captures this neatly in a quote from a junior at PSU: "It's not something you feel guilty about doing. You don't get the feeling it's illegal because it's so easy."

The RIAA lawsuits have the form of a public spanking, but the audience can do the math emotionally even if they might not be able to show their work: they're not likely to get caught. One way to lower the risk of getting caught, in fact, is to share less while continuing to take as much as one likes; the people who offer the most songs to others are the RIAA targets at this point. (Walker notes one study that found "nearly 70 percent of downloaders do not share a thing," which I imagine means not sharing through the pseudonymous, public service.)

Of course, the moral and ethical standards of the RIAA are suspect as well. Are CD and music sales up, or down? Profits? No doubt they want more profit than they're making, but has music sharing on the internet been a net loss to them, or are they only "losing" business they would never have had, and enjoying the benefits of viral marketing at the same time? I certainly don't feel like I can trust the RIAA's or the labels' accounting to publicly answer these questions, even if they do have accurate market data.

The larger issue is that advent of internet culture has forever changed the rules of the ownership of information. "Plagiarism" will move from a necessary addition to college orientations to an advanced topic for consideration by hoary academic task forces. The RIAA will look back on the pre-internet, pre-CD-writer era as the golden age of profit and control. In this world of change, we can at least rely on one certainty: artists will remain underpaid and overworked for the most part, as a few superstars collect a disproportionate share of what profit there is. Business people will surround them like ants at a picnic, to skim as much as possible from the mother lode.

19.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When I mentioned my problems with computers yesterday, I wasn't actually asking for help, but when an alert reader offered a tip, I remember seeing others ask for, and receive help via blog entries. I started to write about it in more detail and in doing so, the answer occurred to me: I'd checked the firewall on one machine, but not the other, and ZoneAlarm was just doing its job, quietly keeping invaders from my PC. Telling it that the laptop is "ok" solved the problem, and the two machines are now sharing politely. As a side benefit, I scraped the unneeded NetBEUI and IPX stuff out of the networking stack of the Win95 PC.

"So it’s pretty hilarious to hear record company executives and movie studio executives get all righteous about copyright. They’ve been manipulating copyright laws for years, and all the manipulations were designed to steal everything they could from the actual creators of the work." Orson Scott Card's Intellectual Update: MP3s Are Not the Devil: Part 1.

Thanks to the Scout Project weblog for the link. You can also explore the gray areas of the law with Bill Glahn on his RIAA Watch.

The truth behind Google's ability to provide the results you want: PigeonRank™ technology. "Building upon the breakthrough work of B.F. Skinner, Page and Brin reasoned that low cost pigeon clusters (PCs) could be used to compute the relative value of web pages faster than human editors or machine-based algorithms."

AOL's balloon in a warmer, happier time

Put a stake in it, AOL is done. Well, Time Warner is done with its AOL prefix and ticker, anyway, reverting to good old TWX and its maiden name. AOL is still set to make a cool $billion profit this year, but it's not the bubble-inflated giant it was when it bought T-W with its pricy shares.

Collect these cool Wartime Action Figures!

Another weblog from Baghdad, this one billed as a "girl blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics and occupation." The language is facile, literary. The stories are dark. Is it true? Time will tell.

William Lind, writing on counterpunch provides an alternate answer to the question What is to be Done? Get out, soon. "Leaving Iraq will not be a defeat for America, because America never had any interests at stake in Iraq in the first place. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam and Bin Laden hated each other's guts and the notion that Iraq constituted a threat to American security was pure invention. Genuine threats to American security may arise in a post-state Mesopotamia, but we have already created that monster and we will have to live with it. Folly has its consequences."

You can also find the English version of Dominique de Villepin's opinion, with more convoluted bureaucratic maneuvers, a fair dose of condecension and of course the royal "we." (I thought the French got rid of the royals...)

Just in case you didn't believe it, here's proof that one vote can make a difference.

After 8 years orbiting Jupiter, Galileo is headed down for a spectacular finish.

18.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Day 4 of post-work, and I'm not bored yet. Since last night's friendly tennis match got cancelled, I went windsurfing instead, out on the arm of CJ Strike reservoir. Today, 3 hours of "lunchtime" tennis hit the spot. I'm still trying to figure out how to network my PC and laptop through our Linksys router/switch, and I think I know how it's supposed to work, and have everything set to go, but the W2k machine can't get into the W95 machine. It sees the machine in our local workgroup, but nothing past that.

Yesterday's computer problem was Outlook (2000) receiving email OK, but not sending it. It acts like it sends it, puts it in the sent items folder, but nobody ever gets it. Looking through the Community newsgroups on Microsoft's site, it appears that I'm not the only one with this problem, and there isn't a simple and obvious answer. The "search" function is broken, tells me to "contact site administrator" (I'd love to), and it's far from obvious how I would get back to a posting I make. I looked for a similar thread, found it, posted, and never saw my post show up. Looking through the headers 25 messages at a time (when there are most of 4,000 times 25 messages in the group) is not real productive. The typical "it's so easy just point and click" user interface that makes simple tasks sort of simple and difficult ones impossible.

After exhausting Cableone's support ability, I took their suggestion and tried OutlookExpress on the same machine. That worked. Go figure. Computer problems, surfing the web, occasional recreation... it's almost like I'm still working.

James C. Moore has reconsidered his last vote for President. "Unfortunately, there is no lemon law governing the presidency. We can't get our money or our votes back when we discover we’ve bought something defective. We’re stuck until the next election."

Heard Salam Pax (linked as "Pax" in the lefthand blogroll) on Fresh Air today. That was interesting. He's leveraged his wartime blog commentary into a column, book and celebrity. And now we can all hear the sound of his voice.

15.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A mnemonic icon to remind me what's important
Follow your passion

My first day of post-work, and I was not at all inclined to sleep in. I had a phone call to make, the Sunday paper to start reading, an email or two to send, and an errand to run, back to the office. I'd forgotten my pine cone collection, and a personalized calendar from Friday's celebration. It was an absurdly small errand, but I did it anyway, arranging to have my ex-boss come to the lobby and escort me in, and then back out less than 10 minutes later. I also turned the power off on my halted unix box, which I'd forgotten to do before the weekend. Now the last physical loose end is tied up, and only the financial and insurance paperwork remains.

Every ending is a new beginning, right? I rode my bike down to the greenbelt and up to the library, returned a book, examined a display about Mary Hallock Foote at my leisure, found another book (on cabinet making) to bring home, and went out of my way to express appreciation for the splendid new bike rack out front, designed by Byron and Lynn Clercx, and funded by the Boise City Arts Commission. (It's clever, elegant, aesthetically connected to the site and the Library, and it works well, something a lot of bike racks never achieve.)

Somehow the great pageant of life seemed to grab more of my attention today, from the dog-walkers and joggers on the greenbelt, to the guy clipping his fingernails while sitting at table in the library, the 8 fully-booked internet portals, and the little girl crying as her mother carried her out to the parking lot, explaining that they'd just borrowed the book, and they had to give it back so someone else could enjoy it.

I did the little sketch here a year or two ago, and stuck it up in my cube to help remind me to keep life's balance in perspective, and to weigh priorities accordingly. Today feels like the start of my real life.

America's experiment with electronic democracy,, has a new project:, chronicling the lies coming from George W. Bush. One of the best whoppers was "We will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations." (Of course, that's the glorious rhetorical flourish kind of lie rather than the specific, calculated falsehood.)

Odds are Grasso is out of the helm of the NYSE before the end of the year, although they're narrowing in his favor. I got the story wrong last time I mentioned it. That $48 million Dick gave up was on top of the $139.5 million he's already taken out of the kitty. That is one well-paid regulator, I tell you what. I'm sure that the companies on whose boards he sat while heading the stock exchange were particularly well-regulated. (In fact, Robert Nardelli of Home Depot said he be happy to take Grasso back, even after he's out of his current job.)

14.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The #1 question I get in response to announcing my retirement is "what are you going to do?" Since I don't have One Big Thing that I'm planning to do, I don't have a simple answer for it, but the questions and partial answers for it bounce around my head like pinballs. My favorite answer is what Mudhead said to Porgy when he was asked: "I'm gonna cut the soles off my shoes, climb a tree and learn how to play the flute!" But seriously, folks, this is a Big Question whose answers will make a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. Today, I bought the Sunday NY Times, which I haven't found the time to read in its entirety in a couple years. I'm going to play the last of 3 doubles matches in the Eagle tennis tournament. I agreed to help out as webmaster for our church's website. I'm not going to audition for the Opera Idaho chorus. (Ironically, their website has a style sheet problem in my Opera v.6.05 browser.) Tomorrow I'm going to work on some music for our choir's next rehearsal on Tuesday. And continue reading the Sunday NY Times. :-)

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

The Sky's The Limit by Michael Hayden

Well, today was the day, my last working at HP. In my vacation-shortened week, I went from working on the tail end of my last project (dispositioning excess assets), to relaxed putting my files and papers in order, to packing thoughtfully, to getting it done by 2 o'clock today. It gets ever-easier to throw things away ("away" being the recycling bin, or the confidential shredding bin) as the process evolves. Today I dispensed with 4 feet of folders full of papers in short order. The 2:00 deadline was so I could go to the big party, celebrating HP's 30 years in Boise. There was ample good beer, good food (so I'm told; all I got to was the cheesecake, and that was nice), music from the HP Jazz Band, and a jolly crowd of my co-workers to wish me well in my new adventure.

At 5 o'clock, I went back to my desk for one last email check, and then pulled the rabbit hole in behind me with rm -rf /home/alien and shut the system down. Putting an end to the login, hostname and email address that had served me for 17 years, on 3 different computers had a greater psychological effect than I expected. And then out the door with my personal effects. Driving off the site had way more emotional power than I was prepared for, and all of a sudden the feeling of leaving it all behind -- the dailiness, the 20 years, but mostly the people, I think -- made me cry. Imagine that.

Point / Counterpoint in the SCO v. Linux battle. I was thinking that SCO's Darl McBride sounded reasonable and persuasive until I read the rebuttal: "(Y)our offer to negotiate with us comes at the end of a farrago of falsehoods, half-truths, evasions, slanders, and misrepresentations. You must do better than this. We will not attempt to erect a compromise with you on a foundation of dishonesty." Ouch.

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

I suppose I should say something about 9/11, as everyone else is doing today. I went to breakfast with a couple of buddies, ending a tradition of more than 10 years, and we were too busy talking to notice the moment of silence we were supposed to observe at 8:46. When I got back to my desk, though, and looked at the clock, it said 9:11, and gave me a moment's pause. Putting flags at half-staff seemed an appropriate gesture. In honor of those who were killed, I won't talk about the inappropriate gestures.

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

Tim Winship gives suggestions on how to get your just rewards out of frequent flyer programs. We collected close to the last one of ours for the flight back to Milwaukee this weekend. Total transportation cost was $32.50 to park the car for 5 days. I arranged all that with 3? weeks notice, and didn't have to do much in the way of rearranging our schedule or itinerary, or using the higher-ticket class of awards to get what we needed. Leaving on an off-peak Friday (and after Labor Day) probably helped, although we did return on a peaky Tuesday. BOI-DIA-MKE-ORD-BOI, and everything was close to on time, uneventful and full of business travelers.

Thank heavens I'm nowhere close to the "road warrior" OAG survey base: "averaging 28 domestic and 3.7 international business trips over the past 12 months." Elite status is nice, but the price is too high from my point of view.

Is this the start of a new SARS season?

Bill Joy is amicably stepping out of the workforce at 48, too. Being buddies with Silicon Valley VCs makes him a bit more likely to step back in, than I am, though. I like the fact that he had a Sun research center set up where he wanted to live -- Aspen.

Not to dance on anyone's grave, but I think the world is a better place now that Edward Teller has left it. I do wonder what the Mercury News reporter said when Teller asked him or her, "Can you tell me why I should have regrets?" I would've asked him if he's ever heard the story of Pandora's Box.

Sorry I missed the City Council meeting in Santa Cruz Tuesday night, wherein they called for Bush's impeachment. City government must be pretty dull most of the time, why not have a little fun with it once in a while?

A breakthrough in understanding what makes spotted knapweed such a successful weed! In case you missed the earlier report, that's what we were pulling up along the Salmon River in July, on our Sierra Club service trip with the Forest Service.

Richard Grasso is giving back $48 million from his pay and pension package for running the NY Stock Exchange. He'll have to scrape by on the remaining $90 million.

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

Whitefish Bay

Warmth of the day coming on, cicadas' dry whine rising and falling against crow calls and tree-muffled traffic. It's Sunday in summer in the place that defines "home" in my first apprehension of that idea. It's not that it's timeless, or has moved on, or not, or that I have moved on, or not, but rather that being here sends me racing back through years long spent, feeling waves of emotion coming up to my consciousness like Lake Michigan's endless churning, washing the rounded rocks of my memories, making their matte and chalky surfaces glisten for a moment before the sun chases the wetness away, and time waits for the cycle to return.

4.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lee Killough forwarded a veritable trove of links about the recent pageant in Alabama. Larry Durstin tries a point-by-point comparison of the Decalogue with our legal system, in the context of the Big Lie that Christians are some sort of persecuted minority in this country. The statistics about religiosity never fail to amaze me; the one about 4 out of 5 Americans believing God works miracle on a daily basis, for example. No doubt the same tally can't be made of people who are ready to have the Commandments enforced upon them.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is not so circumspect about direct criticism. "From where I sit, Roy Moore isn't fit to judge a dog show. He is a zealot cynically manipulating a powerful mixture of grievance and faith. It's frightening to know that 77 percent of the people support him. Thank goodness the Constitution does not."

Manuel Roig-Franzia digs up a history lesson about stone tablets while noting that there are tens, maybe hundreds of possible court cases over the thousands of monuments running around. "In the mid-1950s, the director Cecil B. DeMille and the Fraternal Order of Eagles service organization distributed several thousand sets of stone tablets to promote DeMille's film The Ten Commandments."

3.9.3 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It looks like Tom DeLay found the Boogie man he was looking for in the Texas gerrymandering debacle. If the governor calls a third special session to finish the Republican redistricting coup, Democrat John Whitmire looks to be available to round out a quorum.

Florida, California, and Texas. The Republicans are going for the big game, here, controlling the leadership of states and the federal government through any means they can. The prize for DeLay is Speaker of the House, and I'm sure he can do that every bit as well as Newt Gingrich did.

Hey now, a chink in the armor of the price-fixing music industry. Cheaper CDs are only a decade or two overdue, eh?

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

Tom Friedman is still bullish on the concept of our enterprise in Iraq, but his current assessment is that we need a "policy lobotomy." Sounds serious. Anarchy is easier to maintain than civil order, as it turns out, and there are some groups who'd prefer the former to order imposed by Crusade. He's calling for a "more UN-friendly approach" from the current administration, something that's frankly hard to imagine. "Countries are not exactly lining up to send their troops into harm's way in Iraq," he notes, drily. "I don't know what Mr. Bush has been doing on his vacation, but I know what the country has been doing: starting to worry. People are connecting the dots -- the exploding deficit, the absence of allies in Iraq, the soaring costs of the war and the mounting casualties. People want to stop hearing about why winning in Iraq is so important and start seeing a strategy for making it happen at a cost the country can sustain."

Speaking of troubled spots in the middle east, it seems as though the Taliban and Al Qaeda are back in business in Afghanistan. "Now the situation is very good for us. It is improving every day. We can move everywhere," said Gul Rahman Faruqi, a corps commander of the Gardez No. 3 garrison during the Taliban's rule.... "Before people didn't believe the Taliban were around. They thought we were finished so they were afraid. But now they see that we are active and they see there is no other alternative to the looters and killers," said Faruqi, who was interviewed Monday in neighboring Pakistan. "We know they don't like the Taliban, but they hate the looters and killers even more."

Jim Pinto's "Connections for Growth and Success" gets a great response on the topic of executive pay, from Roy Slavin, former president of Siemens Industrial Automation USA. Slavin suggests an uprising of the corporate worker bees as the best way to make something change.

Pinto had a blurb about the Google calculator, which I've been hearing about. He noted that with the Google toolbar installed (it came with Opera v6.05), you can just type stuff like "tablespoons per cup" and get intelligible answers. I tried "tablespoons per ounce," which I'd run into while measuring cold medicine recently, and got something strange: 1 US tablespoons per ounce = 0.00052158778 m3/kg. Huh? I wanted something like "3." (Actually, it's "2" and that little cup I used must've been marked in teaspoons rather than tablespoons. 3 teaspoons to the tablespoon, so a teaspoon is 1/6th of an ounce. Cubic meters per kilogram aren't much help here.

1.Sept.03 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Labor Day review

Scatterplot of change in CEO pay vs. 2001 layoffs from the IPS/UFE study

I'd seen a couple news stories about this study on CEO pay, layoffs and the like: Executive Excess 2003 (PDF). Finally got around to looking at the original report today, and I thought it was odd that Table 1.1, supposedly showing how companies that announced big layoffs in 2001 paid their CEOs a lot of money, and then in 2002 rewarded them even more for that didn't show the pattern they described. The text says: "This year we looked at pay in the year after the layoff to assess whether the CEOs were in effect rewarded for cutting jobs. The results were striking...." They go on to compare the median CEO pay increase, versus the median increase in a comparison group that Business Week studied, and to cite a few of the extreme examples.

The median is an odd statistic to use in such large and disparate groups. What was striking to me about the table's data was that there were big decreases in the table as well as increases, and even though the table was (almost) sorted from most to least layoffs, the absolute changes in pay and the percentage changes didn't follow any sort of neat pattern. I did a regression analysis to see if the number of layoffs could explain any of the other data. Nope. R-squared is close to 1 for a regression of correlated variables, and zero for uncorrelated ones. This one came out to about 0.05. That's noise. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the graph of the data above shows succinctly that the two variables aren't correlated.

The press release about the study from the two organizations (United for a Fair Economy, and Institute for Policy Studies) says: "Median CEO pay skyrocketed 44 percent from 2001 to 2002 at the 50 companies with the most announced layoffs in 2001, while overall CEO pay rose only 6 percent." That is so lame. Let's try and at least tell the truth about what statistics are reported, shall we? The median CEO pay of the 50 companies was up (or "skyrocketed" if you like) 44%, as compared to the median CEO pay of a comparison group of 365 companies, up only 6%. The median is the value in the middle of a series sorted in numerical order. I didn't track down the Business Week comparison group, but in the 50 companies examined, CEO pay ranged from down 100% (were they punished for laying off workers?!) to up 1612%; down $150 million (!) to up $35 million.

With 50 items in the sorted list, the median will be the average of the 25th and 26th. Sorted by percent change, those would be Condit of Boeing (+5%) and McNerney of 3M (+28%), for a median of +16.5%. Sorted by change in dollars, the median averages Condit (+$216,000, +5%) and Parker of Dow Chemical (+$460,000, +42%). Sorted by 2001 CEO pay, the median would average -24% at VF and +48% at Xerox. Sorted by 2002 CEO pay, the median would average +134% at ADC Telecom and +61% at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. (You start to see why the median is not useful.)

In fact, it appears that they found the median pay in 2001 (averaging Mulcahy of Xerox and McDonald of VF) and the median pay in 2002 (averaging Roscitt of ADC Telecom and Sternlicht of Starwood Hotels & Resort) and observed that the 2002 value was 44% higher than the 2001 value.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 01-Oct-2003 21:44:15 MDT