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unraveling

28.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

View leaving Denver, February night

Along with its promotion for a simple, cheap long distance rate, and a residential package with a bundle of features for a reasonable price, Qwest is also aggressively marketing low-cost broadband with DSL. They have a deal with MSN as ISP for under $30/month, or you can get a less monopoly ISP from Velocitus for the same amount.

When I signed up for Cableone last spring, I thought I was going to be paying $40/mo., but they pulled a fine-print fast one on me and said our rock-bottom "Lifeline" cable TV service didn't qualify us for the $10 discount from $49.95. I talked to the Boise internet manager at Cableone late this week, asked him if their rate was negotiable or whether I should just shop somewhere else. "Uh, unfortunately, our rates are what they are," he told me.

I started to explain how I'd originally expected to pay $40, but was paying $50, and he said "you have Lifeline?" Yeah... "Oh, we just made a decision this morning; we'll be taking $10 off your bill." Good answer, just enough to maintain the barrier to exit for a month or two, at least. They hadn't passed the "decision" down to the rank and file just yet - the initial conversation with the support agent did not include the possibility of a rate reduction.

Sunshine, blue sky, 50° and a lot of wind today. My buddy Steve pegged his funmeter with snowkiting in 15-20mph wind, followed by two hours windsurfing on the Snake River. His report:
"Air temp 50 and water 48 sailed from 3:00 to 5:00 and my arms are limp. Attitude is Everything."

Me, I settled for three sets of "extreme tennis" at McKinney park, while a Boise Police plane circled overhead, watching the house where a guy who'd shot a police officer was holed up. We'd wondered about the plane -- was he in trouble? Controls stuck? (No, you can't maintain position circling in a 30mph wind with stuck contols.) Jeanette came over on her bike, told us our neighbor reported there'd been a shooting and the suspect was on the loose, people are advised to stay at home, inside, lock your doors. A fellow behaving a bit oddly had come in to the park an hour or so earlier, and was sitting out of the wind by the restroom building, and I pointed out that he was a little suspicious. "Expletive deleted," Jeanette said, and rode out to tell the police nearby. We gave a heads-up to some kids and a parent playing basketball, about the time two cops came into the park to tell us the suspect was surrounded in a house; they said a word or two to the guy in the park and left. We'd been prepared to clear the area, but with the perp surrounded, went back to our game, under the now-explained circling small plane.

27.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ahmad Chalabi is on the Pentagon payroll?! This is too much; he plays the DOD and intelligence agencies like a banjo and collects $3 to $4 million a year of taxpayer money?

26.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

While pundits have a field day with the idea of protecting the sanctity of marriage, the local effort to constitutionalize it ran into a snag: Senate State Affairs committee chairwoman Sheila Sorenson just said no to giving it a hearing and sending it out to the Senate. The pro-hetero-sanctity crowd is working on defining apoplexy in response.

She's got good reasons, she's not running for re-election, and she has the respect of the leadership -- and me! Sometimes the system works.

Now, in case you haven't had enough on the topic, consider The Daily Brew's suggestions for front-runners to defend the sanctity of marriage. The indignant cries of hypocrisy! won't be letting up anytime soon. Tap into Rush Limbaugh for a well-reasoned position on the "for" side, as he congratulates himself for predicting the Dems would call this a "wedge" issue: "I know these people like I know my naked body: every orifice, every crevice, every crack. I know these people, ladies and gentlemen. I can predict what these people are going to say. I can predict what these people are going to do; I can predict how they're going to look when they say it before they say it."

When not examining his crevices, Limbaugh emphasizes that those damn liberals made him do it. George W. really is a states rights kind of guy, but the Gay Agenda forced his hand. So to speak.

Or jump through Phil Gingrey's holy logic that God established marriage as a "sacred institution" and so it's up to the US Government to uphold it. Gingrey imagines that once this Amendment gets through, "it will set in stone that marriage in this country is a union between one man and one woman." Maybe we can set the stone up in one of our parks, too.

The suggestion I liked for supporting the sanctity of marriage is to include a proscription against divorce in any constitution amending. Let no man put asunder and all that. The friend who suggested it pointed out that the Pope would certainly be in favor.

Just to keep this fair and balanced, have a look at Andrew Sullivan's point of view: War is Declared.

Sullivan also provides more than I need to know about Mel Gibson's movie: "Of over two hours, about half the movie is simple wordless sadism on a level and with a relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie before. And you have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree. Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits."

For the Catholic view, Maureen Dowd's Stations of the Crass.

25.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Beforehand, I thought it would take an hour, maybe two. That wasn't even close. We bagged out of the Ada Co. CD2 Democratic caucus well after 10, just before the 2nd round of voting was closed, and well before it got around to delegate elections. We'd arrived just before 6pm while a freakish spring storm was dumping an inch of slush on the Treasure Valley, assembled for a few minutes of volunteer orientation and then manned our stations: me to one of the tables with pledge forms for the Congressional District 2, Jeanette to the "Info" table where people could find out which CD they're in before joining one or the other caucus.

The weather did not deter a record crowd from turning out. We passed out all 1,250 yellow pledge forms for CD2 and then marked some of the leftover blue ones from CD1 with a "Y" to pick up the tail end of the crowd. We packed into half the BSU Jordan Ballroom and reveled at the novelty of being in a room with that many Democrats. In Boise! While the ballots were counted, we heard short speeches from representatives of each of the campaigns, including some that have withdrawn from the race but remain certified for the nomination process: Clark, Gephardt and Dean (whose supporters insisted that he has not yet officially withdrawn, but has merely "suspended" his campaign). Kerry, Edwards, Kucinich and the ever-popular "uncommitted" rounded out the 7 choices.

Once the count was done (but not announced; what purpose was there in that first count I wonder?), we had a role call of the caucus-goers: with the votes sorted into their camps, monitors read the names off the pledge cards to sub-caucuses organized by preference. You get to see your fellow travelers, hear their voices. If you couldn't be bothered to stay through all that, your vote fell by the wayside. The one fellow who told me he was really a Republican, but his buddy told him to come down and support Howard Dean might not have stayed for that part. (After reading the pledge form that he had to sign, which required the declaration "I am a member of the Democratic Party," he hesitated, decided that wasn't right and went away. Then he came back, apparently bolstered by his misguided buddy, and decided he felt OK about exaggerating a bit for the purpose at hand. Republicans, go figure!)

The Kerry sub-caucus was the largest and took the longest to count. Names called but not answered had to be called again to make sure no one was left out. By the time that was done, the crowd had gone from jam-packed and attentive, through rowdy and raucous to thinning in numbers and patience. I'm not sure why it took so long to tally the votes and report them back to us, but well past 9, the word came down that it would be "15 more minutes" and we all groaned. We were not idle, however, as horse-trading between sub-threshold sub-caucuses was taking place. Kucinich didn't have 15%, Uncommitted didn't either (some said) and Dean just needed a few votes to get over the limit and send delegates to the state convention. The Edwards campaign chair waded into the heart of Uncommitted, stood on a chair and professed his desire for us all.

I'd filled out my pledge form while the volunteer assignments were being parceled out, and I'd assumed the practical choices were Kerry, Edwards and Uncommitted, and went with the last of those while assessing the lay of the land. Friends and promoters only later had their chance to persuade me, and I confess that my heart was drawn to the Kucinch camp, which was the liveliest, noisiest, youngest and most sincere. The Dean supporters were the most earnest about working the process, getting the bodies, the votes into their camp, insisting that his campaign was not dead, only moribund at worst. I wanted to hear the first round tallies before making up my mind. Was there any chance that Kucinich could meet threshold? Uncommitted had a lot of pledge forms recovered by folks who were prepared to commit one way or the other, and it was pretty clear they wouldn't remain above 15%. It looked like Kerry, Edwards and Dean would stand... I sat with the Kucinich people, talked to some of the kids who were there at their first caucus, told them what I knew about the particulars of the process, what a state convention is like, how much influence they could have in the outcome, and why it was such good experience anyway.

Partying hardy is part of the deal, of course. This is more than just showing up and punching a few chad; full participation takes some stamina. When we left, there were a couple hundred people scattered about the room, a good proportion of whom were prepared to stand for election as delegates to the state convention in June, and then pay their own way to attend.

My favorite moment of the night came during Bethine Church's speech as co-chair of the Kerry campaign in the state. The other candidates' people had already spoken, highlighted by an impassioned and unscripted plea from Elaine Wassen for Kucinich. His supporters had arranged themselves strategically through the hall and provided a claque to goad the enthusiasm of the audience. After things had calmed down, and Bethine had been introduced, she said she knew John Kennedy and a phrase or two later, the crowd could tell from the context that she'd meant Kerry. (Of course, she did know John Kennedy, too.) Someone at the podium tipped her to what went wrong, and she graciously corrected herself, said that at 81, she occasionally had flashbacks. A big voice from the Kucinich crowd in the back of the room answered, "Yeah!"

When the first round tally came out, more than 2 hours after the doors had symbolically been closed and the caucus called to order, Kerry had a little under half, Edwards had about a quarter, and Uncommitted, Dean and Kucinich split the remainder in sub-threshold portions. (Clark collected three die-hard votes, Gephardt none.) I voted the practical matter that Edwards' chair had recommended: keep the race alive, keep the Democratic debate in the news as long as possible. Keep the party going!

24.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No Lifeguard on Duty, but the water quality is good. Klode Beach,
 Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, in early February 2004

The left does too have pundits that are the equal of the raving dogs of the right, they just don't own as much of the radio spectrum. Try out Arianna Huffington as she describes "Bush rous(ing) the sleeping dogs of the culture war":

"For the moral relativists in the Bush administration, the definition of sin seems to depend on whether the sinner can further their political purposes. So Justin exposing Janet's boob is a sin, but White House staffers exposing Valerie Plame is a win. Profiting from porno is a sin, but Halliburtonís wartime profiteering is a win. Two men getting hitched is a sin, but Cheney and Scalia shacking up in a duck blind is a win. Telling students condoms can prevent STDs is a sin, but lying about WMD is a win. And so, apparently, is GOP staffers hacking into Senate computers and Tom DeLay illegally funneling corporate money to Texas politicians."

Ahmad Chalabi's happy with the way things sit, even if some are upset with the way his "intelligence" got amplified into our American casus belli. "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important." What's the difference?

Here's a look at the world through 94-year-old Peter Drucker's point of view. It's mostly upbeat, but not entirely so. He's not so worried about outsourcing ("What outsourcing does is greatly improve the quality of the people who still work for you. I believe you should outsource everything for which there is no career track that could lead into senior management"), jobs going offshore, manufacturing, our education system or the "so-called recession." (It's "definitely not a recession. It's a transition -- a transition with a lot of incongruities.") What does concern him? "Our total dependence on foreign money to cover our government debt. Never before has a major debtor country owed its debt in its own currency. It is unprecedented in economic history." Lots more interesting ideas from the old man....

Oh here's one of those 1984-style bits of legislation that skipped past my notice: the "Help America Vote Act" of 2002. Jim Pinto's eNews provided the heads-up on what he thinks may be a nasty civil-rights time bomb:

"By the 2004 elections every state must emulate Florida's system of computerizing voter files. The law empowers the secretaries of state of all 50 states to purge all these lists of suspect voters. The new law is a radical change. Until now, with the notable exception of Florida, voter rolls have been maintained by county officials, and watched over by bi-partisan committees. Now the job of deciding who can and cannot vote will fall to a single official - the 'Katherine Harris' of each state. Remember in the 2000 Florida election, some voters were purged by 'error' for felonies committed in 2007; a big majority of the purged voters were black. The new law will eat up $3.9 billion of taxpayers' money, to motivate states and counties to adopt computerized touch-screen voting. Several people from all walks of life have been screaming warnings about the treacherous potential of electronic voting. Who is listening?

"Measurements already made have shown clearly that vote-count errors are racially biased.... In Florida, the US Civil Rights Commission found that a black vote was nearly 10 times as likely as a white vote to be rejected."

Pinto's an eclectic source of things of interest. Example number 2 was his ticket to this (Flash) tour of Hubble images from news.com.au. It's an amazing universe we're in.

23.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the one hand, it was an ill-conceived, miserable little attempt at humor. On the other, it fits into a pattern that the administration has made all too explicitly clear: either you're with us, or you're against us. If you're against us, you'd better look out. Smart bombs, cruise missiles, wayward Cabinet members and the "short form" of the Bill of Rights might be headed your way.

22.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"How do you spoil a system that's spoiled to the core in the first place?" Ralph Nader asked for a little laugh line in a recent speech. He blames Gore for the 2000 debacle, and I'm sure he'll find somebody to blame this year if things go badly. He feels it's important to challenge the "two-party duopoly"; it's important for him to challenge it. He's either tone deaf, or simply doesn't care that the certainty of either the Democrat or the Republican winning the race means that his candidacy on the left makes the right more likely to win. Karl Rove must be chortling today; the right may be Nader's strongest supporters in crucial swing states.

Ralph says he's fighting for all third parties, yet he can't be bothered to actually stick with one; he ditched the Green Party to do his own thing. Yes, we're "hostages to an antiquated Electoral College winner-take-all system," but no, that isn't going to change because Ralph Nader runs for president. Has he been doing anything to change the Electoral College system, one wonders? What net positive achievement in the presidential election system can he point to from his efforts?

John Nichols' "Online Beat" in The Nation takes the positive tack, looking toward the best possible outcome rather than continuing the agonizing over 2000 results: "The best way to marginalize Nader is still the same: steal his issues."

Ok, the UCS site seems to have recovered from the traffic jam following the NY Times article last week. Now you can read their press release directly: "Science, to quote President Bush's father, the former president, relies on freedom of inquiry and objectivity. But this administration has obstructed that freedom and distorted that objectivity in ways that were unheard of in any previous administration." That from Russell Train, head of the EPA under Nixon and Ford.

Their report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking", and audio from the press conference are linked from there.

21.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nice story in the Billings Gazette about MoveOn.org's "walk-in Thursday" this week. I walked into Sen. Larry Craig's Boise office and delivered my pitch and portion of the petition to a young staffer with a firm, polite and most likely meaningless smile on his face. There's so much back-scratching to be done in Washington, and Craig is such a loyal tool of his party that I don't imagine he'll get on board, but you do have to wonder what the limit is for even the most faithful of the party to feel abused by the deception.

Part of MoveOn's organization, in addition to recruiting and scheduling, was to follow-up later that same day, asking for an email response to the question "how did it go?" They shared some of the responses in an email to the participants that included a pointer to the story in the Montana news. It may be a "Democratic splinter group" as Sen. Conrad Burns said, but they've got one heck of an organization going.

20.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Bush team finally figured out how to get millions of new manufacturing jobs in this country: reclassify the industry of fast food workers from "service" to "manufacturing." Sounds rather like a Tom Tomorrow cartoon doesn't it?

Pat Buchanan sizes up Richard Perle's and Daniel Frum's book: "Hastily written, replete with errors, with no index, An End to Evil is a brief in defense of neoconservatives against their impending indictment on charges they lied us into a war that may prove our greatest disaster since Vietnam." His conclusion is that "the neocon moment may be passing, for they appear to be losing their grip on reality as well as their influence on policy."

It's the cover story of the March 1 issue of The American Conservative and a mighty interesting read.

There's ol' George Bush bein' a uniter instead of a divider again, with another recess appointment of a judge so far to the right that he couldn't get approved by the Senate. William Pryor's the author of the opinion that doing away with Texas' sodomy law would put those Texans on a slippery slope to "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest or pedophilia." Or was it to legalizing all that? I don't know, I've never been to Texas.

Eddy's dashboard, from the back seat, at dusk

Apparently Lamm, Morris and Pimentel found themselves a little short on conviction and dropped their lawsuit against The Sierra Club. The only hint of "why" in the story is that Club's executive director and president "said they would file a motion seeking reimbursement for legal fees paid to defend the suit, said plaintiffs' attorney James Turken. "

"Sierra Club members, including the plaintiffs, could still sue the club after the election if they believe the election wasn't conducted fairly, Turken said." Yes, Mr. Turken, in this great country just about anybody can sue for just about anything just about any time. Fair or not, this publicity boost should help voter "turnout" (the ballots are all mail-in) and give everyone a clear idea of who not to vote for.

19.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The radio news bite about Enron's CEO Jeff Skilling pleading "not guilty" to all 42 counts took a humorous turn when they noted he paid his $5 million bail, in cash.

Understanding the statistics of rate of change and how that differs from basic measurements can trip up the experts, but more often it trips up the unwary recipient of improperly slanted news. Consider the GeorgeWBush.com "blog" headline, Jobless Claims Fall Sharply. What the news blurb says is that "First-time claims for state unemployment aid dropped 24,000 to 344,000 in the week ended Feb. 14 from a revised 368,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said." The number of claims was lower than expected, which is a good thing, but note that these are first-time claims. More than a third of a million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, in addition to however many are still getting benefits, or fell off the end of benefits without finding a job.

The Reuters article linked isn't so upbeat: several analysts are quoted about the "sluggish" rate of job recovery, still struggling to break even with the increasing population coming into the workforce. And, "the number of people on state unemployment rolls beyond a first week climbed by a sharp 106,000 to 3.19 million in the Feb. 7 week, the latest for which figures were available."

So, new claims down 24,000, but the number still claiming beyond a week up by 106,000. Would you write the headline for the story with "Falls Sharply" in it? (Reuters didn't, of course.) The Bush team is pouncing on any and all positive news about the economy, and spinning it as best they can. Of course, if you're looking for a job, the "upturn" will begin when you find one, not when the pundits and/or PR folks say it has.

Also on the not-so-positive side, the Bush team is already backing off last week's enthusiastic prediction of 2.6 million new jobs this year: "Marc Racicot, the chairman of President Bush re-election campaign, said on Thursday the forecast was just a goal."

As a mechanical engineer, and more importantly, as a user, I appreciate a good remote control. I used TiVo's once without having my socks knocked off, but it worked for me, and I picked up what I needed to know without much trouble. This NY Times article about TiVo's design was an interesting look into the process, with some nice graphic sidebars. The "early, ugly and often" prototyping approach was the same sort of thing I got from Stanford's ME Design Division. (I don't have a lot to show for it, but more than nothing, anyway!)

TomPaine.com has a new warblog, the Dreyfuss Report and it's mighty interesting. The latest entry is about breaking up Iraq and Ahmad Chalabi's version of "what's the difference?" on the WMD question.

"The Kurds -- whatever they say in public -- want an independent Kurdistan and they want to control the oil in northern Iraq, centered on the city of Kirkuk. The Shiites -- whatever they say in public -- want to create a medieval-minded fiefdom with sharia-based Islamic law, repression of women, and all the rest. And they want to control the oil in southern Iraq. It now looks like the Kurds and Sistani are on the verge of a deal to support each other's claims."

Also on TomPaine.com, what's up with the courts and homosexual acts in Kansas: you know, that state where they're not sure we evolved? Two giant steps back.

18.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sheesh, less than half a day later, my graph's out of date! I guess I could have anticipated Dean's withdrawal, though. I'll keep my original graph around for posterity, but I've updated the one shown below with the now larger "dropouts" category.

It's also worth noting that Bush-Cheney raised what was then a record amount for their 200 campaign: $113M. That record is in the dust 9 months before election day 2004. (The The Independent had a collection of "state of the union" statistics that included that, last month. This pair stood out in my mind:
$42,000: Average savings members of Bush's cabinet are expected to enjoy this year as a result in the cuts in capital gains and dividends taxes;
$42,228: Median household income in the US in 2001.)

The Presidential money race, as of mid-Feb.'04

With another Tuesday primary in the books, the NY Times' interactive graphic with election results is more interesting than ever. It now includes "Where the votes are," Senate and Governor races, breakdown of the Democratic nomination delegates by "pledged" and "superdelegates," the money race, and poll results over time for the Democrats and Bush's approval rating. This is a great new medium for journalism; my compliments to Ben Werschkul and (I'm guessing) his team.

The graph at right stacks information they put in 3 separate charts, and shows that total Democratic fund-raising is a little ahead of the Republicans'. The Dems have already spent almost all of what they've raised, though! In the "cash on hand" category, it's no contest, 5:1 for the $100,000,000 W-team, with front-running Dems almost broke.

We hear that President Bush is thinking about whether or not he should support a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage. As if we should care? The President doesn't get a vote in the matter, thanks to the wisdom of our founding folks: Congress does, and state Legislatures do. "We the people" and he the President don't.

That won't stop the press from hanging on his every word, though. I liked what he had to say in the idle moments of a photo-op today: "Marriage ought to be defined by the people, not by the courts." (Of course, "the courts" are people, too, but let that be.) More than 5,000 people in San Francisco have made their definitional statement: it's not just one man + one woman anymore.

Who are you going to believe, the Bush administration, or 60 scientists with 20 Nobel laureates in their vanguard? The argument against them is that the case was made unequivocally, but then they're not lawyers.

"According to the report, the Bush administration has misrepresented scientific consensus on global warming, censored at least one report on climate change, manipulated scientific findings on the emissions of mercury from power plants and suppressed information on condom use.

"The report asserts that the administration also allowed industries with conflicts of interest to influence technical advisory committees, disbanded for political reasons one panel on arms control and subjected other prospective members of scientific panels to political litmus tests...."

(Quoted from The NY Times story while we wait for the Union of Concerned Scientists site to recover from the excess traffic.)

Back in Oct. 2002, Dana Milbank reported in The Washington Post that "For Bush, Facts are Malleable." "Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition," Milbank wrote. But that was about intelligence, not science.

17.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A weather report doesn't seem like enough for a blog entry, but... it launched into the 50s around here at noon, and doesn't seem to be looking back. Still 53°F an hour before midnight. Yesterday, I was flying a kite in a snowstorm on the Camas Prairie trying to learn how to snowkite, then we drove home as snow drifts covered half the road. (The other half, fortunately.) Today, sailing on a lake doesn't seem far-fetched, and flooding feels a lot more likely than new powder.

16.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When an old liberal softie like me and hard-bitten William Safire agree on something, it's a signal. (Here's background from NOW on the issue of media concentration if you need it.) Michael Powell's FCC is a disaster, facilitating the concentration of media ownership in contravention of the public interest. Heaping the blame on the FCC and a few senators at last week's hearing doesn't cover all the facts, though. The omnipork budget bill overrode the original stand at 35% with a White House "compromise" of the House and Senate.

The argument on the other side has driven snow-pure ideology: "the real danger to Americans is that outdated and unnecessary FCC restrictions will limit improvements in media markets and technologies, limiting the benefits that they can provide." You think? Unleash the market, and the benefits will bloom, just as they did with electricity deregulation. The Heritage Foundation says eliminate the rules entirely, and don't worry, "competition would still be covered antitrust regulation."

15.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Apart from expressing the notion that sending jobs offshore is ultimately good for our economy, and making predictions of lots of new jobs just around the corner for the last three years, what has the Bush administration done for workers lately? The Center for American Progress runs downs some headlines for us:

Administration sponsors conferences to help companies move jobs to China

Administration supports new tax breaks for companies moving offshore

Administration allows companies to move offshore to avoid taxes

White House proposes to weaken pension protection for workers

Administration allows companies to cut off eight million workers from overtime

White House gives tutorials on how companies can avoid paying workers overtime

White House repeals workplace safety protections

Administration gives tax breaks encouraging companies to cut worker health care

Stuff like that.

Having seen David Cay Johnston interviewed on this week's NOW by David Broncaccio, reading his article in today's NY Times about the chronic complexity of the tax code and then James K. Galbraith's review of Johnston's book, Perfectly Legal, one point occurs to me, regarding the so-called "death tax": would you rather pay tax while you're alive or after you're dead? Nominally, heirs don't pay taxes on their inheritance; it all comes out of "the estate." But who's lobbying against estate taxation? Dead men tell no tales.

Whatever the tax burden is (and regardless of how much of it gets passed to the future in the form of national debt), the part that doesn't come out of the estates of rich dead people will be paid for by less-rich, less-dead people such as you and me.

♥.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mores Mountain tracks, the day before I put mine in

I've had enough practice snowboarding now to take the best run of my life yesterday. The upper reach of the southwest-facing side of Mores Mountain requires a bit of a hike to get to, so week-old snow is still relatively untracked. When I got to it, about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, it had warmed and softened nicely above the inversion, and I added one more sinuous line to the handful seen here (the day before), starting just right of the top rocks and following the ridge down and to the left.

Back in-bounds, a couple runs later, I caught my heel-side edge and had the biggest butt slam of my life: easy come, easy go.

In spite of the slamming (which has not really been an issue since the first half-dozen times out), it's feeling like I'll be a convert, reverting to skis on rare occasions at most. It occurred to me yesterday just why: when you carve turns through untracked snow on a snowboard, just about every turn feels perfect. On skis, I experienced near-effortless perfection every once in a while, but it just seems like more of a struggle to get everything going the right direction at once.

Andrew Sullivan on "the Empowerment of Marriage": "Instead of begging for the basic right to marry, gay couples are now demanding it. In San Francisco, they are simply getting married as an act of civil disobedience. And that is also happening across the country. This will alter the debate - as will the actual existence of marriages in Massachusetts in May. The debate will become how to tear gay couples apart, how to demean and marginalize them, rather than an abstract debate about theories of marriage. And as these couples begin to feel what marriage is like, as they experience what civil equality actually is, they will become emboldened. Just as those who refused to leave segregated lunch-counters began to deepen their sense of moral outrage and conviction, so the act of getting married - something heterosexuals simply assume they have - is empowering."

Happy Valentine's Day!

Quoted in Paul Krugman's review of two books: "(I)if presidential family connections were theme parks, Bush World would be a sight to behold. Mideast banks tied to the CIA would crowd alongside Florida S&Ls that once laundered money for the Nicaraguan contras. Dozens of oil wells would run eternally without finding oil, thanks to periodic cash deposits by old men wearing Reagan-Bush buttons and smoking twenty-dollar cigars. Visitors to "Prescott Bush's Tokyo" could try to make an investment deal without falling into the clutches of the yakuza...." (From American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, by Kevin Phillips.)

Krugman: "It's a great irony that George W. Bush, beloved by red-blooded, red-state Americans for his down-home manner, comes from a family with deep political and business connections to the Middle East. As someone once pointed out, it's a lot easier to document links between the bin Laden family and the Bushes than it is to document links between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein."

Speaking of reviews on the Amazon site, this NYT piece describes how they're being gamed by authors and critics alike. (So are the "alternate recommendations" and "favorite books" lists, and the "was this review helpful?" votes.) We got a peek behind the curtain when a "glitch" exposed the authors' identities. It says there are 10 million reader reviews on Amazon now! I'd be happy to see them do away with anonymity, personally; the quality of the reviews that people are willing to sign would certainly be higher than some of the "loved it" / "hated it" noise there now. Maybe Amazon could simply add an optional filter if you want to elide anonymous reviews.

I'd like that, so I just sent them this suggestion: "...I have long felt that reader reviews were one of the most valuable parts of your site. Here's a suggestion to make them even more useful: give readers the option to filter (or sort) reviews by whether or not they're anonymous. 'With' anonymous reviews would be better idle entertainment. 'Without' would be a more reliable source of analysis, information and legitimate opinion.

Try The Globe and Mail or The Miami Herald if you can't get the NYT story.

It's hard to believe this isn't a bizarre parody, but there does in fact appear to be a book titled Good People Beget Good People: A Genealogy of the Frist Family. While you're waiting for the paperback edition to come out, have a look at the Amazon reviews for entertainment.

Slashdot has a couple thousand posts about the leak of Microsoft source code, many of which are amusing. This, for example: "Now will everyone stop bitching about Windows not being open source?!"

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20040212.html Cringely on yet another David v. Goliath story: little Burst.com battles Microsoft for the core patents behind efficient media streaming, while Microsoft works to spin insanity into a wider monopoly.

Richard Blow examines the Breast and the Brightest: "The Super Bowl is capitalism's equivalent of the Soviets' May Day parade, or North Korea's beautiful but robotic gymnastic demonstrations featuring tens of thousands of thoroughly indoctrinated pawns."

An interesting coincidence: last year's US trade deficit -- a record -- was about the same as next year's federal budget deficit. Half a $tril. Job exports are up, though, and Chief Econ Advisor says that's a good thing. Let's see, interest rates have bottomed (ever so slightly above the ultimate bottom of 0%), the dollar's plenty weak (except in China) to favor our exports... what do we do now? Cut taxes some more? "Imports from China are 5.7 times the value of American exports to China."

13.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The war in Iraq is not part of "the war on terrorism."

It may have been enabled by the terrorist attack on the US in 2001, and it may have been sold to the people of this country as necessary to counter a "grave and gathering" (if not "imminent") terrorist threat from an "evil" "madman," but the P.R. campaign doesn't change the facts on the ground. (It also doesn't shorten the list of tyrannies that need corrective action.)

Our greatest military in the history of humankind was not designed for such extended forays into nation-building. SecDef Rumsfeld now tells us it's overstressed, and he'll be using his emergency powers to create 33,000 new jobs. (Win-win, eh?) The rest of the all-volunteer forces who now find themselves committed to considerably more than "defense," and without the ability to leave when their term is up are probably a little overstressed, too. The National Guard (and Army Reserve) is not what it was when W. used it as a ticket to stay out of Vietnam. We learn here that the Reserve and Guard "soon will account for more than 40 percent of U.S. troop strength in Iraq."

Imagine being there and finding out that you can't come home, and you can't quit, the so-called "stop move" and "stop loss" orders. Must've been in the fine print of the contract...

Meanwhile, in regard to the problem of nuclear proliferation and its very real consequences for terrorism, the old news that the mischief from our "friends" in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is apparently not worth pursuing. It's titled "Khan Job: Bush Spiked Probe of Pakistanís Dr. Strangelove, BBC reported in 2001."

Gore Vidal, uncensored: "I think of (Bush and Ashcroft) as an alien army. They have managed to take over everything, and quite in the open. We have a deranged president. We have despotism. We have no due process."

Is George W. Bush going to be re-elected next year?
"No. At least if there is a fair election, an election that is not electronic. That would be dangerous. We don't want an election without a paper trail. The makers of the voting machines say no one can look inside of them, because they would reveal trade secrets. What secrets? Isn't their job to count votes? Or do they get secret messages from Mars? Is the cure for cancer inside the machines? I mean, come on. And all three owners of the companies who make these machines are donors to the Bush administration. Is this not corruption? So Bush will probably win if the country is covered with these balloting machines. He can't lose."

Is he exaggerating? Measure it against the lede of this story in today's NY Times: "Senior Defense Department officials said Thursday that they were planning to keep a large portion of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, there for many years, perhaps indefinitely."

Outsourcing is good for us, we'll see 2.6 million new jobs in this country and other happy-time tales from the Bush administration. Hey, it could happen! Just double the number created in January, and hold that thought for 11 months.

Cornice on Mores Mtn., looking to Shafer Butte's ridge

Here's what it was looking like above the inversion yesterday, out the backcountry gate and halfway up the ridge to the top of Mores Mtn. The next ridge over goes up to Shafer Butte. The white in the distance is the fog blanket over the Snake River Plain, and in the far, far distance, not quite in focus, the top of the Owyhee mountains poke up into the sunshine.

We've got a break today, the deck thinned out to some Italianate wispiness for the moment, sunshine getting through to the valley floor. The temperature's struggling to get into the 20s, but the cheerful view is welcome.

 5¢/min. 

I finally got a direct mail solicitation from Qwest that was worth responding to. Something dramatic must have happened inside the corporation, because they are now promoting a simple, low cost long distance rate that includes both intra- and interstate. Five cents a minute, direct dialed, 24/7, no monthly fee, and capped at $25 (or $20 if you like the package deal they're selling). So it's 5¢/min. for 500 (or 400) minutes in a month, and then free. I'm not sure the three of us can use that much LD in a month, but it might be fun to try!

The package deal is only slightly more complicated: $26/mo for the residential line, in-home wiring maintenance, and your choice of 3 (of 9) different features, one of which -- voicemail -- I'd like. The in-home wiring maintenance ("a $4.something value!") is worthless to me, but we're paying $17.50 for the line now, so it amounts to $8.50/mo for voicemail, to take messages when people call us while we're yakkin it up long distance. I suppose I could learn to love two of caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, 3-way calling or six directory assistance calls, too. I'm still thinking about this one.

Signing up for the LD deal had two interesting/strange elements. The first was my being asked permission for a Qwest agent to look at the details of my Qwest account. (Of course, I was looking at my statement, thinking that's what he would get to see... maybe his view was more interesting than mine.) The second was the transfer to "third party verification" at the end of the call, so that we all have it on record that I'm not being slammed. By the phone company I already do business with. And even though we don't have a LD carrier now, so we can't really be "switched" anyway.

Back to more expected corporate behavior (possibly as mandated by various laws and regulations), they'll mail me package with the terms and conditions in 7-10 days, and the service won't be activated for a week. And I should probably call to check on the date he told me it would take effect. All the same, I think Qwest may be headed in the right direction. (Too bad I dumped the Qwest stock I had, at a loss.)

12.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In the inversion fog, along Bogus Basin Rd.

The inversion's back, with a gray sky over the Snake River Plain. Boise has a small part of the gloomy misery, of which there is plenty to go around. I've breen breaking through at Bogus Basin, "as usual," and stopped to take some pictures today. This one is in the thick of the fog layer, between 5 and 6000'.

Most of the mail-order elections that pass my way are perfunctory affairs with the same number of candidates up for election as slots open. Corporate boards seem to favor coronation over democracy and are rigged to make all but the nominating committee's choices difficult (at least) to get on the ballot, and then there is no way to vote "no" -- only "yes," and a single vote is enough to "win." The Sierra Club's elections for their Board of Directors has never been that way, with more nominees than slots from the nominating commitee and a healthy batch of petition candidates to round out the field. Everyone's got something to say, so the candidates' statements make for a lengthy read, and the task of parsing who's in favor of exactly what not an easy one. The biographies are typically impressive, with decades of membership and service to the club, and lists of offices they've held.

This year, it'll be even more interesting, as reports are that animal rights activists and anti-immigration advocates are teaming to control the board in what has all the look of a hostile takeover. One of the forces in the fray has a website named after the first English child born in America, Virginia Dare, and has Brenda Walker to rally the troops to their banner: "A war is being waged for the soul of the Sierra Club, the nation's premier environmental group. True conservationists, who want to preserve America's resources and natural heritage, have been working within the organization's democratic framework to return the 110-year-old group to policy positions that promote population sanity, foreign and domestic." The enemy, according to Walker, are dreaded liberals, or as the anti-immigration folks like to style them, the "Treason Lobby." (Walker's bio line notes she also produces the websites www.limitstogrowth.org and www.immigrationshumancost.org)

Walker provides a helpful scorecard. The three "outstanding immigration realists" on the board are Ben Zuckerman (elected 2002), Doug LaFollette and Paul Watson (both elected in 2003). They hope to elect three more members this year: former Colorado Governor Richard (Dick) Lamm, one-time head of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Frank Morris, and Cornell University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology David Pimentel. Watson says "we control a third of (the Board) now," but I haven't seen where the two fellow travelers are named.

Pimental has apparently admitted that if he's elected, his first Board of Directors meeting would be his first ever Sierra Club meeting. Lamm, who's written a book (The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America) joined and filed as a petition candidate at the same time (by-laws amendment, anyone?!) and Morris has yet to hold a position in the Club. They're already busy with an alphabet soup of organizations: Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America (DASA), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). None of those have the size, clout or budget of the Sierra Club, of course.

Walker has an indignant follow-up, dated Jan. 27 (just before the SC signup deadline for the coming election), running down the press coverage that she suggests has been orchestrated by "the Club's fearful permanent officials." (I've been in the Club for almost 30 years now, and haven't seen that many officials take on permanency.) "Big Media has assumed its usual supine position of stenographer to the powerful in the Sierra Club election controversy. News stories have been full of catfight-from-hell descriptions but little illumination. Stereotypic and untrue categorizations have been used in place of the most elementary consideration of facts."

On Monday, Lamm's team upped the ante by filing suit in San Francisco Superior Court against Club president Larry Fahn, executive director Carl Pope, the Club itself, and ten "Does" for allegedly attempting to manipulate the election against Lamm, Morris and Pimental. They seek injunctive relief to have Club officers abide by their own rules so they can take it over fair and square.

Well good luck, boys. My preference in this election is definitely going to be for Club experience, and the nominating committee's slate.

On a topic related by his joining the Club and the election, this link from Harper's Magazine, describing Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center. We've contributed to SPLC over the years, and somehow I had the impression that it was a small and struggling outfit, a voice in the wilderness. Not hardly.

11.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scott McClellan says "it's a shame" that the Democrats have brought up this issue about whether or not Bush was AWOL (or deserting) during his tenure in the National Guard. It's certainly must be a shame from his point of view that he has to face an inquisitive group of reporters that wants answers rather than the usual shuck and jive. Every once in a while they're willing to keep after one of the questions that he won't answer, and it's anti-persperant test time again.

Q: Scott, that wasn't my question, and you know it wasn't my question. Where was he in December of '72, February and March of '73? And why did he not fulfill the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

MR. McCLELLAN: These records -- these records I'm holding here clearly document the President fulfilling his duties in the National Guard. The President was proud of his service. The President --

Q: I asked a simple question; how about a simple answer?

That simple answer never made an appearance. It can't be easy to show indignation at these "outrageous, baseless accusations" while avoiding so many unpleasant questions. The give and take between McClellan repeating that "the facts are very clear" after some records "turned up" and the reporters ("-- you can't read them. Have you looked at these? You can't -- how are we supposed to read these?") is interesting. Can you imagine a job where you had to face that every day? No wonder the last guy quit.

Some of the "clear" facts are the ones that McClellan kept coming back to: "The President was proud of his service in the National Guard. He fulfilled his duties; he was honorably discharged." And he remembers serving in both Texas and Alabama, and that he got out 8 months early. The press keeps coming back to other facts:

"the President's officer effectiveness report... for the period 01 May '72 to 30 April, '73, says he has not been observed at this unit, where he was supposed to show up and earning these points on these days."

Mr. Bush made it clear in 1994 that his purpose in joining the Guard was to avoid going to Vietnam: "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment, nor was I willing to go to Canada, so I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

So, he "served" but we're not really sure what he did, and whether anyone else saw him doing it. We know he was paid for some of the time he was supposed to be serving (but not all of it), and that he "remembers serving." Here's the nasty question that isn't getting answered:

"You keep saying this is a shame, and you're talking partisan politics, but don't you think the American public, as well, particularly the U.S. military, who has been tested right now with the fact that they went to war on faulty intelligence, possibly, and now finding out that their Commander-in-Chief possibly tried to avoid going to the Vietnam War -- don't you think that the American public is owed a little bit more than photo copies that we can't see things of? Don't you think the military is owed a little bit more than just, 'he served'?"

That was most of the press conference, taking time away from arguably more important matters, such as the investigation into who leaked Valeria Plame's name to the press, whether VP Cheney would ask Justice Scalia to recuse himself (ha!) from the energy task force case, NATO's role in Iraq and Pakistan's role in nuclear arms proliferation.

It turns out that there are people who remember George Bush from 30 years ago (I found a copy of this story on this interesting news site), and "fulfilled," "served," and "honorably" don't figure in their accounts. As we all know, this was back when W. was drinking, and before he was born again. "He just struck me as a guy who really had an idea of himself as very much a child of privilege, that he wasn't operating by the same rules." Oh, and this: "Rewards offered by veterans groups in Alabama and Texas for any proof that Bush showed up have never been claimed."

"It may be more accurate to say that while Bush was not technically AWOL or a Deserter, he was allowed to do things no average member of the National Guard would ever be allowed to do. Any other member of the Guard, without Bush's family connections, would be expected to wait until a transfer approval went through before leaving town, much less moving four states away to work for a political campaign. Also, the military does not usually grant transfers to soldiers to units that have a purpose with no resemblance to their training."

Beth Henry: "Peggy Noonan gushes about Cheney's gravitas and Bush's plainspoken dualism. Jay Nordlinger exults that the "daddy party," the party of discipline, tough love, and military solutions to every problem, is in charge. Midge Dechter loves the smell of testosterone in the morning, and joins the fan club with an adoring profile of "macho man" Donald Rumsfeld. Oh, yeah, the grown-ups are in charge now, and they're definitely not your Mama."

That's from her essay, "Viagra Nation - The Village People Meet Cotton Mather."

10.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The NY Times has a really elegant interactive graphic showing the status of the race for the Democratic nomination. The US map shows state-by-state results (or the date of the scheduled vote) with mouseovers, and a bar graph shows the overall delegate picture. Remarkably, at a time when Kerry's nomination feels pretty much done to impartial observers, he has less than a tenth of the still uncommitted delegates. (Some of those are probably "to be committed" though, with "pledged delegates not formally awarded until later this year" at state conventions.) Howard Dean is in second place, with a little over half as many delegates (161 to Kerry's 310, of 2161 needed to clinch).

Speaking of choosing our next president, the presidentmatch.com site (from AOL and Time) has a clever Q&A survey of how you feel on various issues, leading to a ranking of the candidates by how well they matched your "search criteria." I got a 100% match on Kucinich, interestingly, Sharpton second, and Kerry, Dean and Clark essentially tied for 3rd. Bush came in 7th for me (it includes both parties if you don't tell it to filter), with a 3% score. Unfortunately, the side-by-side comparison had a software problem with the results rows duplicated and mis-sorted under the headings. The "back to results" button from there gave me 7 candidates all with 100% ratings.

There wasn't evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda were connected in any meaningful way before the war, but they may be now: "American officials (in Baghdad) have obtained a detailed proposal that they conclude was written by an operative in Iraq to senior leaders of Al Qaeda, asking for help to wage a 'sectarian war' in Iraq in the next months." If you're going to fight hornets, walking up to the nest and hitting it with a stick may not necessarily be the best approach.

9.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Traveling in the wintry Midwest, where snow comes and stays for the winter; I realized it's been a long time since I've been here this time of year. I decided not to bring the ice skates (and avoid the burden of checked luggage), rationalizing that the forecast (2-4" of snow, and a brief time above freezing) would mean unskateable ice, but that was wrong. It's winter, it's below freezing, there's a rink a few blocks away, and it's freshly plowed. We can still walk in the snow if we like...

Caught Tim Russert's re-run last night, just him and W. and the camera crew in the oval office. I had to wonder who on the team could have possibly thought this was a good idea, George Bush going mano a mano without a script? I also wonder how much of the audience thought gee, he did a pretty good job defending his administration and decisions and the missiling millions of jobs and his time in the National Guard.

Russert may not have stayed after Bush on every point (the belabored evasions seemed endless as it was), but I thought it was a good rundown of what's missing from our leader. Here were two men talking, one with clear thinking, sharp questions directed at critical issues, and the other waffling about inarticulately, blaming everyone but himself and hiding behind bureaucratic doublespeak. The economy was bad when we showed up. The intelligence I got was wrong. I was in Alabama, and I got an honorable discharge. 8 months early.

The defense of the National Guard is an interesting angle, but oh so disingenuous. Yes, the National Guard is an important part of our military, and yes, many of them have served and are serving in Iraq, thanks to Bush taking us to war there. As everyone understood during the Vietnam war, however, the Guard was a good way to get one's service in without risking going into harm's way. That's why the slots were so highly prized, and why W.'s going to the front of the line to get in was another facet of the whole chicken hawk scandal. Duh.

6.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In the heat of the coming campaign, facts will be the first casualty. Oh wait, it's not going to take that long, is it? Paul Krugman looks at two pieces of history being rewritten : the CIA's role in the WMD misadventure, and the "surprise" half trillion dollar deficit. (But don't worry, we'll cut that in half in 5 years.)

He mentions www.talkingpointsmemo.com, which looks like an interesting news source. How about this possible story? "Federal law enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year...."

Which led to this, digging into Bush's service record, which seems to be rapidly slipping into the memory hole. Hey, if we can't find it, we'll just have to assume the worst, won't we? (Can you imagine the new spin coming your way after the record is sufficiently purged to make room for new fiction? You probably won't have to...) Scott McClellan thinks "it's sad" that we're bringing up this issue again, when it was "addressed" in the last campaign. Oh? And isn't just a tiny bit more relevant now, Scott?

No of course not, it's just a message of hate from the Democrats.

5.Feb.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When I read stuff like this: "Mr. Bush did not mention banned weapons, saying only that in deposing Saddam Hussein the United States had dealt with a dictator who had 'the intent and capability' to threaten his own people and the world," I can't help but think about how the leaders of this country have the intent, capability and proven willingness to threaten their own people and the world. Our WMDs are the real deal, too, not just smoke and mirrors.

Bush isn't a dictator, I'll grant, in spite of some of the dictatorial powers he and his appointees have gathered about themselves. Most of the local threatening is piecemeal, at least. The "war" metaphor that seems to be applied rather indiscriminately these days -- and the "war without end" on terrorism in particular -- appears to be a one-way ticket to authoritarianism.

Lest our language be debased, we need a new word to describe the faux weblog, populated with PR items and other bogosities, such as this one with entries "posted by GeorgeWBush.com," and giving us heads-ups on which prayer breakfast George and Laura will be attending today.

Flog? Phlaug? Phrog? The herpetologists in the audience would point out that frogs aren't "slimy" per se, but we should at least be able to agree that they're viscid. And then there are the squatters on most words one can think up...

Got sucked into "PrivacyGuard" when I activated the new copy of the credit card we use regularly. Jeanette couldn't believe I would follow a phone menu prompt for a sales pitch, but I did, figuring that I'd just do the $1 trial month, get a copy of my credit report (isn't that about a $15 value?) and get out.

The materials come in the mail, and lo and behold there isn't any of the personal information I thought I'd be getting -- just forms to request things. They take a week or two to mail stuff, you take a week to get around to responding, the credit report takes 2-3 weeks to arrive, and hey, presto! There's a $90 charge on your credit card bill for your annual "membership."

Clause 1(b) of their terms and conditions is nice ("TC" is the Trilegiant Corporation, whose motto is "We touch the lives of 100 million Americans"): TC reserves the right to change or modify the terms and conditions of this Agreement at any time and without notice.

I called to cancel, told the agent that I thought their sales tactics and method of inducement was a scam, and that I'm not about to do business with a company that puts "change without notice" on their side of the contract. Derick was very soothing, apologetic, understanding, and eased right into a renewed sales pitch. Did I know I could go to their website and request a copy of my credit report right away, instead of mailing in that form they sent me?

That almost got me again, but I came to my senses and said no, thanks, if I want a copy of my credit report, I should just pay for it from a credit reporting service, and it wouldn't be right for me to continue with the deal when I had no intention whatsoever of paying for their services.

He segued back into the sales pitch again, suggested I could request the credit report before I cancelled my membership and could then do so within the 1 month trial. And I'll be able to get as many credit reports as I want in a year! And they monitor my credit for me! And so on...

These guys and gals have a lot of practice at this, I can tell. They're selling all day long, and most of the people they talk to are not prepared to resist the onslaught. I put a stop to it, though, said "you're still trying to sell this to me, and I've made it quite clear that I want to cancel my membership, and that's all."

Ok, he'd do that, then. "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

4.2.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cover of 'Weapons of Mass Deception'

Just finished Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber's book, Weapons of Mass Deception, "The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq." The use of propaganda in war is harldy new, but each time around, its application seems to get a bit more effective, to say nothing of insidious.

It's hard to know how many minds can be changed by the authors' compilation of the bald facts. The convinced are not likely to pick it up, and the opposed have seen enough already. Tom Tomorrow's cover art probably reduces the chance of this book penetrating the shell of true believers' convictions. Don't be fooled: this book isn't funny, and it's not a cartoon. In addition to detailing specific incidents such as the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad, Ahmad Chalabi's road to power, PNAC's program for the war and its members who are now part of the Bush administration, "babies torn from incubators" in Kuwait, and the missing WMD debacle (as of last year), the book describes the big picture of the integration of public relations efforts with political strategy and the media.

It's a quick, if painful, read and will be a useful reference in times to come, with 33 pages of footnotes for digging further into particulars.

"Peace groups attempted to purchase commercial time to broadcast ads for peace but were refused air time by all major networks and even MTV. CBS network president Martin Franks explained the refusal by saying, 'we think that informed discussion comes from our news programming.' MTV Graham James said, 'We don't accept advocacy advertising because it really opens us up to accepting every point of view on every subject.' While pundits from pro-war think tanks generally had ready access to talk shows, it took mass protests of millions of people worldwide on February 15, 2003, before broadcasters gave more than cursory attention to the existence of a large, grassroots peace movement."

Ok, two new experiences today. The first was having our niece borrow an article of clothing from me. She wanted a necktie for today's outfit, chose a black & white bold stripe. The second was the cellphone doorbell: the friends are out front in the car, they give a call to tell her "we're here." Saves on getting out the car and walking to the door, eh.

Email from "Chairman Marc Racicot," under the Bush/Cheney '04 header. (Marc's the chairman of what the Nixon folks called "CREEP" - the committee to re-elect the president.) He thinks the Dems are at "a new low" (the subject line of his email) by questioning the honorability of the W.'s military service. Speaking of public relations! They're going to spin Bush's half-assed stint in the National Guard as "honorable"? Perhaps they're confusing "honorably discharged" with "served honorably." Deserter, AWOL, whatever you want to call it, I'm prepared to let the facts speak to this issue, so bring 'em on, Marc! Tell us all about George's service in the National Guard, starting with how he managed to get in when so many others were looking to avoid risking their lives in Vietnam.

But of course, that's not what the email's about -- he's looking for donations, "$100, $75, $50, $25, even just $5 will help us answer these shameful attacks and tell America the truth." I wish. I would send him some money if I really believed he'd tell me the truth. The "Grassroots" URL the email gives redirects to https://www.donationreport.com/, go figure on that. You can check out the red, white and blue for yourself if you like, at georgewbush.com, a remarkably apt domain name. (Not to be confused with the equally apt GWBush.com, of course.)

I'm definitely in favor of having Ralph Nader sit this one out. He says he's going to decide on the issues (important enough for him), how many volunteers he gets (looks pretty good to him) and how much money people donate (that looks good too, he says). We'll hear from him in a couple weeks. Gosh, do you think the Republicans might be pretty enthusiastic about contributing to his candidacy? I do. In the mean time, he's raised the bogeyman of censorship, by the Democrats and by the editors of The Nation. How dare anyone suggest that he not exercise his rights!

How can you be so smart, so principled, and so utterly clueless?

2.2.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's not going to rise to the excitement of Super Tuesday tomorrow, but we're having a little election of our own in Boise, too. Some small percentage of voters in the Greater Boise Auditorium District will get to decide whether we launch into a second downtown convention center, funded through bonds to be repaid by a hotel room tax.

The pitch from the boosters is simple: "Boise needs an expansion to the Boise Centre on the Grove, and we can have one at no cost to local taxpayers." The discerning reader wonders, needs? no cost? The even more discerning reader wonders about risk, something you aren't going to read about on boisecentre.com. Everything is upside and light there, a boon to our fair city, and it won't cost you a dime.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Sharon Ullman's counterpoint which ran in Saturday's Idaho Statesman (and which they don't link to their index of broader coverage, hmm) makes a point the boosters forgot to mention: the center (or "centre," if you misspell the way our commercial fathers like to) won't be paying property taxes, and any other hotels and commercial establishments' taxes will flow to CCDC (the Capitol City Development Corp.) rather than to the city and county. Taxpayers will be footing the bill for police, fire and emergency medical services.

I agree with her point: "If this project is so popular with the downtown Boise business community, and is truly economically viable, then the private sector should build it and leave the public and the GBAD (government) out of it." That's not going to happen, of course, because GBAD's taxing authority is an essential ingredient in the recipe. Those voiceless visitors with bottomless pockets full of money will poney up $35.5 million without batting an eye.

Put me down for a big fat NO on this one.

Now how did this escape my notice? "Straight Talk" [sic] from the Luntz Research Companies, explaining the winning Republican strategy: "A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compeling than a dry recitation of the truth." Convince us of your sincerity and concern and we'll roll over like puppy dogs.

"The good news, amidst all this doom and gloom, is that once you are able to establish your environmental bona fides , once you show people that your heart is in the right place and make them comfortable listening to what you have to say, then the conservative, free market approach to the environment actually has the potential to be quite popular."

Oh my, yes, just as (for example) electricty deregulation and privatization has proven to be "quite popular," in spite of it being a kick in the teeth to ratepayers and the environment.

This is old news; Luntz' memo was apparently from 2002, and has been publicly vetted by many others, to say nothing of the Luntzie Award. It's hard to say whether the authors are serving their old document at this point: their website's motto is "we are in the process of updating our website."

I took advantage of the Super Bowl and went snowboarding, getting to the hill just about the time of kickoff. Predictably, there were wide open spaces, even though (just as predictably) the 3" of light, new snow had been sorely abused by a big Sunday crowd. Bring back the afternoon game!

VCR technology brought me the spectacle (minus the pregame stuff and taxpayer-sponsored flyover) at my convenience. I only saw two of the promised three erectile dysfunction drugs advertised; won't Viagra be falling behind? The part about seeking medical attention if an erection lasts more than 4 hours made me sit up and take notice. Bud Lite continues its journey to the nadir of adolescent humor: dog bites man in crotch, now that's funny, eh? I zipped through most of the half time show, thinking about how much alike Michael and Janet Jackson's talents are, slowed for a moment's incredulity at the jerk who'd slit an American flag to use it as a poncho (isn't there a law against obscenity?) and yawned. I guess I missed a peek at one of Janet's breasts, oh well. (Did they script that?!) No doubt there'll be spam links in my email this week. (Didn't have to wait long: the Drudge report says CBS execs OK'd the boob baring! So much for the moral high ground.)

Aside from the ED ad, I found the Pepsi ad using the young James Hendrix as a prop for an accordion joke notable. It was catchy and clever, but on the other hand, it was just an accordion joke. The other one I remember is Staple's office supply backroom "mafia." They worked some donuts in there, so it wasn't just a mafia joke. And an honorable mention to Visa for using the Simpsons in another of its "priceless" series; it's good to see Homer and the gang on another network, even if they could've come up with a more durable sequence. (Bob Garfield on Ad Age: "the greatest show in TV history." But then so much was "clever" and "worked" for him, we do have to question the source.)

The non-controversial issue ads were effective, I thought. One from Philip Morris against teen smoking (you always wonder about their sincerity on that, don't you?), the Shards o' glass freeze pops. MoveOn.org's ad would have been ok, don't you think?

What I didn't see commented on by other pundits was how much of the advertising was for other entertainment: movies (some you can't see until this summer, and other TV shows. "Meta-advertising" apparently passes without notice, although I don't suppose many of the male members of the audience missed the boob flashes enticing us to watch the Grammy awards.

There was the game, too. That turned out interesting at the end. It helps to zip through the 3/4ths of non-action between every bit of action. The "3D Vision" thing deserves a dishonorable mention; looks like a lot of money chasing after a not-terribly interesting effect. I went through the first use frame by frame with some interest to see what was going on, but the 2 or 3 next tries just weren't as interesting as the regular high-quality replay angles.

Speaking of bare boobs, this isn't going to help the cause of women who don't want to be confined to stinky restrooms to feed their babies. I was just reading (now where was that?) that ours is one of a relatively few cultures that sexualizes the breast. It's biology friends, get over it!

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Saturday, 06-Mar-2004 13:39:29 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200402.html