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Cover image of 'Russian Roulette'

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unraveling

31.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Three guys at a vigil for the Ten Commandments monument on public
 property in Boise

The Eagles' monument to the Ten Commandments in Boise was finally moved to an arguably better location, St. Michael's Episcopal Cathedral, across the street from the State House. Idaho's legislators won't have to walk all the way to Julia Davis Park to access the reference information now.

13 protesters (the apostles plus Judas?) got themselves arrested in the process, and "Keep the Ten Commandments" coalition leader Bryan Fischer vowed to continue wasting the city's time and money with pointless legal proceedings. Bringing charges against the protesters won't trouble us, though -- they were turned loose after the granite was trucked away.

The Statesman's sidebar adds an interesting historical tidbit: "the monument is one of thousands that the Eagles donated to cmomunities nationwide in the '50s and '60s as part of a national program and campaign to fight juvenile delinquency." Dan Popkey's Sunday column fills in the colorful history, including an endorsement of Boise's solution from the guy who started the whole thing: E.J. Ruegemer.

Dead Parrot reviews Peter Singer's book, The President of Good and Evil. It's "founded on fact, bolted together with logic, and written in straightforward, non-technical language. Singer starts with what Bush says about right and wrong and tests it against what the Bush administration has actually done.

Publisher's Weekly is not so enthusiastic. "Singer's logic can also be mushy," they say, and "Singer's critique does little to distinguish itself from other anti-Bush books." Amazon readers are 4 for 4 positive, so far.

30.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Lawful searches" just became a broader category, at least in the 5th Circuit. Evidence found in a "cursory inspection" search is admissible if police entered for a legitimate purpose. The description of the decision in the particular case sounds reasonable, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to suppose that "cursory inspection" and no warrant could lead to a lot more searching.

Some things that make sense in political contexts don't seem to translate well to the everyday world. "Executive privilege," for example. We all understand that executives have special privileges, and we can even imagine that in some cases they should have them. But this business of whether or not Condi Rice is to talk to -- or testify before -- the 9/11 commission is rather hard to fathom. And the question of whether or not she'll do so under oath is even more difficult. If she's not under oath, does that mean that she's free to fabricate? Is the suggestion that she's so trustworthy that she doesn't need to take an oath? (Yeah, I didn't think so.) Congress doesn't have the right to require the Executive branch to tell it the truth?

Certainly if she feels answering any particular question would compromise national security, she should respectfully decline to answer. But I think that we have a right to expect that what questions she does answer, she answers truthfully, don't we? That's what an oath is all about. But when she talked to Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes and said "Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there's an important principle involved here," it just wrinkles the brow. The principle clearly has nothing to do with speaking to the public... so is it just being compelled to tell the truth that's at issue?

What Rice claimed was that "it is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress." The NY Times offers a helpful sidebar, giving 3 instances when sitting National Security Advisors did testify before the Contress: Kissinger, Brzezinksi and Berger.

Here's another one of those insider books: Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. Ok, he's a has-been insider, but John Dean does know something about that basis for comparison, at least.

I can't think about monorails without remembering the Simpsons episode in which Springfield got one, and the contempt for the whole concept that one of my fellow engineers had. But hey, if you really want one you can have one. And your little dog, too.

Google is up to some new tricks: I noticed a different look yesterday, but didn't think much of it. Today's first search opened up a "sidebar" with search results persisting after the main Google window was traversed, and now Froogle is getting promoted. Mostly when strange programs do unexpected things on my computer, I get nervouse, but when Google does them, I get intrigued. Good brand, eh?

29.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If you've still got that tobacco addiction, you might want to think about the parasites you're supporting. In an article about what industries are likely to do well if inflation returns, we read this:

Mr. Sibilski said smokers would continue to pay whatever the Altria Group, the cigarette maker, decides to charge for popular brands like Marlboro and Virginia Slims. He said Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, had "famously passed along price hikes to cover everything from lawyers' fees to legal settlements."

You'll pay whatever they decided to charge. Is that a great business, or what?

I don't know if it's in his recipe book for how to get rich but the Donald seems to live by this aphorism: embrace success and distance yourself from failure. The chairman and CEO of the eponymous Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (ticker DJT) says it "has nothing to do with me"; he's just a "major shareholder" of a company that may be headed for bankruptcy. In nearly a decade as a public company, it has yet to post an annual profit. Maybe the Apprentice will perform some magic on it.

Speaking of addictions, the casino business measures its success as a percentage of "the win," which the gamblers who provide it may recognize as "the lose."

Riding in the dead zone: "I travel a lot and my favorite destination lead through so called Chernobyl "dead zone" It is 130kms from my home. Why favourite? because one can ride there for hours and not meet any single car and not to see any single soul. People left and nature is blooming, there are beautiful places, woods, lakes." Bring your dosimeter.

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

Dylan McDonald dissects the use of political imagery, for Senator Craig's education. Somehow, I don't suppose he'll be listening to such complaints as the campaign wears on.

It turns out that Hans Blix is a rather funny guy. (Warning: NY Times link goes behind paywall in one week.) He didn't show it as much when Terry Gross interviewed him, though. "I think maybe we foreigners should have the right to vote in your next election, since we are so dependent on you."

A new destination for aspirational political activists: Billionaires for Bush. "Now you too can join the ranks of the filthy rich with our brand new Billionaires for Bush Do-It-Yourself Manual . Full of action ideas, organizing tips, materials and more, this kit contains everything you need to become a billionaire in no time."

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

Great weather today: big whommer cumulus plowing into the Boise front, after leaving 3" or so of fresh snow above 5500' overnight. I drove up in the rain after seeing the tennis courts too wet to play, had a wonderful day plowing powder and chewing crud, dodging fog and enjoying the occasional mountain views between the snow and graupel. When I went up on Wednesday, I quit after a couple hours, and thought that might be it for the season. One nice storm turned it around, though.

Think snow!

I've been getting the Scout Report in my email for some time. It's such a rich source of information that I often just save the message unread "until I find the time." Saturday morning seemed like a good moment to catch up on at least one of the 7 or 9 I've saved up. The web version is clean and well-presented, too, but without the same pull as the short text teasers that come in the email. Look at the "printable page" link for the whole thing, and find something smart to explore in the world wide web.

Wired for Books maybe, or track satellites with a stunning piece of postcardware from Poland, Orbitron 3.0 or read what the Union of Concerned Scientists has to say about clean vehicles.

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

Cover image of Richard Clarke's book

#1 on Amazon and on its fifth printing this week: "Against All Enemies : Inside the White House's War on Terror--What Really Happened." Reviewers either loved it (5 stars) or hated it (1 star, only because they can't put in zero), some not bothering to do anything more than cadge Condi's prose: "...Clarke contradicts himself 180 degrees...."

You can't give it a "Washington read" online (check the index, and see what he says about you), but The NY Times has an excerpt available. "Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq."

Cheaper by the dozens: St. Luke's is buying up showings of The Passion and giving the tickets away. I guess that's what you call a loss leader. It did so well (if that's the right word) that bookings are now on hold until further notice.

Will Taiwan's disputed election be cassus belli for the mainland? Here's the dilemma that Martin Woollacott sees in The Guardian: "A China that could at least hint that the Taiwanese had the right to choose independence would be a China that a majority of Taiwanese might eventually choose to join, because such a position would imply a non-coercive style and a readiness to contemplate real autonomy and devolution. But a China that flies into a rage at the use of phrases even hinting at such a possibility is exactly the China that even those Taiwanese who believe in unification do not wish to join..."

Bid first, ask questions later, collect golden parachute and get the heck out of there. Part 2 of Cringely's tale of outsourcing. "Customers and contractors alike are unhappy and at the top of both organizations there is massive denial."

This business of "integrating all this activity under a single contractor (to) eliminate duplication, standardize services, improve efficiency, and save money" sounds a lot like what the market did with PC operating systems and application software, doesn't it?

Now Antigua and Barbuda are ganging up on US and the WTO says... they win. Dang! It's pretty tough to support moralistic arguments against gambling at this point, with so many governments involved in the business. That leaves economic considerations, and the supposedly impartial hegemony of the WTO. We've dodged the International Criminal Court, defanged the UN and left NATO a quaint memory. How long will we put up with TLA bureaucrats telling us what to do?

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

The hubbub around Richard Clarke's allegations, book and testimony to the 9/11 commission continue. Things are so hot in D.C. that National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice might find time in her busy schedule to chat with the commission, but not under oath. Why would that be, exactly?

And has the heady atmosphere of fund-raising and claques caused George Bush to lose his mind? Making jokes about the search for WMDs suggests a certain distance from political reality. All in good fun, eh George?

It's tough to stay current on all the things Google can do, but the Google weblog can help. I learned about the phonebook: prefix today, and that Google now has translations and can do "yellow" pages, package tracking and vehicle lookup by VIN. It can also refuse to accept ads for enterprises it deems to be "anti," which could be a bad thing.

So I had this idea for an illustration, with the flowing white beard version of God looking down from the clouds, and an American flag waving underneath. It was to go with that Pledge of Allegiance business, "under God," get it? I went looking for a bitmap of my imagination and found that I can contact God on the web, now! Or, sort of. "ALL CORRESPONDENCE TO GOD RECEIVED BY CONTACT GOD, INC. WHETHER ELECTRONIC OR REGULAR MAIL BECOME PROPERTY OF CONTACT GOD, INC." They didn't say anything about rights to their photo... "Since God is everywhere we can only assume God reads the mail." We can also assume that He knows about copyright law and venality. I sent a note:

Dear God:

There is this company down here with the chutzpah to call themselves "Contact God, Inc." and the audacity to claim copyright over correspondence people send to You through them.

Could you please send them a clue, or maybe smite them so that they can understand that letter writers retain copyright to their work?

Thank you.

On the acknowledgement page, the company notes that "God is extremely busy and cannot answer back," provides a free blessing (but is it sanctioned?), and reminds us that donations -- completely optional! -- are not tax deductible.

The world has crises enough, but add ethnic cleansing in Sudan to the list of concerns. The diplomats exchange lies as thousands are murdered and hundreds of thousands flee their homes. Perhaps Nicholas Kristof's call to action will have an effect...

Here's a coup for this year's Commencement at LSJU: Sandra Day O'Connor ('50, J.D. '52) will be speaking. She did law school in 2 years, and "only" came in 3rd out of 102.

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

Bethine Church thinks it's time for another bipartisan agreement for official Wilderness designation for more of this great state.

This case about the Nevada rancher who wouldn't tell the sheriff his name takes me back to my working days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when I walked a couple miles to and from a factory. Coming home from the late shift one night, I noticed a patrol car cruise by and check me out, and correctly figured that I would be deemed suspicious. I had a sort of cowboy hat on, was walking quickly, late at night, teenaged male and all. In less well-to-do (and/or less white) parts of the city, I wouldn't have much cause to be indignant about being stopped by the police, I'm sure. But I was a block from the home I'd lived in all my life, and I had a definite sense of being on my home turf.

I did not care to tell the police officer who I was, or produce ID, and he had precious little basis for suspicion. He most certainly did not have "probable cause" to arrest me for anything. But then not producing identification is suspicious, isn't it? The cop thought so, and he worked up his power of coercion to the point of threatening to take me down to the police station if I didn't cooperate. That's arresting, isn't it? I finally gave in, out of my own self-interest; it was easier to play along and walk down the street to go to bed than it was to have him take me for a ride. The deciding factor was probably the considerably further distance I'd have to walk home from the police station. It didn't occur to me to try and make a federal case out of it.

Justice Scalia is on the cop's side. "I can't imagine any responsible citizen who would object to giving his name," he says. (Dahlia Lithwick observes drily, "Scalia just hasn't spent enough time in Winnemucca, is all.") Just as the rancher was, I was being obstinate, without negating the possibility that I was a reasonable citizen. It will be interesting to see how the SCOTUS rules on this one. Can the state coerce you to identify yourself?

You can watch the video of the event (taken by a squad car camera) on Hiibel's website, and put the broader context together from the record. The sheriff had a report of a man beating a woman in a truck, which was the reason for the encounter. Hiibel was (by some reports) drunk, and let's hope he was and that he doesn't act this stupid and belligerent all the time. He wasn't driving when the deputy sheriff came by, though... just a good old Nevadan out minding his own business, ya see? Except he's talking about how "I'm not illegally parked, am I?" Mimi isn't in such great shape herself, and is freaked out by seeing her man cuffed and put in the squad car, manages to say that "we got in a fight" in the middle of her distress, so these are the right people that were being questioned, and there was certainly plenty of basis for suspicion, even though we can't quite tell about probable cause for arrest. The deputy's unfortunate insistence on identification distracted the proceedings from investigating a domestic battery to creating a Supreme Court case about whether or not we have to give our names.

Maybe a great legal principle can be forged from mundane banality; it wouldn't be the first time.

Also on the docket is Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, with Michael Newdow reportedly holding his own for the oral arguments. The Mercury News provides excerpts.

Whatever you think about Richard Clarke, you have to say he gives as good as he gets. Asked about Dick Cheney's dismissal of him on Rush Limbaugh's show, in an interview with Salon, Clarke said: "The vice president is becoming an attack dog, on a personal level, which should be beneath him but evidently is not."

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

I haven't had much dealings with used car salesmen, but my sense is that a higher level of due dilligence is generally required. This is beyond "trust, but verify" and into the "do not trust; verify" realm. The reason for writing about the subject is that my brother-in-law bought a used car recently, for his daughter, and delivered it to our house, where she's living. The dealer sticker in the window had the top box prominently checked: AS-IS, NO WARRANTY. I understood that it overheats, as in, it overheated on the way over from the dealer's place, not quite 4 miles away. Maybe the battery's bad, too, need to check that out.

Long story short, the best-case scenario is that it has a blown head gasket and an unknown electrical problem that drains a good battery in a weekend. Would the dealer be interested in buying it back, at say, a 50% discount? "No, I don't think so," because now he knows that it's a piece of crap, in some particular detail. When he sold it, if his account is to be believed, he didn't know anything was wrong with it, except maybe that the battery was low and it had to be jump-started to get it off the lot. Now that he knows all that me and my mechanic know, why, he'd have to tell a buyer about what was wrong with it, and you can't make money at that kind of business, can you? No mechanic on duty, no warranty, he knows nothing! as Sergeant Schultz would say.

The owner of Miracle Motors (yeah I know, I wish I were making it up) tells me they've been in business for "three generations," and assured me that he gets some repeat business. He's not going to get any from me, and if you're smart, he's not going to get any from you, either. Caveat emptor.

Not content to goad Congress into starting the process to amend the Constitution to "protect" "marriage," the Bush administration is now set to start firing gays simply because they are gay. At least that's new Special Counsel Scott Bloch's reading of a 1978 law according to The Federal Times.

Business Week has a nice little capsule history of Hewlett-Packard but it seems a bit of a non-sequitur. The story's been told many times and has been burnished in the telling. The current CEO sent an ersatz garage on a publicity tour for her branding campaign a couple of years ago. So what's the point of the revived memento? Part of celebrating their magazine's 75 years?

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

I saw the Newshour segment with Richard Clarke tonight, following up on his appearance on 60 Minutes yesterday (which I'd taped, and we watched that afterwards).

  "I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it."
-- Richard Clarke

The Bush team is beside itself responding to the allegations from a 30-year civil servant who served under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and now this administration. The NY Times story said "the White House mounted a fierce assault," firing off "ill-timed," "deeply irresponsible," "offensive," "flat-out false" and so on. Dick Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh's radio show to do his avuncular "he wasn't in the loop, frankly" schtick and to cast aspersions on Clarke's performance during the Clinton years. Rumsfeld said Clarke was mistaken, but then Rumsfeld's been mistaken himself, as we've seen.

Who are you gonna believe? I sure didn't believe White House flak Dan Bartlett trying to do the rebuttal on the Newshour, watching him blink 2 to 3 times a second while he worked through the script to the righteous indignation part. I don't believe George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Scott McClellan or Condi Rice, either, which is a hell of a thing to have to say, given that they're running the country.

No, Clarke has the look and feel of somehow who finally couldn't take it anymore and had to tell the truth as publicly as possible, in spite of the personal disaster that he had to know would result. (You can just imagine the Karl Rove team running around yelling "shoot the messenger! Shoot the messenger!") Yes, Clarke has a new book to flog, "Against All Enemies," but insists he's not stumping for Kerry or looking for a job in a 5th administration. As for the timing of the book's release, Clarke says the White House delayed it for 3 months. I'm sure they would have preferred a year, just as for the commission on the Iraq war....

Last week, Paul Wolfowitz was on the Newshour, reiterating his belief that things are going well ("we have succeeded, I think, in Afghanistan"), we did the right thing by going to war in Iraq, and dancing around the WMD issue. Lehrer remembers WMDs being "the main reason for going to war," but Wolfowitz notes that it was being in violation of the Security Council's Resolution 1441. Did he personally feel misled? "I use the word 'misled' when somebody knows a fact and tries to persuade you of a different fact. When somebody tells you their best estimate of a situation and it turns out to be wrong, that's life. That happens often." Mmm, yeah.

The malware miscreants have upped the ante, at least for people using BlackICE and RealSecure products: the so-called witty worm is anything but. If you're using any of a list of those products, you need to take action now, if not sooner.

Here's an eye-catching headline: Feds Arrest Alleged Google Extortionist. He's trying to promote his software that clicks on Google ads, and meets with Google. According to the Wall Street Journal, the meeting was recorded by federal agents, with the guy threatening to "destory Google" if they didn't come up with 100 Gs. D'OH!

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

Perhaps that background hum is the sound of product names clashing in cyberspace, or perhaps what happens when bodacious tatas run into an engineering, chemical, finance and telecom giant. In computer science, the oversubscription of names (Gleick uses "domino" for an example, with "several hundred competing parties" awarded some proprietary rights to it by the U.S.) is known as overloading. It was working pretty well in disparate domains until we found one internet to rule them all. You'd think our Babel of variant languages would give us all plenty of elbow room, but it doesn't work that way, especially with a bureaucracy as arbiter.

I saw some of George W. Bush preaching to the choir yesterday, courtesy of C-SPAN's cameras in Orlando. He's having a lot of fun with the program to characterize John Kerry as indecisive. It's all about "definition" right now, with a 10:1 advantage in ad-spending, and taxpayer supporter travel to as many fundraisers and rallies as he can jam into the Secret Service's schedule. No doubt it strengthens the faith of the faithful, but what does it do for the big swing who will decide the election. If you're hispanic, does having the big dog in town half a dozen or fifteen times make it more likely you'll vote for him?

People won't pay attention when summer comes (goes the theory), so it has to be done now, or much later. Given that the world may well be a completely different place in 6 months, this might all be moot. It's good for the economy, though, especially for all those swinging states like Florida.

Spring! Permanent URL to this day's entry

Those in doubt in this neigborhood need only step outside. After a "cold" front (yesterday's high only in the 60s), we're headed for the high 70s this weekend. Just in time for spring break.

The local windsurfers have been discussing what's going to become of 90 elk carcasses in Lucky Peak reservoir. The rep from the Corps of Engineers assures us it's not a problem (just think of them as fish food) because of the dilution factor, but it's going to be hard not to think about tons of decomposing meat upstream when we're splashing around in the lake this year.

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

Wired's feature on Google is great fun, with the "print" version sensibly concatenating the 10 (!) sidebars, and floating the Googlossary. Study up for the IPO, imagine the future, learn about comment spamming and how to kill Google ("It's simple - build a trillion-page, ad-free, up-to-the-minute search engine for everything ever put on the Net"). Edward Tufte gives the search engine we all know and love a big thumbs-up: "My version is exactly what it is now. Google has got it right." But you knew that, didn't you?

You thought driving was easy; so easy, you can talk on your phone and sip a latté at the same time. Getting a computer to do all that is not so easy, though, as DARPA's Grand Challenge showed in much less than 10 hours. The motorcycle made it 2 feet from the starting line.

Avi Rubin spent a day in Baltimore County as an election judge and saw for himself how the Diebold machines work. The surface appearance is hunky-dory, and everyone seems to like them well enough, in spite of the fact that the internals are a black box. I've been a poll-watcher, which is a rung below first-time judge in the status hierarchy. The plodding nature of checks and double-checks and handling paper seems absurdly inefficient, and completely vital.

Robert X. Cringely describes a lose-lose situation that must sound all too familiar to anyone who has worked in a big company with a big IT department. The story pushes "military precision" into oxymoron territory. "It is doubtful, in fact, that ANY company could have made NMCI work, though EDS is still doing a grand job of pretending that the project is a success."

On the campaign trail, there is no requirement to avoid irony. Hence, the GOP hacks can beat on Kerry for not disclosing which foreign leaders like him, while endorsing Dick Cheney sitting tight on who informed his energy task force. The argument for the defense is remarkably similar: disclosure would jeopardize future conversations. The argument seems stronger in regard to world leaders' opinions than energy executives' (who every knows are all Dick's buddies), but let that lay.

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

Tom Peters seems like an interesting guy, usually overflowing with ideas. He likes long lists, such as Twenty Hard Truths, ending with a list of "five" (or seven) things that we need to "obsess on" in order to "remain in the top spot" after the dominance we enjoy today has (inevitably) faded. Then 14 quotes he likes. Here are two items that caught my eye:

6. Americansí "unearned wage advantage" (Born in the U.S.A.) could be erased... permanently.

11. Big companies do not create jobs, and historically have not created jobs. Big companies are not "built to last;" they almost inexorably are "built to decline."

Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare has cut costs (I hope) by eliminating a service desk where you can get certified copies of your certificates for birth, death or marriage. They have a telephone recording you can call with instructions, and a web page that tells you there is no online or phone ordering service.

The state needed to do this so they could cut taxes in lockstep with the Bush administration. They also needed to raise the sales tax "temporarily" from 5 to 6%. Next year's Legislature will shuffle and jive a while and then make that increase permanent, as heaven knows we don't want to put the income tax back where it was.

The sign at the SCOTUS might well read "the buck stops here," because they get to decide if and when there's a conflict of interest. Duck buddies Antonin Scalia and Dick Cheney? "Not a problem," says the judge, taking 21 pages to spell it out, and to rip the Sierra Club's motion to bits along the way. Cheney and he are friends, certainly, but that's not grounds for recusal. Besides, Scalia "thinks not" that the Vice Presidentís reputation and integrity are on the line.

"The question, simply put, is whether someone who thought I could decide this case impartially despite my friendship with the Vice President would reasonably believe that I cannot decide it impartially because I went hunting with that friend and accepted an invitation to fly there with him on a Government plane. If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined." Good point.

Op-ed pundits on the right are meanwhile serving up sauce for the goose (and whining about the liberal media) for Ruth Bader Ginsburg's affiliations with the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund.

HP shareholders voted in favor of expensing its stock options. The board, represented by CEO Carly Fiorina says they'll "continue to carefully deliberate on this matter." Passing a shareholder resolution (which the Board recommended voting against, as usual) is no easy matter, but the corporate board is only "advised" by the non-binding resolution. The FASB may make the point moot next year anyway, requiring the accounting change for everyone.

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

Donald Rumsfeld, on Face the Nation: "You and a few other ... critics ... are the only people I've heard use the phrase 'immediate threat.' I didn't, the President didn't, and uh it's become kind of folklore that that's... that's what's happened."

Except on September 18, 2002 Rumsfeld said "No terror state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq." Watch the video on moveon.org, with Tom Friedman solving the folklore question.

All those "pledge breaks" on public TV got more interesting to me this week, after I went in and helped answer phones one morning for Festival 2004. We worked the morning shift, got to watch the kids' shows. For a few hours, the breaks were the most interesting part of what was going on, and the time between them seemed much too long.

The best call I got was from Bailey, whose parents were still in bed. She? He? wasn't ready to make a pledge, and so I couldn't follow the script very well, but she was able to carry on a conversation. She called back on the next break, and happened to get Jeanette, sitting next to me. "I forgot to tell you, I'm 4 years old," she said.

A bit of a guilty pleasure, hearing about snowstorms back east. It got up into the mid-60s today, headed for 70 into the weekend. Crocuses are mostly done, the violets are out and I saw a row of daffodils today. And went snowboarding, too -- the snow won't put up with much more of this, though.

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

Say howdy to the newest discovery in our solar system, Sedna, with an elliptical orbit that makes the big stuff look very, very small. Then the Oort cloud makes all that shrink to insignificance.

14.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

First shorts sighted at Bogus, March 12th

The bare foothills are coming out in a hurry with a week of weather in the 50s and above. Up top, the boys are vying for the boldest fashion statement with the least covering.

Still cruising the milblogs, here's a posting that defines the genre, I'd guess. Team spirit, very exciting, very expensive and very lethal toys.

Maureen Dowd on The Politics of Self-Pity: "Oh, the poor dears. The very Bush crowd that savaged John McCain in South Carolina, that bullied and antagonized the allies we need in the real war on terror, that is spending a hundred million dollars on ads that will turn Mr. Kerry into something akin to the Boston Strangler; these guys are suddenly such delicate flowers, such big bawling babies, that they can't bear to hear Mr. Kerry speak of them harshly."

This June will mark the 15th anniversary of China's brutal suppression of student protests in Tiananmen square. When we visited China last year, we visited the place, and we were able to talk to people who had first-hand experience with the time, who understood the effectiveness of the government's response to eliminating dissent. Today's "Week in Review" section of The NY Times has another first-person account, from a doctor who was called to the emergency room that night. The current regime has opened itself to economic modernization; can it find the courage for political modernization as well?

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

I'm not sure what possessed me, but I went off exploring what folks on the other side are saying yesterday. There are some amazingly vitriolic outlets on the right, sites that make Bill O'Reilly seem mainstream. It's hard to imagine many minds being changed by the extremities, and I continue to wonder what will make a difference to the undecided center. The question of honorable military service is one interesting dimension. Thanks to comment capability (which my blog still lacks, alas), I got involved in what might be a long discussion on the Mudville Gazette, after hearing about "milblogs" for the first time, and wanting to see what that was about.

The mystery to me is why military people would defend Bush's stint in the Texas ANG. I can only conclude that it's the need to have a strong leader in times of crisis, a theme that has already emerged as the central focus of Bush's campaign. Strength of leadership is certainly important. The direction that leadership takes us is even more important, however. I'm as convinced as I was a year ago that our current direction is absolutely wrong. Back then, the question under public debate (even though the Administration had already made up its mind) was "should we go to war?" Now the question is simpler: should we endorse Bush's leadership for four more years?

Cindi Lauper gives us a reason to look forward to 50. I'm thinking her new album, "At Last", might be the first of her music that I buy.

It's reassuring to find out that the author of legislation banning student aid for people with drug convictions didn't intend it to be used as retribution, but we're still left with the problem of a law being used to punish those who've already served. Our current president, of all people, should be in favor of giving people a second chance after youthful indiscretion.

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

Tom Frank has a look at The America that will vote for Bush: "Until the American left decides to take a long, unprejudiced look at deepest America, at the kind of people who think voting for George Bush constitutes a blow against the elite, they are fated to continue their slide to oblivion."

How about a Defense program that relates to some deep and long-standing fears of vulnerability (can you say "duck and cover"?) in a time when "terrorist threat" is used to justify almost anything, running about $10,000,000,000 a year, and with almost no chance of it being proved incapable (even as there is almost no chance of it being proved capable)? Oh, and we can roll out some big pieces in time for the election, too.

The latest concept to Leave No Defense Contractor Behind is currently under debate. "How much are we willing to spend, over how long a period of time, not to build an effective missile-defense system but just to discover whether such a thing is feasible?"

We've been over this before, but there's so much money at stake, that it simply will not go away.

Early worker, collecting crocus pollen

So, the party in San Francisco is on hold for now, while various branches of government figure out what they want to do. The people declaring "victory" seem to be the oddest part of the story. California State Senator William J. Knight said, "Finally the courts have taken action to put an end to the anarchy in San Francisco."

Anarchy? Couples going to city hall to get marriage licenses and declare their intention to commit themselves to each other is anarchy? It'll be interesting to watch this get sorted out. Eventually, those who would limit marriage must admit that they have a religious objection to inclusion, and our insistence of separation of church and state must reject their position. That's my view.

Remember those electronic voting machines that needed several years and a ton of money to be modified to allow for an audit trail? Turns out they already have printers built-in.

That's because the law -- the Help America Vote Act of 2002 -- requires it: "The voting system shall produce a permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity for such system. The voting system shall provide the voter with an opportunity to change the ballot or correct any error before the permanent paper record is produced. The paper record produced ... shall be available as an official record for any recount conducted with respect to any election in which the system is used." [42 USC 15481(a)(2)(B)] Diebold apparently thought printing out a total at the end of the day would suffice, but it doesn't seem reasonable to me to suppose that machine subtotals suffice for the legally mandated capacity to support a recount.

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

Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, writing new Pentagon papers on Salon.com: "I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president."

This is huge, a report of what many of us suspected was going on, from someone who was there to witness it. Forget about the commission scheduled to report sometime next year, long after the election: the report is out, friends.

Larry Craig defends Bush's use of 9/11 in his ads in a predictable, if not persuasive manner. "The fact of the matter" is that the city, states and country pulled together in a remarkable way after the terrorist attack. Bush may get a "pass" for his leadership, but there are a lot more questions about 9/11 and his initial actions than he could answer in an hour.

There's this problematic matter of the distraction into Iraq, as well.

The locals are going wild about having one of our own in Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Go Troy!

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

Crop of the half-size .06 arcsec view from Hubble

Suppose that you were very, very patient, and could stare at one tiny patch of the sky for, oh, say eleven and a half days, and you didn't have any other lights around to distract you, and you didn't ever blink. What would you see? It actually took the Hubble space telescope 4 months and 800 separate exposures to answer the question.

You may have to wait a few seconds for the website, and/or check one of the mirror sites -- there are a lot of terrestrial eyeballs interested in a look back to the moment after the universe said "Let There Be Light." I tracked down a 1.5MB ("half size") JPEG of the .06 arc-second view: that's 17 millionths of a degree. This snippet is a small crop from that. Looked like one of the more interesting neighborhoods.

If you had any lingering doubts about the latest laws about campaign financing solving the puzzle, you can set those aside. The evidence is the complaint filed with the FEC by the Bush league lawyers against the "527 committees" that threaten to level the campaign money race, in which W. currently has a 10:1 advantage. It has the feel of a playground fight, actually, the smaller kids ganging up on the bully who then complains that it's not fair! I mean, the Republicans complaining about the effect of money in politics? It's too precious.

The RNC response is not simply to complain to daddy's FEC; their chief counsel took the trouble to send one of those intimidating lawyer letters to 250 television stations with the helpful warning that the stations might be breaking the law. You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of John Ashcroft's Justice Department, now would you?

After the livestock show and the rodeo, Bush was embarrassed into agreeing to give more than an hour to the 9/11 commission. It's an odd touch that he won't be sworn in, though. Would it be presumptive to ask our President to take an oath, or does the one in 2001 suffice for everything in his entire term? It's not as if we can count on him to tell the truth about anything in a "chat." Colin Powell, Rumsfeld and Tenet are going to have to swear in.

Commenting on Bush's plans to talk to the commission, Scott McClellan probably wasn't intending self-deprecatory humor by saying "and believe me, you can answer a lot of questions in one hour." (Maybe Dick Cheney can spare more time than that.) He's made a big deal about how extraordinary this is for a "sitting president," but I can't help but think about the countless hours that GWB is and will be spending on his campaign in the coming months, hosting fundraisers, sitting on Air Force One and so on.

McClellan insists that the change in tone about Bush visiting with the Commission has nothing to do with John Kerry's pressing the point on the campaign trail yesterday. It's all about cooperation, he says. They've been providing that all along. Oh and that 9/11 monument dedication, followed by the fundraising stop in New York? Just a coincidence that the President found a way to combine his favorite two campaign topics in one day. But isn't it tacky, Scott? Scott?

"Well, I'm not even going to dignify that with a response."

Speaking of 9/11, John Prados reminds us about the particulars of "leadership" on that day. Not such a good advertising topic.

Anyone who can survive at the head of an agency -- much less The Agency -- through two flavors of administration has to understand what being politic is all about. After George Tenet said that he didn't think the Bush administration misrepresented information about Iraq to justify the war, and that he did tell Dick Cheney and others when their pronouncements were at odds with the facts, "privately," he said this: "Policy makers take data. They interpret threat. They assess risk. They put urgency behind it, and sometimes it doesn't uniquely comport with every word of an intelligence estimate."

Isn't that beautiful? It wasn't a lie, nor even a misrepresentation, but rather it didn't "uniquely comport" with the "intelligence estimate." I wasn't at the hearing, but something tells me the senators must have been impressed with that rhetorical flourish. (The NY Times story had the "comport" quote, The Age has a story put together from the NYT and The Washington Post.)

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

Two things from The Daily Brew: a rundown on "vacillation" (a.k.a. flip-flopping), and a request to "help convince John Kerry to go windsurfing with me when he is elected President!" Hey, I want to join that party!

Here's a feature I hadn't seen in The NY Times Business section, "Frequent Flier." In this episode, Francine Parnes listens to "professor of pickpocketry," Bob Arno talking about his work. "Sometimes I confront the thieves and it magically appears on the ground. But other times I steal it back; that's the quickest way to establish rapport with pickpockets. When I invite them for coffee, I think they are in awe, and that is why they reveal their secrets and give me their cellphone numbers. Granted, the phones are usually stolen."

Playing with the fire of a culture war, somebody's liable to get burned. "A leader's exploitation of subterranean fears and prejudices for the sake of political advantage is a dangerous ploy...."

Arianna Huffington has a 6 point plan for winning back the White House. "After years of being pandered to and lied to, we are longing for a leader who will speak straight to us and challenge us to live up to those intangible qualities that make our nation great." One must ignore the "dithering poltroons offering you focus-group-tested advice on how to triangulate your way to victory," however. Those guys (and gals) are tough to get away from.

8.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Daniel Boorstin didn't quite make it to Leap Day in his 90th year. Reading his obituary makes me realize that there is much, much more of his writing that I'd like to read. I devoured The Discovers (it's on my top reading list) but bogged down halfway through The Creators.

Our neighbors' son just received notice that his National Guard unit is headed for Iraq. This isn't like the branch of the Guard that helped keep W. out of 'Nam; it's the Real Deal now. Plan for a one year stay, at least. We understand that Halliburton runs a bunch of the logistical support, providing camps, cooks and food. But not toilet paper. It's BYOTP, if you can believe that. Families are asked to send a box of personal supplies once a month, as there's no place to buy that sort of stuff over there.

I'm hoping this is an urban legend, but I'm not betting on it.

Tom Tomorrow does a little fact checking for Tom Friedman and the t-shirt business.

They figured images of 9/11 would be OK to publicize, even use in their advertising, but the administration is hiding the war's toll: "Mr. Bush has not yet attended a single funeral for anyone killed in Iraq -- not a single one. Spain and Italy held state funerals for their countrymen who died in Iraq, but the Bush administration's policy for our own war dead is to hide them."

We're going to be hearing a lot about "flip flops" (not the cheap sandals made in China) during the campaign. We all change our views, context matters and the needs of the day are not immutable. Ronald Reagan was the president of a labor union and a Democrat after all. We need to know what the candidate is planning now, and the particulars about how it'll get done.

Tim Woodward laments the passing of the U of I Press, and worries about what will happen to the assets of Idaho's heritage. Selling it off to the University of Oklahoma would be strange.

Patrick Henry College: for the evangelical Christian home-schooled. Mike Farris, president, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, home-schooler of his 10 children, and novelist, says "We are not home-schooling our kids just so they can read. The most common thing I hear is parents telling me they want their kids to be on the Supreme Court." His latest "legal thriller" is encapsulated thusly by David Kirkpatrick: "(It) begins with a Democratic landslide in the 2004 elections that leads to a nightmare of laws blocking parents from spanking their children, teaching their children fundamental Christianity or schooling them at home."

7.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Crocuses, coming up through a mullein leaf

The crocuses are coming, and they're not letting things like old mullein leaves stand in their way.

Heard an interesting segment on NPR today, an ethics Q&A in which the topic of journalists getting involved in things they cover came up. Is it ethical for a journalist to have and act on political views while they're writing about politics? Interesting question. The fellow who was in the seat of authority pointed out that journalists do have opinions, whether or not they act upon them. The NY Times has a policy that reporters can't report on events they participate in.

The thing that was striking to me about it was the diametrical opposition to blogging: while I could report about things I've just seen (without being a part of), I'm much more likely to be moved to write about something I've participated in. It would probably be more interesting to read, too. It's "color commentary," I suppose, rather than news.

Of course the "news" is ever more color commentary than anything else these days, too...

Idaho's senior senator sits on the board of the National Rifle Association, for which I suppose most Idahoans would say "good on ya." The New York Times said "his shameless attempt to create a special exemption from legal liability for gun interests closely aligned with the N.R.A., and potentially the N.R.A. itself, amounts to an apparent conflict of interest warranting scrutiny by the Senate Ethics Committee. An ethics complaint filed recently by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence correctly notes that while senators may serve on the board of an outside organization, they may not use their official position to promote legislation that benefits, or even appears to benefit, that group."

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

I'm trying to avoid linking to NY Times stories, because they go behind the paywall so quickly, but here's one I have to mention, from tomorrow's "Fashion & Style" page: A Prius-Hummer War Divides Oscarville. It's probably only temporary relief, but I took heart to read that "nationally, sales for the H2 fell 21 percent in February, Reuters reported, the sixth straight month of falling sales compared with the previous year." The Prius sales trend is all positive.

Cringely continues his exploration of what's wrong with venture capitalism these days. Everyone's out to find the next really, really big thing, and so field of dreams from which it will come is not getting watered.

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

A triangular sort of day, right? (5-3-4).

I was reading about the German court overturning Mounir el-Motassadeq's conviction when I came to this statement by his lawyer: He called the court's decision a "life saving" one for Mr. Motassadeq, who was 28 when convicted. "Fifteen years would have been the end of normal existence," Mr. Graessle-Muenscher said. (Quoted from the NY Times story.)

That puts me half a decade beyond normality, go figure. Nevertheless, it seems like a rather light sentence if he's really guilty of three thousands counts of accessory to murder.

The economy's growing, the people on top are making more money than ever, but the growth in the workforce continues to outpace jobs available. The unemployment rate held steady, presumably because of the number of people giving up. Two stats: "Manufacturers eliminated jobs for the 43rd consecutive month. The average length of unemployment increased to 20.3 weeks, its highest level since 1984."

What, do we need another tax cut?

Regardless of who started this recession, analysts agree it's been over for some time. Where are the jobs?

There's this ad campaign that's been running seemingly forever on The NY Times, with the tease being "what's your IQ?" They've used an outrageous and ugly altered picture of Einstein for a long time. Today, it had a faux radio-button web form, with choices of 90, 110, 120, 130+ and a "Click Here" button underneath. The "90" choice was selected, perhaps indicating their target audience.

Here's the story about that $29 DVD player that lured us into a "virtual scrum" before Christmas: The Apex DVD player.

4.3.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I hear the first burst of Bush advertising is hitting the cables, but other than the reports about them, I don't imagine I'll be seeing the ads for a while. The target demographic is cable-watching, Nascar-fan types of he-males in toss-up states. The message is "Freedom, Faith, Families, Sacrifice." In other words, content-free emotional hooks intended to hearten the polarized and give a little pull to those close to falling into the Republican camp.

Tapping into our memory of 9/11 to offer its prescription of "steady leadership" may not have gone over so well, though. Surely it would have been a "defining moment" for whomever was president when it happened, but let's move on, shall we, and not exploit the tragedy for partisan gain? One widow put it bluntly: "Three-thousand people were murdered on President Bush's watch. He has not cooperated with the investigation to find out why that happened."

"I know exactly where I want to lead this country," Bush says in one of the excerpts I've seen. Not much comfort, I'm afraid; plutocracy, affirmative action for the well-positioned, and global military adventures are the order of the day. Call it "Pandering, Piety, Pre-emption and Avarice." Then look forward to 8 more months of it, with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend.

Makes me think of a sticker some teenager slapped up on one of the chairlift poles at Bogus:

DO THEY EVER

SHUT UP ON

YOUR PLANET?

Seymour Hersh wonders why we're going so easy on the Pakistan in its role of nuclear weapons black marketer. Quoting the head of a Pakistani NGO that studies conflict regulation: "The deal is that Khan doesnít tell what he knows. Everybody is lying. The tragedy of this whole affair is that it doesnít serve anybodyís needs." Well, not quite: the US gets the quid pro quo of access to the Hindu Kush, in order to track down ObL. It's not going to be easy, but the stakes are higher than ever. Bin Laden captured, dead or alive (preferably dead) would be worth more than Bush's advertising budget to date, come early November.

3.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy is none too pleased with the choice of presidential candidates offered this year, for historical reasons. Kerry's anti-war activities still sting, and Bush's record -- both then and now -- does matter. "Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target.... Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence."

2.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, now this is getting interesting: It looks like Mars had liquid water and had a habitable environment for a while. If -- when? -- we find convincing evidence of there having been life on that other planet, it rocks our world.

More artificial life: yet another wave of malware propagating through email.

I don't pretend to understand the whole issue of guns, but today's action from Idaho's senator Larry Craig should be instructive in some way. He wanted to shield gun manufacturers from liability for what people do with their products. Narrow majorities of the Senate (including Senators Kerry and Edwards, taking a break from the campaign) thought a couple amendments would be good: extend the ban on certain assault weapons, and close the loophole that allows people to avoid background checks when they buy guns at gun shows. Whether or not the amendments were intended as poison pills, Craig thought they were, and urged the Senate to defeat his own bill, which they were only to happy to do, 90-8.

A Democratic aide said: "How out of the mainstream are Republicans to kill their own bill because it includes common-sense amendments that even their administration supports?" A GOP aide explained that the NRA and the trial lawyers both said no; the NRA went so far as to give notice that the vote on the amended bill would be a litmust test, "used in our future evaluations and endorsements of candidates."

The Presidential money race, as of Jan.31'04

It's Super Tuesday, when we find out whether we've got a match race or a done deal for the Democratic nomination. The NY Times still has its interactive graphic going, with new money totals, and now a record date -- Jan. 31st. (As of the middle of last month, they didn't say as of when it was.) Kerry and Edwards are still running on empty, and W.'s money bag is edging further into 9 figures.

From the please don't do that department: don't you hate it when applications hijack your user interface? Ctrl-T opens up a new tab in Mozilla, unless one of the tabs is displaying a PDF document. Similarly, ctrl-W closes a tab unless it's a PDF; Adobe Reader pops up a monologue saying "This action cannot be performed from within an external window." In other words, it's captured the keystroke, but is too stupid to do anything useful with it. Ah, then why not just pass it on to the program it was intended for?

You've probably run into the same thing with Internet Explorer, when it displays Powerpoint, Word or Excel documents. Parts of the browser user interface magically "go away" and parts of the application interface appear. Ctrl-W (for example), which works to close MSIE windows, too, stops working. Adobe has always been working off its own script, but for Microsoft to let the petty squabbling of its application teams out into the open is an annoyance. Competition could fix that, maybe...

If sixbillion.org is going to tell everyone's story, they have their work cut out for them. The beginning of the narrative is certainly worth a look. It's "new media," heavy on Flash.)

1.Mar.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It seems a shame to have missed the chance to blog something on Leap Day, but LD has come and gone without comment on my part. The rest of the year is joggled by one day, which could be unsettling, but here's my suggestion: enjoy being one day ahead. You didn't let it bother you when you were a quarter day behind, then another quarter and another the last three years, did you?

Perhaps the controversy over George W. Bush's stint in the National Guard has come and gone, but for those who are unsure whether it matters, or whether it should matter, listen to what Daniel Schorr -- and Colin Powell -- had to say about it.

Ok, it's a little past due, but I just came across Bill Maher's piece, "Valentine's Day, that great state holiday." He pretty much covers the basics on the Right Thing concerning gay marriage. "If there's one area I don't want the US government to add to its list of screw-ups, it's love."

James Pinkerton, channeling David Brooks, channeling George W. Bush.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Thursday, 01-Apr-2004 10:19:01 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200403.html