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unraveling

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

During the Cold War, a group working to eliminate nuclear weapons used a technique to create awareness of the enormity of our arsenal. To illustrate the 6,000 nuclear devices we had then, BBs were dropped into a large glass jar. Participants closed their eyes and listened to the sound of one, two, five, twenty, and then a steady stream that went on and on for much longer than you'd imagine. It turns out that 6,000 is a very large number, something we lose track of amidst so many large numbers around us.

The meditative state of mind and using a sensory channel not usually associated with numbers had a powerful effect. You should try it some time.

For more than a year, PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer has been honoring our servicemen and women who have lost their lives in the Iraq war with a silent honor roll at the end of each broadcast. Some days there are only one or two, other days there are many. Even as brief as it is, it's a moving tribute to their sacrifice.

Now ABC's "Nightline" has prepared a similar broadcast, but for all of our fallen at once: 523 killed in action, 200 more killed in accidents and by "friendly fire." Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns many ABC affiliates, has refused to show it, saying they "do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content." Spending 40 minutes to honor the American men and women who've given their lives is news in a much more powerful format than we know. As such it will have a political effect whether or not it's a political statement. Sinclair is making a political statement, to be sure: we don't want to dwell on casualties, lest it impair our war-making ability. If Nightline took the time to make a similar listing of the Iraqi war dead, that would be a political statement. It would also be many hours more than their time slot allows. It wouldn't have much of an audience, I'm afraid; not many people are willing to experience "dead air" quite so thoroughly.

Thanks to MoveOn.org for telling me about what Nightline and Sinclair Broadcasting Group are doing.

Now that Google has invented what "search" should mean in the computer world, they're setting out to re-invent what "I.P.O." should mean in the business world. An offering of a company managed for the long term, rather than built to flip sounds like just the tonic for a post-bubble resurgence of the economy.

Of course, eveyone wants the bubble back, instead; that Bay of Fundy rising tide that doesn't just raise all boats but threatens to launch them to the sky. It's so easy to forget that the tide has to run out of the Bay twice a day, too.

Business pundits are clucking about the public shares with reduced voting power, as if shares in other companies actually convey some voting power to holders at large. Elections for directors routinely are completed by the nominating committee, when there are exactly as many candidates as slots open, and one vote is enough for a director to "win." So what if your share only has a tenth of a vote? One tenth of a vote will be enough to endorse the slate, just as ten times as many votes wouldn't kick anyone out.

"The guys sitting in the boardroom are just employees that the owners are paying to run companies as best they can," a hedge fund manager says. Can I see a show of hands of who wants Sergey Brin and Larry Page to be "just employees"? I thought so. Hedge fund managers can be replaced. I'll go with the one who thinks "Google's attitude (is) refreshing and candid."

The serious clucking is about something the investment bankers are less likely to talk about on the record: the percentage for the underwriters is less than half of the going rate, 3% instead of 7%. The good news for them is that the auction process will requires less work, and will likely produce a substantially larger yield. 3% of $3 billion (say) is better than 7% of $1 billion. One thing about the offering does sound usual, though: you have to be a client of one of the underwriters to get in on the front end. Or will Google figure out a way to leverage the auction more widely, ahead of the open market taking over?

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

When TVs started coming with remote controls, I knew I had to have one of those. I suspect it's hard for most people to imagine watching without one of those handy, now. Classrooms are getting remote controls, too. I would've loved that, I'm sure. Maybe it's just the novelty, but the students who've tried them are pretty enthusiastic too, by the best possible measure: class participation.

"Professor Caron has become something of a hero among his students. ''I won the teacher-of-the-year award,'' he said, ''and it had to be the technology, because I'm not that good. I've been teaching 13 years and never won it, then I'm using this thing and I'm Mister Popularity.''" And, it cuts down on web-surfing and instant messaging during class, to boot.

Talk about a difficult job, how'd you like to be the new ambassador to Iraq? I suppose if there's only one "volunteer," we shouldn't squabble over his qualifications, but there are some questions one might ask about John Negroponte.

My Medicare algebra is looking a bit stale at 5 months old, but that new insurance stuff has yet to kick in. We've got the drug discount cards coming first, and by some accounts, they may be puzzling.

Problem: How many times does 1,000 (government bureaucrats) go into 12.5 million (confused Medicare recipients who may call)?

Answer: Enough times to boost "death by on-hold music" to the top of the mortality charts.

One of the heavily redacted pages from the ACLU complaint This sounds too bizarre to be true, but I think it actually is: The ACLU files a lawsuit concerning the Patriot Act, but it's so secret they can't even tell anyone about it. "The group was allowed to release a redacted version of the lawsuit after weeks of negotiations with the government." Many details of the complaint are still under seal, such as who the other plaintiff (apparently an ISP or related business) with the ACLU is.

A couple more SARS cases in China, apparently more leaks from the same lab in Beijing. This year, they're not asking everyone to stay home for the week-long May Day holiday.

Here's the big nut in that energy bill that just won't die. (Sen. Domenici, R-N.M., has resurrected it and offered it as an amendment to the Internet tax bill.) Repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) will put a $trillion worth of utility assets in play. There is a ton of money to be made shuffling all that around, with the long-term prospect of milking the captive audience of utility ratepayers. It's the shorter-term gravy of "consulting fees," percentages of the action and golden parachutes that will grease this baby, though.

A Dear George letter from Congress. Just what did you do with that $40 billion we authorized for an Emergency Response Fund on September 14, 2001?

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

Ted Olson, one of the stars of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, and now Solicitor General for the Bush Administration, arguing in favor of Dick Cheney's secrets, cites United States v. Nixon to support his position. Interesting choice, given that the Supremes had Tricky Dick give up his secrets (in the form of transcripts of his secret tape recordings). Nixon announced his resignation three days later.

Olson's tone of indignation at the President (and his surrogate, the Vice-President) being subjected to litigation (litigation!) during their term of office was taken without irony, I'm sure. I guess he was busy with Florida's business last presidential term.

The Court's problem with Olson's position is that the Vice President isn't claiming Executive Privilege; he's just trying to keep the roster of his consultants private. It's a discovery order that's at issue, and more specifically, whether or not the Supreme Court has jurisdiction. Olson doesn't want the president to be "forced" to claim executive privilege; he argues for the Executive to have meta-privilege, obviating assertion of Privilege, and then submitting to litigation and discovery. He's after some high ground here: protecting the Executive from a process that's "invasive to fundamental Presidential prerogatives and responsibilities."

Beyond the complexities of legal wrangling in the case, there is the simpler question: exactly why can't national energy policy business be carried out in view of the public? What is it in the process that can't withstand the light of day? Dick?

Speaking of tape recordings and transcripts, there won't be any when Bush and Cheney have their "talk" with the 9/11 Commission.

Nicholas Kristof's recipe for what to do next in Iraq: Send in 25,000 additional troops "to try to achieve a secure transition," give the Iraqis real sovereignty on June 30th, dump the "carpetbaggers," step away from Sharon, "count to one googolplex before rushing into Falluja and Najaf to wipe out the resistance," and "bring back the most professional and least political Baathist generals." Who wants to do those job interviews, I wonder?

General Wesley Clark provides what ought to be (but of course won't be) the last word on the campaign posturing over the candidates' military service: "I believe those who didn't serve, or didn't show up for service, should have the decency to respect those who did serve -- often under the most dangerous conditions, with bravery and, yes, with undeniable patriotism."

Yes, his point has a sharp partisan bite to it, but the past says what it says. It's time to talk about the present, and the future.

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

Well, he was homeless at NYU, but then his weblog hit paydirt. The good news is "free housing for the rest of the semester," the bad news is way more demand than even his upgraded hosting plan is likely to handle.

I guess the only answer to Li Zhaoxing is "touché!"

"Do you think Hong Kong was democratic under British rule?" Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing asked reporters in Shanghai today. "Did the British raise concerns about that? Did the Americans raise concerns? No. Why don't you take a look at this double standard?" (Quoted in the related NY Times story)

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

Still some surprises for me with this Gravity Probe B thing. I knew it was in a dewar filled with liquid helium, but I didn't know it was a 400 gallon dewar! The orbit servo system that keeps the 4 balls centered in their pockets is pretty cool, too.

The latest system status is all systems go.

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

Sunday morning balloon ride over Boise It won't come as a surprise to you to read that I'm a big fan of the NY Times Op-Ed section. Given the 7-day expiration of its "free, subscription required" access, I'm reluctant to point to it very often, though. I save what I like in my personal clipfile, a section of hard disk storage that grows without cluttering the house. That's not much help for a weblog, though; unless I want to start my own "I say this is fair use" section, I end up with stale links in a week.

So be it for today, as I have to make note that columns by Frank Rich, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd and Richard Clarke are all worth reading.

Rich:
"Mr. Bush knows how to defend himself against journalists -- by shutting them out and demonizing them as elites out of touch with Joe Public. He tries to limit troubling pictures, by either forbidding them (soldiers' coffins) or superseding them with triumphalist tableaus of his own (that aircraft carrier). But faced with a revolt of The Families, he buckles."

Friedman:
"We are now in the middle of a low-grade civil war in Iraq for who will control the place after we leave. That's the bad news. Here's the good news: I doubt we will be in Iraq a year from now -- certainly not in large numbers."

Clarke:
"We are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam -- not a 'clash of civilizations' between East and West -- is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement."

In for a dime, in for a dollar (or 4½ if you buy the paper copy): The Multilevel Marketing of the President, the feature piece in the Magazine. "Pyramid-based companies have proved amazingly successful at raising up armies of enterprising Americans; Amway, the world's most successful MLM, has more than 3.6 million distributors. But some MLM's thrive by imposing their own strange and insular cultures on their recruits, and while they offer the illusion of self-employment, those at the top of the pyramid often demand a rigid kind of uniformity and loyalty.... When I met with Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, in suburban Washington, and suggested that the Bush campaign could fairly be compared to Amway in its approach, he agreed without hesitation. ''Amway, no question,'' he said."

It must help to be "literal to the point of seeming programmed," as Matt Bai describes the campaign's director, Ken Mehlman. His view of the trend toward more participation in democracy? "The lessons of reality TV are that people today are into participatory activities. They want to have influence over a decision that's made. They don't want to just sit and passively absorb. They want to be involved, and a political program ought to recognize that." American Idol, American President. As George himself might ask, what's the difference?

Chief butthead (in the literal and most charitable sense, that is) Bill O'Reilly has found another opponent who is beneath his contempt: John Doyle of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. Doyle says: "Talking to Americans is always a tonic. Bring on Fox News and bring it fast. Let's see this thing that has so many ardent and incredibly aggressive viewers." O'Reilly says... hey, if you want to hear what O'Reilly says, you've already heard it, haven't you?

Our cable company has us in a No Faux Zone, they won't let us watch it unless we make monthly protection payments.

I went shopping for a webhosting package 3½ half years ago, and after settling on Westhost, my needs have been taken care of. They continue to upgrade space and bandwidth in the "starter" package faster than I can fill it up. I think it was 20MB when I moved beyond the "free" webspace that came with an Earthlink account, now it's 600 MB. If you're looking, I recommend them, and would be happy to get a referral credit for my recommendation to you.

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

The Unisys patent flap over the GIF format quietly went away last year when the LZW compression algorithm patent expired, but the problem of proprietary ownership of basic image formats is not yet resolved. I always thought JPEG was far beyond dispute, but here comes Forgent Networks suing everybody and their brother with a 17-year-old patent they found in their purchase of Compression Labs. Apparently I missed this when it came up two years ago. Forgent has until October 2006 when the patent expires to put the squeeze on users, which includes pretty much everybody using computers and digital cameras. Actually, the story won't end there: "Remember, even if the patent expires, once we notify companies that they are infringing on patent, we can seek damages all the way back to the date when it was issued," spokesman Michael Noonan said.

10 weeks to go and we're not sure who's going to govern, or how they're going to be selected, but we have decided that they won't have command of the armed forces (foreign or domestic), and they won't be able to enact laws. "Just be patient for 6 months or so," you think that'll work ok? Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee sized it up pretty well: "we risk the loss of support of the American people, the loss of potential contributions from our allies and the disillusionment of Iraqis." Other than that, how do you like the plan?

The incomparably bizarre Spurge inflorescence On the first anniversary of our originally scheduled trip to China, SARS is in the news again. An epidemiologist in Baltimore says the good news is that it's not a new strain; the bad news is that it's the 3rd time it has escaped from a laboratory. There's more good news, though: the disease has caused China's government and health organizations to open up to the rest of the world. From the NY Times story: "Dr. Julie Hall, the SARS team leader for the Beijing office of the World Health Organization, said health officials held a meeting on Friday with the Chinese Ministry of Health. She said the ministry had asked for their help in trying to determine what went wrong and to limit exposures."

Some of the folks who didn't go last spring, or on the rescheduled trip in the fall were slated to go... right about now.

To me, $25,000 is equivalent to a very nice new car. (If I were buying, the 2nd generation Prius would be on my shopping list.) To 140 people in Florida yesterday, $25,000 was the price of "a plate" at a lunch with the President, bringing in a cool $2.9 million for the election campaign. That's populism for you.

Microsoft's results exceeded expectations, just like the good old days. The company pays dividends now, though. $1.9 billion to Sun Microsystems, $613 million to the EU, half a bill in "stock compensation expense" (can you say "dilution"? Sure you can), $.04/share to stockholders.

Russ Kick, laboring in (and about) obscurity on a web site with a great concept and memorable (!) name, gets a major scoop on the Bigs. Kudos and a big chunk of bandwidth to The Memory Hole. The default-secretive Pentagon said their acquiescence to the Freedom of Information Act request was "a mistake" they won't making again.

The US Postal Service is economizing, figuring that Lance might win a 6th TdF, but what are the chances beyond that? Get out while the going is good. And better to announce long before the heat of competition so it doesn't seem so traitorous afterwards.

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

The Bake Back America campaign was more inspired than MoveOn realized. They brought in three-quarters of a million bucks holding bake sales.

First flax flower, wouldn't hold still in the shade On an incomparably lovely morning I went for a turn in the yard, and got the notion to take stock of what all is blooming at the moment. (I took some pictures, too.) The main crop is Money plant (Lunaria), most of which is the less common white variety, with a few of the regular purples. Then Vinca, grape hyacinth, plenty of tulips, only a few dandelions (my retirement has been bad for them), sweet woodruff (Gallium oderatum), the first flush of irises (purple, and miniature purple), Forget-me-not, Valerian, Basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilus), a last few violets if you look really hard, the end of the Forsythia, some onions, bittercherry, Narcissus, catmint, honeysuckle, lemon balm (and maybe some horsemint ringers), candy tuft (Iberis sempervirens), two kinds of Ajuga (A. reptans), a shady patch of freckle-face pansies and lily of the valley, a strip of bluegrass that dodged the mower. There were a number of things that had the first flower or two showing up: Chinese lantern, larkspur deep in iris leaf shade, the Comfrey, cotoneaster and geranium. Tomorrow, we'll have the first Columbine if it doesn't make it by sunset.

Earth Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Sierra Club survived the attempted board takeover by anti-immigration candidates, with the nominating committee's offerings trouncing the petition candidates by 10:1 margins. The top 8 candidates (for the 5 open positions) were all from the nominating committee, with "turnout" over 22%, the largest in Club history.

April snow on the Boise front We had the full dose of spring weather yesterday: solid rain overnight and into the morning, some clearing midday and then a wave of thunderstorms rolling down out of the Blue Mountains. One bolt of lightning came snap, crackle, pop close to our house and blipped the power enough to reset one computer and one clock, and bounce me and my office mate in our chairs. Fresh snow on the Boise front! We'll get the usual blue sky and 15-25mph winds following the front today, and then back to our pleasant progress through spring.

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

Everyone likes having to pay less tax, making the endless promotion of tax cuts by the Bush administration great marketing. But are you getting yours? Chuck Collins of United for a Fair Economy examines the shell game that's going on. Here in Idaho, for example, the state income tax went down along with the federal rates, but that pretty much busted the budget. We now have a "temporary" increase in the sales tax (from 5 to 6%), and a lot of state and local services which are getting scaled back or eliminated.

The biggest shell is his "shift #5," sending our taxes on to future generations. It's the easiest sell to current taxpayers and, given the demographics of the baby boom, the most invidious short-term pandering. The UFE has more in their report, "Shifty Tax Cuts: How They Move the Tax Burden off the Rich and onto Everyone Else."

One of the ancillary functions of the TSA appears to be the harassment of perceived political enemies. Jesselyn Radack writes about what it's like to be a "selectee."

Yet another big newspaper site starts requiring registration: San Jose's paper just got a little murkier.

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

Ahmad Chutzpah - er, Chalabi - tells us what "we" Iraqis want in the bully pulpit of The Wall Street Journal. "A year after Saddam was deposed, the Iraqi people are grateful for liberation but tired of occupation and delayed promises. Only sovereignty, democracy and justice will satisfy us now." It isn't clear how Chalabi fits into democracy over there, however.

Judging from the responses, he didn't get very far toward convincing his English-speaking audience, either.

"I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet..."
- George Bush, trying to answer a question at the April 14, 2004 press conference, about what his biggest mistake has been.

The last several days' entries of the Dreyfuss Report make me think about the US election's likely effect on peace and stability in the world, and especially in the middle east and central Asia. (There's also the Manichean angle of the ultimate battle between Good and Evil, but I've heard you shouldn't mix politics and religion.) What's going to decide that election, however, will likely be our parochial economic concerns, as experienced in fewer than twenty states.

The Chinese let Cheney have his say and then provided comrades who might have missed the downplayed event with a transcript. They say it wasn't censored or anything... perhaps "freedom" just doesn't translate to Mandarin?

Sidney Blumenthal's take on the press conference performance is not good, and further, that Bush faces a revolt from the military. "Bush appears as a passive manager who enjoys sitting atop a hierarchical structure, unwilling and unable to do the hard work that a real manager has to do in order to run the largest enterprise in the world." Hey, it worked at the baseball team and the oil company, didn't it?

We went and saw Dr. Strangelove last night, in honor of the Snake River Alliance's 25th anniversary. Frank Rich watched Lawrence of Arabia, an even more distant classic. "To revisit Lawrence and the history it dramatizes in embryo is to feel not only déjà vu but also a roaring anger at the American arrogance and ignorance that has led to the current nightmare."

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

Hillary Clinton's talking about health care again, in this week's NY Times Magazine feature piece.

"In 1993, the critics predicted that if the Clinton administration's universal health care coverage plan became law, costs would go through the roof. ''Hospitals will have to close,'' they said, ''Families will lose their choice of doctors. Bureaucrats will deny medically necessary care.'' They were half-right. All that has happened. They were just wrong about the reason."

Mistakes were made, but darned if GWB can identify his biggest. Maybe the problem was having so many to choose from? Admittedly, this is a nasty question, like the job interviewer asking what your biggest weakness is. Tell the truth and you provide ammunition for critics. Make up a dodge, and your body language will reveal your dishonesty. The third option, showing the paralysis of a deer in the headlights, does not seem better than those first two.

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

Cover of Bob Woodward's book, Plan of Attack 60 Minutes did it again: plugged another bestseller from their corporate family, while unveiling another raft of sordid details from inside the Bush administration. This time it was Mike Wallace interviewing Bob Woodward about what's in his book Plan of Attack:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Dick Cheney, speaking to the VFW, Aug. 2002

And the ambassador to Saudi Arabia found out about the plan before our Secretary of State did.

The good news is that the Saudis (and Bush's big oil buds running the refineries in this country?) have promised low oil prices in time for the election.

In describing the state of the neighborhood this morning, a friend had this item in a longer list: "My culture uses sex to sell everything, and panics if it sees a bare breast."

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

Purple money plant flowers, a bit past their prime Tax day, and our local Post Office isn't going out of their way for you late filers any more: no more scenes at midnight, just the regular pick-up schedule. Miss it and you get an April 16th postmark. I didn't need to meet the deadline for our amended Idaho return (the IRS was kind enough to correct my arithmetic and adjust our return for us), but I did anyway.

The Spokane River has been rated #6 on the endangered rivers list, by virtue of its "added ingredients": sewage, PCBs, lead, arsenic, zinc, and cadmium. Closer to home, the Snake River made #3 for the dams that have devastated salmon populations.

Joseph D. McNamara says we should just let the boys play with anabolic steroids and whatever else they like. The former San Jose (Cal.) chief of police thinks we have more important things to do.

Science catches up with what we all know once again: love can save your heart. Of course, love can break your heart, too; life's a risky proposition.

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

Drinking at the public trough, during the 3rd Owyhee Rendezvous The Owyhee iniative process has reached a milestone, announcing their proposal, agreed upon by conservation groups, ranchers and recreationists -- some of all of those, but by no means all of them. Now the challenge is whether those who might be able to veto the process can be persuaded to accept the compromises.

Owyhee Co. will remain cow-friendly under the proposal, which proposes 65,000 acres of "ungrazed wilderness" along with almost half a million acres of Wilderness where grazing will still be allowed.

If you'd like to take a look around, the Mountain Visions site has some nifty Quicktime panoramas of the area (and many other places as well). Or get out on the ground this June, at the 6th Owyhee Rendezvous.

Rocky Barker of The Idaho Statesman has a story on the rollout of the proposal. Contrary to what he wrote, the "other" 205,000 acres will not be opened up for "new trails," but rather, the plan calls for stopping all cross-country travel and having BLM create an expedited NEPA-compliant travel management plan. Don't sweat it, motorheads, there are 10,000 miles of roads out there already.

While our President reminds us he's sure he's right and he'll stay the course in Iraq, the world offers up still more genocide in a country that isn't making as many headlines: Sudan. Nicholas Kristof has been there, and recounts the horror. His op-ed piece is titled Cruel Choices:

"Then there were the choices faced by the Sudanese refugees I interviewed. For example, who should fetch water from the wells? The Arab Janjaweed militia, armed by Sudan's government, shoots tribal African men and teenage boys who show up at the wells, and rapes women who go. So parents described an anguished choice: Should they risk their 7- or 8-year-old children by sending them to wells a mile away, knowing that the children have the best prospect of returning? And what should parents do when the Janjaweed seize their children, or gang-rape their daughters? Should they resist, knowing they will then be shot at once in front of their children?"

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

One of the Gravity Probe B quartz spheres It's been 45 years (and $700 million) in the making, but it looks like Gravity Probe B is finally ready for launch. The "one second window" for Monday, April 19th, is at 10:01 PDT. (If that doesn't work, each of the following days has a good second.) When I went to Stanford in 1989-90, the project was an institution, offering to absorb available talent. Over the years, it's produced 100 or so Ph.D.s and some very, very round niobium coated quartz balls.

They'll be some bake sales for democracy this Saturday. Find the one nearest you!

Americans aren't terribly interested in body counts of Iraqis, but much of the world is more focused on those thousands; hundreds in just the first half of this month. It's big headlines here when one civilian is taken hostage (there are 7 more missing).

We're trying to help, really. If only we could make them understand. The force of arms seems to interfere with the force of reason, on all sides. Maybe they'll listen to Miss USA?

The Donald's take on Iraq is a bit different: "It is just a mess that obviously should've never been started." "Mr. Bush, you're fired." Well, he didn't say that last thing, but it would make for good TV, don't you think?

TV delivery in Shanghai This Reuters image from a story in The NY Times about the overheated Chinese economy -- now running trade deficits -- and their reining in monetary supply (while the US stokes its boilers) is a classic from that country at the turn of the millennium: a 50" TV being delivered by tricycle.

I've observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who are members of Costco, and those who aren't. I'm in the latter group, but recent reporting about the company has piqued my interest. The comparison with Wal-mart is especially telling, and hopeful: it is possible to be decent to your employees, and to do well. Now we just need to get stock market investors to take notice and provide the next level of reward for virtue.

"Costco, surprise, has a lower turnover rate and a far higher rate of productivity: it almost equaled (Wal-mart's) Sam's Club's annual sales last year with one-third fewer employees. Only six percent of Costco's employees leave each year, compared to 21 percent at Sam's. And, by every financial measurement, the company does better."

The evacuation of 140 Saudis in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, must surely become storied lore in Arabia. Will the 9/11 Commission be asking questions about it, though? This is a short article from the author of House of Bush, House of Saud, who also has his own website for the book.

"(On Sept. 13th, 2001), Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and a longtime friend of the Bush family, dropped by the White House. He and President George W. Bush went out to the Truman Balcony for a private conversation. We do not know everything they discussed, but the Saudis themselves say that Prince Bandar was trying to orchestrate the evacuation of scores of Saudis from the United States despite the lockdown on air travel."

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

Understanding why we went to Iraq, the 10 version plan.

Weather forecast: increasing drought out this way. We had a pretty good snowpack this winter, but a dry spring. Southern Idaho and western Montana (among other areas!) could be headed for trouble this summer.

One of the callers to Talk of the Nation today pointed out the apparently differing standards of evidence before Sept. 11, 2001, and before going to war in Iraq. Rice and Bush seemed to expect time and place information in the PDB about domestic terrorism, whereas some vague rumors about yellowcake in Africa were enough to mount a war in Iraq.

Larry Johnson, who says he wrote about 40 Presidential Daily Briefings during his tenure, parses that PDB for us; just how actionable was the intelligence? And "are George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice really as clueless as they are claiming to be?"

I haven't seen and won't be going to see Mel Gibson's Passion in this lifetime. I did watch much of The Patriot last night, since it was on network TV and all. The "standard revenge plot with the Revolutionary War as an incidental backdrop" wasn't Gibson's movie, but he starred in it. "Too many failings in fact, dialogue, lifestyle, behavior, costume, arms, etc. to allow any but the ignorant to suspend disbelief," said one reviewer. I was watching Gibson's acting and wondering about the man behind it, and behind the Christian snuff film that has turned out to be successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

The local "news" quoted one person who expressed what must be a common theme: it was a difficult film to watch, but he felt better for having watched it. So, it's like penance? By sharing in the suffering you become a better person, less likely to inflict suffering on others? At least by flaying and crucifixion, I suppose. Meanwhile, the real religious drama, that battle between "good" and "evil" in the middle east continues apace, long after Mr. Evil has been toppled, captured and jailed (trial pending). The argument that "this is for your own good" has not been going over too well; perhaps it suffers in translation.

On that note, the solider's guide to prayers for Bush may be useful. "Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding."

BSU president Bob Kustra's radio show, New Horizons in Education caught my ear last week, with his interview of Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. Brown's book was the topic: Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. "Plan B calls for a worldwide mobilization to stabilize population and climate before they spiral out of control. It provides a plan for sustaining economic progress worldwide." You can buy it in paperback, hardback, or get the (free) download.

Ok, now this eye surgery stuff has my attention, with conductive keratoplasty, said to "correct a common near-vision problem for people whose eyesight is otherwise excellent, in a minimally invasive way." I hardly qualify as "otherwise excellent," having collected the whole set of myopia, presbyopia and astigmatism. There are treatments for all of those now, can I get a package deal? Not from C.K. - that's for hyperopia, which AFAIK I don't have.

Maybe one of the "dozen" new types of lens implants is for me, so that I can "mimic a healthy 20-year-old's ability to see at both near and far distances"? Never mind the medical aspect, this is all big business, which is of course why it's in the NY Times' Business section.

Corporate audits plummeting... With tax day approaching, here's good news, at least if you're a corporation with a quarter billion or more in assets: "tax enforcement has fallen steadily under President Bush, with fewer audits, fewer penalties, fewer prosecutions and virtually no effort to prosecute corporate tax crimes." That's according to the New York Times' reading of the latest report from Syracuse University's TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. With the Bush tax cuts, everyone's paying less (aren't they?) so it's all win-win. Until someone has to pay for the deficits, and the medical care and social security of the baby boom anyway.

Oh, and the IRS commissioner and our president are talking it up as if they're getting tougher on corporate criminals, too. Bush says it "should be loud and clear to the people in the business world: we're not going to tolerate dishonesty in the boardrooms of America." The data make it loud and clear that we're not serious about enforcing that big talk, it's just made-for-TV campaign B.S.

Civil penalties plummeting too... "The number of civil penalties assessed each year against corporations for tax fraud and negligence has always been minuscule... But, small as the number of these assessments have long been, the counts recently have shrunk even more. From 1999 to 2003, the total number of civil negligence penalties aimed at corporation all over the United States dropped from 62 to 12. In the same period, civil fraud penalties fell from 247 to 170. Although the number of civil fraud penalties increased slightly in 2003, the dollar amount of assessed civil fraud penalties was down 19% last year."

"(T)he claimed increases (of audits, from their all-time lows of a few years ago) are entirely the result of agency's growing reliance on computer-generated correspondence audits that by their very nature are comparatively superficial."

The bad news (for you cheaters, that is) is that what enforcement the IRS does is targeted at individuals: more than 3 times as many audits, and about 30 times as many "compliance contacts" of all kinds. Much of those "contacts" are the automated detection of math errors the IRS does on individual returns, but not corporate ones. (If you make an honest mistake, as I did this year, that automated detection can be a good thing. Our refund turned out to be 50% larger than I'd claimed.)

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

Robert X. Cringely says the software war is over, and Microsoft won. One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Here's a twist in the process of Republicans getting government off our backs and helping business improve the business of America: Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test its cattle individually for mad cow disease, so that the Japanese will buy their beef again. The Dept. of Agriculture won't let them.

Heard Talk of the Nation's interview with Howard Gardner, on the subject of his book, Changing Minds on Thursday. (Thanks to the web, you can hear it, too.) As many of the callers said, "it sounds like an interesting book, and I'm looking forward to reading it." From the inside flap: "Think about the last time you tried to change someoneís mind about something important: a voterís political beliefs; a customerís favorite brand; a spouseís decorating taste; a teenagerís attitude toward schoolwork. Chances are you werenít successful in shifting that personís beliefs in a significant way. For an endeavor so commonly mentioned and frequently attempted, why is the phenomenon of changing minds so mysterious?"

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

(partial) image of the cover of DYNASTY Kevin Phillips, interviewed by Bill Moyers, on Now: "Here, we're running around, we're blaming these accountants, these tricksters that were in Enron, but George W. and George H.W., his father, were very much involved in the whole rise of Enron's influence and power in this country. But you ... you don't see that. People in the press have a lot of trouble touching these issues right where the rubber hits the road."

Phillips was the chief political strategist for Richard Nixon's victory in 1968, and is the author of Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, and the current bestseller, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.

From the first chapter of Hans Blix' book, Disarming Iraq: "Armed action, indeed, stands in contrast to diplomacy-but it does not necessarily stand for truth. There might be more to the saying 'The first casualty in war is truth.' Nor do I find it appropriate to make diplomacy the opposite of truth -- to project it as lies or illusion. Diplomacy will often use language that understates the divergence of positions so as to minimize the gaps that have to be bridged and make reconciliation less difficult, but lying is not a part of diplomacy -- at least not of good diplomacy."

The American Enterprise Institute doesn't list the most important "qualification" of their new Visiting Fellow, Liz Cheney: daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Veep. But hey, I'm sure Affirmative Action had nothing to do with her appointment. (I wonder if her office is near her mom's?)

Useful facts from Molvanîa include "There are four genders: male, female, neutral, and the collective noun for cheeses, which occupies a nominative sub-section of its very own." The site says the book is available in the UK and New Zealand as of April 1st.

What does "next message" in your Inbox mean? If you use Outlook/Express, it depends on your configuration and how you have the current folder's index sorted. If you're using Gmail... you have your choice of "newer" and "older," which isn't quite so hard to figure out. Sean Palmer shares an early report on the service under development from Google, which seems to me can't be in keeping with their testing agreement, can it?

It seems obvious that we all need a search interface into our stored email, just as it has become obvious that searching is an essential element of the world wide web. It's not about having information, it's about being able to find information when you need it. And how's this for the highest possible testimonial to user interface design: "the system is so straightforward that there isn't really a great deal to comment on." Or this, for an assessment of the status of the beta test: "gmail is already so good that I've no qualms over using it for my regular general email straight away."

How many ways can you spell that spam-essential cure for ED? Cockeyed.com has figured out that it's more than 600 quintillions, but is in fact into the sextillions. Appropriately enough!

Ok, now let's see him write a spam filter which will catch them all.

What else can you do with a world wide web? How about... virtual potlatch? That is so post-modern.

I've got stop reading the Scout weblog now, that's enough bizarre stuff for one morning.

But then Dave Barry sent us to the online Sun for Hop Suey! He liked the quote about the lasagne, I liked this: A council spokeswoman said: "We are liaising with the retailer in order to prevent a recurrence."

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

Some folks who promote growth as a generically good thing like to quote the adage "you're either growing or you're dying." Now it turns out growth kills, go figure. "(W)orkers in organisations which are growing rapidly are more likely to suffer the symptoms of work-related stress than those employed by organisations where there is less change and more stability."

It was Yahoo!'s meteoric rise (hmm, bit of mixed metaphor, there) that got me interested in market momentum back in the bubbly days of 1999. Yesterday, they reported results that sound almost as good as back then, along with a 2 for 1 stock split. The stock closed up $7.86 today, a tidy 16% gain. If it keeps going, it'll soon reach one-fourth of its price at the top of the bubble: $239 and change. Ad revenue is up, up, up, "jumping 235 percent," leading to some excess salivation in that industry.

Congress finally acted on the $80 billion pension handout that I talked about last week (scroll past the manure and Commandments). They threw in the A-rated bonds with the AA and AAA for a little added bonus. If you read through my primer and understood it, the quote from Judd Gregg (R., NH) should amuse: the legislation will allow an extra $80 billion to be invested in new equipment, new hires, and the like instead of being "misallocated within the market place" into already adequately funded pension funds. When you check your cookie jar and find something missing, give Senator Gregg a call and ask him about misallocation.

If you're second guessing, why not go all the way? Any number of things could have disrupted the terrorists' plans for September 11, 2001. Photos of the two known ones could have been run on America's Most Wanted, or someone could have connected the dots about pilot trainees who just wanted to know how to steer and didn't care about landing, or we could have had the FBI and CIA working together. None of that stuff happened, and talking about what went wrong won't change what has happened. The only thing to do is to admit that mistakes were made, and we're striving to do better. That wasn't in Condi Rice's script, though. The closest she came was spreading blame over the last two decades' worth of administrations, and complaining that no one told her what she should do. ("I don't remember the al Qaeda cells [inside the US!] as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.")

George W. Bush broke out of his usual TV non-viewing habits and reportedly watched all of Rice's testimony. Maybe as a follow-up, he can read Alternet.org's reality check for the administration. I suspect that message won't get through the chorus of true believers saying Dr. Rice's performance was "extremely strong," though.

The US military has managed to get the Shiites and the Sunnis working together in Iraq. The bad news is that they're working together to drive out the US military. So many problems could be solved with patience, it seems. We really want to turn over authority at the end of June, but if the war is hot and getting hotter, a case can -- and will -- be made that we should not get out.

Not being able to admit mistakes is part of the problem, too, as Maureen Dowd points out in her dark essay, The Iraqi Inversion.

Robert Byrd has something to say about mistakes, too, in his call for an exit strategy: "America needs a roadmap out of Iraq, one that is orderly and astute, else more of our men and women in uniform will follow the fate of Tennyson's doomed Light Brigade."

Salam Pax: "Remember the days when every time you hear an Iraqi talk on TV you had to remember that they are talking with a Mukhabarat minder looking at them noting every word? We are back to that place.

"You have to be careful about what you say about al-Sadir. Their hands reach every where and you don't want to be on their shit list. Every body, even the GC is very careful how they formulate their sentences and how they describe Sadir's Militias. They are thugs, thugs thugs."

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

Morning skyline at our place - larch and spruce I noticed in a TV ad yesterday that there's a local gun show using the name "Fort Boise." We are not related. Nor are we related to any other of the many enterprises using the name of the old fort. We are a world unto ourself.

When your call to the customer service goes overseas, and you give them your account number and other information, how do you know it's all safe? Well, hey, you don't know if it's safe in this country, either, but somehow it seems riskier overseas.

In the Toronto Star's poll, a few people thought Google scanning email to decide what to advertise was creepy, but most didn't see automated processing as an issue. The people who did should consider that David MacKay of Oakville has it exactly right: "E-mail is about as private as a post card (unless it is encrypted)..."

Dan Gillmor thinks the proposed privacy policy is "nothing short of chilling." I think it's damn clever to put it out there before the service is even available. Let the public harangue away when the stakes are exactly zero, dial in the policy that people can (learn to) live with it, and go from there.

Mrs. Sonora Lopez won't have to bum walking-around money from her daughter any more: she made the big pull on a $3 slot machine at Borgata. She credits Our Lady of Guadalupe which should send a bunch of new prayers Her way.

Among those product marketing ideas one might wish one thought of, the "award winning" stainless steel portable hole for tidy tissue dispensing. $20.

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

Technorati says it's tracking 2 million weblogs and 270 (or so) million links. Interesting search capability, showing what blogs are talking about what interests you.

From IBM's "Collaborative User Experience Research Group," some fascinating graphical views of "history flow" in a wiki, a collaboratively edited website.

Reports from the People's Daily: China's now the world's 4th largest auto manufacturer and its 3rd largest auto consumer. "Should the current momentum be kept in the next five to six years, China's auto output and consumption would likely be second to that of the US only by 2010."

And, U.S. can't be trusted on Taiwan. "The Taiwan authorities' fantasy of independence would not have run so rampant without US connivance, and Taiwan would not have become a question at all had the United States not intervened." The high dudgeon is about us selling advanced radar to the island.

If that's not enough of a foreign journey for you, try the discussion board and hear from "Chinese-Canadian" saying "If China needs to invade Taiwan, China will give advance warning to Taiwan which city will be bombed at what time so that no innocent citizen will die. Never will be in Chinese history to drop atomic bombs to kill innocent people to win any war." Or the more fundamental "Patriot's" 6-step syllogism starting with "US can't be trusted because US is an organized hypocrisy."

Steve Perry deconstructs Bush's Brain after this winter of discontent: "Rove could broadcast as well as narrowcast; he had the makings of a fine minister of propaganda--the intuitive facility for adducing that single, simple, forceful idea that would win the most people to your side, and the force of personality to repeat it over and over even if it was absurd."

The Master Plan that they've lately fallen off of (and will doubtless return to) is simple: "Include in the mix some tough-but-sentimental ad spots that function more or less like video yule logs burning in the electronic hearth: They encourage comfort with Bush. And raise enough cash to outspend God if it comes to that."

Fiona's transit of Fallujah involved dodging some bullets; she shares the feeling of traveling through a ravaged land at war.

The New Hampshire Gazette has an entertaining editorial cartoon archive, including the likes of "The day honesty unaccountably showed up on a photo-op backdrop."

4.4.4 DST Permanent URL to this day's entry

You've heard about the pieces of the puzzle for years: Bush/Cheney energy policy, the Pioneers and Rangers pumping jumbo bucks into election campaigns, the gutting of the EPA. Bruce Barcott assembles the puzzle in today's feature piece in the NY Times Magazine: Changing All the Rules.

"Having long flouted the new-source review law, many of the nation's biggest power companies were facing, in the last months of the 1990's, an expensive day of reckoning. E.P.A. investigators had caught them breaking the law. To make amends, the power companies were on the verge of signing agreements to clean up their plants, which would have delivered one of the greatest advances in clean air in the nation's history. Then George W. Bush took office, and everything changed."

If you don't think the issue of "executive privilege" and secrecy in government matters, consider that "a Gallup poll in 2001 found that 81 percent of Americans supported stronger environmental standards for industry. According to another 2001 poll, only 11 percent thought the government was doing 'too much' to protect the environment." There was simply no way to safely get this job done under the light of public scrutiny.

"One key element of the strategy was putting the right people in under-the-radar positions. The Bush administration appointed officials who came directly from industry into these lower rungs of power -- deputy secretaries and assistant administrators. These second-tier appointees knew exactly which rules and regulations to change because they had been trying to change them, on behalf of their industries, for years."

We've had sufficient law for more than 25 years. What we haven't had is sufficient enforcement of the law. To call the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" initiative a smoke screen would be too cute, and too generous. "Clear Skies allowed 50 percent more sulfur dioxide, nearly 40 percent more nitrogen oxides and three times as much mercury as the Clean Air Act -- rigorously enforced -- called for." Corporations that were prepared to finally submit to the overdue enforcement action that was started and well underway during the Clinton administration have simply walked away from negotiation and agreements. Clear Skies didn't fly, but the administrative solution is even more egregious. Try seven times as much mercury emissions as current law allows.

Most bits of Flash seem to be exercises in programmer self-gratification. The gallery from an HP photo/story contest succeeds in making something interesting even more interesting, and a lot of fun, besides.

Some good news from the University of Idaho: Caxton Press of Caldwell has a proposal to preserve the UI Press. The less-than-good news is that "Caxton will not be assuming the publication of new manuscripts," though.

Frank Rich writes about politics. As art. There's been a lot of that in the past couple weeks, and he wants to know, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been in the Situation Room?. There hasn't been that much news that's new, but there has been a lot of drama: Clarke, Bush's slide show, Condi on the talk show circuit, the occasional Senator...

Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, went even further, attacking Mr. Clarke's book as an attempt to profiteer on his inside access and "highly classified information." Apparently Mr. Frist did not know that the White House itself had vetted Mr. Clarke's book for possible security transgressions and approved it. Nor did the senator seem to remember that he had written his own, far cheesier post-9/11 cash-in book, "When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate's Only Doctor." (I know it sounds like a parody, but that's the real title.)

The chart accompanying Gretchen Morgenson's story in the Sunday NY Times Two Pay Packages, Two Different Galaxies beggars the imagination. Have you heard of Cendant Corporation? I've heard the name, but couldn't tell you much about it. We're told it's a "travel, real estate and direct marketing concern," so I suppose it's reaching out and touching us in our private places without our knowing. For what the CEO is paid, it should be the talk of the town, right up there with GE, Wal-Mart and Microsoft. (It isn't among the top 100 market cap companies, though, running about 164th.) Henry Silverman's $3.3M salary is just the start of what came to $60 million last year. His board members -- the folks who decide what his compensation should be -- get $160,000 a year and some fat insurance policies as well. Cendant paid $4.6M for Silverman's insurance premiums last year.

The real gravy is in options. Thirty-seven million bucks worth of realized gains last year, and more than seven times that amount in unexercised option value. "Salary is clearly excessive, the annual bonus is excessive, former grants of stock options were clearly excessive, and the provision of life insurance is also excessive," said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at The Corporate Library, a governance research organization in Portland, Maine.

For counterpoint, we have James Sinegal of Costco, a company you have heard of, and that is exceptionally well-managed.

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

Can you tell the difference between manure and bullshit? The former comes out of the back end of a cow (or bull), and needs to be managed if said cow (or bull) is in an animal feeding operation. The latter comes from the front end of some legislators in Idaho.

(Thanks to The Light Horse for the pointer to the ICL's page on the Idaho Legislature. Wish I'd known about that during the session!)

Dennis Mansfield's explanation about his civil disobedience over the moving of Boise's Ten Commandments monument seems to illustrate "non sequitur." Connection to our military? Whu'?

The only thing disobedient about the whole affair is the time and money wasted on the Save the Commandments' lame legal proceedings. The decent thing left for them to do would be to repay the city, admit that the ultimate resolution is a win-win for the city of Boise and its residents, and to escort their friends and neighbors down to St. Michael's for regular visits if they need help getting the Decalogue memorized.

Early yellow tulip with a single red swoosh Had a scene with a soccer dad today, during our USTA mixed doubles match at Lewis and Clark. On his way out from the soccer fields and between the two sets of fenced-in tennis courts, he was idling tossing a soccer ball against the fence, a bit of a distraction to the four of us trying to concentrate on serving and returning tennis balls. I asked him politely to stop what he was doing. He replied, with exasperated sarcasm, "you've got to be kidding!" I said no, I wasn't. Since my request seemed to be putting him out, I added "It's not a big deal..." and figuring we could either wait him out or ignore him if he really needed to keep banging the fence for a while. "Right, it's not a big deal," he said, leaning into the sarcasm. Apparently the idea that he might have to constrain his behavior for our benefit was deeply insulting to him.

By this time, the coordinator for the Saturday youth league (whose table was set up at one end of the alley between the fences, and who knew we were having a league match) tried to intercede, and also said something to the guy. He whined back at her, "I'm not being belligerent," to which I replied "at first you were just ignorant , and now you're being an asshole." That brought a complaint about my using such inappropriate language in front of young children, as the soccer coordinator continued her attempt to solve the problem by asking the guy if he wanted her to kick his child out of the league. (I hope that doesn't happen -- having a father like that must be punishment enough already.)

The game, set and match we had going were completely disrupted at this point, and the four of us gathered at end of the net away from the fence to wait for the weather to improve. Butthead proceeded to walk back to the coordinator's end of the fence where there was a gate, and to come into the tennis courts. The rest of the two teams were moving into the cluster, so there's a dozen of us standing there (our opponent scrambling for a cellphone, ready to dial 911) as this guy walks up, and I look at him calmly, questioningly, "are we going to fight now?" He said no, and I explained to him the circumstances of my simple, polite request as best I could. Tennis requires some concentration... have you ever seen a tennis match on TV?

He was not prepared to articulate much of anything, defend his behavior so far, or convince us why he should be allowed to continue bouncing the ball off the fence. The best he could do was sarcastic phatic, leaving us with "have a great day." I guess his child must have lost the game this afternoon or something; it's the first genuine miscreant problem I've had on a tennis court.

Late last year, the business of "pension reform" got on my radar. I was vested in my former employer's plan and had the option of retrieving my money as a lump sum (and rolling it into an IRA to defer income tax on it), or leaving it in the plan to do that later, or to take monthly payments when I reached "real" retirement age. I'm guessing that the political issue is nearly incomprehensible to the majority of voters, but it's Big Business for corporations and unions in this country. The Congress has been resolved to "fix" the problem for some time, but is having some trouble agreeing on just how generous to be to the business interests and how much to take away from workers.

That's not the way the stories you'll read describe the issue of course. I doubt most journalists reporting on it understand the problem any better than Joe Q. Public does. The House passed a bill last year to get this job done, but the legislation didn't make it through the end of session wrangling over budgets and judicial appointments in the Senate. Action was promised early in the new session, but it wasn't until yesterday that the House passed "a temporary solution" by a wide margin; 336-69. From the Dow Jones Newswire story, what resistance there is in the Senate appears to be about how much more of your money they want to give away.

"Pension reform" and "relief" are the watchwords, but what do those terms mean, exactly? Pension plans are being "reformed" by "relieving" companies from having to put as much money into them to fund eventual payouts. The latest estimate is $80 billion to be relieved from pensioners in two years.

This is how it works: in order to provide for an obligation of $1 of pension obligations in the future, companies need to set aside something today. But how much? It depends on interest rates. If I need $1 in 20 years and I can earn 5% interest, I need to invest $.38 today. If I could earn 6.5% interest, I'd only need $.29 -- a savings of 9 cents, almost a fourth of the money I have to set aside today and not touch for 20 years.

In today's economy, workers are not so likely to work 30 or 40 years at one company and then retire at 65 to collect their pension, however. If an employee leaves a company and takes his or her pension now rather than later, it isn't a matter of setting money aside, it's a matter of paying it out. The company has to actually transfer $.38 from its bank account to the employee's. Or, after this legislation gets signed, sealed and delivered, the company will only have to transfer $.29.

Let's try some real numbers. Suppose that you have 20 years in at XYZ Corp., and 10 years to go before you retire. You have a "defined benefit" pension that will pay 50% of your salary when you retire. If you make $50,000 the year before you get the gold watch, and the actuaries guess you'll live 8.3 years after, your pension will be worth about $170,000 on retirement day if all the calculations are based on 5% interest. The company needs to have $104,000 set aside today to meet that obligation. If you quit and take a new job somewhere else, the company needs that $104,000 to pay you the value of your pension right now, assuming you're fully vested (and you don't just "let it ride" in the company plan).

The revision to the interest rate in question is likely to be 1 to 1½%. Run those numbers with a 6.5% interest rate, and the company only has to pay you $85,000 today. Thank you very much for your contribution of almost $20,000 to bail out corporate America. That didn't hurt a bit now, did it?

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

They said, "Across a broad range of issues -- from childhood lead poisoning and mercury emissions to climate change, reproductive health, and nuclear weapons -- the administration is distorting and censoring scientific findings that contradict its policies; manipulating the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions; and undermining the independence of science advisory panels by subjecting panel nominees to political litmus tests that have little or no bearing on their expertise; nominating non-experts or underqualified individuals from outside the scientific mainstream or with industry ties; as well as disbanding science advisory committees altogether."

He said "did not!"

Dr. Seuss Sees America: the battle of Good and Evil in Whoville.

Doing some website maintenance for an NGO, I had occasion to visit some BLM sites. The FAQ for the national site is rather interesting in that the words "grazing," "livestock," and "range" do not appear on it. "Grazing" also is not an entry in the keyword index with 240 entries for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Things that make you go "hmmm."

Am I entitled to free land from the BLM? No, and yes. No, you can't have any to yourself anymore. Yes, we all share in the ownership of BLM land. Oh well, I'm not going to redesign their site.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the federal Underground Storage Tanks Program, which the EPA's history describes as being instigated by a segment on 60 Minutes in 1983. "In the 20 years that have passed, more than 1.5 million old, unsafe tanks have closed; almost 300,000 petroleum leaks have been cleaned up; nearly all underground tanks have been upgraded or replaced; and newly discovered leaks have dropped dramatically, from a high of over 66,000 in 1990 to roughly 12,000 last year."

1.4.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Spring riding down Lower Nugget
April Fool's puzzler: the photo was taken at 12:12 MST on March 22, 2004. The tree stands vertically at 43°45'46"N, 116°04'11"W. The fall line points 30°W of N. What's the pitch of the slope?

Air America Radio is out of the starting blocks. The website looks real, although sadly it doesn't have show archives (yet?). Fort Boise is a long way from any of the major markets where it's broadcasting, and the streaming feeds struggle... and then the advertising density is pretty high. I think I still prefer NPR. On the other hand, "coming up on the O'Franken Factor, today's guests will be Robert Reich and Hillary Clinton."

Franken's Rumsfeld imitation was worth the price of admission. "Am I going to keep asking myself rhetorical questions and then answering them? Absolutely. Is it annoying? You bet!"

Google's approach to email sounds eminently sensible. Naturally. You should be able to save everything, and find whatever you want. For free. It's not rolled out to the general public yet, but everything else seems to be in order.

From the FAQ: Why is Google offering email? I thought you were a search company. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible."

The ombudsman at NPR has been getting a lot of mail about Bob Edwards leaving Morning Edition. He says "more than 5,000 and climbing."

The National Park Service appears to be supporting a faith-based explanation of the Grand Canyon in its bookstores and museums. In the "religion" section, do you suppose?! (Writing this made me think I should be collecting April Fool's blurbs today...)

The Foresight Institute has a website for "news and discussion of coming technologies," Nanodot. I love the typographic inspiration of their logo.

Some time later, I stumbled forward into Howard Lovy's Nanobot. That's interesting, too; stories from the nanotechnology frontier from a rumpled journalist.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Friday, 07-May-2004 09:20:27 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200404.html