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unraveling

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

Cirrus over 3 Forks, Oregon Michael Ignatieff's piece in this weeks' NY Times Magazine is powerful. This paragraph feels like a lightning strike just outside the window:

"Again, you will say: Let's not exaggerate. Let's not lose our nerve here. But no other democracy is so exposed by these painful moral juxtapositions, because no other nation has made a civil religion of its self-belief. The abolition of cruel and unusual punishment was a founding premise of that civil religion. This was how the fledgling republic distinguished itself from the cruel tyrannies of Europe. From this sense of exceptionalism grew an exceptional sense of mission. President Reagan's funeral was a high Mass of rededication to that eternal mission. The question is whether these reaffirmations still inspire Americans to be better than they actually are, or whether the nation's rhetoric has degenerated into a ritual concealment of what the country has actually become."

I like the younger Ron Reagan even more after reading Deborah Solomon's pithy interview of him.

Someone noticed that the word "evil" was missing from George Bush's May 24th speech. Not that the problem has been solved, to be certain, but it provided an opportunity to consider the history and roots of this "the fastest growing noun/adjective combination in the political vocabulary."

And with the success of Moore's film, the battle for that axis of Good and Evil has been joined. David Hardy and Jason Clarke are following Al Franken's lead in the insulting-funny book title genre, offering us "Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Male," and the chilling indictment that "he creates a false impression without ever uttering a word that is untrue." Makes me think of that false impression about a link between Iraq and 9/11 all over again.

One of the graphs from the CBS/NYT poll results The latest NY Times / CBS News poll results make it look like the country is catching up to my point of view. Not quite 80% of respondents think President Bush is hiding something (59%) or mostly lying (20%) in his statements on the war in Iraq. Almost half (47%) think the threat of terrorism against the US has been increased because of the war in Iraq and more than half think we're creating terrorists.

"Over the past 25 years, according to pollsters, presidents with job approval ratings below 50 percent in the spring of election years have generally gone on to lose. Mr. Bush's father had a 34 percent job approval rating at this time in 1992." It's summer now, and Bush the Younger is at 42%.

Speaking of the end of irony, can you imagine Ari Fleichser's brother, appointed as top aide for for private sector development in Iraq, saying this? "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review." Paul Krugman wonders Who Lost Iraq?

Maybe it's just the grass-is-greener phenomenon (or better marketing?), but news about Apple's next O/S revision seems more interesting to me than what comes out of Redmond. Some years after Google showed us all that a useful search function is not only possible, but also essential, we might actually be able to search our local heaps of data. Thank goodness.

Like so many other bits of technology, it was working long before it was popular; I had Altavista Discovery running on my work PC for some years after its rollout in 1998. The free software went unavailable from the source some time ago (as Altavista changed hands and business models), but it seems to live on in various foreign languages. (OTOH, since they're all Greek to me, those search hits could be just reminiscing.)

Altavista's current web presence makes them look like a desperate Google camp-follower, no visible remnant of what could have been their claim to fame if they had figured out how to lead, instead.

The latest security response plan is simple, and devastating: chuck Internet Explorer, in favor of a more secure (and/or less popular) browser. Microsoft has a lot of inertia to fall back on, as most of their users aren't up to changing browsers. That won't last forever, though.

I got to watch much of the match between Federer and Karlovic yesterday (thanks to NBC's generous broadcast coverage) and appreciated the beauty of Federer's game. Christopher Clarey's commentary in the NY Times: "I was looking forward to this match with Karlovic, because there's been so much talk about his serve," said Federer, sounding more like a birdwatcher in search of the rare woodpecker than a defending champion in danger.

Further down, we read what might explain some of that confidence: Federer has yet to lose a set or his serve at Wimbledon this year.

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

Another Sunday gone by, giving another Frank Rich column to savor.

"(John Ashcroft's) press conferences, whether to showcase his latest, implicitly single-handed victory in the war on terror or to predict the apocalypse he wants to make certain we won't blame him for, are now as ubiquitous as spinoffs of C.S.I. and Law & Order. While F.D.R. once told Americans that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, Mr. Ashcroft is delighted to play the part of Fear Itself, an assignment in which he lets his imagination run riot."

Oh, and Fahrenheit 9/11 set a box office record over the weekend. We couldn't get tickets in and amongst our other events.

David Brooks is so far beside himself about Moore's ascendency that he couldn't assemble a coherent column, just a collection of anecdotes about what a nihilist and America-basher Moore is. I don't suppose his criticism of Moore's comparing Iraqi resistance to our Minutemen benefited from the historical irony of Ronald Reagan tapping that rich vein.

Barbie's lost her edge against satire, too, thanks to the ruling from Judge Ronald Lew of the Federal District Court in L.A.

So much for the moral high ground, as Dick lets slip his true feelings toward Senator Patrick Leahy. Or maybe it was just a friendly "go fuck yourself" on the Senate floor? It does seem to characterize the contempt the current administration has for its opposition. Certainly the rabid section of their gallery has no problem with Dick telling off someone they all agree is an annoying little twerp. Bully, Dick.

If George and Dick would both wear sunglasses and tell us about their mission from God we could turn this into a comedy, maybe. Is Dan Akroyd still available for the documentary?

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

The strike and counterstrike of email and web ads and firing up the believers is going to be the hallmark of this presidential campaign. The twists in the follow-up email from GeorgeWBush.com are a bit hard to follow on Saturday morning after a bad's night sleep and before a whole cup of coffee. Kerry's campaign denounced the use of the Bush-Cheney '04 ads (the email over Ken Mehlman's signature tells me) and said "The use of Adolf Hitler by any campaign, politician or party is simply wrong." Mehlman responds: "We agree. These ads, like much of the hate-filled, angry rhetoric of Kerry's coalition of the Wild-eyed, are disgusting."

The bulleted points that follow belabor "you said Hitler" ad nauseum, and oh-so-carefully avoiding any explanation of context. Believers don't care about context. Opponents can complain, but the subtlety of George Soros' personal experience of the Nazis in Hungary and what he said about it does not have the same simple power of the rhetorical question, "Why has John Kerry not denounced billionaire and Democrat Party donor George Soros...?"

The punch lines: "We created this web video to show the depths to which these Kerry supporters will sink to win in November. Is this the Democratic Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who reassured his countrymen we have nothing to fear but fear itself? No. This is John Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-eyed, who have nothing to offer but fear-mongering."

Given the George "I am a war president" Bush's and his administration's use of orchestrated media releases and color-coded alerts to take the country to a real war, a pre-pre-emptive war, we're supposed to be disgusted by the opposition's fear of what's going on? Yeah, that's the plan: don't worry, be happy, safe, steady and secure. Bush is in the House!

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

The latest I, Cringely column has to do with packet switching, its predecessor (circuit switching), $100 billion gambles, data compression and doing away with blindness: "Out of Sight, Out of Mind."

The technology of political ads on the web seems best positioned for preaching to the choir. The latest offering from georgewbush.com opened my eyes with amazement that they'd use some of the most stinging indictments against their own team in an ad, and then it made me laugh out loud when it got to the strains of happy music in the last seconds, with "the message": It's a time for optimism, steady leadership, and progress. It feels like the journey through the underworld and into the sweetness and light of a new day in heaven. Keep on the sunny side, friends. Look how calm and collected our president is. Keep saying your prayers and everything will be just fine.

The "coalition of the wild eyed" includes Al Gore's famous speech ("how DARE they drag the good name of The United States of America thruogh Saddam Hussein's torture prison"), the Nazi ad that moveon.org long ago repudiated, Howard Dean ("I want my country back"), Michael Moore (good luck beating him at the video game guys), Richard Gephardt ("this president is a miserable failure"), and Kerry himself.

For lighter fare, consider the Featured Posts on the official blog: Morning Reads: Kerry Struggles Not to Be Pessimistic; Poll: Bush Has the Highest Number of Positive Supporters in Recent History, Kerry the Lowest; and Mrs. Bush's Oatmeal-Chocolate Chunk Cookies. (I had to include the link for that last one; otherwise you might think I was making it up.)

Apparently the Terrorist Threat Integration Center keeps on the sunny side, too: DepSecState Armitage said they provided "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight," when in actuality, the number of significant terrorist attacks reached a 20-year peak in 2003. Paul Krugman wonders "was the report's squishy math politically motivated?" and answers his own question: "Well, the Bush administration has cooked the books in many areas, including budget projections, tax policy, environmental policy and stem cell research. Why wouldn't it do the same on terrorism?"

It's a time for optimism, steady leadership, and progress.

From the venue for next year's international conference on information technology: "When President Ben Ali organized a referendum in 2002 to alter the Constitution to lift the limit on presidential terms, Mr. Yahyaoui organized a referendum, too, asking visitors to his Web site to choose whether Tunisia was a republic, a monarchy, a prison, a zoo or none of the above. The government voted by jailing Mr. Yahyaoui for nearly 18 months."

Which was immediately followed by this in The New York Times story: "The extent of the surveillance can be baffling. When a Western diplomat complained to his service provider that his e-mail had failed for a few days and he wanted back messages, he received every message from the preceding two years."

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

Middle Fork of the Owyhee River, above 3 Forks When we were in Palo Alto a couple years back, we sang in the choir with George Bunn, among others. His cheerful, friendly, and unassuming nature revealed his rather remarkable career in relatively small and understated ways. It was a delight to read Lisa Trei's article from the Stanford News Service, "At 79, arms-control maven still working for a safer world," and to see his smiling face again. Consider this:

"The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that 60 to 70 nations today possess the capability to build nuclear weapons but do not do so because of their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty." (my emphasis) Thomas Graham Jr., who has been general counsel and then a special arms control ambassador for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, notes: "The NPT converted what had been an act of national pride—the acquisition of nuclear weapons—into an act considered contrary to practices of the civilized world." If only we were more civilized...

If I were close to L.A., I think I'd drive over to Peterson Automotive Museum and check out the French Curves exhibit: The Automobile As Sculpture. We've got 'till January 23rd to get there.

Ok, I got this joke from another story on the Stanford News Service, whose author got it from mathematician Persi Diaconis, a high school dropout and Harvard Ph.D. I think I can tell it better than Esther Landhuis did, though:
Question: How do you spot an extraverted mathematician?
Answer: he looks at your feet.

I just thought of a dilemma, when composing a reply to a request from someone paying for my services: I can't really say "I need to get off my butt and do some work on that," since computer-aided symbol manipulation typically requires me to sit down. "I need to get on my butt and do some work on that" just doesn't sound right.

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

I found out that another one of my windsurfing buddies is an M.D. this morning (that makes two), when I finally jumped in the lake for my first time out in my sailing season. ("The" sailing season never ended if you count snow-kiting; "first on the water" happened in February!) He's having an open house at his new clinic, Pain Care Boise today.

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

Waaaayyyy down at the end of the story as told by the American International Automobile Dealers (or closer to the middle, in some versions), we read that in spite of stumping for Spokane's congressman and Senate candidate George Nethercutt, raising a cool three-quarters of a $mil, because he made a "nonpolitical" stop at Fort Lewis (over on the other side of Washington state), "many of the expenses for his trip to Washington state will be paid by taxpayers."

The Georges thank you for your support, taxpayers!

The local university team has sported a Denver Broncos wannabe set of colors (the old colors? smurf blue and blare orange) and mascot for many years but now that the arena management has inked a deal with Taco Bell, it seems pretty obvious that the new mascot must be... the chihuahua! ¡Vamonos!

Sagebrush and butterfly at the 6th Owyhee Rendezvous, 3 Forks, Oregon There are two kinds of people in the world, Costco members and everyone else. We crossed over into the first camp yesterday, at a friend's recommendation and tip about a $20 off per tire deal. (After paying the membership fee, it worked out to $8.75/tire, and who knows if their $70/tire price was jacked up... I see a MSRP of $48 on one site, but that's probably not including $10 worth of installation.)

In my experience, Costco people have a need to identify themselves (see here?), and to tout how much they "saved" on their most recent bulk purchase. Now having covered that, I think the business model and cultural divide is a more interesting story to tell. My friend said he liked the company, for its CEO's unwillingness to jerk people around to please Wall Street, and his humane treatment of his employees. In the couple visits I've made over the years, tagging along with members, I always thought the place was a little creepy, but Costco had the tires I needed in stock so I took the plunge.

First up, the membership application. I had to supply my date of birth, which I don't much care to do. My employer? Don't have one. Are you self-employed? Yeah, that's it. Do you want a business membership? Uh, no, why would I? Business name? No business name, it's just me. Is there a problem? "Well I'm just trying to qualify you. Are you a member of a credit union?" Yeah, that gets me in. I said hey, my money's as green as the next guy's, isn't that good enough? "I'm just doing my job."

They didn't ask for my SSN, so we didn't have that scene, but they did want my driver's license number. Asterisk: this is optional, only if you want to pay by check. Ok, so I'll skip that. Oh, what's this, they don't take Visa/MC? Just Cash/Check/AmEx. (AmEx?!) I was worried about having to drive home and back on my spare, but I learned I could pay with a debit card, same as "cash." Guess I can live with that (but is there a security camera trained on the keypad where I have to punch in my PIN? Call me paranoid...)

A different clerk finished me off, as the first guy was now on the phone. "I just need a quick look at your driver's license..." What, so you can enter in the number that I didn't put down on the application ON PURPOSE, and because it was OPTIONAL? "Yeah, that's right. I could put a HOLD on here so that you can't pay by check if you like." I let it pass, with increasing annoyance, said "Strike two" to deaf ears.

I had to have my picture taken, that's creepy too. The reproduction quality of the tiny black-and-white makes a driver's license picture look like a professional portrait, not sure why they set the bar so low on that.

As I sat outside reading, waiting for my installation, I appreciated the architect's inclusion of seating at the base of the walls, and was amazed at the steady rattle of shopping carts and flatbed carts being collected from the parking lot and wheeled back into the store. It was noisy and annoying for one thing, but did the one-by-one exiting customers really equal this wholesale inward flow? It didn't seem possible. Maybe they let them build up over the morning and then send out the troops to reel them in during the afternoon.

I thought about what fun it would be to bring a videocamera and record the stream of consumers and their bulk-full carts, and imagined the store manager coming out and kicking me off the premises, citing some fine print of my membership agreement.

On the way home, I heard on NPR that Larry Hiibel lost his case before the Supremes: when the cops ask for your ID, you have to give it up. Nevada State Public Defender Steven McGuire said, "A Nevada cowboy courageously fought for his right to be left alone, but lost." Sorta makes us all pine for the Old West, doesn't it? Ironically, Hiibel is no longer likely to be anonymous anywhere near his ranch, anytime soon. And as far as his right to be left alone, avoiding fisticuffs with family members might help with that. Just a suggestion.

If you want to see what other citizens think, slashdot has more than 1,000 posts on the subject. The Las Vegas Review-Journal takes the high dudgeon route, deriding this next step in the "progressive demolition of the once proud right of Americans to stand silent when braced by government agents."

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

Get ready to be searched and show your ID whenever you use public transit now. As if random bag searching could actually stop a terrorist? The reasoning is that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, I suppose, but the MBTA probably hasn't made a serious consideration of the statistics. How many people ride Boston's transit in a week? Two million? If the searches are truly random, and not based on some sort of probably cause (he's got dark skin and a turban, she's got a parcel that looks like a bomb), the chances of catching a one-in-a-million terrorist with any sampling rate short of what would shut the system down are essentially zero.

Will it make MBTA customers feel more secure to know that potential terrorists (and they) are subject to random search, even though it doesn't make a significant change in actual security? Will terrorists be intimidated and go to some other transit authority to do their business? The 9-11 perps flew out of Boston, so maybe the city is focused on not having the next blot on their record, at least.

Expect to hear one of the arguments typically given by proponents of pre-employment drug testing very soon: since everyone else is (or will soon be) doing this testing, if we don't test, then all the bad guys will come to our neighborhood.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

...coming right up, 18:57 MDT

Tom and Jeanette loading up at 3 Forks, after the 6th Owyhee Rendezvous We were out in the weather yesterday evening, for a remarkable show. Cumulus stacked up into cumulonimbus over SE Oregon and SW Idaho through the afternoon, and after introductory sprinkles, a big gust of wind that seasoned our dinner and drinks with rhyolite dust. Fortunately, the steel pole-supported tent didn't blow over on our heads, and the worst of it passed pretty quickly. A double rainbow arched over the North and Middle Forks of the Owyhee as we listened to after-dinner speakers, and slanting light played in and out of the dissipating clouds as day slipped to night. By dusk, the clouds had cleared up enough to reveal the first sliver of the moon, ready to wax into summer, and we watched it set over the canyon rim, checking the spotting 'scope for craters revealed at the terminator, as the earthshine stood out against the darkening sky. Once the stars and planets came out, we found 4 moons around Jupiter as well.

Moonset over the Owyhee River canyon, at Three Forks I discovered that I could take a pretty good picture of a crescent moon by turning my camera's exposure compensation down (darker) a couple notches. I set the ISO up to 400, but that's probably not such a good idea for nighttime shooting as it turns up the noise. (I hadn't read the review before today!) I framed the shot with the LCD screen, with the camera sitting on top of the car, used all of the zoom, to 300mm (35mm equivalent). The exposure was several seconds, not sure how long I can go with that, either, but enough to get a minimal crescent moon!

The trailer for Fahrenheit 9-11 has a snippet of Bush looking quite snazzy and comfortable in white tie, joking with (or at?) people who paid a lot to be in his presence: "This is an impressive crowd: the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base." In Arabic, that's "al Qaeda," by the way. That should make for an interesting translation problem.

Speaking of which, the use of the "proof by repeated assertion" rhetorical device plumbed new depths this week, after the 9-11 Commission reported no link between ObL and Saddam. We knew that (didn't we?), but the Commission provided official confirmation, which was then "refuted" by Bush saying, "the reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Their relationship was... they were neighbors? had common ancestors? all lived in the Middle East?

The two were certainly neighbors in most every press release for the War on Terror, as the administration made sure that they were linked in the mind of John Q. Public, Fox News personnel and everyone else who's only paying half attention to the news (or paying attention to half the news). Bush's claim that "there was a relationship" also takes advantage of a pettifogging absence of qualifiers. Was it a meaningful relationship, and does it have any pertinence to threats to the US past, present or future? Well, he didn't say that. No doubt some assistant undersecretary's legal counsel has written a memorandum detailing the meaning of "relationship" for Presidential speech background.

(The 9-11 Commission responded by reiterating their position -- no evidence of a collaborative relationship -- and noting that their position didn't differ with the administration's. That qualifier "collaborative" is the difference, of course.)

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

Frank Rich writes about drama for The New York Times, sort of. Politics is dramatic, after all, and he finds fascinating ways to knit the two subjects togther. His take on last week's passing, "First Reagan, Now His Stunt Double" is another in a long line of first-rate columns.

"Reagan's body was barely cold when Ed Gillespie, the Republican chairman, said: ''The parallels are there. I don't know how you miss them.'' Yes, the parallels are there -- hammered in by Mr. Bush's packagers so we can never miss them. But Karl Rove and company may have overplayed their hand. The orgiastic celebration of Reagan's presidency over the past week, an upbeat Hollywood epic that has glided past Iran-contra, Bitburg and the retreat from Lebanon with impressive ease, has brought into clear focus the size of the gap between the two men. To say that difference in stature is merely a function of an actor's practiced skill at performance is both to understate the character of Ronald Reagan and to impugn the art of acting."

The classic parental injunction against pop music of the day -- "turn that garbage down!" -- takes on new meaning as companies such as Overpeer and MediaDefender flood peer-to-peer networks with noise, designed to frustrate those seeking to pirate music. As one of the "older set," the obvious question that comes to mind is "how can you tell the file is bad?"

Krugman: "John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history."

I read about Ashcroft's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week before I saw some video excerpts. The latter brought the somewhat dry "contempt of Congress" term of art to life. The ill will between the parties was palpable. Biden's reminder that Aschroft used to be a member of Congress could have been a friendly bit of banter, but it fell cold and rattled on the desk. That was about the time Ashcroft turned around to get his lawyer's opinion before answering the question from the committee chair (Republican Orrin Hatch) -- this was supposed to be a softball, I think -- "is the memo classified?"

Or how about this exchange:
SEN. LEAHY: Does that mean because you don't know, or you don't want to answer? I don't understand.
ATTN. GEN. ASHCROFT: The answer to that question is yes.

Ashcroft wouldn't answer questions, and he wouldn't say why he wouldn't answer. What explanation there was sounded a lot like "executive privilege," but the latest dodge is to not call it that, so that legal limitations (I guess?) don't kick in. Maybe he could take the 5th.

Our "Free Press" isn't perfect, but it does have some power of oversight. What Ashcroft is trying to hide has been excerpted on the FindLaw site, via The Wall Street Journal.

David Brooks is making a career out of stereotyping affinity groups, wringing his hands over the polarization in our society even as he throws fuel on the fire for his columns, books and talking head spots. His latest offering makes it all clear:

"Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates -- from Clinton to Kerry -- often run late." "Republican administrations tend to be tightly organized and calm, in a corporate sort of way, and place a higher value on loyalty and formality."

Excerpt of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute image PIA06060
 showing Saturn's rings and atmosphere from the Cassini space probe Phoebe, Titan, Iapetus, Enceladus, Mimas, Tethys, Hyperion, Dione, Rhea, Prometheus and 22 others: the moons of Saturn, about to get visited up close and personal by Cassini, after its 7-year journey from Earth. We could have a half million pictures to look through if all goes well, and awesome images are already rolling in. (The photo excerpt here is linked to the source page for the NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute image. Its scale is 82 miles per pixel.)

CICLOPS (Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations) has a bloggish journal (and lots more) that gives a taste of the explorers' excitement.

The flight of Cassini has coincided with a truce in ethics charges in the House of Representatives, although I doubt there's a connection. Now the gloves are coming off, starting with an ethics complaint against Tom DeLay, an oil-patch politician if ever there was one.

"A DeLay ally, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), said Republicans ''are going to have to respond in kind'' by filing ethics charges against key Democrats. From now on, he said in an interview, it's a matter of ''you kill my dog, I'll kill your cat.''"

If your business is humanizing technology in a culture with a short attention span, what better medium than haiku? Tinywords.com has a convenient summary of their business plan... in 17 syllables.

Dylan Tweney reports bad news about Quicken, not long after they sent me their own bad news. I'd been using their portfolio tracking service with daily email updates, and they informed me that since I hadn't bought anything recently enough, they were cutting me off. (Or at least handing me off, to Yahoo, which is apparently more willing and/or able to sell advertising piggybacked on electronic services.) We still use Quicken98, on Windows95; it's not as clean and simple as the previous version we had, but it has a few more features, and works. There are a few more it needs, but it sounds like they come with unwanted baggage, with each new version "more complicated, more unstable, and slower than the version before." Aside from plain old tight-fistedness, the requirement to get a new O/S has also kept me from getting a new version.

Here's a way to get yourself a little piece of heaven on earth: Accept Jesus Christ as Your Personal Savior Before January 1, 2005 and Receive a Free Wireless Phone, compliments of AT&T and the Landover Baptist Church.

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

If the Supreme Court had a sense of humor, or timing, we might suspect that their ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance came out on Flag Day, on purpose. Their decision seems better suited to illustrate that the law is an ass. They were asked to rule on the Consititutionality of the Cold War insertion of "under God," giving us a combination pledge and National Prayer, and while they offered some opinions on the side, the actual ruling was that the girl's father didn't have standing to bring the legal challenge. Brilliant, eh?

Space Ship One on the ground, photo from www.scaled.com How about this to kick off your summer: the first private enterprise expedition out of the atmosphere? Cruising altitude just about 10x your typical airliner, at 100km (62 miles). After getting dropped off at 50,000 feet, and an 80 second burn for a three to four G vertical climb, the "cruise" is 3 minutes of weightlessness out where the sky turns black.

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

It's mourning in America.

Thank goodness this week-long national trauma (or was it two?!) has concluded and we can all stand down. I confess that I did watch a few bits of the proceedings while channel surfing. It was hard to miss, covering nearly half of the channels that we get with our "Lifeline" cable service. Much of it seemed majestic, regal even, solemn, beautiful, bathetic. We are desperate for something to unite us, I think, in these moments of our often self-induced trauma. My favorite part of what I saw was Patti Davis telling the story of her goldfish's funeral, against the backdrop of the golden rolling hills of California. (I was a little embarassed for those assembled when applause awkwardly smattered out of the group after she'd spoke, though.) For those who loved him, Reagan left much to celebrate, and no one could ask him to stay alive any longer. We certainly sent him off in style, with a bicoastal state funeral for the ages.

Excerpt of the Dutch Open Telescope's awesome view of Venus
 crossing the edge of the sun I didn't "get it" ahead of time (and maybe a bit miffed that things aren't lined up any better than two chances in a lifetime), but now that the pictures of the transit of Venus are in, I'm sorry I didn't get over to the viewing area and see it for myself. Special mention to Ray Hayes' photo with reflection off Perdido Bay in Alabama.

The European Southern Observatory has a big collection, too, including this one at the edge, showing refraction through Venus' atmosphere.

I'll be paying better attention in 2012, I hope!

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

American Experience's Reagan retrospective put me to sleep somewhere about the start of the 4th (!) hour, long after the Pistons had crushed the Lakers in game 3. What I saw of it pretty much agreed with my recollections of history, with a whole lot less Vaseline on the lens than most of the pictures frome this last week of mourning and co-opting. John Patrick Diggins describes How Reagan Beat the Neocons, in contrast to our current president, who has fallen in with them, even as he and his campaign team strive to cloak themselves as the heirs of the Reagan legend. "The difference between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush's militant brain staff is that he believed in negotiation and they in escalation. They wanted to win the cold war; he sought to end it."

It's hard to know whether it will make any difference in the War on Terror®, but a Boise jury has at least struck a blow in favor of our Constitution's first amendment right to free speech. Sort of. Had Al-Hussayen claimed authorship of the content he was providing web support for, it might not have come out the same way. "Not guilty" on the 3 biggest counts and 2 others, another moot, and we're left with 8 unresolved visa and immigration fraud charges good enough to scare his wife and children back home and leave him deportable, at least. The government may not be able to convict him, but they can sure let him know that "we don't like your kind around here, pardner."

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

The singing senators went flat a long time ago, when Jeffords turned Independent and quashed the Republican majority (temporarily, as it turned out). Now Larry Craig is one of the few Republican Senators not lining up to defend John Ashcroft without reservation. Talking about the growing power of the executive branch, Craig said: 'I hope that in the end, Saddam Hussein will not have taken away from us something that our Constitution, in large part, granted us, and that we have it taken away in the name of safety and security.' (After the NY Times story goes behind the paywall, try MSNBC, which has a different angle on Craig's comments.)

The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is not an organization that's big on humor, as far as I can tell, but they sure dug up something funny on this church electioneering issue:

"Two sections of H.R. 4520, the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, deal not with jobs but with partisan politicking by churches. The so-called 'Safe Harbor for Churches' provisions would essentially gut current law, which forbids churches from endorsing candidates for public office, and replace it with watered-down language giving wide latitude to such activity. The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), contains provisions that would allow church leaders to 'unintentionally' endorse or oppose candidates up to three times per year. It also greatly reduces the tax penalty for church electioneering."

The bill is half a megabyte of omnibus pork barrel in printer-friendly text format, if you can believe that. How many legislators do you suppose actually read this stuff? It seems to be up to watchdog groups like AU to ferret out the most egregious attempts at slipping things into law.

They're seeking to exclude employee stock option income from "compensation," I noticed, and take your pick from the list of "other incentive provisions," including Special rules for livestock sold on account of weather-related conditions, Improvements related to real estate investment trusts, Taxation of certain settlement funds, Expansion of human clinical trials qualifying for orphan drug credit, Simplification of excise tax imposed on bows and arrows, Repeal of excise tax on fishing tackle boxes, and Sonar devices suitable for finding fish.

There might even be some good stuff in there, but who could know? "Repeal of exclusion for extraterritorial income" and "Incentives to reinvest foreign earnings in United States" sound good, don't they? Many of the provisions are fussy amendments to legal jargon that require looking up the original legislation to understand the context. It's safe to assume there are a bunch of "rifle shots" in there, designed to benefit one or a very few particular corporations, lobbyists and/or campaign contributors.

Under Title VI, Revenue Provisions, Subtitle E, Other Revenue Provisions, we find Sec. 692, "Safe harbor for churches." It restates what I understand to be the current law: that church leaders can make personal political statements, but if they do so with the appearance of organizational support, or with the organization's logistical support (such as publication in a church newsletter), that's a violation. The new subsection, "UNINTENTIONAL VIOLATIONS," gives a free pass for 3 violations, so long as they don't reflect "intentional disregard" by the organizations or leaders, something which a good lawyer could always dodge, eh? The good news is that a religious leader or organization would never lie about their intentions...

And over on the other side of the Congress, here comes Judge Roy Moore for a song and dance before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, on America's hostility toward religion. Only three senators could be bothered to attend, and hear an appointed church official, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, counter the self-appointed (and dis-appointed) Moore's unconstitutional notions.

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

The extremes of hero worship being rolled out in memory of Ronald Reagan are rather amazing. The construction of a Republican monument for the purpose of mounting GWB on top seems to be the subtext of a lot of it, as if "look how great he was, so is George" were intelligible in some way. The Capitol Times provides some antidote: "Commentators seem to have forgotten that members of his administration investigated and indicted at a staggering rate and Reagan himself could have been impeached for allowing aides to create a shadow government that peddled weapons to sworn enemies of the United States and used the profits to fund illegal wars in Central America."

They even acknowledge some grudging respect for the man, in spite of the disagreements. How much more meaningful that is than the fulsome price that's being dolloped out everywhere you look this week.

A wild rose, tamed in our yard Our Toyota Prius came with 5 sessions of warranty service, every 7,500 miles or 6 months. I took it to the dealer for #4 yesterday, on an extended time schedule, but well short of 4 x 7,500 miles. Peterson's web property is a lot like their 13 acres -- flashy, full of shiny attractions, and maybe a little short of underlying substance.

I noted that the right rear tire had a leak, and Matt, my service advisor said he was sorry, but they didn't have tire repair facilities; I might like to go to Les Schwab or Bruneel for that. The book said the service should take 3 hours, would I like a courtesy shuttle to somewhere? I had brought some reading, and could have gone the duration, but I figured I'd rather hang out at home, so I said "yes." He invited me to have a seat in the waiting room, which I took to mean someone would come when my ride was ready. An hour later, having finished one magazine, started another and having begun to be annoyed by the TV chattering on about Reagan, I went in and asked the cashier about the shuttle.

"What kind of car did you bring in?" Excuse me? She was trying to clue me in that not every schmuck gets a free ride, but she picked up on the fact that I was real close to being Unhappy Customer and had been told I was getting a ride. She made a couple calls. "It'll be about half an hour until that shuttle is available," she told me, and I figured I could walk home faster than they could take me. I asked Matt to just give me a call at home, and hoofed it.

Two hours after I'd dropped off the car, I got a call back. It was ready, or would be as soon as they finished washing it. Great. I got a ride from Kayla (payback time!) to go pick it up, and asked Matt if there was anything he needed to tell me about as I signed their forms and looked over the maintenance record. "Nope, it all looked fine," he said. "Hmm, 'Recommendation -- needs rear tires,' what's that?" I asked, reading the receipt. Someone closer to the work was nearby and kibitzed "side wear," and Matt says "oh yeah, it needs rear tires; side wear."

I noted the tires had been rotated, and I asked "so the tire with the leak is now on the front?" He figured it was, and confirmed that the worn tires were the ones now on the rear. I left with the receipt, the "warranty procedures bulletin" (listing the service that they were required to do, no doubt the most that they did), and the clear impression that Matt had no clue about what was and wasn't done to my car, or what condition anything had been in. This morning, I checked the tire pressure - around 40 on 3 of them, 34 on the leaky one. I'd already seen that the leaky tire held pressure overnight, but not over 2 or 3 nights. In other words, the Peterson mechanic rotated the tires, but didn't bother to check or adjust the tire pressure. Great work, guys.

And the 3 hours' worth of service (by Toyota's estimate, and what they'll pay the dealer for) getting done in 2? Well, either the mechanics are really, really good, are maybe, just maybe, they cut a few corners.

Going to "detention" was kind of a joke in school days, but it's not funny these days. Selective enforcement of the "special visas required for foreign journalists" turns ugly at LAX. Even if there were some justification for deportation, there is no reason for it to be humiliating or cruel. Some members of the government don't seem to understand the difference between legal behavior and appropriate behavior, and the problem seems to start at the top.

When you pluck one guitar string, the others vibrate sympathetically. The ones closest to integer multiples resonate with each other, acknowledge their fundamental sameness.

So it is with human lives, as we live atuned to others like us, those who share an interest, children of a certain age, birthdays, birth years. On the cusp of my 2nd half century (should I be so lucky), news of other mid-50s babies gets my attention. The ones that make the news are typically larger than life, of course, but when it comes to distant drama, it seems all the same.

Here's Bill Joy featured in the NY Times Magazine, having "finished his 21-year career" and leaving with no definite plans. I didn't have 900 pounds of papers or 20 file cabinets, and no one was pressing me to archive anything. I saved some of what I had, passed a few things on to colleagues, but mostly it was recycled (assuming the best), the same as most of the computer peripherals I'd helped engineer. I'm not splitting my time between two houses, I don't have a 50,000 word manuscript about the dangerous trajectory of science and technology collecting dust, I'm not "a millionaire many times over" and mostly there isn't much connection beyond the very few similarities.

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

Here's something for you if you're interested in a Saturday bike ride: The Bob LeBow Bike Tour in Canyon and Owyhee Counties. Anywhere from 3 to 100 miles, something for all abilities.

It could be something having to do with having a job again, or it could be the unfolding arms race in motor vehicle mass and volume, or it could just be relentless advertising and "rebates": SUV sales rebounded in May. I always use "sale" prices as an indication of how much profit someone's making. $5,000 rebates? Must mean they're making a good bit more than $5,000 on every SUV, n'est-ce pas? Auto-makers are making a ton of money in the "cars, vans and small trucks" segment, which is why they're advertising them like crazy and why they're willing and able to "rebate" some of that to pump up sales. $2 a gallon for gasoline? Not a problem, apparently. DUMMER sales continue to slip, though, and Nissan's Armada is not yet conquering the highways.

And while we're talking about automobiles, let me announce that there's a brand new driver on the roads of Boise (and beyond!); after more visits to the DMV than I care to describe in detail, she got the DL today, along with title to a red GEO Prizm. She dropped me off at the house and went off to... work, of course, to earn the money to pay for her entry into the automotive lifestyle. Hello world!

6.6.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coneflower, getting past the spiky phase D-Day + 60 years. The retrospectives that ran so thick in the past couple days now seem likely to be overshadowed by eulogies to Ronald Reagan. The ersatz Gipper had a long and interesting life, ending with 10 years of "long goodbye." Among the many vignettes, I was struck by this one, and its parallel to the current resident of the White House:

In his biography of Mr. Reagan, Mr. Cannon noted the president's tendency to misspeak: "He did not know enough. And he did not know how much he didn't know. Because of Reagan's knowledge gaps, his presidential news conferences became adventures into the uncharted regions of his mind."

Bush will never match the simple beauty of Reagan's correction of his denial of the Iran-Contra debacle, however: "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not." And yet, the mess we're in now is so much deeper, we keep having to extend our superlatives to describe it all.

A quarter million jobs added in May, that's good news. The unemployment rate stayed stuck at 5.6%, though, as the improving prospects "draw hundreds of thousands of people back into the labor force in search of a job." That's just shy of a million jobs in the last 3 months, and net net of 1.4 million of the 2.6 million lost during Bush's tenure. The stats will be flogged, hard, both ways: lookit how good things are looking now, and "yeahbut..." As Tom Friedman likes to say, when you lose your job, the unemployment rate isn't 5.6% (or whatever), it's a hundred percent at your house.

Under Bush I, the economy turned around, but not in time for the electorate to notice and pull his lever. He won the war, dang it, but that didn't seem to matter. Under Bush II, there's going to be a ton of ad money spent to make damn sure the electorate knows how good the statistics are, and he won the war (didn't he?), but who knows if all that's going to be good enough? Stay tuned.

4.6.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This is not good, if it's anywhere close to accurate: "It reminds me of the Nixon days," says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House. "Everybody is an enemy; everybody is out to get him. That’s the mood over there."

Paranoia and religious fanaticism aren't a good combination.

Our "voluntary" armed services aren't what they used to be. Once you're in, you may not be getting out when you want, thanks to "stop loss" orders. The "National" Guard ain't what it used to be, either, and there are a lot of its members getting new emphasis on the back half of "citizen soldier," a long way from their home state. From The NY Times:

"The Army is just running out of creative ideas for coping with the level of commitment that Iraq requires," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "It's clear there was a fundamental miscalculation about how protracted and how intense the ground commitment in Iraq would be."

Charley Reese says, Vote for a man, not a puppet. "It is not at all conservative to balloon government spending, to vastly increase the power of government, to show contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law, or to tell people that foreign outsourcing of American jobs is good for them, that giant fiscal and trade deficits don't matter, and that people should not know what their government is doing."

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

Texture of Mullein leaves, as it bolts School's out, the first crop of hay is cut, the season is ripening nicely. It got up to hot in the last couple days, high 80s, morning wind is trying to get started, but still a bit iffy.

As Steve Schmidt says, "people of faith have as much right to participate in the political process as any other community." What people of faith don't have, according to the IRS (c.f. Pub. 1828), is the right to use their faith-based, tax-exempt non-profit organizations for political purposes. "The most sophisticated grass-roots presidential campaign in the country's history" may be skirting the law. If they're passing out "general information/updates or voter registration materials," that's fine, but if they're electioneering, not so fine.

From The NY Times' story: "In a statement, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a liberal group, called the effort 'an astonishing abuse of religion' and 'the rawest form of manipulation of religion for partisan gain.' He urged the president to repudiate the effort."

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

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

Buds on our wild rose bushes, end of May Harry Shearer's weekly program is nominally humor, but he occasionally provides memory assistance, as in this week's review of Richard Perle, helping us forget. (If you can't remember how to pronounce "Abu Ghraib," stick around for that, too.)

Nicholas Kristof was in Tiananmen Square 15 years ago this month, at the moment when "the Communist Party signed its own death warrant." His impression of the rickshaw drivers of Beijing is considerably more dramatic than our minor vignette.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to predict that warnings of terrorist attacks are going to be increasing between now and November. We'll likely never know what is "credible intelligence" and what is more cocked-up nonsense serving a misguided political strategy. We can't know what might have happened, what almost happened, and so on. Having dire warnings raised and then squelched as fast as the last round was certainly creates some doubt about the quality of the effort.

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

The Project for the Old American Century takes a look at the traditional features of fascism, starting with powerful and continuing nationalism and ending with fraudulent elections, with a lot of disdain in between. The whitebread Republican team giving the Power to the Preppies salute in the photo for the last point is worth a thousand words.

Climbing nightshade, or blue bindweed, or felonwort Another niece sent me a change of address from her work email, and it had one of those boilerplate disclaimers that some corporations have taken to appending automagically on outgoing email. Perhaps the military should be doing this for its soldiers' accounts?

"...If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized disclosure, dissemination, distribution, copying or the taking of any action in reliance on the information herein is strictly prohibited...."

In other words, forget you saw that.

Jeanette does essentially all the cooking in the house, a bit on the traditional side for a couple of liberals, but man, can she cook. Recipes are starting points, suggestions, sources of ideas. The most phenomenal dishes may be one-time-only, but not to worry, something else will follow. Yesterday's original production was a walnut-date pie with a chocolate crust. Oh me oh my, love that country pie.

Paul Krugman: "Beyond the routine mendacity, the case of the leaked memo points us to a larger truth: whatever they may say in public, administration officials know that sustaining Mr. Bush's tax cuts will require large cuts in popular government programs. And for the vast majority of Americans, the losses from these cuts will outweigh any gains from lower taxes." The metaphor he comes up with to describe the "starve the beast" tax cut plan seems apt: "It's as if someone expected gratitude for giving you a gift, when he actually bought it using your credit card."

David Brooks tries his hand at an econ column, too He kinda thinks the President's team deserves its C+ average, and that that's a pretty good grade, considering.

I'd have to stretch to give him a gentleman's C with this idiotic and useless conclusion: "After all, this election will probably hinge on Iraq anyway. The Bush folks might as well roll the dice with some attention-grabbing domestic ideas. That way if Bush is re-elected, he'll have a mandate to do something big."

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Thursday, 08-Jul-2004 17:59:46 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200406.html