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unraveling

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

William Ted Johnson offers suggestions for improving the environment in a conservative political climate, since "conservation" and "conservative" don't necessarily follow the same path. Politics, religion and the environment are generally not allowed in the same discussion during fire season, but Johnson provides a perspective that I suspect will be brand new to most enviros: "Encourage church leaders in particular and conservatives in general to address these issues biblically." From the UofI's 10-year-old Electronic Green Journal.

I suppose the news report is necessarily compressed, but with Bush off vacation and back stumping, the list of "accomplishments" he's ticking off seems a bit lackluster in print: "overhauling Medicare, making schools more accountable, ending a drought in job creation and ridding the world of the threat that Iraq might provide terrorists with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons."

Medicare's overhauled? (Or, this administration has a plan for health care?) Standardized testing has helped schools? Employment has been restored to pre-Bush levels? Iraq had WMDs? (Oh no, wait, that was "ridding the threat that they might provide...")

I don't think so. (No.) Maybe just the reverse. No. No.

"If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy," Bush said. It's not the drift I worry about so much as the headlong rush, eh. Bold resolve is a great plan only if you're pointed in the right direction.

Your ticket to Google's IPO starts here. Good luck with that, I think I'm going to hang back a bit and see how it goes.

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

Jonathan Cohn did such a nice job of critiquing Kerry's acceptance speech that I don't have to add anything. Lawrence Kaplan provides a different angle, more at content than effect, and worried about the ghosts of Vietnam now serving a somewhat inexplicable master.

I don't know that I heard or read an actual news report of the incident, but what I got of the story was that Teresa told some reporter to "shove it." Turns out there's about 15 years of context that wasn't much reported. Max Blumenthal gives the long version of the story under the headline, The Scaife Strategy: Smother Teresa: "McNickle's provocation of Heinz-Kerry represents the latest manifestation of a poisonous dirty tricks campaign Scaife has financed to undermine Heinz-Kerry, a fellow Western Pennsylvania philanthropist whom he considers his rival." Expect more skirmishes in this battle.

It looks like I'm not going to get rich quick with Amazon Associates. I'm not going to get rich slowly, either. Last quarter's results are in, and I see that 78 unique visitors gave Amazon 98 clicks in my site's name and ordered one item, for a whopping $1.35 referral fee. The last three quarters haven't quite brought in enough to get me over the $10 threshold for them to send any money. (67¢ to go!) I know I said this site was non-commercial, but it is possible to go too far...

The good news is that the one item ordered last quarter was Jeanette's book so she'll get her royalty from the publisher, too.

Speaking of Amazon... chalk this up in the "weird connections" department: their top recommendation for me was to buy Clinton's memoir, My Life, because I previously bought Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard. Huh. Makes me think of that parody ad where the financial advisor "listens" carefully and then recommends "our Super CD" to everyone.

After you filter out the mindlessly sycophantic reader reviews, the other headlines are fun: "Interesting But Lacks Focus and Depth," "Why??" "34 pages was all I could read" (a child left behind?), "A president will colorful life but the content is biased" [sic] (we're shocked, shocked), "An important book that could have been shorter" (as could that person's review have been), "More Scholastic Balderdash" (scholastic balderdash?), "Lies, Lies and Damn Lies!" And now he's as rich as a Republican, too.

I'm no Yankees fan, so whatever they do in the Bronx is fine with me, but the plans for a replacement stadium seem weirdly skewed. They won't -- couldn't! -- tear down Yankee Stadium (what will they call the new one?), so they'll turn it into a parking garage with a soccer pitch on top. This much seems in keeping with the cultural Zeitgeist, at least: 6,000 fewer seats and 39 more luxury boxes. That adds up to fewer, but better, fans.

The positive trend the plans show is that the team proposes to pick up more of the bill, rather than blackmailing it out of the city. As The NY Times puts it, "it seems to take into account new political realities and the public's distaste for government subsidies for sports buildings." The deals for the Jets and the Nets are likely to be pushed back as well.

Paul Krugman describes the media's problem with trivialization, and bias at a time when some very important issues are at stake. Perhaps the problem is that with the majority of our minds made up, we no longer care about the facts, and prefer entertainment to details and careful analysis. The still-undecided will sort out based on who's more fun, maybe? Or who looks more Presidential, or who quotes Scripture most effectively.

Make sure your vote counts. Order your absentee ballot today.
--Florida GOP flier
His two postscripts bear repeating:

"P.S.: Another story you may not see on TV: Jeb Bush insists that electronic voting machines are perfectly reliable, but The St. Petersburg Times says the Republican Party of Florida has sent out a flier urging supporters to use absentee ballots because the machines lack a paper trail and cannot 'verify your vote.'

"P.P.S.: Three weeks ago, The New Republic reported that the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistan to announce a major terrorist capture during the Democratic convention. Hours before Mr. Kerry's acceptance speech, Pakistan announced, several days after the fact, that it had apprehended an important Al Qaeda operative."

What do you think, Undecideds? If bin Laden is captured "dead or alive" before the election, is that good enough to give Bush the nod for 4 more?

Among the many fascinating things in the repository of information that is the World Wide Web, there is a Wikipedia entry describing the history of the USS Copahee, the ship that took my father from San Diego to Honolulu in 1944.

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

One of our volunteer sunflowers Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as it were, and I don't mean that North Sea peninsula. If the President's mental health is in serious question, don't we need to do more than just whisper about it? I suppose Dick Cheney can keep running the country until the replacements arrive, but it would appear that the man too small for the job that we saw in the Florida classroom on 9/11 is having even deeper problems coping with the stress.

This is going to take more than the usual extended vacation in Crawford; I suggest early retirement. It works for me!

Everybody looks funny in a bunny suit, but engineering demands they be worn when things have to stay clean. Oh yes, George's flight suit was more macho, by far. If Kerry's get-up invoked memory of Woody Allen in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, all we can say about the "Mission Accomplished" stunt is that however cool it looked, it was embarassingly premature.

Too bad we can't get a nice photo of Ed Gillespie chortling to put up against the NASA pix, but even less flattering things from the archive have been dug up already. "Fool me once, shame on.. shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

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

Our bare-bones cable TV service (they call it "Lifeline") includes 2 channels of C-Span, which I flip by from time to time. Last night I noticed that they were showing the Democratic Party Convention (just a fraction of a second ahead of PBS), and also had a speaker schedule flashed up from time to time. I'd been taping it off PBS, so I could zip through the interminable commentary (and the less interesting speeches), but I was happy to switch to something more direct and informative. You can go to C-Span's website and pick and choose the speeches you want to see at your convenience. (A broadband connection to the 'net helps, of course.)

Barack Obama, a state senator from Illinois who's running for the big Senate this fall, was the surprise hit of last night. As son of a goat herder from Kenya, grandson of a servant to the British, he had a wonderful immigrant's story, one made possible by "the greatest of our nation." I'll admit that the form of the Convention speech can go a bit stilted; you apparently are required to work the candidate's name in about every 4 minutes, at least, and to tell everyone what the candidate thinks about the issues of the day. Be that as it may, Obama knows how to give a big speech with power and eloquence.

"There is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America, there is the United States of America. The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states -- red states for Republicans, and blue states for Democrats -- but I've got news for them, we worship an awesome God in the blue states and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states."

I wanted to hear what Ron Reagan had to say, too, after hearing Terry Gross interview him on Fresh Air. He accepted the invitation to speak, the opportunity to address the convention and the country on an important -- and what should be a non-partisan -- issue, embryonic stem cell research. (The Fresh Air interview was better than the convention speech, given more time to discuss the issue and the calmer give and take of one-on-one conversation.)

It seems to be yet another faith-based divide, however. If we're using our god-given rational capacity, "surely, we can distinguish between these undifferentiated cells multiplying in a tissue culture, and a living, breathing person; a parent, a spouse, a child," Reagan said.

But no: the steady stream of GOP fund-raising letters that seek to counter the convention boost the Democrats are getting has as one its touchstones the dogmatic assertion that "life begins at conception," ridiculing Kerry's (and Reagan's) nuanced position that there is a difference between a fertilized egg and a person. My view: life does not begin at conception, it continues through the process. An acorn is not an oak tree, but both share the common thread of the life in the species.

It's a decision about to what degree we will accept magical thinking as justification to enforce our will on others. Does the notion that "here a miracle occurs" when sperm meets egg trump the needs of human beings who could benefit from cures for diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and more? I don't think it should, and neither does Ron Reagan.

Boise Cascade Corporation has dropped its other shoe, having sufficiently absorbed the $1.2 billion purchase of OfficeMax, it now wants to be OfficeMax, and cash in its forest products and paper-making assets for $3-some billion. Those will go private, held free of the quarter-to-quarter pressure applied to publicly owned companies by a Chicago-based investment firm.

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

Paul Krugman's Fear of Fraud is not irrational paranoia. "Jeb Bush says he won't allow an independent examination of voting machines because he has 'every confidence' in his handpicked election officials. Yet those officials have a history of slipshod performance on other matters related to voting and somehow their errors always end up favoring Republicans. Why should anyone trust their verdict on the integrity of voting machines, when another convenient mistake could deliver a Republican victory in a high-stakes national election?"

Will Jeb deliver Florida for W. one more time?

The Pensacola News Journal's editorial board is equally uneasy: "It's almost as if the governor takes delight in showing his contempt for a political system based on a non-partisan respect for voting rights, the very essence of our system. Just when it looked as if he was stepping up to do the right thing, he showed partisanship more apt for an old-fashioned ward heeler than the governor of Florida." (Their editorial is at the bottom of truthout's reprint of the Krugman column.)

Back in 2000, the Bush administration had seriously ticked off John McCain on campaign finance reform: "The Bush administration has broken their word on an issue that has been of transcendent importance to me, and that's hard to get over," he said. He said he'll also "assume all future assurances and promises by this administration to be quite possibly insincere."

Things have been patched up, though, and now McCain is putting his name under fundraising letters for Bush's election campaign, the latest subjected "The Right Leader for These Challenging Times." The "global fight between good and evil" figures in his email, too, looking for contributions to counter the bounce the Dems hope to get from their convention this week.

New record: 3.2% of the population of this country in jail, on parole or probation.

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

I'd heard the term premillenial dispensationalism and maybe even knew what it was about, and remember well when James Watt suggested that environmentalism was superfluous given the limited future. I know that some people think the End is Near, but I don't think I'd seriously considered that such beliefs may be driving the political direction of the Republican Party as a whole.

The trouble with opening the barn door to magical thinking is that any old three-legged unicorn might waltz in. And one of them may have a tactical nuclear weapon strapped to its back. It's clearly arguable that America has a "contradictory and self-defeating nuclear policy," and if this isn't the explanation, we need another one.

The 5-part series, "Fiery Hell on Earth," started back in May in Rachel's Environment and Health News. Part 1, part 2, part3, and part 4 are still available, and they start with this question: "Why is the Bush administration promoting nuclear weapons, materials and know-how world-wide?"

I had to go look for myself to verify the claim that the Republican Party of Texas' platform says this (on page 8 of the PDF): "The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation." It says this, too: "The Party supports school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of Americaís legal and its political and economic systems."

They want to "dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State," too.

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

The Badaling section of the Great Wall of China Richard Clarke gives his assessment of the 9/11 Commission Report: "Among the obvious truths that were documented but unarticulated were the facts that the Bush administration did little on terrorism before 9/11, and that by invading Iraq the administration has left us less safe as a nation."

Less safe. As opposed to the proof-by-repeated-assertion claim that we're more safe now. "We are less capable of defeating the jihadists because of the Iraq war." No amount of facts or debate can settle the question of course; no matter what happens, it could always be worse. Or better. How are you feeling these days?

Here's Clarke's plan:

I haven't unpacked and read my (PDF) copy of the Commission's report yet, but here's what I got from The NY Times' story, "Correcting the Record on Sept. 11, in Great Detail":

Myth:
All of the hijackers had entered the country legally and done nothing to draw attention to themselves.

Fact:
As many as 13 of the hijackers had entered the United States with passports that had been fraudulently altered, using criminal methods previously associated with Al Qaeda. Visa applications of many of the hijackers had been filled out improperly; in several cases, the hijackers had provided demonstrably false information on the forms. The names of at least three of the terrorists were found after Sept. 11 in the databases of American intelligence and counterterrorism agencies.

Mohamed Atta, the plot's Egyptian-born ringleader, overstayed his tourist visa. One of the terrorist pilots, Ziad al-Jarrah, attended school in 2000 in violation of his immigration status, which should have been enough to block him from re-entering the United States; he left and re-entered the country at least six more times before Sept. 11.

Myth:
Leaders of the nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies have insisted publicly that they never considered the nightmare of passenger planes turned into guided missiles.

Fact:
In September 1998, information provided by a source who walked into an American consulate in East Asia, "mentioned a possible plot to fly an explosives-laden aircraft into a U.S. city." In August of the same year, an intelligence agency received information that a group of Libyans hoped to crash a plane into the World Trade Center. The North American Aerospace Defense Command had developed exercises to counter the threat and, according to a Defense Department memorandum unearthed by the commission, planned a drill in April 2001 that would have simulated a terrorist crash into the Pentagon.

Myth:
A senior State Department official testified to the Senate in 2001 that the bin Laden terror network was "analogous to a multinational corporation, bin Laden as C.E.O.," leaving the details of the terrorist attacks to others.

Fact:
Far from being the disengaged leader of his terror network, Mr. bin Laden was described by captured Qaeda colleagues as a hands-on executive who wanted to be involved in almost every detail of the Sept. 11 plot, choosing the hijacking team himself and selecting targets. He was reported to have been eager to hit the White House.

Myth:
Bin Laden had a vast personal fortune that bankrolled Al Qaeda; news accounts described the bin Laden fortune as totaling as much as $300 million, with real estate holdings in London, Paris and the CŰte d'Azur.

Fact:
Bin Laden was cut off from his family's wealth after the early 1990s and that he financed Al Qaeda's operations through a core group of wealthy Muslim donors, mainly in the Persian Gulf. The report said that from 1970 to 1994, Mr. bin Laden received about $1 million a year from family funds - a sizable sum, but not nearly enough to finance such an ambitious terrorist network.

Myth:
There was a close working relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. In October 2002, with the invasion of Iraq only months away, President Bush said in a speech in Cincinnati that "high-level contacts" between Iraq and Al Qaeda "go back a decade," and that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."

Fact:
No evidence of close collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Myth:
The Saudis were behind the financing.

Fact:
No evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.

Myth:
Bush and his deputies had no credible evidence before the attacks to suggest that Al Qaeda was about to strike on American soil.

Fact:
The Aug. 2001 two-page briefing paper, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S.," contained passages referring to F.B.I. reports of "suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." It noted that a caller to the United States Embassy in the United Arab Emirates that May had warned that "a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S.," planning attacks with explosives. Two C.I.A. analysts involved in preparing the brief had wanted to make clear to Mr. Bush that, far from being only a historical threat, the threat that Al Qaeda would strike on American soil was "both current and serious."

If your investments haven't done to well since the bubble popped, consider that it could be worse. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government's insurance program for company pensions, had a $9.7 billion surplus in the larger of its two divisions, which insures corporate pension plans, in 2000. Three years later it had a deficit of $11.2 bil, a $20 billion swing. Earlier this year, foreshadowing United Airlines announcement that it's backing away from funding pensions, they figured that a still larger amount, in airline pension obligations ($23.4 billion) was "reasonably possible" to be defaulted.

$10 billion here, $20 billion there, after a while it adds up to real money.

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

You probably need a ("free") subscription to read this, but it's a useful report on something that seems obvious in retrospect, at least: people are more likely to cheat to achieve specific goals, especially in situations where it's easy to get away with it. In sociology-speak, that's "domains with low transparency and asymmetric information." The paper, described by a Wharton article, " Goal setting and Cheating: Why They Often Go Together in the Workplace," appeared in the June Academy of Management Journal.

"Our results also suggest that deception itself can facilitate self-justification. In our study, people were far more likely to represent their performance (in a way that justified taking unearned money) and take unearned money than they were to simply take unearned money."

The submissions that didn't make the "cover" of megapixel.net are a fine sampling of photographs from around the world.

Somebody's statistics said one in 10 millennia, but the satellites see a different picture: 10 rogue waves larger than 25m in a span of 3 weeks in their sample (of 30,000 50km2 snapshots). Given that current ships and offshore platforms are typically designed for the largest waves of 15m, Houston, we have a problem. Of course, the sinking of a couple hundred supertankers in the last two decades was another clue.

Slightly edited and smaller version of the NYT/Dave Leip/Ben
 Werschkul graphic The NY Times interactive graphics department has come up with more good stuff: an elegant 2004 Election Guide that overlays its data (for the Presidential race, the Senate, the House, Governors, the money race, etc.) on a map of the US, alternately sized by electoral votes and color-coded to show political leanings. Looks like a toss-up. (The "swing states" are gold; cute, huh?)

On those occasions when I've crossed the US border, it always seemed like a fairly Big Deal to me. My understanding is that the Immigration and Customs guys (and gals) have more than the usual police powers, and that if you looked at them cock-eyed, they could detain you as they saw fit and pretty much make your life miserable. I've always been on my best behavior in the queues, toed the mark before presenting my passport, and so on.

Among the many failures identified by the 9/11 Commission, then, this one surprises me a bit: "There were opportunities for intelligence and law enforcement to exploit al Qaeda's travel vulnerabilities. Considered collectively, the 9/11 hijackers included known al Qaeda operatives who could have been watchlisted; presented passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner; presented passports with suspicious indicators of extremism; made detectable false statements on visa applications; made false statements to border officials to gain entry into the United States; and violated immigration laws while in the United States."

In short, "protecting borders was not a national security issue before 9/11." I guess they were just looking for smugglers?

The Commission's website has the complete report, the executive summary, and individual chapters in PDF files. (Or, you can hop down to the bookstore and pick up the printed version for 10 bucks.) The whole report is 7.4 MB, and while it says the Executive Summary is 5.9MB, my copy came in at 372 kB.

The Commission's recommendations include these, toward the general goal to "root out sanctuaries" of terrorism:
--Strengthen long-term U.S. and international commitments to the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
--Confront problems with Saudi Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil, a relationship that both sides can defend to their citizens and includes a shared commitment to reform.

And to "prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism," "Define the message and stand as an example of moral leadership in the world," "stand for a better future," and "offer an agenda of opportunity."

Visualize this security scenario: an official visit by the President, open to the public, at a state Capitol. A couple of the visitors "removed an outer layer of clothing to reveal homemade anti-Bush t-shirts," and the Secret Service directs local law-enforcement officials to arrest those two. They're charged with... trespassing?!

Oh yeah, and it was on the 4th of July. Charleston Municipal Judge Carole Bloom dismissed the charges.

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

What do you suppose the real story on Sandy Berger is? We get this "senior government offical" stuff long after the purported crime, and a time most convenient for distraction from the Administration's troubles... something doesn't smell right about that.

One friend with direct experience of as many decades of politics as I've been alive and I were talking today, and when someone mentioned that Daddy was a spook, too, I allowed that I'd developed a certain nostalgia for the first George Bush administration. She said, "hey, even Nixon is starting to look pretty good at this point."

For those of us too young to have experienced it first-hand, the Committee on the Present Danger is back. Déjà vu! This is the third incarnation of what started more than half a century ago, and enjoyed a resurgence in the Carter/Reagan years, led by... wait for it... George H.W. Bush.

RightWeb has a detailed history of CPD-1 and CPD-2, updated in 1989. Lyndon LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review details the latest incarnation, in what we have to hope is the worst possible light.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson's plan for increased motorized recreation and some designated Wilderness in the Boulder-White Cloud mountains in central Idaho is too far beyond "compromise" for most every environmental group that has considered it. Magic Valley's Times-News says "last we knew," he was thinking about adding a third more acreage to the Wilderness part, but that doesn't address the fundamental problems.

If Simpson really wants "active and constructive participation of the interested parties" (Idaho State Journal), perhaps he should work to facilitate that, rather than using the criticism as a club, after announcing his midwifery of Frankenstein. According to the environmental groups, the problems of Simpson's proposal include: transfer of public lands to Custer County; failure to adequately protect some of the most deserving of Idaho's irreplaceable wildlands, the denial of reserved water rights to wilderness lands, and the encouragement of increased ORV use throughout the general area.

If you're reading anything I write here looking for investment advice, you are in deep, deep trouble. That's one reason I don't bother with disclaimers when I say something about somebody's business. Another is that it might just confuse you, for example if I told you that we own some Microsoft stock, after you've read the snipes and diatribes about their software that spew forth periodically. At any rate, we do, and so we'll be getting our little share of their cash hoard when they pay out the big dividend they just announced. Given my usual "buy high, sell low" approach to investing, it might allow us to break even for a change.

But Bill Gates, well, that's a different story. He will be saved the embarrasment of having to sell any of his shares for walking-around money once his dividend check arrives. 3 bucks a share times, oh, more than a billion shares, comes out to $3.35 billion. (Ballmer gets about a $billion and a quarter for staying on the job.) Even after taxes, I think that's going to be a lot of money. The plan appears to be to make the payout under the current tax regime, generous to dividend recipients, to maximize the "yield." The difference between the 15% rate dividends currently enjoy and the 35% rate for "ordinary" income is right close to $1,000,000,000 for Steve and Bill.

That's too simple a description of the tax consequences and the short-term opportunity (and risk) of trading in Microsoft's stock, however. Floyd Norris elaborates in today's NYT Business section. It matters if you're foreign or domestic, and whether you paid more, or less for your shares.

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

MoveOn.org has some questions for FoxNews, all focused to this central one: How can Fox's slogan "Fair and Balanced" be anything other than an attempt to deceive viewers and advertisers?

Why are there so many Republican commentators and guests compared to Democrats? (The media monitor FAIR reports five to one.) Why does Fox business management dictate how the news is framed in its daily memos? Why would Fox assign a reporter whose wife was out campaigning for Bush at the time to conduct an exclusive interview with him?

You can read Rupert Murdoch's side of the story in this week's Doonesbury.

Or, you can watch the ping pong match of dueling 1 and 5-star reviews on amazon.com.

If you're in the "it is up to people to drive whatever car they choose" camp, you might still think it's less than intelligent to have government subsidize SUVs and encourage businesses to buy them. If you're somewhere left of "let's drive everywhere," George Monbiot's suggestion in Driving into the Abyss might sound like a good idea: stem the "reactive denial" with a tax disincentive to anti-social behavior.

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

Linda Ronstadt joins the Dixie Chicks in the group of pop singers booed for speaking her mind. She dedicated her performance of Desperado to Michael Moore at the Alladin in Las Vegas, which "drew loud boos from a huge chunk of the audience. Some allegedly stormed out of the theatre, tore down posters and threw cocktails into the air." The casino owner knows what's good for business, and political commentary in Sin City ain't it. He had Ronstadt escorted off the premises.

Going on and on about the 2000 election debacle should be so over by now, but two million spoiled ballots (half of them cast by Black voters) provide a reminder of something seriously wrong on the eve of our next try at a presidential election.

Nielsen Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project inform us (in a 7-page PDF press release) that 60% of us have been spared having to watch campaign ads. My condolences to you 40% out there who will be deciding who gets to be President for the next 4 years. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

UW's site has links to news coverage, and The NY Times' story has a nicely done (and big) sidebar graphic of "where the ad war is being fought."

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

Big rainbow over our house tonight We finally broke out of our little heat wave, a mostly overcast sky yesterday giving firefighters a break and raising the humidity. Our tennis tournament got suspended twice from light showers late in the day, but by sunset it had cleared enough to show a slivery new moon. The morning came with that cool edge we love about the arid west, even as the smell of rain (and its humidity) linger.

Time to set about catching up all the things I didn't do while hanging around at BSU yesterday...

Later: bigger thunderstorms and an amazing sky this evening. a full rainbow came out while I was up on a stepladder, unplugging downspouts. Need a much wider lens to get it all in...

Steve Appleton still won't talk to the press about it, but the press still loves to talk about him and his death-defying stunts. Too bad the news story doesn't have links to the video of his own crash, which he says were taken over by the FAA. How much mystery is there when somebody doesn't quite make their loop before running into the ground? It's a rather fundamental pilot error. Investors and the Micron board are hoping he flies the company with a little more margin...

When we talk about how well the economy is or isn't doing, this statistic has to be part of the discussion: "By 2002, one of every four black men in the U.S. was idle all year long." That's without counting as many as 1 in 10 black men under age 40 who are in prison.

Bob Herbert comments on one of the reports from Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.

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

Looking up at our blue borage I'm not expecting any sympathy from readers east of the humidity line; if I were still there, I don't suppose I'd have any. But it didn't cool off last night like it's "supposed to." The thunderstorms didn't thunder or storm on us, clear the air, or reset that big thermostat in the sky. 80°F into the dark, and just opening the windows and turning on the fan didn't provide relief from the day's heat over 100. It's feeling like it might happen again today, although some late afternoon clouds seem to have knocked the edge off the peak. Just the high 90s today, but day #2 for our trusty Freon pumper...

You know it doesn't do any good to talk back to your radio, but when Jerry Falwell talked to Tavis Smiley, and we listened it to (over the web, anyway), we were both talking back. This "values" discussion is all about codewords. "Christians who take the Bible seriously" must mean Christians who take it literally, I suppose?

"George Bush has been a compassionate conservative... thank God Al Gore is president now..." Doesn't this ditz now what blasphemy is? And doesn't he know when to shut up? Well of course, he doesn't.

"I'll vote for Bush and Cheney, or whoever the ticket is." Did we hear it first on Tavis Smiley? The segment was titled "Morality and the Presidential Election," but all I found out about morality is that Falwell seems to think he's some kind of arbiter of it, and the more moral you are, the more you vote Republican.

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

I'm getting ready for another hot weekend of tennis. The most extreme scenario is 8 matches in two days, after tonight's opener. The forecast calls for "partly cloudy," and clouds would be good, keeping the high out of triple digits ("just" 94 to 99). Can we have a breeze, too, please? For Saturday and Sunday it's supposed to be up around 100°F.

Paul Krugman summarizes health insurance proposals from the two Presidential candidates: "Mr. Kerry offers a health care plan that would extend coverage to most of those now uninsured, paid for by rolling back tax cuts for those with incomes over $200,000. President Bush offers a tax credit that would extend coverage to fewer than 5 percent of the uninsured, plus a new tax break for the affluent that would actually increase the number of uninsured."

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

From the GeorgeWBush.com photo gallery. I guess if we write it into the Constitution, all those gay and lesbian couples will quietly go back into the closet and decide to get married to someone of the opposite sex? And heterosexual couples won't be so ill-at-ease, and thereby have stronger marriages.

But then I don't suppose a a rational argument for "protecting this sacred institution" is really necessary, is it? It's sacred, 'nuff said. The GeorgeWBush.com email making hay out of Kerry and Edwards not coming in off the campaign trail to cast procedural votes in the Senate puts it this way: "In the race for President, only President Bush shares our conservative values in words and action." The political posturing around defining marriage is perfect for the President -- he can play his role calling for an amendment to the hilt, complete with indignation about how the Senate (including six Republicans, whoopsie) doesn't share "our" values.

If Kerry and Edwards had showed up and made the vote 50-50 instead of 50-48—it needed 60 votes to win—the email would still have had the bold-face and underline blaring about how Kerry and Edwards didn't defend marriage, but without the "could not find time to do the job they were elected to do" twist. (George W. doesn't have to worry about criticism of the hours he puts in; his strong and steady leadership is omnipresent in the minds of the faithful.)

As for his vice president, Dick Cheney has the perfect answer for those people who want to share in the values of marriage but don't match up with the Barbie and Ken model: "go fuck yourself." Solves the AIDS problem, too.

John McCain doesn't quite share all the President's values. He was quoted as saying "the Constitutional amendment we are debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans." If he made an assessment of it as an election-year maneuver, I didn't see that.

Do you suppose the price of gasoline enters into the decision-making on where to send an aircraft carrier battle group for summer exercises? How about if you're going to send sevencarrier battle groups? Or maybe the price of tea in China matters, as you think about flexing your military might in the face of the next likely candidate for super-power status. Operation Summer Pulse '04 has more than half of our carrier battle groups on the move, our Nuclear Navy, cruising the 7 seas. Should be a ton of fun.

The LA Times has (registration required) commentary after a few more of the blanks were filled in than when the USA Today wrote their story. "This will be the first time in U.S. naval history that seven of our 12 carrier strike groups deploy in one place at the same time. It will look like the peacetime equivalent of the Normandy landings and may well end in a disaster." Ready for a new arms race? "(E)ven before a carrier reaches the Taiwan Strait, Beijing has announced it will embark on a crash project that will enable it to meet and defeat seven U.S. carrier strike groups within a decade."

What do you get when the WTO rules against your $5 billion export subsidy and you have to repeal it? $140 billion in corporate tax breaks, written by and largely for General Electric, that's what.

You're going to hear them over and over and over: the faith-based statements about Bush foreign policy. "I had a choice to make: either take the word of a madman, or defend America." And, "the American people are safer" now that George Bush has had his way in the world. Mathew Rothschild dispenses with the nonsense.

"Though Saddam was still playing games with the U.N. weapons inspectors, they were allowed to go anywhere and everywhere in Iraq. This was the most intrusive inspection effort of all time, and Bush refused to let it proceed and refused to believe what the weapons inspectors were telling him. On top of that, the United States, Germany, and Russia were able to fly spy planes over every square inch of Iraqi territory.

"So, no, Bush didn't have to take the word of a madman. He could have taken the word of the U.N. weapons inspectors, but he chose not to. He could have taken the evidence from the spy planes, but he chose not to....

"Former head of counterterrorism Richard Clarke says the Iraq War has made us much less safe. So, too, has Retired General Anthony Zinni, who used to be the Pentagon's commander for that region of the world. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London, says that the Iraq War has made the world less safe and has served as a 'potent global recruitment pretext' for Al Qaeda, whose ranks have grown to 18,000 as a consequence.

"U.S. alliances are tattered, and the U.S. reputation in the world is at historic lows. How does that make us any safer?"

John Kenneth Galbraith sees war as a cloud over civilisation, slaughter driven by corporate power. "(C)orporate power has shaped the public purpose to its own needs. It ordains that social success is more automobiles, more television sets, a greater volume of all other consumer goods - and more lethal weaponry. Negative social effects - pollution, destruction of the landscape, the unprotected health of the citizenry, the threat of military action and death - do not count as such....

"Given its authority in the modern corporation it was natural that management would extend its role to politics and to government. Once there was the public reach of capitalism; now it is that of corporate management. In the US, corporate managers are in close alliance with the president, the vice-president and the secretary of defence. Major corporate figures are also in senior positions elsewhere in the federal government; one came from the bankrupt and thieving Enron to preside over the army."

Quatorze Juillet Permanent URL to this day's entry

What better way to celebrate storming the Bastille than breaking away from the pack for more than 5 hours and storming the Massif Central. Homeboy Richard Virenque cleared all 9 "relatively easy" climbs in front of everyone else, jumps into the top 6 and gets to wear the polka dot jersey. I'm guessing "relatively easy" if you're one of the world's top 200 cyclists.

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

Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, makes his assessment of the corrupted intelligence that the Senate committee just reported on. It's a big problem, but not the only big problem. Here's the other one:

"But the presidentís decision for war had little to do with intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It had everything to do with the administrationís determination to gain control of strategic, oil-rich Iraq, implant an enduring military presence there, and—not incidentally—eliminate any possible threat from Iraq to Israelís security."

I hate filling my blog with pointers to news sites that will quickly (7 days for The NY Times') go stale, but some of the stuff there is too important to let it pass unremarked. Paul Krugman's column today is one of those things. In Machine At Work, he describes the slender opening into the sleazy political maneuvering of Tom DeLay provided by the Enron collapse.

"A moderate facade is necessary to win elections in a generally tolerant nation. But real power in the party rests with hard-line social conservatives like Mr. DeLay, who, in the debate over gun control after the Columbine shootings, insisted that juvenile violence is the result of day care, birth control and the teaching of evolution. Here's the puzzle: if Mr. DeLay's brand of conservatism is so unpopular that it must be kept in the closet during the convention, how can people like him really run the party?"

His answer is that we have to follow the money. As usual.

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

Project Billboard's 2nd try for a NY design that Clear Channel would accept Herbert: "The colossal intelligence failures and the willful madness of the administration, which presented war as the first and only policy option, can leave you with the terrible feeling that you're standing at the graveside of common sense and reasonable behavior."

For Bush's part, he's defending this misbegotten war, and the caption under a news photo provides a chilling forecast for his re-election: "President Bush not only reasserted his justification for the Iraq campaign but said that future pre-emptive strikes were not out of the question."

What in God's name would it take for this man to admit error?

That re-election may not necessarily be needed. Tom Ridge is looking into how he might postpone the November election, "just in case." Do you suppose Jimmy Carter and his team are available to oversee our election to make sure we don't end up with another fraudulent one?

What, you've never heard This American Life on PRI? It's a fantastic hour out of the week. I caught just enough of the last segment of yesterday's show that I tracked it down on the web. You can hear the whole show via RealAudio. It's a wonderful world, ending with a delightful retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. The theme is "starting over." (Jump to 42:21 if you want to go straight to the Garden, but the first 2 acts are good, too.)

"There was something about the snake that made her realize in a flash that the world was from 60 to 80% oilier than she'd ever imagined."

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

The campaign is certainly heating up, combining attacks (by proxy whenever possible) with official indignation at just how ugly the other side is. While Bush is arguably a "thug," "killer," and "liar," we don't usually use the plain Anglo-Saxon descriptions of political operations. Ken Mehlman's latest email to the team ("Hate-fest! Send more money!") and Bush's stump speech play on "conservative values" and "in time of war." As if "in time of war," we're all supposed to play Follow the Leader and stop asking questions? If it weren't for the neocon agenda that followed Bush in the back door, we could have rebuilt Afghanistan by now and actually made real progress in fighting the roots of terrorism. The Iraq diversion is The Problem, not The Excuse.

I liked this counterpoint on the subject of "full disclosure," from The NY Times' report: "Responding to Republican calls for release of the concert tape, several Democrats inside and outside the Kerry campaign said the president should first release his own records regarding what role Mr. Lay and other Republican donors played in the development of the administration's energy policy."

At any rate, it's good exercise for the far end of the dictionary: values, vitriol, vicious, venom, vituperation, vacation, and so on.

Visual excerpt of the heavily redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq The committee's scorecard on intelligence assessments on Iraq: reasonable-2; confusing-1; overreaching-7; unsupported-7; incorrect-6. "Most of the major key judgments either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting. A series of failures, particularly in analytic trade craft, led to the mischaracterization of intelligence."

The NY Times: "Among the central findings, endorsed by all nine Republicans and eight Democrats on the committee, were that a culture of 'group think' in intelligence agencies left unchallenged an institutional belief that Iraq had illicit weapons; that significant shortcomings in human intelligence left the United States dependent on others for information about Iraqi illicit weapons programs; and that intelligence agencies too often failed to acknowledge the limited, ambiguous and even contradictory nature of their information about Iraq and illicit arms."

One bit of redemption: they didn't find administration pressure to color the findings. The nice thing about "groupthink" is that blame is fully diluted. After the Bay of Pigs, the man at the top took responsibility, and more importantly fixed the problem in time for the Cuban missile crisis. This time around, our Head Man does not have the stature to accept his ultimate responsibility, I'm afraid. There's still time for Dick Cheney to do the right thing and get off the ticket, though. Medical cover will be easy to arrange.

Oh and the Niger yellowcake story lives on -- maybe the Iraqis were after uranium from Africa. The 15 conclusions on this topic leave a lot to be revealed, however, as the report's redactions are heavy-handed in this section. "The language in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that 'Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake' overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq's possible procurement attempts," for example, followed by 26 redacted lines of text. The conclusions do explicitly absolve the Administration of any knowing misrepresentation in the State of the Union speech.

The Senate's web site has the (redacted) report on-line in a (521 page) PDF file. The FindLaw site has smaller chunks and a long list of documents organized in its Special Coverage: Iraq Aftermath section (and some broken URLs when I checked this morning -- the first directory in the path for the PDFs is 'hdocs', and change the '\' or %5Cs to '/'. The 2MB of conclusions, for example, are at http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/iraq/sic70904iraqconc.pdf).

Down home on the ranch in Eldorado, Texas: 60,000 square feet of living space and 3 girls for every boy, or something like that. Hey, if we're ready for gay marriage, maybe it's time to reconsider plural marriage, too. The matches are made in heaven, we're told.

Quick, which has a higher risk of death: a commercial plane crash, or a railroad grade crossing? You might have guessed the latter; it's 2:1 more likely, as a New York Times investigation reports. That's not the news, though: it's that the railroads routinely cover-up their culpability.

"Harvey Levine remembers the day in the mid-1990s when, as a vice president of the Association of American Railroads, he suggested that railroads, not just drivers, might share responsibility for grade-crossing collisions.

"The reaction was swift.

"'Another vice president said, Why don't you shut up and sit down,' recalled Dr. Levine, an economist and a former railroad employee. 'I knew the next sentence out of my mouth was going to cost me my job.'

"With two children in college, Dr. Levine said he did not argue the point."

Maybe the 2004 election in Florida will go a bit more fairly: they've decided not to use the special "potential felon" list that was much better at listing Democrats than Republicans.

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

Honeybee, working over the anthers of a Datura flower The bees were all over the Datura this morning; soft light, sweet scent and good eats.

I'm only 2 degrees of separation from the upcoming Democratic Party convention in Boston: the nephew of a friend will be a delegate. He and 3 friends are trying to raise money to defray the costs -- rank and file delegates have to pay their own way.

At the shrine at Feng Du, "the ghost city," there were three bridges. On the way in, we were told that if you took exactly 9 steps walking over the middle bridge, holding hands with your spouse, you would stay married forever. On the way out, you could choose the right bridge and enjoy good health the rest of your life, or the left bridge, and enjoy wealth.

Interesting choices to have to make. Some rationalized that wealth could take care of health, but I don't think it works out that way. Jeanette and I got on the 9-step program on the way in, and we both picked the health bridge on the way out.

Paul Krugman's latest column, Health versus Wealth, looks at the contest in the perhaps less superstitious context of the current Presidential campaign, and John Kerry's proposal to expand insurance coverage to the poorest among us, by rescinding the recent tax cuts for the richest. Sounds like socialism, but then that's what insurance is all about. "What are the objections to the Kerry plan? One is that it falls far short of the comprehensive overhaul our health care system really needs. Another is that by devoting the proceeds of a tax-cut rollback to health care, Mr. Kerry fails to offer a plan to reduce the budget deficit."

It's not looking so likely that you will go to the moon (and the 1st edition, "Corners slightly bumped, edges worn. Interior extremely bright" will cost you $60 now), but we can all go to Saturn these days. What a ride!

To give your imagination a little exercise, imagine hearing 7 sonic booms when Cassini crossed Saturn's bow shock, the shock wave where incoming solar wind meets the planet's magnetosphere. Boom! Ba-da-boom boom boom! BOOM!

Too much of a good thing is a not-so-good-thing. Email is good, spam is bad. Ample food is good, obesity is bad. Personal mobility is a gas, traffic jams suck.

George Gilder pointed out (most of a decade ago now) that the interplay between scarcity and abundance determines the future. Our abundance of automobiles leads to a shortage of good parking spaces, for example.

The natural world is full of examples of cycles of abundance and scarcity. We used to have an abundance of engineering talent in the US, but our growing abundance of management whiz-kids is fixing that problem, sending problems off-shore, where they can be solved more cheaply. I started on this thread today while reading Jim Pinto's newsletter, and his June 15th piece, "The US is losing its competitive edge" connected the dots: "Today, the percentage of Americans graduating with bachelor's degrees in science and engineering is less than half of the comparable percentage in China, Japan and India. Anyone who thinks that all the Indian techies are doing is answering call-center phones for Dell and HP customers is sadly mistaken."

I suspect it will come as a shock to those that have been coasting along on the risen tide of technological supremacy here, and it will translate into the political arena as an increasingly vicious battle between the have-mores and the have-nots. Avoid or embrace the term "class warfare" as you like, but money is eventually going to follow the education and training, no matter where in the world it is found.

Every year, the coverage of the Tour de France gets better and more interesting. I found this site today, which is some joint project of AFP, Art Movies, A.S.O. and sponsors MSN and FoxSports. The Flash takes a while to load, but once it's in, there are stage-by-stage maps, descriptions, and most importantly, an up-to-the-minute race journal. The stage 6 results were posted almost immediately after the race, and long before they were on the mainstream news sites. (I tried to work back up the path to the root of afp.eu.verio.net, but the sponsors seem to be tightly joined, and each time you leave and re-enter, you have to pay the Flash loading penalty.)

Lots of crashes today, but Armstrong held his position. The final crash was within 1km of the finish, with no time penalty for those in it. There sure is a lot of juggling of seconds and minutes, bonuses, penalties and waivers in that race. Time is a relative thing.

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

Check out these impossible objects! But be warned: John Rausch's Puzzle World may be tough to leave.

If the Pakistanis do deliver a high value target" during the first three days of the Democratic convention, this is going to make it look very suspicious.

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

Part of our June rush of cactus flowers Kerry's selection of Edwards for his running mate makes the bottom of the ticket a good deal more interesting than the top. Take your pick between an up-and-coming self-made man who everyone likes, and a secretive retread from the Nixon administration who pulls the strings on a President who's not up to the intellectual demands of his job. Whatever else his friends say about Dick "F-bomb" Cheney, I don't suppose it's that "he's naaaaace."

Is my bias showing in my adjectives? I guess the upside from the Red side is that Cheney is "experienced" and a "steady hand at the helm" for those times when W. is out clearing brush in Crawford or whatever.

GeorgeWBush.com's response to the Veep choice is to run an ad featuring what have to be the warmest moments ever between John McCain and W., from an introduction McCain gave the President shortly after 9/11, when that brief wave of bipartisanship swept over us all. The ad continues the forced (and misleading) juxtaposition of "terror" and "war on Iraq" concepts, as the Republicans must do to counter the central problem of Bush's presidency: an unnecessary war, based on preconceived notions and bad (or misread) intelligence.

Bush's snappy comeback to having the second-best VP candidate is this: "Dick Cheney can be president. Next?"

Ok, let me go next! You can't seriously be challenging the Presidential qualifications of John Edwards, can you Mr. Bush? Wouldn't it be painfully embarassing to invite recollections of how ill-prepared and minimally qualified you were for the Presidency?

Of course, the I-just-announced-my-running-mate bounce is available to Bush, too, as soon as he announces Dick Cheney's Jan. 2005 retirement and a replacement for his ticket. Call it the "cut and run" strategy.

Hugh Hewitt on "the inevitable backstab blog" and other black-ops in the blogosphere.

Here's another Armstrong seeking to go where no man has gone before, and he's got the yellow jersey early on.

P.J. O'Rourke has recognized the pointlessness of arguing with people on the other side, so he's arguing with his radio.

Nothing quite like the Washington spin cycle: the 9/11 Commission rebuts Cheney's assertion that there was a meaningful link between the Iraq regime and Al Qaeda, saying that he didn't have better information than they did, and the Veep's spokesman says see there, we did cooperate fully with the Commission!

Nice try, but "the story" remains that the only connection between the war on Iraq and the "war on terror" is that the latter was used for cover for the former.

Antonin "Duck blind" Scalia dodged the shotgun blast he would have been posing for had Cheney v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia been a 5-4 decision. Seven Supremes saluted the notion that the Executive could keep pretty much whatever secrets it sees fit, domestic as well as foreign. Joan Lukey's analysis in The Washington Post notes the key maneuver was to avoid claiming "executive privilege" and thereby open the information to judicial review. The administration claimed its judicially unconstrained executive power.

"No previous president, when confronted with a judicial demand for documents related to a domestic issue, has ever responded with a claim of executive power. That the Supreme Court has accepted that assertion is stunning. The majority has excused the administration from complying with the only process that assures the courts the right of review when an administration refuses to honor a subpoena and has accepted the argument that the vice president was acting under his executive powers, a realm into which the judiciary cannot intrude. Against the backdrop of this decision, the question now is this: If the vice president is ordered by the lower courts to reveal documents, will the administration honor such orders?"

Sometimes a blog entry is so perfectly correct that we can only bow in admiration. Mr Sun! does indeed accurately identify the zenith of lameness: "electric football." (Mr Sun! and I also agree on how cool grain elevators are.)

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

A Child's ABCs of Terrorism:

A is for al Qaeda and amnesia. Are you old enough to remember when the War on Terror was being fought against people who actually attacked us?

That big, we-made-the-national-news "terrorist trial" in Idaho is over, with the result that the government couldn't convict him on any substantive charges and will settle for his deportation. Now that he's spent more time in jail than the immigration charges he might be guilty of would warrant.

When the Christian Soliders march Onward to the polls in November, does GWB get a free pass just because he talks about Jesus more? Surely Kerry can match up in a contest of religiosity, if someone really believes that's a criterion for holding the office. The gospel according to Karl may turn out to have some mixed messages, and mixed results. Consider the quote from the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches:

"Bush has shown an ideological commitment to the literalist Christian tradition at the expense of the broader view of the larger religious community. He is the first president not to meet with the leadership of mainline Christian traditions since George Washington. We've been able to talk with the prime minister of Britain and the chancellor of Germany, but not our own president. And we would have had some positive things to say," Edgar said, mentioning Bush's $15 billion international HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment program. "But on moral questions, like the morality of going to war, we felt the president should have listened more carefully."

The horrendous statistics of incarceration in this country still boggle the imagination. We have more than 2 million men and women in prisons and jails, and the racial divide is stark: in 2002, 10% of black males age 20 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2.4% of Hispanic males and 1.2% of white males the same age.

Neal Peirce, columnist in The Seattle Times notes that the abuses that have recently made the news are not confined to military prisons: Abu Ghraib hits home.

Gee, what are they afraid we might hear? Pentagon tried to censor coverage of Saddam's hearing but didn't quite get the job done.

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

We went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight, paid our dues.

It's gut-wrenching. Sick. And funny. I don't really think it should be funny, but that's just the way Moore works. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. If you've been reading along here, you've already seen a lot of the topics, from October, 2002 and February and March, 2003. I hope it helps make some of the Undecided decide to vote Bush out of office in November. It sure as hell ought to.

For some reason, I thought he was going to show Bush's 7 minutes of inaction in Florida on that fateful day, verbatim. Instead he skipped forward and used snippets of it. How powerful would it have been to devote 7 minutes of his feature-length documentary, with no editorial voiceover, just the plodding and uninteresting elementary school classroom and the strange, blank look from our "strong and steady" leader?

I guess I don't really know, and I'm not making documentaries that are making millions of dollars, so who am I to say, anyway?

I used the services of pobox.com to take me through multiple ISP changes while maintaining a stead email address for many years: tva@pobox.com. Last year I realized it was kind of silly to keep paying for that (even though $15/year ain't much, and I think they offer a fine service) when I was also paying for my own domain name, and my webhost server could be (and had been, in many cases) forwarding my email just as effectively. Today's my last day with that old "lifetime" email address, and judging by the percentage of incoming spam that went to it, I'll be well-served by the change. I didn't try to disguise the address on my web pages, so that made for hundreds of harvesting opportunities for your average 'bot. As of a few moments ago, I changed all the mailto links on the site with some elementary spoofing -- elementary to a human intelligence, at least, but I hope sufficiently incomprehensible to address harvesting software. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Deep in the heart of a cactus flower Remember the first day of school, that mixture of excitement, dread and everything being brand new? Or how about that dream you had when you showed up late and the rest of the class was already there, and to make matters worse, you forgot to put on any clothes!

This morning's dream was a little different: that Kayla's notice of summer school stated explicitly that July 5th was the first day, and there were only 19 days to the summer school session and you were only allowed to miss One Day. Since failure is not an option, she was there bright and early, for the 8:00 start, and I was there to introduce myself to her teacher and let him know how fully I was going to be participating in Algebra this month.

Except... no one else was there. A sign posted on one of the many front doors said "Summer school 2nd session starts Tuesday, July 6th." Brilliant, huh? They forgot the 5th was a holiday when they made the schedule and sent out the notices? And couldn't be troubled to tell the kids who weren't there to hear about it during the first session?

I guess when you run a high school, you don't have to care about that sort of stuff. You're in charge, all the kids have to do what you say and if they don't like it, that's tough. Oh I'm so sorry you didn't get the notice. Better luck next time. Needless to say, our teenager was not a happy camper, having truncated her holiday plans and crawled out of bed a couple hours earlier than she would've liked. 30 years on, I'm still annoyed by incompetence and rudeness, but no longer shocked. And, I have some experience at the antidote: living well is the best revenge.

Robert X. Cringely's continuing exploration of video compression: How Narrowband Streaming Video Could Serve 90 Million Stranded Americans. I like the techy stuff about what's inside our heads:

"The retina, whether it is in a salamander or a South Carolinian, gathers visual data, encodes that data, then sends it over the optic nerve to the brain's visual cortex. Since the optic nerve is both a slow road and bumpy, and since we rely on our eyesight all the time to keep us from being killed, what vision comes down to is as much the avoidance of error as it is the acceptance of image. So the retina makes an estimate of a visual scene or image based upon evolutionary knowledge of the statistical structure of natural scenes."

Ben Tripp noticed that the Polls Get Stupider: "When I was coming up in the world, reversing one's position wasn't inherently bad, because there was such a thing as 'facing the wrong direction.'"

William Safire and I agree on more than just some fine points of language. In his weekday column, he says John Ashcroft should depart in a second term. Why wait? And why have a second term after the debacle to date?

How about this Irish journalist going mano a mano with GWB? He seemed overmatched, hard-pressed to recite his clichés over her pointed follow-up questions. "Let me finish," he said, over and over again. (Well, 4 times, at least, by the White House transcript.)

4th of July fun with sparklers and other burning things The NY Times reports sales of more than 220 million pounds of "consumer" fireworks last year, and I imagine this year's traffic was even closer to one pound per capita. Somebody else had to light off my share this year, and there was no shortage of volunteers. Our block alone had three gaggles banging and lighting up the night, past midnight. I do hope they've shot their wad and we can come out of the basement tonight. I used to like fireworks so much, too... I see how one becomes curmudgeonly.

I had fun taking pictures, though. It's a challenge to find the middle ground between white-hot magnesium burning the center of the image and gathering up the colored trails of unpredictable launches. I suppose going to the main show at the fairgrounds would have made it simpler, but then there would be more of the problematic stray light from superfluous lamps. Sometimes the simplest entertainment is best: kids with sparklers made the most interesting images, to my eye.

This week's Times Magazine feature piece on The Chinese Century has one arresting fact after another. "China is home to close to 1.5 billion people, probably, which would make the official census count of 1.3 billion too low by an amount equal to roughly the population of Germany, France and the United Kingdom combined. China has 100 cities of more than a million people." 300 million mobile-phone users. 100 million people "comfortably middle class."

You think California is big and crowded? Sichuan (province) is slightly larger than California, but three times as populous."

"China will produce 325,000 engineers this year. That's five times as many as in the US, where the number of engineering graduates has been declining since the early 1980s. It is hard to imagine Americans' enthusiasm for engineering sinking lower. Forty percent of all students who enter universities on the engineering track change their minds."

Along with that chauffeurs license, you get a license to spy: "Highway Watch" has 10,000 truckers keeping an eye on the roads for us, with $40 million of Homeland Security funding somehow involved. From northern Arkansas, Jo Anna Cartwright's report: "We got a terroristic phone call the other day, but it turned out it was just the boyfriend of an employee."

"People taking pictures of bridges" is suspicious these days. I wonder if anyone dialed the state police when I was on the Five Mile overpass a couple weeks ago taking pictures to illustrate the concept of "traffic jam" for a slide show I'm working on? I guess a photographer at anything other than a Newsworthy® or family event is inherently suspicious.

Port Watch, River Watch and Transit Watch will be covering the other vectors of transportation.

4th of July Permanent URL to this day's entry

Neighborhood sparklers It's the glorious American holiday, light the fuse! Barbara Ehrenreich suggests this is a good time to take a closer look at the Declaration of Independence and recall what it was we didn't like about George III. "Depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury," "affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power," "transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation," and such like.

Ehrenreich's filling in for the vacationing Thomas Friedman for a month, should be interesting.

Word is that Ford's gas-electric hybrid design is made in America, not just copied from Toyota. Cross-licensing is good to keep everyone out of court and it certainly opens up the design space not to be having to dodge patent claims. I just hope they did at least as well as Toyota's design team... sounds like the A/C system lacks the "Auto" setting that lets the Prius cycle the gas engine as required to keep the passengers cool in traffic jams.

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

Imagine if the daily newspaper decided to take a few days off and didn't publish for, oh, 3 days or so. The world would keep spinning, of course, but the business might not hold up too well. Thank goodness running a weblog isn't a business for me!

One of the various things that took up my time was completing the roll of a website I've been working to remodel for the last several months, Idaho OnePlan, a project of the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation Districts, promoting sustainable agriculture in our state. In addition to learning quite a bit about agriculture and its regulation along the way, I also learned how to make a dynamic menu system with extended server-side includes (SSI). The left-hand navigation column on all the pages is done with a single include file, using the "extended" control to turn off the redundant link for the current page, and to expand sub-menus as needed.

Midday clouds trailing virga, with a rainbow on top Watching the weather is a rewarding pastime these days, too; we're having a lot of it, with afternoon thunderstorms more regular than anything else in the last couple weeks. There has been a lot of virga, too -- rain that evaporates before it reaches the ground. I've been watching for photo opportunities, and on Thursday there was a great one: a well-profiled cloud trailing wisps of virga, with rainbow colors across the top edge. I needed to set some exposure compensation (or maybe have a filter?) but it didn't last long enough for all that; had to take the best I could get out of 4 shots.

The NY Times Travel Escapes section has a link for 36 hours in Sun Valley, Idaho, teasing us with this: "Despite an influx of star power and money, Sun Valley and adjacent Ketchum haven't really changed much in the last 30 years." Maybe that's true if you just stop in for a vacation from New York a couple times a decade, but I suspect anyone from the neighborhood would laugh in your face at the claim that Sun Valley 2004 is pretty much the same as Sun Valley 1974.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Monday, 02-Aug-2004 10:34:10 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200407.html