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30.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I'm a little surprised to find I don't have any of Richard Dawkins' books on my reading list, but I known I've read one ore more and enjoyed them. Gordy Slack has an interview with Dawkins on Salon today, in which Dawkins "explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages."

"We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other. The very large numbers of people in the United States and in Europe who don't subscribe to that worldview are caught in the middle.

"Actually, holy alliance would be a better phrase. Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional 'next world' is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.

29.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"There'll be no price gouging at gas pumps in America," says our President. I guess those record profits that ExxonMobil's making are just the result of good management and high productivity?

Bridge for sale! Getcher red hot bridges right here!

On the plus side, it does seem like he's starting to talk sense about Social Security, although he's still jabbering about "will be bankrupt" with no basis in fact but a sufficiently infinite horizon for proving him wrong. My guess is that the handlers are happy to keep the quirk because it provides such a nice soundbite his supporters can parrot and because it distracts from the other bankruptcy issue, that fat gift he provided to the credit card companies at the expense of those least able to afford it. He can't let go of private accounts, which I'll support too, just as soon as I see a sound proposal for funding them without a huge increase in the deficit.

(Oh and he could use a little history brush-up: "We haven't addressed the Social Security problem since 1983" is another brain fart on his part. Just forgot? Doesn't consider the signficant changes made in the 1990s significant enough? Another scripted deception? You be the judge...)

Tom Friedman quotes Bill Gates' report card on US schools, something more fundamental than what No Child Left Behind seeks to address: "American high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed and underfunded.... By obsolete, I mean that our high schools—even when they are working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today."

MIX daily closing stock price for March and April, through yesterday NY attorney general Eliot Spitzer moves one step closer toward modern-day hero status, with a lawsuit filed against Intermix Media for its "several types of invasive and annoying" programs, a.k.a. adware and spyware. They've sucked in "tens of millions" downloads, most of 4 million in NY alone.

Intermix is running hard to distance itself from the "legacy" of its previous leadership, said they voluntarily quit "earlier this month." If you sold short on news that Spitzer was investigating the company, congratulations!

The experts ruled the day with this clear understanding: "Everybody knows you always start with scissors." The only part about the story that's disappointing is that they played by writing down a word on paper rather than the traditional, manual method.

Excerpt of Nat'l Cancer Institute exposure map Today's Front Pages is a nifty site that lets you browse images from newspapers around the world. (How do they do all that, every day?!) The "map view" is especially cool! The pages with the newspaper images include links to their websites. Added "Newseum" to the "World News" links on the left. (Thanks to Public News Service for the link; how many more of their long list are as wonderful?)

Today's Statesman, for example, has a big feature on the "long awaited report compensation for downwinders" that said "there is no scientific reason to add Idaho or any specific region to a federal program that pays $50,000 to cancer victims of Cold War bomb testing." This in spite of the glaring hot spot in Central Idaho where the "per capita thyroid doses resulting from all exposure routes from all tests" exceeded 100 times the normal background exposure.

28.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"I'm innocent, I tells ya! That 25 mil I forgot to put on my tax return? Hey, I just overlooked it. I wuz busy back then!"

Another variant of the Larry Ebbers defense I guess, "I'm really not that bright."

"It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money."
--Paul Wolfowitz
Tom Friedman has a notion about who's the best man for the U.N., and it isn't John Bolton. Duh. That's so obvious even some of the Republicans have figured it out.

Robert Wright, on the future of terrorism and how to combat it:

"Unless I've overlooked an option, there is ultimately no alternative to international arms control. It will have to be arms control of a creatively astringent, even visionary, sort. And achieving it will be a long haul - incremental, halting progress, over many years, through a series of flawed but improving agreements that are at first less than global in scope. But for now the details don't matter, because the Bush administration opposes the basic idea.

"Why? Because John Bolton is not just the undersecretary for arms control, but the guiding spirit, so far, of the administration's arms control philosophy. To get other nations to endure intrusive monitoring, America would have to submit to such monitoring. People of Mr. Bolton's ideological persuasion insist that this amounts to a sacrifice of American sovereignty. And they're right; it's just a less objectionable sacrifice of sovereignty than letting terrorists blow up your cities."

It boils down to yet another reason not to have John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. Coincidentally.

27.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tracking the birth and rise of a new meme seems to be something for which blogging is inherently suited. On the one hand, the parody that started it was light-hearted humor; on the other, it nicely encompasses the principles and purposes of liberal religion. I don't suppose the religious atavisms that are fomenting division, parochialism, war and the like are any more receptive to the message in this form than the direct approach, unfortunately.

Carlos Lazo is a sergeant in the National Guard, served as a combat medic in Iraq, and is only allowed to visit his family once every three years. He figures the reason is that President Bush's political calculation to "ensure his reelection by catering to a small but politically powerful group of anti-Castro extremists who demand complete isolation of Cuba as the price of their support," and he's not too happy about it.

In the voting for "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the (last) century," George's buddy Vladimir is going with "the demise of the Soviet Union."

26.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thanks for clicking those Amazon Associate links on my site and helping support this little habit. Q1 set a record for me: $15.22 worth of referral fees. A few more quarters like that and I'll be ready to retire. :-)

In case you're curious (I was), there were 8 books ordered, just one of which (David Packard's book) was a "direct link conversion"—interested readers found the others on their own:

25.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

William Thatcher Dowell on American Wahabbis and the Ten Commandments: "It is doubtful that the prohibition on 'graven images' was really concerned with images like the engraving of George Washington on the dollar bill. Rather it cautions against endowing a physical object, be it a 'golden calf' or a two-ton slab of granite, with spiritual power....

"In a strange way, George Bush may now find himself in the same kind of trap that ensnared Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. To gain political support, Saud mobilized the fanatical, ultra-religious Wahabbi movement -- the same movement which is spiritually at the core of al-Qaeda. Once the bargain was done, the Saudi Royal Family repeatedly found itself held political hostage to an extremist, barely controllable movement populated by radical ideologues. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has found himself in a similar situation, drawing political power from the swing votes of the ultra-orthodox rightwing religious and fanatical settler's movement, and then finding his options limited by their obstinacy to change. President Bush has spent the last several months cajoling evangelicals and trying to pay off the political bill for their support."

Matt Groening on pushing the boundaries: "There are a whole lot of people in this country who are eager to be offended."

Robert Scheer on The Contract on America: "Here's the agenda, as laid out by the president and the Republicans who control Congress: First, limit people's power to right wrongs done to them by corporations. Next, force people to repay usurious loans to credit card companies that make gazillions off the fine print. Then, for the coup de grace, hand over history's most successful public safety net to Wall Street."

You may recognized the agenda by the focus-group sharpened terminology, "tort reform" of those damn trial lawyers, "eliminating abuse of bankruptcy" and "saving Social Security."

I flipped onto a C-Span segment with Justices O'Connor, Scalia and Breyer talking to Tim Russert in the last couple days. The Supremes make for a cozy fireside chat, as Thomas and Kennedy showed equally well on their recent visit to Congress to keep their budget going. (That's in the C-Span archive, too, btw.) O'Connor noted that they spend most of their time reading, and estimated the workload at about 1,500 pages a day. (But is that double-spaced with big margins, or nasty legalese in fine print?)

24.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

James Howard Kunstler finds the canonical automobile advertisement while visiting the International Auto Show: "You are all alone in your car in a beautiful environment."

Time to "re-think our national obsession with easy motoring? Not so. At least not among the people I spoke with at random. Their delusions were strikingly florid, in fact, the most common and basic one being that America possesses a bountiful supply of oil -- if only the sundry enviro-freaks and corporate chiselers would let us at it."

Frank Rich on "the much-awaited 'Justice Sunday,' the judge-bashing rally being disseminated nationwide by cable, satellite and Internet from a megachurch in Louisville":

"Bush judicial nominees have been approved in exactly the same numbers as were Clinton second-term nominees. Of the 13 federal appeals courts, 10 already have a majority of Republican appointees. So does the Supreme Court. It's a lie to argue, as Tom DeLay did last week, that such a judiciary is the 'left's last legislative body,' and that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, is the poster child for 'outrageous' judicial overreach. Our courts are as highly populated by Republicans as the other two branches of government."

Spurge leaves in the shade Jim Pinto's got an interesting email newsletter which he has archived on the web. It started with industrial automation and engineering issues, but it branches out considerably, into politics and global economics. Two things of interest from back issues, "The China Price," inspired by the cover story of the Dec. 6 2004 Business Week; and two articles about modern slavery.

"A new book, The Chinese Century has a clear message: 'If you still make anything labor intensive, get out now rather than bleed to death. Shaving 5% here and there won't work. You need an entirely new business model to compete.'"

"There are more human slaves today than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade, and more than at any time in human history.... In 1850, a slave would cost about $40,000 in today's dollars. Today, you can acquire a 'slave' for $30. So, the cheap availability of slave labor has converted them from being the equivalent of buying an automobile to buying cheap, disposable goods." (More on the subject from The Christian Science Monitor.)

There are two sides to every story, and the End of the Oil Age story is no different. If you need a jolt of sunny optimism, check out Peter Huber's and Mark Mills' new book, The Bottomless Well: The Twilight Of Fuel, The Virtue Of Waste, And Why We Will Never Run Out Of Energy. "We think up new ways to use energy as fast as we think of new ways to find and seize it." The Publisher's Weekly take: "Long on Nietzschean bombast but short on some crucial specifics, theirs is an intriguing but incomplete vision of energy policy and prospects." Jim Pinto was enthusiastic about it, sounds like an interesting read, at least.

You can get a longer preview from Huber and Mills from a February article in Slate.

23.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

My home computer was knocked out of commission yesterday, suddenly close to comatose. Had I somehow picked up a virus in email in spite of my ISP's screening, my firewalls, my virus scanner, my safe viewing practices? I was able to bring it up in Safe Mode and was sufficiently alarmed to do a full backup; that ran to 6 DVDs, long past bedtime and resumed this morning. I'm "only" using 22GB of what might be 10 times as much HD space, and didn't feel I had the luxury to pick and choose the 10% (I'm guessing) of stuff that I really care about and that's not already well backed-up multiple times.

After multiple tries to sleuth it out and using Task Manager to see what was using 99% of the CPU, a search for "winxp system cpu usage pegged 99%" turned up the fact that I was not alone in my problem. My TrendMicro virus software had turned against me! The fix was simple: boot in Safe Mode and delete the most recent virus definition file, LPT$VPN.594. Having done that and loaded a new update file (with some trepidation!), I see they're at .598, so there was scrambling at their end in the last 24 hours, too. I wasn't too keen on them breaking my system, or on their response, requiring me to figure out what was wrong and go find the instructions for the fix. I never got past the Muzak on their support line, nor an answer to my email (sent with another system; it's good to have two at times like this).

Here's the "teach them to fish" answer to the fresh water needs of tsunami victims, putting those Stanford kids' smarts to good use.

When you've got a billion workers, they come cheap. That's what greases Wal-Mart's wheels to provide those "everyday low prices." Jonathan Tasini on "One canít help note the delicious irony that Wal-Martís 'free market' leadership is powered by an authoritarian regime that still refers to itself as communist." Delicious? One man's meat is another man's poison, I guess.

Given the anti-clean air initiative ("Clear Skies") and the anti-tree initiative ("Healthy Forests"), we really shouldn't be surprised at the nomination of an anti-ambassador, should we? John Bolton suggests we don't need the top 10 floors of the UN. (yo, Homeland Security, ain't that a threat?)

David Ignatius thinks "the problem with Bolton, in fact, is that he epitomizes the politicization of intelligence that helped produce the fiasco over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

Earth Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Water was on the discussion list for Science Friday today, and I overhead this startling fact from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment while running an errand: 250,000 people were killed by the tsunami, but that many people die each month as a result of chemical and biological pollution of water. The tsunami was in late December... so since that grabbed and held our consciousness and charitable impulses (if ever so briefly), 4 more tsunamis worth of people have been killed by bad water.

"Google's business model is an opaque black box that mints money. The risk of owning Google is you have to trust them to keep that working." -- Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, who "recommends the company's shares but does not own any himself" according to The NY Times. There are a lot of happy campers who had 10% minted onto their GOOG holding with the latest quarterly: revenue nearly doubled, and profit up 5x, not too shabby.

After some fussing and fighting with MS Word 2003 (after Publisher told me it couldn't do a mail merge and I should use Word instead), I finally Googled "msword printing 4-up mailmerge." I thought that I'd found the essential clue from a discussion forum, to "use a label-type merge," but in fact the clue I needed was the "Next Record" field (which is listed in the popup dialog as "Next" and which doesn't show when you first insert it!?) so that I didn't get 4 copies of the same address on each page.

For posterity, here's what else I learned along the way:

After going through the Merge wizard, I printed to two PDF files: one with 82 pages and 328 postcard images, each with a unique address; and the other just one page, with 4 images for the back. I should've put the bit-intensive graphics on the back (non-address) side, but didn't; that made the "front" file over 7MB.

21.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can Mr. Bush and Benedict XVI tear down that wall of church-state separation in the U.S.? Sidney Blumenthal's worried that that's on the agenda, following Bush's successful lobbying of the Vatican to take political action against John Kerry last fall.

Just-in-time relief for those energy companies struggling to figure out how to keep setting record profits: $8 billion in tax breaks. Bush's response actually makes it seem like he understands this is counterproductive, but I guess we'll see what happens if and when the bill gets to his desk.

(Given the price of oil and gas,) "there are plenty of incentives. What we need is to put a strategy in place that will help this country over time become less dependent."

Listening to some twit down the street race his two-stroke motorcycle up and down the street, I'm imagining one of the positive aspects of the coming-to-your-neighborhood-soon peak oil experience: motorized recreants will have to find something else to occupy themselves.

Bit of a dust-up at the Air Force Acadamy, planted right there in the nexus of right-wing evangelicity: it seems the 1 in 10 non-Christian cadets don't all feel tolerated. ("They are calling me a... Jew and that I am responsible for killing Christ" kind of thing.) They all have to take a 50-minute class on learning how to respect other religious values, which seems fairly reasonable to me, but not so to Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family. According to the L.A. Times report, he says he thinks "a witch hunt is underway to root out Christian beliefs."

20.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Maureen Dowd's assessment of the new pontiff: "The white smoke yesterday signaled that the Vatican thinks what it needs to bring it into modernity is the oldest pope since the 18th century: Joseph Ratzinger, a 78-year-old hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth. For American Catholics - especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols - the cafeteria is officially closed. After all, Cardinal Ratzinger, nicknamed 'God's Rottweiler' and 'the Enforcer,' helped deny Communion rights to John Kerry and other Catholic politicians in the 2004 election."

Is water just another commodity to be controlled by global corporations, bought and sold for a profit? Or does the fact that it's essential for life make it different?

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians' Blue Planet Project is in town for the conference being put on yesterday and today by the Andrus Center for Public Policy, Troubled Water: Exploring solutions for the western water crisis, and we were in the audience of about 100 to hear her speak last night. (You can see the Statesman's coverage of the day's events, ever so briefly free. Maybe their special report, Troubled Water, and the articles linked there will be more durable?)

"Water is a human right. It should be delivered as a public service, not for profit." She started with three main points: Scarcity, Equity, Contest. First of all, we are not dealing with local, cyclical drought; we are dealing with a global crisis. We are depleting groundwater, polluting surface water and diverting supplies in ways that reduce their availability. Poverty and scarcity go together. "There's anarchy coming" to Asia, with India and China's surface waters largely polluted beyond use. It's forecast that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population won't have adequate access to clean water. Sides are forming, to determine who will control the resource, and if you believe the large corporations have only a fair profit and the world's best interests at heart, let's talk about a bridge I have for sale. If you believe that scarcity and equity are going to be improved by The World Bank and "free" trade agreements, I have several bridges you might be interested in.

Barlow's book titles include Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water (with Tony Clarke). She's been a social activist for some years and speaks passionately about what she believes in, often with first hand experience of what you read about in the papers: the Mexican border, Seattle ("I was on the streets of Seattle. I got tear-gassed."); and what you don't read about in the papers, such as Uruguay amending its Constitution to say that "public service of water supply for human consumption will be served exclusively and directly by state legal persons" -- that is, not by for-profit corporations.

There were some corporate reps in the audience, including the local head of United Water (a subsidiary of one of the Big Three, Suez; the other 2 are Vivendi and RWE Thames), most of whom didn't identify themselves in any way. There was one curmudgeonly wildcat well-digger who seemed to be in favor of damming up every little stream possible, the way the early sheepherders did, against most anybody, but especially anybody coming to take something from him. ("I want to make a statement," he started, during the Q&A...) Most of us leaned with the uncomfortable sense that there's something wrong with putting profit ahead of basic human needs, but wondering if or how we could resist the forces that are working retail, wholesale and worldwide to hunt down and commodify fresh water supplies.

Of the big three companies in bottled water (Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé), two use tap water, essentially, with a little reverse osmosis and mineralization to make it "special." 100 billion liters were put in plastic bottles last year, and the industry is growing by 20% a year. "Coke uses U.S. military satellite imagery to find water." The Statesman coverage included CH2MHill engineer Jan Dell's observation that you can by Fiji water London, Brazil and Boise. That makes sense for someone's profit, I suppose, but seems like misdirected resources at the very least.

The World Water Forum is a quasi-UN organization that is actually pro-privatization. Look for some excitement at their next meeting, March 2006 in water-stressed Mexico City. The World Bank (soon to be headed by your favorite neo-con) and GATT lubricate the ways for commodifying and corporatizing water. The agenda is to privatize and deregulate to maximize profit. (It worked so well with electricity...) Trade agreements enforce a one-way trend: once you privatize, there's no going back.

Mike Jones spoke up about the basic schizophrenia of Idaho: founded by and always beholden to extractive industries, and yet with a mean streak of independence. Maybe we'll "get up on our hind legs" and fight when they come to take our water? Barlow noted "you could substitute 'Canada' everywhere you said 'Idaho' and it would also be true." In Boise and elsewhere in Idaho we've always had privately-supplied domestic water, which puts us outside the 85% mainstream of the US, at least. Canada and Japan have private water, and it works, just fine.

On another "maximizing profit" angle, the parade of hero-CEOs taking Hewlett-Packard to the cleaners (while the main work of the corporation seems to be cleaning out older employees) makes me sick. $20M for Capellas to waltz away from the Compaq merger, $40+M to get rid of Fiorina, and now Mark Hurd's contract with "first-year performance goals for his annual bonus and long-term incentive are, as of his first day at work, 'deemed to have been achieved at target.'" What in the hell?!

"The telling little extras that are the true hallmarks of a savior CEO's contract: a $2 million signing bonus, a $2.75 million relocation allowance, and price protection up to $6.6 million on the NCR options Hurd did not forfeit, just in case his departure from NCR caused the stock to tank, which in fact it did. (And) my favorite feature of a savior CEO's contract: HP will pay Hurd's lawyer for negotiating those expensive terms."

Called a local number, and unexpectedly got a woman asking the area code and number I'd dialed. I was thinking "why should I have to tell someone that?" and before I could say anything, she said "no response, disconnecting" and hung up.

I punched it in again and was ready for the (different) gal this time. "Why do I have to tell someone that?" She said there was some problem with the number, and instead of getting a recording, I was getting a person. "Cool," I said, and told her the number I'd just entered.

She then switched me to a recording that said "the number is not in service. No other information is available."

That's the Qwest spirit of service, I guess.

19.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If I were voting for a slogan to put on a billboard in Texas, I'd vote for this one: "We apologize for the DeLay, public service will resume shortly."

The new, improved USDA food pyramid There's a new, stylin' food pyramid out from the USDA, with steps up the side to remind you to get off your butt and get some exercise instead of just sitting around all day and eating. (Looks like their web servers need to get lean and mean, too; they're not keeping up with the demand on the day of the big rollout.)

With the samples at the bottom of each slice, it rather looks like your grocery bags slid down a ramp and broke open, but let that be.

Turns out no chimney cam needed after all: only one day of black then white today and we've got ourselves a new Pope. Benedict XVI, giving us something to study: who were the first 15? I sense some age discrimination at work here: electing someone who's 78 means you won't be stuck with a choice you didn't like for too long.

18.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Remember the excitement you felt when you heard Karen Hughes was coming back to the Bush team to jazz up their effort for public diplomacy? Hold that thought: she's not going to start work until the fall

Bush's thought seems to be "What, me hurry?"

There are many graphs which look good going up and to the right. Number of unread email messages is not one of those, but if you've subscribed to lists and newsletters more often than you've unsubscribed, I bet your graph goes that way. Outlook2003 has the obviously useful feature of bundling all your unread messages into one horrific view and doing you the favor of counting them. You did so want to know, didn't you? So rather than just fretting about one gross of messages in my Inbox today, I can think about the 470 messages I haven't read (many of which I did start to read, decided I did want to read, but not right now).

I cleaned up a few of them, anyway, and was content to note that at least some of my instincts for saving things were correct. The pointer to Joel Spolsky's column, It's Not Just Usability, for example. That was worth saving, and coming back to, if for no other reason than to explain why it is that I dislike software-mediated social networks such as LinkedIn (in brief, and when I get to it, in the longer and brilliantly titled essay by Danah Boyd, Autistic Social Software).

"They assume that you can rate your friends. In some cases, they procedurally direct how people can engage with new people by giving you an absolute process through which you can contact others." They also can provide a perfectly cogent explanation for why they've chosen their procedure and it makes sense, Even though it doesn't really.

Mob scene vs. corporate image, or Bloggerz rule vs. blogger rules. Blogging was still pretty much under the radar when I was institutionalized, but I was old enough to recognize the need for at least as much circumspection as in any other public utterance. If you want to keep your job, you have to save up the really juicy stuff for a tell-all something-or-other, and then go out with a flourish. Musing about the company's financial condition in traceable public, during your first two weeks on the job... you have to wonder how somebody doing that was able to make himself look smart enough to get hired by the company to begin with.

On the 60th anniversary of his death, a quote from F.D.R.: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." Thanks to Bob Herbert for that, and the reminder of the date. E=mc2

It's also the 50th anniversary of Albert Einstein's death.

Christopher Hitchens had some thoughts over the grave of John Paul II, and wrote them down. Let's just say he's not as big on hero worship as the masses were, and while he appreciates the apologies, there's still work to be done.

If you don't like Hitchens' ascerbic point of view, Slate has more to choose from, including an "explainer" which asks (but doesn't explain) why didn't they embalm the pope?

17.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can the US stop using oil by 2050? (Will we have a choice?!) Amory Lovins says yes, and has a detailed plan.

Searching Google today suggests there is not yet a Sistine Chapel Chimney Cam but it seems obvious there should be one. How 'bout it Romans?

As the stench around Tom DeLay ripens, the opposition must be thinking there's no particular hurry in getting it all resolved. As Frank Rich so inimitably describes, the ever-more-recognizable plot is providing ample instruction on the reasons to keep church and state well-separated.

"Beltway cronyism, dubious junkets, loophole-laden denials are all, of course, time-honored Washington fare. The few on the right backing away from Mr. DeLay, from The Wall Street Journal's editorial page to Newt Gingrich, make a point of reminding us of that. As they see it, more in sorrow than in anger, the Gingrich revolutionaries who vowed to end the corruption practiced by Congressional Democrats have now been infected by the same Washington virus as their opponents. That's true, but this critique of Mr. DeLay and company by their own camp all too conveniently sidesteps the distinguishing feature of this scandal. Democratic malefactors like Jim Wright and L.B.J.'s old fixer Bobby Baker didn't wear the Bible on their sleeves."

What ultimately matters (at least if he doesn't get booted directly), is what the folks back home in Sugar Land think. Some of them are getting restive, and coming up with catchy slogans like "Put the Hammer in the Slammer!"

"Death solves all problems: no man, no problem."
-- Josef Stalin
Our answers to the Ayatollahs are also providing object lessons on church-state separation, quoting Stalin, no less, to express their response to what they deem an "activist" (when they're being nice, "Imperial" when they're not) judiciary.

Dana Milbank reports on the 2 day conference of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration, in The Washington Post.

15.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Back to that faith and superstition meme, we read that the Senate majority leader is Set to Use Religious Stage on Judicial Issue, "join(ing) a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as 'against people of faith' for blocking President Bush's nominees."

Never mind that plenty of Democrats (including the ones in Congress) are "people of faith" and/or amply religious, and that the vast majority of Bush's nominees have been approved. There's a strong element of superstition in supposing that every nominee stood up by the Bush administration should be rubber-stamped by the Republican majority of the Senate. This issue's language-control parameter is the "up or down vote," apparently now embodying the ultimate in democracy. You're either with us or against us, and the up or down vote will allow us to determine which.

Listen to Tony Perkins, president of the telecast's organizer, the Family Research Council (formerly the Family, Motherhood and Apple Pie Research Council) spell out the battle for Good and Evil in no uncertain terms:

"As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism. For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms."

Not much to say, but Oh

Want a cleaner Congress? Don't DeLay! Speaking of language control, you all know how much we need that Energy Bill, right? And what a good thing it will be to get those dastardly liability lawyers reined in by 'tort reform'? Try this on for size:

"If oil and chemical companies have their way, a majority of lawsuits like United Water's will be thrown out by Congress as part of the energy bill backed by the Bush administration. The bill, which won easy approval from the House Energy and Commerce Committee late Wednesday, includes a waiver that would protect the chemical makers, which are some of the biggest oil giants in the United States, from all MTBE liability lawsuits filed since September 2003."

"The House majority leader, Tom DeLay, and Representative Joe L. Barton, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, are staunch supporters of the waiver. Both are Republicans from Texas, where more than a dozen MTBE manufacturers are based...."

The Senate is not so enthusiastic, and has blocked the Energy Bill because of this waiver, previously. Expect a fight: "The MTBE waiver issue is Priority 1, 2 and 3 for the refining industry," said Lawrence J. Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York. "Without it they aren't going to get behind the energy bill."

If there's good news about MTBE, it's that you can easily recognize contamination from it: "With its powerful turpentine-like taste and odor, MTBE makes water undrinkable," well below the level that would be an undisputed health concern.

Tax day, state-side. I had our first-ever estimated tax payment lined up and ready to go a few days ahead of the deadline, and then it almost got lost in the shuffle. The good news is, it fluttered out to Jeanette's attention when she was taking out some recycling. Yikes! She dropped it in the mail yesterday.

I think the excerpt from Otto Reich in the WSJ (paid subscription required, which I don't have, PDPR sent me the link) regarding Bolton's confirmation hearing is best read aloud, with gesticulation and spluttering:

"(R)egardless of the outcome of the hearings, he has provided another valuable service: he has revealed Senate hearings to be the weapon of choice of vicious and anonymous staffers and their narcissistic bosses to engage in character assassination and ideological vendettas."

You've seen the communique from Unitarian Jihad, haven't you?

"Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution."

If you're ready to learn more, or participate, you must also be ready for the UU Wiki on the topic.

14.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Staying at the Holiday Inn in Ft. Collins on a business trip, of all things, I get to tap into the Zeitgeist via USA Today. Cultural self-assessment is becoming quite finely tuned:

"Tiger Woods' chip shot on the 16th hole Sunday at The Masters got a 116 rating out of 200 by TiVo... Woods' shot was below the 180 that Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction got at the 2004 Super Bowl."

12.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

USA Today headline from the he-oughta-know dept.: Rumsfeld Warns Iraqis Against Cronyism.

My wife is on an atheist mailing list, and she hoots and passes things my way from time to time. (I could sign up myself, but god almighty I'm on too many lists already.) One of the messages that's stuck in my mind was about "faith," with the observation that superstition is a working synonym. Since I read that, I've been making the substition when I come across the word in news stories.

The Opposing view in "today's debate" on the assault on the judiciary was from Rick Scarborough, acting chairman of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. (I'm guessing they have more Christians than Judeos in their org.) He begins by citing the conference his organization held last week, "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith."

So many wars, so little time. Crime, Drugs, Terror, Poverty, and now this -- Faith. This is apparently a defensive action by the J-CfCR, however, as we're to understand that judges have gone to war on faith.

11.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ken Lay buys ad words on Google, to bring us his side of the story.

"It's the kind of justice that Gilbert and Sullivan talked about in The Mikado, where big bores would be sentenced to sit through hours-long sermons, and billiard sharps would have to play 'on a cloth untrue/With a twisted cue/And elliptical billiard balls.' The chorus goes on to say:
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time -
To let the punishment fit the crime,
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment,
Of innocent merriment!

Gilbert undoubtedly noted that "slime" would have also fit the rhyme, but went for lighter humor than we find in the present day.

John Schwartz thinks up a few punishments that fit the crime, bringing back my memory of the FengDu temple diorama illustrating the torture of lost souls in order to calibrate the moral compass of the living.

NYT graphic on the projected revenue from the Alternative Minimum Tax Speaking of impending economic crises, there's the Alternative Minimum Tax, that line item that pops up in the usual flow and references forms and instructions you probably haven't heard of. Yet. "Baffling in its complexity and often bizarre in its impact, the alternative minimum tax is a giant undeclared tax increase that will ensnare tens of millions of moderate-income families in the next several years."

The irony, at least, is rich: the AMT was designed to keep the very wealthy from avoiding their fair share of taxes. Those very wealthy sorts have bought and paid for the Republicans running the country into the ground, transferring the work of future generations to current pockets. "If current law remains unchanged, the alternative minimum tax is expected to wring an extra $33.9 billion from 18 million households in 2006. In 2010, it will rake in an additional $100 billion, and by 2015 an extra $200 billion."

The way it worked in Idaho was that we followed the feds' big income tax cuts and raised the sales tax, then started slicing staff and services when ends didn't meet. The little people take it in the shorts as "tax reduction" provides cover for making the system more regressive. Expect more of the same, although without the Constitutional requirement to (nominally) balance the annual budget, the Federal government can/has/does push/pushed the problem to the future.

Krugman, on the more pressing crisis of health care in this country: "We spend far more per person on health care than any other country - 75 percent more than Canada or France - yet rank near the bottom among industrial countries in indicators from life expectancy to infant mortality."

Put another way, "The United States has the most privatized, competitive health system in the advanced world; it also has by far the highest costs, and close to the worst results."

10.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Having been steeped in ample religiosity in the past days, I decided to forgo church attendance today in order to knock off some things on my to-do list. Top on that was my very first estimated tax payment, now that we are no longer sheltered by the convenience (?!) of having taxes withheld from regular paychecks.

I thought the process was to estimate your income and the tax on it for the year, divide by 4 and send in a check. That is the big picture view, but as usual, the details of following the IRS instructions are not so simple as all that.

Then, for a break, a look in at the Masters golf (or as they say in Jojah, "gawf") tournament to see if Tiger Woods caught up and took the lead. Did he ever! When the sun set on Augusta yesterday, the last 2 groups had half of round 3 to finish, and DiMarco had a 4 shot lead at 13 under par. I tuned in just in time to see Tiger and Chris reach the first tee, where Mr. Woods had a 3 stroke lead, courtesy of DiMarco dropping 5 strokes in the back 9, while Tiger picked up 2 more. Those commentators said yesterday that they figured the "real lead" was where Tiger was (then 4 or 5 strokes back), and sure enough, they were right.

I thought about the parallels between religion and golf, all those people standing around the first tee in reverent silence while the big men got up and whacked the ball down the fairway, cheered for each in turn. I'm a Tiger Woods fan, what can I say? There's something satisfying about a human being redefining the limits of performance. And the rest of the tournament (watched some hours later, on video tape) were amply rewarding from that point of view.

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

Still from the GP-B video from Stanford News Service You can now build your own Gravity Probe-B spacecraft, the mission that launched 79 Ph.D. theses over the course of 5 decades. It's coming up on the one-year anniversary of the launch, and the mission director says "all systems go." Well, he's more subtle (and a lot more detailed) than that, actually.

He also says you should get your butt down to L.A. for "the most comprehensive presentation ever mounted on the life and theories of Albert Einstein" at the Skirball Cultural Center through the end of May.

As flash memory prices rocket toward nothingness, a jury in Santa Clara County said the underlying trade secrets–and their misappropriation from Lexar to SanDisk, by Toshiba–are worth just about half a $billion.

Some people get really lit up by spam, and others have better filters. There are economic costs, to be sure: my ISP is spending a lot of time and money on filtering that they could be spending on providing better, faster or cheaper service (or, realistically, making more money). It's an annoyance at the very least. What would you do to someone who you knew was sending out 10 million emails a day? Virginia says 9 years in jail. And not much sympathy, I'm afraid.

Expect a few legal wrinkles to iron out, though: "Jaynes, who is from North Carolina, was charged as an out-of-state resident with violating a Virginia law that had taken effect just weeks before." That doesn't sound right.

8.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Bush administration has repeatedly shown contempt for government at all levels, even as they put a promotional face on everything they do. They cynicism that produces a title of "Clear Skies" for a proposal to relax standards for mercury pollution, for example, is profound. It shouldn't be a surprise that they would come up with a nominee for ambassador to the UN who holds that institution in contempt. (That he also played a role in the WMD fiasco is just a little bonus.)

The New York Times' editorial board assesses John Bolton as The Worst of the Bad Nominees.

Popping passing Pope pix: "But never for a screensaver, or something like that - it's more of a spiritual memento."

7.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Spring daffodil and wintergreen berries That right-to-life culture that has made so much news out of Florida doesn't extend to you threatening types. Their latest legal innovation provides for "the right to open fire against anyone (perceived) as a threat in public." Previously, their law gave you the right if your property was being invaded by an unknown assailant, but the obligation to "first try to avoid the confrontation or flee" before taking action against an assailant in a public place. Jeb says the NRA-backed bill is "a good, commonsense, anti-crime issue."

My rightmost corresponent sent me the pointer under the subject "Wanna bet crime in Fla is about to drop a few points?"

Bill Cope has an innovative solution of his own in mind: wondering why all those eager for the Rapture don't just get along now and let those of us involved with earthly illusions to look after things down here.

"So, pal, my deal is simple: You and yours go on to Heaven and forget about inheriting the Earth since you don't give a damn about what happens to it anyway. We do, so let us have it. That's my deal: We Doubting Thomases inherit the Earth, and you folks go on to your Eternal Bliss and leave us be. I'll even throw all the Mountain Dew on Earth into the swap if we never hear from you again."

6.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

As the paroxysm of piety to honor the dead pope reaches its peak, Nicholas Kristof says it misses the point, widely.

"John Paul wanted world leaders to show compassion for suffering people like these girls, not for dead popes. Mr. Bush and other world leaders flocking to Rome could truly honor the pope by meeting there to establish a protection force in Darfur."

It must be true what they say: behind every good man there's a woman. Or maybe two. "Mrs. DeLay provides big picture, long-term strategic guidance and helps with personnel decisions. Ms. Ferro is a skilled and experienced professional event planner who assists Armpac in arranging and organizing individual events."

Ms. (or is it Mrs.?) Ferro being Tom DeLay's daughter; she and his wife were compensated a tidy half million dollars since 2001 by his political action and campaign committees. Nice work if you can get it!

5.4.5 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our house, on satellite Google maps have added a "satellite" option with relatively new color imagery. Resolution varies, but it sure is fun to drag the zoom slider or pan by dragging and watch the show. PC World's report suggests that "some maps lend themselves to satellite imagery better than others. An overhead view of Manhattan may not help your navigation much; an overhead of the Grand Canyon is quite another thing." Yes, it would be, if they had much resolution of the G.C., which they don't.

Bill Gates, quoted by Tom Friedman, concerning the crisis that a level playing field is creating for this country: "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations...."

digby's post for April 2d was my introduction to his Hullabaloo. "See, the right isn't like us. They think that the so called liberal media is irretrievably biased but believe what they see, read and hear on their own media. We on the left, on the other hand, have no faith in any mainstream media, really, or any alternative media either for that matter. We have developed the habit of culling from various sources and analyzing the information ourselves as best we can. Even then we are very skeptical. Nothing that the media could do would particularly shock or disappoint us."

"It's one thing to get behind jingoistic nationalism and shut your eyes and ears to anything that disturbs that vision of your government. Most wingnuts have a bizarre belief that the government must know best when it comes to national security, despite all evidence to the contrary. But, to see your trusted media blow it so hugely on a personal issue about which most of us have very definite opinions and are pretty well informed, must be quite jarring." (He's talking about "the Schiavo circus," which he supposes might be "the first big tear in the right wing matrix.")

4.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One more taste of winter in an April snowstorm at Bogus Basin. You know it's a good day snowboarding when the powder blasts you in the face over and over again on your heel side turns.

More blessed rain down in the valley, and flowers bursting forth.

The Iraq WMD cover-up has been signed, sealed and delivered, even more effectively than the Iran-Contra affair was dispatched, and by some of the same actors. John Prados looks into Intelligent Manipulation on

"If you saw President George W. Bush the other day and thought he looked relieved as he publicly acceped the conclusions of the commission he had set up to examine U.S. intelligence on the Iraq war, you were exactly right. The event marked the end of a perilous journey for Bush, in which he had set out to neutralize the public's belief that he and other senior officials had deliberately manipulated U.S. intelligence on Iraq to obtain authority to wage aggressive war against another country."

2.Apr.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our Prius, at sunset Toyota did a great job engineering the Prius to be user-friendly. You don't have to plug it in, and you don't have to know or do anything special to get in and drive across town or across the country. You fill it up with gas like a regular car, and other than the funny gear shift lever and the odd display placement, nothing is out of place.

That doesn't stop its enthusiasts from trying ideas to make it better. The car's computers manage the engine and batteries and three motors without user intervention, but sometimes, we users know better. I'm almost home, so switch to the battery. There's a hill coming up (or down), so get ready. I'm just going a couple miles, so how about we just go electric?

Some silly emissions testing rule in this country prompted them to disable the "electric only" button that the new Euro models have, but Ron Gremban (and others) have found workarounds to improve their near-perfect cars.

CalCars, "The California Cars Initiative," has a rundown of recent media coverage including excerpts of the NYT article noted above. On the Prius Tech list, CalCars' founder noted this correction to Hakim's article: "Studies show that the well-to-wheel emissions of electric vehicles fueled from the national grid (50-60% coal) are much lower than those from gasoline internal combustion vehicles. (And a second point on that subject: I don't know who said it first, but I love the comment, 'electric vehicles are the only cars that can get cleaner as they get older -- because the grid can get cleaner.')"

Is Tom DeLay worth defending? Lots of powerful Republicans (and of course his many friends among the lobbyists) think so, but Nick Penniman does not.

"Tom DeLay embodies all of the major liabilities of the Republican Party. In a recent survey conducted by Democracy Corps about the two major political parties, three of the top five negative aspects respondents used to describe Republicans were: 1) For the big corporations and most privileged; 2) Big federal budget deficits; and 3) Greed."

April Fools! Permanent URL to this day's entry

Richard Clarke asks Is a State Sponsor of Terrorism Winning? "In the 1980's, Iran suffered an estimated one million casualties in a seven-year war against Iraq. From Iran's perspective, the purpose of the war was to place Iraq's majority Shiite religious faction in charge, to unseat Saddam Hussein, to protect the Shiite holy places and, perhaps, to get its hands on Iraq's vast oil deposits. The costly war ended in a draw, after the two sides exhausted themselves. Seventeen years later, Iran has now achieved three of those four war goals, thanks to 13,000 American casualties and scores of billions of American-taxpayer dollars."

Clarke also says that "Bush has agreed to give Iran trade concessions to get it to abide by nuclear-nonproliferation agreements." Since that worked so well with North Korea, eh? I hardly know what the right course is, but it seems unBushian to now capitulate to one of the remaining two-thirds of his Axis of Evil.

James Howard Kunstler terms his dystopic forecast for what happens after the oil age The Long Emergency:

"It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life -- not to mention all of its comforts and luxuries: central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lights, inexpensive clothing, recorded music, movies, hip-replacement surgery, national defense -- you name it.

"The few Americans who are even aware that there is a gathering global-energy predicament usually misunderstand the core of the argument. That argument states that we don't have to run out of oil to start having severe problems with industrial civilization and its dependent systems. We only have to slip over the all-time production peak and begin a slide down the arc of steady depletion."

Worm's eye view of the violet patch No foolin' from the Statehouse as Governor Dirk stamps his VETO on eight, count 'em, eight bills, reportedly "angry with state representatives for stalling his $1.6 billion highway construction plan."

Unlike more grown up (or out, as the case may be) states, our Legislators go home about this time of year, so they're keen to wrap things up for the session. Kempthorne is "willing to stay as long as it takes," because he's here year-round anyway.

"Petulant cry-baby" or bold and foreful leader? You be the judge.

Notice of another patent with my name on it (assigned to the Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.) came in the usual way: solicitations for me to buy a plaque, or something. The Resource Access/Return System idea came from a brainstorming session back when I was travelling a lot and a way to simplify the return of a rental car at the airport seemed like a good idea. I had the now-ludicrous notion that you would just drive the thing up to the curb and leave it there for a valet to look after. (IIRC, the brainstorm was in February 2000, the patent says it was filed November of that year.)

What I could find of the prose is obtuse, and barely familiar. (Apparently the Patent Office is moving this weekend? and their system is down.) I am capable of writing lucidly (as I hope you can tell on occasion here), but run through the legal team and USPTO, things just come out sausagy.

"In particular, the system can be used for receiving user identity information with an identity confirmation device of the resource, confirming the identity of the user with a security device of the resource, providing the user with access to the resource, monitoring and recording information about use of the resource with a monitoring system of the resource, reacquiring the resource from the user, and obtaining resource use information from the resource monitoring system of the resource."

Re-opening day at Bogus today, and some time between the (just before) 10am start and the warm afternoon, there was great skiing and riding to be had. I had my first run down Lando's Mojo with no tracks in front of me, and it was fluffy enough to be a delight. The second run had a dozen or more tracks in front of me, then 30, and so on. I cut up the front side for 8 runs or so and then headed for Superior, only to find a huge knot of others with the same idea plugged up at the bottom of the old, slow chairlift. Fifteen minutes later, I got a ride up for the first of what ended up being just two top-to-bottom runs over there (one proceeded by a nice hike up to the top of Shafer Butte), and then a run over the ridge and through the trees back to the front. I got into a bit of too-warm, too-slow and too-flat forest and ended up bouncing off a big stump when I lost my manuevering speed at a critical moment. Ouch. I'm still walking, but that thigh's going to be bruised a while.

Someone in the lift line used the expression "peanut butter powder," first time I'd heard that. It's a perfect description of some of the stuff I've been in lately, though. The morning started with Cool Whip instead, much nicer.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Sunday, 01-May-2005 23:22:12 MDT