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

NASA image of Soichi Noguchi working in Discovery's cargo bay "There are just no words to describe how cool this is," Stephen Robinson said, as he floated in outer space. I figured as much.

I wonder if there's a NASA Marketing team working on an STS114 highlights film? Seems like they could sell a lot of $20 DVDs with a little light production work. Better than a bakesale, anyway!

The planet(oid) formerly known as 2003 EL61, now reported as reported as 2003 UB313, and soon to be known as something cool, gets curiouser and curiouser. 97 AU out and in an orbit 44° above the ecliptic explains why it took so long to find. Hardly anybody looks up there! A 560 year elliptical orbit that will someday bring it inside Pluto, and "guaranteed bigger than Pluto" by one scientist.

I wonder how common M.P. Dunleavey's out of control communications budget is. 6 different bills, $350 a month?! We have two bills, edging over $100 for very basic cable TV, cable internet and a land line.

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

It seems the French have done some legislating of family values, putting "time together" ahead of "hard work." Seven weeks of vacation sounds pretty nice, eh?

Reasonable people can disagree about what's most important. Our culture tends to operate under the "time is money" precept, but ultimately, time is all there is of your life. When I was working "full time," I used to think about how I'd be willing to trade a modestly lower salary for more time to do what I pleased instead of what HP pleased. Having taken the opportunity to punch out, I have to say less money and more time is a great deal.

The DOE wanted to know what the public thought about their plan to consolidate 238Pu production at INL (or maybe they didn't, really, but NEPA requires them to write an EIS and gather comment). The public wanted to tell them that they didn't really want any such production, period, and they've learned not to trust the DOE. Tough chance, but I imagine they go ahead based on the engineering and distill the emotion out of it.

If any of our Congressional delegation weren't gung-ho behind the plan, it might make a difference...

excerpt of map of E. Park Center bridge proposal and Harris Ranch The housing boom is alive and well in Boise, and if we just get one more bridge across the river, everything will be as sweet as cherries in June. Try this "news" reporting on for size: "(The bridge would be) a critical road link between Boise and recreation opportunities on the Greenbelt, at Lucky Peak and in the national forests of Idaho City and beyond."

As if we can't get to all those things with our motor toys now? Give me a break. The bridge is all about the ache in Realtors®' hearts when they see a map with "undeveloped areas" on it.

Interesting news item about a court overruling the Utah license plate censorship board. Like every other state (I suppose) that offers personalized plates, Idaho has some one or more persons tasked with the dirty job of keeping our motorized world safe from obscenity, and deciding what forms of expression are permissible.

Who owns your thoughts? In the case of Kai-Fu Lee, the courts will decide, and until they do, he can't be thinking for Google just yet.

How many planets are there? Not sure, really. Once you start counting stuff out past Neptune, we might have to go to 11, or higher. (And this just in: 2003 EL61 has a moon, too!) The idea of demoting Pluto and calling it 8 got shouted down.

We've got another commitment and won't be at John Prine's concert on Tuesday; I'm sorry to miss it. I first saw him perform in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 70's. The story says he's 58 now, and he's had a 35-year career, so that was way back close to the beginning. (I think he already had 2 or 3 albums by then, though.)

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

No big surprise that "loopholes in American fuel economy regulations have allowed automakers to produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient, on average, than they were in the late 1980's."

And likewise no big surprise that the EPA decided to hold off releasing that report this week, so as not to mess with the Energy Bill (which "largely ignores auto mileage regulations"). Just Washington business as usual.

I've got a question, though: if 0-to-60 acceleration has improved so steadily, why are there so few drivers who know how to accelerate to freeway speed by the end of the ramp?

Here's how you get a lot friends in high places: "a $1.5 billion giveaway to the oil industry, Halliburton, and Sugar Land, Texas... inserted into the energy legislation after the conference was closed, so members of the conference committee had no opportunity to consider or reject this measure."

Mirabile dictu, the 30-page mystery insert provides for "the administration of 75% of the $1.5 billion fund" to be done by a "private consortium located in the district of Majority Leader Tom DeLay."

Can't you just imagine Speaker Hastert jumping right on this in response to Henry Waxman's request? I didn't think so.

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

Ok, we've got good news and bad news. The good news is that this piece came off 2 minutes up, where the air is thin, and it didn't hit anything. The bad news is, pieces of foam are still coming off during launch and the Shuttle fleet is grounded just as soon as Discovery gets home.

STS-114 Discovery takeoff, July 26, 2005. NASA/KSC image Damage assessment is not such a simple task: "The shuttle program has lived with damage from debris from the very first flight, in 1981; in 113 missions the orbiters have been hit by debris some 15,000 times, mostly on liftoff."

The repair kit that went up with Discovery is reportedly just for try-out, and "not ready for an actual repair." "(T)he Discovery astronauts have said they would not want to trust any patchwork on a return to Earth." (What exactly was plan B again?) I would not want to be the guy who has to make the go/no-go decision about a couple hundred dents and dings.

Jonathan Alter, on Why The Leak Probe Matters: "(F)or all of the complexities of the Valerie Plame case, for all the questions raised about the future of investigative journalism and the fate of the most influential aide to an American president since Louis Howe served Franklin D. Roosevelt 70 years ago, this story is fundamentally about how easy it was to get into Iraq and how hard it will be to get out."

There's still that nagging "minor" issue about Karl Rove's behavior, regardless of where you place it on the spectrum between ethical lapse and treason, and the President's unwillingness to admit any mistakes or do the obviously right thing.

"If Bush isn't a hypocrite on national security, he needs, at a minimum, to yank Rove's security clearance."

The Energy Bill has been thrashed and pounded and the Congressional opposition worked over to the point where something is about to be passed. Tom Friedman finds the performance lacking: "(W)e are about to pass an energy bill that, while it does contain some good provisions, will make no real dent in our gasoline consumption, largely because no one wants to demand that Detroit build cars that get much better mileage. We are just feeding Detroit the rope to hang itself. It's assisted suicide. I thought people went to jail for that?"

We have to wonder if the "generous federal subsidies to the oil and gas industries," to augmenting their record profits is the most important thing on George Bush's mind in getting this passed and signed into law. We don't suppose the rejiggering of daylight savings time matters much to him, although it will certainly be a disruption to all of us. To save electricity? Puhlease.

I never got around to blogging Howard Dean's visit to Boise and I forgot my camera when we bicycled down to Julia Davis Park, so I guess I'll let Julie's blog entry cover for me. One of the things I liked about the event: the lightweight cordon separating "inside" ($25 contribution requested, box lunches) from the "outside." The event was thereby open to all who could hear the speechifying free of charge.

As compared to, say, the state Legislature's Republican caucuses which they voted to close to the public.

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

A couple of things I noticed in Alberto Gonzales' performance on the Newshour tonight: he has a habit of referring to himself and his office in the third person ("I think this is a concern not held only by this attorney general and this administration but by previous administrations") or the plural ("we believe it is legitimate").

He—they—made a big deal about all the writings from John Roberts that the they're releasing, "75,000 pages," and minimized the stuff they're not releasing. The "we're not going to tell you" stuff somehow falls under "attorney-client privilege" between... the first President Bush and John Roberts as Solicitor General of the United States, who, while part of the Executive Branch, is not the President's lawyer, but rather a lawyer who works for the President. Who works for we, the people.

Lehrer asked the question that Senator Patrick Leahy asked: how can attorney-client apply to that? Gonzales just dodged and skipped right on by the question. "Well, there is an attorney-client privilege here that needs to be respected, and it's a privilege that has been found to be worthy of protection by our courts."

All that rubbish about how we should let the market decide goes out the window when the market comes up with something the supposed ideologues don't like. The business of grazing permits going to the highest bidder (except when that inconveniences a rancher) has been going on in Idaho for a while now, and today the Utah contest got John Tierney's attention in the NYT op-ed.

"Even though Mr. LeFevre and other ranchers along the Escalante willingly sold their grazing permits, local and state politicians are fighting to put cows back on those lands. They say their communities and the ranching way of life will be destroyed if grazing lands are allowed to revert to nature, and they've found sympathetic ears in the Bush administration.

"The Interior Department has decided that environmentalists can no longer simply buy grazing permits and retire them. Under its reading of the law - not wholly shared by predecessors in the Clinton administration - land currently being used by ranchers has already been determined to be 'chiefly valuable for grazing' and can be opened to herds at any time if the B.L.M.'s 'land use planning process' deems it necessary."

Deems it necessary to turn the cows loose.

Up and away cleanly, past the point of abort, "Discovery is negative return."

And to think we (most of us) once got casual about this whole thing, just another launch...

All systems GO FOR LAUNCH.

T-9 and holding, for ¾ of an hour.

I wonder how many cameras are fed into the room with the switcher? The long distance view—as close as J.Q. Public can get to seeing this live—reminded me of Norman Mailer's description of a Saturn V launch in Of a Fire on the Moon, such a vivid description that it gives me a thrill just to think of it.

and... counting again.

They've got two clocks, though. The official countdown is now at T-00:20:00 and holding, on the penultimate scheduled hold.

1 hour, 36 minutes and counting, and I'm watching it live on NASA TV. The next best thing to being there.

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

Finally got around to some preparation for the DOE hearing in Boise on Thursday. Table S-3 of the Draft EIS Summary (I went for the 67 pg. PDF rather than the full meal deal) spells out the waste they expect to create, annually, for their 5 kg of Pu-238. They break it down by site, INL, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos, but here I've added the three together:

No Action Consolidation Consolidation w/bridge
Transuranic waste 24 m3 33 m3 37.4 m3
Low-level radioactive 211 365 389
Mixed low-level radioactive <5.34 5.84 <7.84
Hazardous waste 6,500 kg 6,500 kg 9,100 kg

That's a minimum of 1,300 times as much hazardous waste, by mass. Hard to know about the cubic meters of transuranic, low-level and mixed low-level waste, but the first floor of our modest house could accommodate less than 300 m3, so figure at least a houseful of nasty waste every year, regardless.

Just how important is this Pu-238, anyway? They won't say. "National security." (And for non-national security purposes, we can just buy the stuff from Russia's left-over stock.)

Gretchen Morgenson, writing about the Career Education Corporation's failing grade from California's Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education notes drily that "moments like these are useful for investors hoping to identify which analysts actually research the companies they follow and which ones prefer to take dictation from management when preparing their reports."

"A raft of Wall Street analysts from firms including Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Jefferies & Company" are apparently in the latter group, calling it a "rehash of old news" that the company would have to come up with "equitable restitution" to students over more than half a decade.

The California bureau sent an employee to the school to check it out, and she was regaled with the prospect of a starting salary of "$50,000 to $150,000" after graduation from the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.

The results don't quite compare to the marketing: "Indeed, of the 45 graduates reported by Brooks as employed full time, the average income was about $26,000, the report said. The average indebtedness of this group was around $74,000."

The L.A. Times tried to expand the online-newspaper envelope to include the blogosphere with a frankly idiotic idea: a wiki editorial page. Here's a better concept: blog us your ideas and we'll build a radio show out of them. (Thanks to the NYT for their story about it.)

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

Daniel Akst has a revised business plan for any Detroit automaker that wants to jump on it: "What if a major automaker decided to reinvent itself as the world's first and only green car company, producing only hybrid, clean-diesel and other high-efficiency vehicles?"

Even better than a better mousetrap. Peak oil is going to make everybody play that eventually, why not get ahead of the curve?

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

The DOE's hearings about their new Pu factory (yes, that's pronounced "pee-you") got off with a heavy dose of cynicism, by the account: "In a joyous exhibition of contempt, valley residents packed Sun Valley’s Limelight Room to cajole, ridicule and challenge nearly every interpretable word spoken by DOE Radioisotope Program Director Tim Frazier."

Some criticized Lance Armstrong for not having enough style in winning the biggest bike race in the world. Again.

"Seven Tours gives you panache," he said.

Back to the nice low 60s overnight I don't work with perl every day (although it does work for me every day), but it feels like an essential tool. A well-worn Swiss Army knife that I feel a little undressed without. It's interesting to use, often challenging, sometimes productive for me. Tim O'Reilly's answer to the question "Is perl relevant any longer?" was interesting. If for no other reason, it was the first mention of Ruby that I've seen. Said to make "database backed application programming a piece of cake." Hmmm.

Google's too big for just one planet now.

22.Jul.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boise's temp/RH graph for the last 6 days and nights Boise's big air conditioner broke last night after we set a record high at 107°F yesterday; it stayed in the high 80s. Most unpleasant to have to keep the windows all closed and settle for what we'll pay our machinery to do.

The wind and pressure numbers looked good for morning windsurfing but that was a bust, too. I settled for jumping in the lake and a cool swim.

Krugman, on China, unpegged:
"In the long run, the economic effects of an end to China's dollar buying would even out. America would have more industrial workers and fewer real estate agents, more jobs in Michigan and fewer in Florida, leaving the overall level of employment pretty much unaffected. But as John Maynard Keynes pointed out, in the long run we are all dead....

"Right now America is a superpower living on credit - something I don't think has happened since Philip II ruled Spain. What will happen to our stature if and when China takes away our credit card?"

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

No, it's not some whacked-out blogger, but the NYT editorial board lamenting how far off course we are in Iraq. Iraqi women's rights "are about to be set back by nearly 50 years" by inserting Shariah into the Constitution.

"Mr. Bush owes Americans a better explanation for what his policies are producing in Iraq than tired exhortations to stay the course and irrelevant invocations of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most days, the news from Iraq is dominated by suicide bombers and frightening scenes of carnage. Occasionally, the smoke clears for a day or two to reveal the underlying picture. That looks even scarier."

Everybody in China got a raise today, sort of. A really, really small raise, but hey, things are looking up.

Since they manage their own economy so well (ahem), they're going to try their hand at managing the world's: "China will reform the exchange rate regime by moving into a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies."

The immediate change is 2%: from ¥8.28 to the dollar, down to 8.11, although I imagine the cries of "one dollah!" on the streets of Beijing are not going to change to "one dollah, two cents!" right away.

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

Our little nuke plant in the desert, formerly known by many names, is currently billed as the near-perfectly innocuous "Idaho National Laboratory." It used to be the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, with the comfortable acronym "INEL," then they put a happy-face twist on it to "Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory."

They were indeed experimenting with the environment, so I guess that fit well enough. Cleaning up those past experiments (many of them inadvertent ones) now comes under the Idaho Cleanup Project, and they hope to be caught up in oh, 7 years or so. But before then, they want to launch new production, of Plutonium-238 "for space batteries and national security."

We can't tell you much about that latter category, other than it's absolutely vital, so don't bother questioning the need for it or our proposals on applying the 40-year-old "Advanced Test Reactor" to this new task. The reactor was "advanced" in 1965; now it's just advanced in age. In the 1990s, the reactor had 11 emergency shutdown "scrams" due to various system failures. (INL says hey, it's working just like we planned!)

The thing that gets me about this enterprise is the sheer scale of the waste it will produce. You know how you have to make something else dirty if you want to clean something? For a few tens of pounds of (toxic, radioactive but very useful) Pu-238 (I thought it was 15, but now can't find that figure anywhere), it's estimated they'll produce "1,190 drums of plutonium-contaminated waste, 5,880 drums of other solid radioactive waste, 5,040 drums of liquid radioactive waste, 840 drums of waste that contains both radioactive and hazardous pollutants, and 38,640 drums of hazardous waste."

The EIS hearings started this week, in Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico and Tennessee.

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

"A pear is just a pear, except when it is also a laser-coded information delivery system with advanced security clearance." -- NYT report on laser tattooed fruit. Sounds like it beats the heck out of those stickers.

"You could have a green pepper that was completely covered with coding. Or you could sell advertising space."

Here's a kicker: remember how adamant the industry was about not labelling genetically modified food products? The 4 or 5 digit number has that information: 4 digits denotes conventionally grown produce, 5 digits starting with 9 organic, and 5 digits starting with 8 genetically modified.

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

The little devil will be staying on, thankyouverymuch New plan from the Big Man: if Karl successfully danced around the letter of the law with his dirty tricks program, that's A-OK, and he'll be keeping his job.

Oh yeah, we're really demonstrating a hand standard of moral values and patriotism now.

Thanks to faithful reader Mark O'Dell's tip, I have a link to the Clean Windows Installation chapter of O'Reilly's "Optimizing Windows" book, and can contemplate a clean reinstall of Win95osr2 (or perhaps an upgrade to Win98?), rather than wondering when my yet-to-be-refreshed 7+ year-old system will crash and burn.

Thank heavens for nerds such as David Farquhar who painstakingly figure all this stuff out for us and write down what they find, but while the $25 for the book is a certain bargain, I'm not so sure about the hours it would take to study it and duplicate the author's results. For a few hundred bucks, we can just go buy a new XP system, after all.

For the moment, the "do nothing" alternative is most attractive. (The risk is that it will stay that way until a moment after "too late!")

When errands go bad: I had in mind a pleasant ride downtown via the greenbelt to the Post Office to check FCAI's post office box. Only problem was, when I got there I realized I didn't know the box number.

The lovely 1923 railroad bridge over the Boise river, converted to part of the greenbelt Wait in line. "Can you tell me my organization's post office box number, the Funeral Consumers Alliance?" "I'm sorry, we don't have any way to look up an address." At the Post Office. Right.

It's not in the phone book, unfortunately. If I carried a phone, I could've called home and got it, but oh well, the library is nearby. But not open for 20 minutes. Ok... IDI is a few blocks away, I'll try there. David was in, so I got a bonus chat with my boss and looked up the number. 1919 has an unforgettable mnemonic for me, it's the year both my parents were born. If only I'd been paying attention while sending out correspondence for the last year, but I hadn't had to pay attention up until this morning.

Back to the P.O., down the rows of boxes... that don't include anything less than 5 or 6000. Wait in line. "Oh, that's not here, that's at the Borah station, 8th and Bannock." Of course! How could I be so foolish!

Back across downtown to the P.O. I didn't even know was there, a block from the Capitol. Retrieved my quarry, finally, and headed down 9th street, back to the river.

Honest Abe, looking at the big nail Picked up a big damn NAIL on the street, whack, whack, whack. The tire was holding air, but I knew it wouldn't as soon as that bad boy came out. I stopped in the shady breezeway of the Esther Simplot PAC to change my tube, hoping that the little fountain would be splashing. (Alas.)

Once changed, a forlorn and wistful look crossed my face, and it brought some pity from Tommy Tompkins at the desk inside. He asked if he could do anything to help. My bike was fine, but using the restroom to wash my hands would be nice... we chatted about the Tour de France before I was back on the trail, home again without further incident.

I haven't got around to unpacking my copy of GoogleEarth (much less updating to v3.0.0395) yet, but these folks have and they're off to the races. They went from "zero members to over 600 (636 right this moment) members in a week." That moment was on July 13th. The NYT story ran today. Hello world.

William Greider's NYT op-ed is titled America's Truth Deficit, but no, it's not more commentary on the Scooter and Brain show but rather an interesting analysis of the global economic system and why the U.S.'s trade deficit is still expanding (this year's "possibly 25 percent larger than last"). We're the world's big buyer by choice, implemented by policy, rather than by some inexorable force out of our control. Other nations set other courses:

"I've already said too much."
--Karl Rove
"Western Europe, whatever its problems, manages economic policy to maintain modest trade surpluses. Japan manages to insure far larger surpluses in recessions (its export income subsidizes inefficient domestic employers). China strives to acquire a larger, more advanced industrial base at the expense of worker incomes and bank profits. Germany and Japan, despite vast differences, both manage to keep advanced manufacturing sectors anchored at home and to defend domestic wage levels and social guarantees. When they do disperse production and jobs overseas, as they must, they do so strategically."

He concludes that "to describe plausible remedies is to explain why none are likely. The webs of mutual interests connecting government, corporate boardrooms and Wall Street are too deeply woven, as are habits of thought among policy makers and politicians. So I do not expect anything fundamental will be altered in time. We are going to find out if the dissenters are right."

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

Frank Rich says Follow the Uranium: "This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair."

If you're read any news stories about the Karl Rove circus, you've seen the recapitulation of the events cascading the Wilson's Op-Ed piece in the summer of '03. (If you've read as many of the news stories as I have, your eyes glaze over at the start of that section by now.) But consider the background: Wilson's trip to Niger was in February 2002. It was eight months later that Congress received the National Intelligence Estimate with the State Department's caveat that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa," made public in a British dossier, were "highly dubious." The mysterious documents ("blatant forgeries") that surfaced in Italy came in the fall of 2002.

"(T)he administration knows how guilty it is. That's why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke."

I heard Noah Adams start his story on the booming computer recycling business by stating flatly that "a computer has a three-year lifespan," and was prompted to do the math on our vintage 1998 win95 machine. It's into its 3rd lifespan by that measure, not exactly going strong, but it still (mostly) works fine. Forget about any help from Microsoft, of course. Firefox works fine on it, though, and a handful of other programs that make it a perfectly useful productivity tool.

It's malware that threatens to end its life more than anything else. The hardware and core software (a category which now includes anti-spyware, virus protection and a firewall in addition to the operating system and actual applications) work fine. Today's NYT story about disposing of machines degraded by malware, as a simpler and cheaper solution than cleaning and maintenance is worthy of note. Combine the two and call it outsourcing maintenance to a company such as RetroBox that can do the job wholesale.

Seems like a lot of business opportunity in that, especially if you can make the financials provide a small incentive payment to the disposer, rather than this sort of deal, from the Ada Co. landfill: bring your CRTs to the dump, pay them $10, and they'll be so kind as to allow you to drop off 2 per household per year.

Here's the nut of the problem with health insurance, and this country's piecemeal approach to it: "The economics of the new program depend on the assumption that large numbers of relatively healthy people will enroll and pay premiums, to help defray the costs of those with high drug expenses. Insurers say the new program cannot survive if the only people who sign up are heavy users of prescription drugs."

Yet another sales and marketing tour by the President is not going to make a program work if it's more complicated than he can explain, and if you only stand to benefit under certain circumstances, and if you have to choose to sign-up.

Maureen Dowd better not stay out on book leave too long. "Amateur historian and professional ironist" Sarah Vowell might take her spot, with burnt offerings such as Moses' Top Ten.

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

I don't know about you, but my head is spinning these days. The most recent (and, no doubt, the next) poll numbers show that the President's support is waning, so I'm not the only one noticing. There are just too many issues where the moral pronouncements don't match up with behavior. The business with Karl Rove is just the toe of the glacier, I imagine, but it's the point upon which my head spins.

There's the duplicity of the disclosure, to begin with. When fixing the facts started to unravel, the next business is to fix the squealer, change the focus from facts to supposed partisans. Joe Wilson is a staunch Democrat you say? He and his wife colluded on a boondoggle to that prime vacation spot of Niger?

By all reports, Karl Rove is as smart as they come, and I wouldn't be the least surprised if he carefully skirted the letter of the law regarding disclosure of covert agents. Maybe he was ignorant of Plame's position and merely "careless." We just don't have many descriptions of Rove as incompetent to lend credibility to that angle, though. He does seem to have been very busy talking to journalists on unnamed-source super deep background back in the post-Wilson-Op-Ed-piece days.

But bigger picture: all the God talk vs. going to war. It certainly works with an Old Testament (selective reading) religion, but Christian?

Simple, plain-spokenness vs. backstabbing secrecy vs. artful manipulation of the language (Clear Skies, Healthy Forest, No Child Left Behind, and so on, far beyond parenthetical capacity) vs. can't comment on an ongoing investigation. Uniter not a divider vs. brutal divisiveness on the Hill vs. the next Supreme Court nominee.

Moral values vs. political calculation. Fighting (and winning!) a class war vs. "you're inciting class warfare!"

One thing that does seem certain is that Bush and his administration have a hierarchy of values, and loyalty is close to the top, well ahead of honesty. As the NYT story notes, "People who know Mr. Bush said it was unlikely, if not unthinkable, that he would seek Mr. Rove's departure barring a criminal indictment."

Speaking of loyalty, the small matter of the Senate not confirming John Bolton as ambassador to the UN won't stand in the President's way. Stand by for a recess appointment, the last refuge for a scoundrel. I like this:

"Two months ago, while his confirmation was in trouble, Bolton began efforts to double the office space reserved within the State Department for the ambassador to the United Nations, according to three senior department officials who were involved in handling the request.

"Previous ambassadors have kept a small staff in Washington in a modest suite. Bolton told several colleagues he needs more space and a larger staff in Washington because, if confirmed, he intends to spend more time here than his predecessors did...."

13.July.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Set-top tableau at my so-called workstation, in summer evening light A day of fizzles: yesterday's hot weather gave way to merely warm and breezy, George Bush won't talk about Karl Rove, and a faulty sensor kept NASA from lighting up our #1 rocket. Even worse, it looks like the London bombers were born and raised in Britain, something we'd like to think is an innoculation for calculating and murderous fanaticism.

Lest we forget what the Karl Rove soap opera is actually about, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Editorial Board reminds us:

"In the scheme of things, whether Rove revealed Plame's identity, deliberately or not, matters less than actions by Rove, Bolton, Cheney and others to phony up a case for war that has gone badly, has cost thousands of lives plus hundreds of billions of dollars, and has, a majority of Americans now believe, left the United States less safe from terrorism rather than more.

"That's the indictment which should matter most."

How much simpler it would be if the NYT and Miller had done what Greg Palast suggests, run the story under the headline BUSH OPERATIVE COMMITS FELONY TO PUNISH WHISTLEBLOWER.

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

Interesting feedback from Jack Herrick of eHow, citing my blog entry about them last month, wherein I observed a certain lack of organization on their wiki.

"And you were right—it was terrible! So our community fixed it. Here is our new category structure: Like all things on a wiki, it will get better with time. Thanks again for giving us the inspiration to get this fixed!"

Shucks, my pleasure. Now I can find my way to... Sports & Fitness, Outdoor Recreation, Pack an Asymmetric Spinnaker. An' stuff. Unfortunately, I have to let them know who I am if I want to play directly... there's a mistake in step 5 ("Tie the spinnaker sheets, spinnaker halyard and spinnaker to the clew, head, and tack, respectively") but I'm not sure how to correct it (if I had the means to log in). Sheets, halyard and... tack line?

The Panda's Thumb (website, not the thumb itself :) illustrates what you might read here if only I implemented the means for readers to post comments... Following Reed Cartwright's take on Cardinal Schönborn's recent essay concerning the Catholic Church's position on evolution, there's a lengthy discussion of what it all does and doesn't mean. Cartwright's opinion has a lot of complex inferences about Schönborn's piece did and didn't mean; he saw direct opposition to "intelligent design creationism" that I didn't. (Thanks to reader J.B.O. for the pointer.)

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

Oh, that wacky Bush White House! Scott McClellan all of a sudden feels it's inappropriate to comment, and doesn't care to reaffirm that "any White House staff person who had leaked the name should be fired." Let's do have a Congressional Hearing, and Karl Rove... COME ON DOWN! Maybe the "one day" on which Bob Novak says he'll be able to clear things up could be hastened along as well.

Reading the transcript of the press conference is entertaining enough, I can only imagine how much fun it must have been to be in the room.

"Now, are you concerned that in not setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?"

9.July.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One more step toward the dark ages: here comes the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, imagining his connection with God informs him about science. "Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science."

In loyalty to their kind
they cannot tolerate our minds.
In loyalty to our kind
we cannot tolerate their obstruction.
-- Crown of Creation

Science has been "seeking to explain away" God for lo these many years, and doing a damn fine job of it. Contrary to the Archbishop's wonderfully absurd notion, any system of thought that denies "explaining away" is ideology.

As Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein put it, "Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory."

Oh how the ideologues hate to hear the news. It's ideology! they cry. Or even worse, Conspiracy! We have a scientific challenge!

Yes you do, but not a credible one.

Here's an interesting question, though: "How did the Discovery Institute talking points wind up in Vienna?"

"Mark Ryland, a vice president of the institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay," but insists that the Archbishop did his own work and didn't just cadge off the Institute's web pages.

Pope John Paul II got it, when he said that the theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis." (Hence, the "theory," eh? You'd think religionists steeped in dogma could appreciate precision in terms, but many seem to ignore the not-so-fine point when it suits them.) But John Paul II is no longer with us, and some of his successors now feel free to reinterpret what he said.

That particular observation of the last Pope was "rather vague and unimportant," Schönborn presumes to tell us. You don't have to be Jewish to have chutzpah!

But true religion is all about mystery, if you ask me. I'm guessing the new pope was happy to have Schönborn write an essay knowing that if it flopped, it was easily disclaimed as "just" the opinion of one of the bishops. Words from Benedict XVI's installation homily are more to the point: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

Forget about the mists of time and questions we can't answer because no one was there! Riddle me this: when will science tell us how "each of us is the result of a thought of God"? Just about never, eh? Render onto Science what is Science's and unto God what is God's. Looks like Benedict XVI gets it, too (but in that pithy way that he or his successors can reinterpret later on).

The Pope and all his Bishops are of course committed to an elaborate dogma of theism; so elaborate in fact, that we don't know whether it's monotheism or tritheism. All part of the mystery.

"We can no longer ignore the fact that billions of our neighbors believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom, or in the literal truth of the book of Revelation because our neighbors are now armed with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."
Sam Harris

Sam Harris comes at the "design in nature" question from a decidedly different angle: "We are born ready to live in relationship to the world around us. We emerge from our mother's wombs ready to see faces as faces, to learn language, and to gradually recognize that we are in the presence of minds like our own. The prevalence of animism among our primitive ancestors--as well as its persistence in certain tribes--demonstrates that we readily ascribe human qualities to processes in nature. It is only by gaining a deeper understanding of causal processes in the world (through science) that we come to realize that storm clouds are not angry gods and that diseases are not the result of demonic possession."

There's more than simply understanding at stake: in his book The End of Faith, Harris argues that religion + WMD = annihilation. We need to get rid of one of the LH arguments if we don't want the RH result. Maybe I'm overstating his case a bit...

"The kind of intolerance of faith that I am advocating in my book is not the intolerance that gave us the gulag. It is conversational intolerance. When people make outlandish claims, without evidence, we stop listening to them–except on matters of faith. I am arguing that we can no longer afford to give faith a pass in this way."

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

Sometimes those simple and "obvious" notions are just obviously wrong. In a roundup of responses to Deep Impact (et al.), we read "It seems to me that if we can successfully hit a comet 83 million miles away, then earth-bound anti-missile defense should be a piece of cake." All except for the fact that the comet's not coming after us.

Laird Maxwell came forward as the guy "ordering and paying for" last-minute phone calls smearing mayoral candidate Chuck Winder the 2003 Boise election. The Statesman's sidebar says "his ideology lies to the right of many Republicans," which in Idaho means he's right off into outer space. They also say he's a supporter of the Keep the Commmandment Coalition, which has to do with moving rock, not keeping Commandments; otherwise he wouldn't be bearing false witness, eh?

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

An important editorial from The New York Times on the subject of freedom of the press, as one of its reporters sits in jail for defending it. "Ms. Miller's actions are faithful to the Constitution. She is defending the right of Americans to get vital information from news organizations that need not fear government retaliation - an imperative defended by the 49 states that recognize a reporter's right to protect sources."

The friends of chaos and barbarity renew their assault: 4 bombs in central London bring public transit to a crashing halt. Is there any way out of the trap that we must never acceded to what such people demand? Yesterday, I wanted the U.S. to put an end to its misguided military adventure in Iraq. Today, there seems no possible counter-argument to the leaders who say "we must never give in to terrorists."

Robert Novak's silence on the matter of his involvement with the grand jury is an invitation to speculation, and David Corn takes him up on the offer.

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

Judith Miller goes to jail, perhaps defending her source against retribution from the person who committed the genuine crime? Or is she just defending the principle of journalistic integrity? What about Bob Novak? Karl Rove? And the buck-stops-here pair who need to be impeached? They're blaming it on the media, in this case a reporter who didn't even write a story. They say they're against abortion, but I suppose they feel this sort of miscarriage is in the hands of God.

At a minimum, we should be seeing this President Bush fire Rove, just the way his daddy did. But then we should have been seeing him fire Rumsfeld too, and that didn't happen.

Rule #1 is "never admit error." Rule #2 appears to be "blame someone else."

Death and life are interwoven, inextricably. Predators enliven prey, improve plant habitat, and instruct us. If only we will listen.

"Like neither saviors nor infidels but simply (or not so simply) like wolves, they returned to their home, bringing great color and breathing a life-force that some, in an upside-down world, view as destructive—as if we have become so estranged that we can no longer really tell one from the other." Joel Sartore, writing for Orion Magazine

The first bred and born in the U.S.A. mad cow (it's a Texan) has turned up, and Texas Governor (and former State Agriculture Commissioner) Rick Perry wanted everyone to stay calm and keep eating Texas beef. The NY Times reported that he said "I, for one, will continue to eat red meat, and intend to do so later tonight with complete confidence." It also reported that a revised statement skipped the dinner menu but added that Texas beef was "as safe today as it was yesterday." Hmmm.

It was 1996 that the shocking announcement in Britain led Oprah Winfrey to host a frank discussion about the issue on her show, leading to her being sued for "food disparagement." (She won the suit, BTW.) It was the next year, 1997, that we supposedly enacted a ban against feeding protein from ruminants like cows and sheep to other cattle. Since the Texas cow in question is 12 years old... gee, it must've got some of that pre-1997 stuff, right? Everything's been just fine since then, right?

Yeah, you betcha, except for we haven't really been testing all that much. What could possibly go wrong?

The United Church of Christ stands witness as the first mainline Christian denomination to support same-sex marriage, with its general synod passing a resolution to affirm "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."

Other UCC resolutions include a call to Israel to 'Tear down the wall', to The Philippines to end violence and human rights violations, supporting religious practices for native Hawaiians, "no" to privatization of Social Security.

A brief history lesson on the subject of marriage from Stephanie Coontz, as counterpoint to the folks talking about thousands of years of tradition that's being upset these days.

"Marriage has been in a constant state of evolution since the dawn of the Stone Age. In the process it has become more flexible, but also more optional. Many people may not like the direction these changes have taken in recent years. But it is simply magical thinking to believe that by banning gay and lesbian marriage, we will turn back the clock."

Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder tote up the score and find that the "problem" of judicial "activism" is more "conservative" than "liberal." At least as far as the latest SCOTUS: "those justices often considered more 'liberal' - Justices Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens - vote least frequently to overturn Congressional statutes, while those often labeled 'conservative' vote more frequently to do so."

5.July.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho's junior Senator Mike Crapo's name (he likes it pronounced CRAY-po, btw) has been floated as a possible SCOTUS nominee to succeed Sandra Day. It's meaningless suck-up of course, but it's actually the first proposal I've heard that I could actually support.

Todd Purdum notes that the theme song for filling the court should be the Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The world seems a different place when you put on that black robe and realize you've got the job for life.

Here's something else we "borrowed" from the natives when we washed ashore: our Constitution's principles of popular sovereignty and individual liberty. Who knew? (Not anyone whose history education contained only the briefest of mention of the Iroquois, as mine did.)

"All these barbarians have the law of wild asses - they are born, live, and die in a liberty without restraint; they do not know what is meant by bridle and bit." Don't you miss having missionaries around?

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

The neighbors' 4th of July 'bunting', in lights The neighbors like to put on the holiday decorations, and they're not content to leave it at Christmas. We've got more holidays than that, why not more decorations? Their lastest effort worked especially well: red, white and blue lights, set up as bunting. So much nicer than the lights that go "bang" in the night, too.

Speaking of which, I knew I was over the hill when I drove right by the "SANE AND INSANE" fireworks stands on the reservations while coming home from north Idaho last month. I didn't used to be able to pass up a good rocket.

Solar system, viewed from 'above' A Bulls-eye on the 4th of July. Nice shootin' kids, from 268 million miles away! "Ah, we're trying to smack a comet as hard as we can with a hunk of copper. We'll be goin' about 23,000 miles per hour..."

Nice slide shows and Flash animations, too! Your tax dollars at work (and play).

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

Habits can be good, bad, useful or life-threatening, but they can't be eliminated. And I've realized that habitual acts may also proceed without leaving a trace in memory. I remember picking up my wallet last Saturday morning, but between then and when I went to look for it in a mesh side pocket of my backpack an hour or so later, there was nothing.

It took a vacation last weekend, leaving some time between when I left the house and my 8:30am tennis match in a tournament at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club. Maybe it fell out of my bag, or maybe someone took it out of my bag, I don't know. At the time, I figured I must have left it somewhere at the house, and played on. And watched some friends play, and played another match, finally came home for a big lunch and to watch some of Wimbledon and then when I was getting ready to go back for the 3rd match of the day (at 8pm), I went all through the house looking for it. No joy. Someone took my wallet in the quiet morning at the Club?! Seemed incredible, but that was the best explanation I had.

I asked at the tournament desk, at the front desk. Nope. I played a somewhat distracted tennis match (which, incidentally, improved markedly halfway through the 2nd set when I got the epiphany that the reason I play tennis is to have fun), even came from behind to win.

But that didn't turn up my wallet, and in the midst of preparing for a 6am departure to Portland, after searching the house again, I was on the phone with banks, credit card companies and the police past midnight. I used my passport to get past the TSA the next morning, found an unused and unexpired credit card to tide us over. And when we got home Tuesday night, there was a phone message that my wallet had been turned in.

Reading today's NYT article, Don't Let Data Theft Happen To You is what brings this all back to mind. I think I got off easy: there was no suspicious activity when I put the holds on, and no recorded attempts to use the cards when I took them off 2½ days later. Everything seemed to still be inside, including the paltry $11 cash I was carrying.

I asked the guy who left the message where it had been "found," and he didn't know; so-and-so had turned it in, that's all he knew. I tracked down so-and-so as best I could and had a very strange conversation with her yesterday. She wasn't sure what she had found (or really if she had found anything), exactly when she found it, or where she found it. Ok, well thanks for playing!

One of the article's recommendations is to "consider freezing your credit report, an option available in a growing number of states." You can still get in when you need to (with a password), but no one else can open a new account if they get your information and numbers. Sounds worthwhile.

I'd attended to the basics long ago (I thought), including "rein in your Social Security number," but I was dismayed to do a debrief inventory and discover that my 22-year-old blood donor card from The Red Cross had an ID# that obviously used my SSN. That's no longer in this world.

What's in your wallet?

1.July.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Web 2.0 will be staffed by two different kinds of entrepreneurs -- those who provide staunch web services exposed through APIs (Amazon, eBay, Google, and a bunch more), and those who glue those services together and make some sort of useful abstraction service."

As one example, he cites Greasemonkey, "a FireFox plug-in that allows dynamic client-side manipulation of web pages. In other words, you write a little JavaScript app that gets applied to every page you want it to on YOUR browser." The page's bullet list includes this appealing gem: "Route around common and annoying website bugs."

"It could last 6 days, 6 weeks... I doubt 6 months."
-- Donald Rumsfeld's "before" forecast of the Iraq war
"Never mind that Iraq posed no threat before we invaded. Now it's a 'central front in the war on terror,' Mr. Bush says, quoting Osama bin Laden as an authority. And since a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would, Mr. Bush claims, be a victory for Al Qaeda, Americans have to support this war - and that means supporting him. After all, you wage war with the president you have, not the president you want."

not sure who, sailing at sunrise on Lucky Peak reservoir Finally dragged myself up to the lake for a sunrise sail. It apparently started as a great morning but had settled back to just good by the time I got there. The water was surprisingly cool still, although the folks who started months ago are all happy with it; one even went out in his shorty wetsuit.

There was plenty of wind to stretch my arms out on this year's "opening day."

One of my buddies up there is tracking his time, distance and peak speed on the water (he says he's gone over 30mph!) and has me starting to think about something GPS for the toolkit. How about... the combined GPS/phone/web and email browser, with an inexpensive, metered (since I'm guessing I can control my communication urges) subscriber agreement? Send me an email if you know just the thing in that vein, wouldja?

Oh and here's a feature it should have, exposed by a call I just made to a friend: I should be able to get information from it (such as one of the phone numbers in its address book) while I'm on the phone, rather than having to "hang up and call you back."

And of course a headset, ideally (but not necessarily) cordless. Telephones must have headsets.

Heard the news on the radio on the way home: Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the SCOTUS. So much for our swing vote to moderation; I have no doubt that the Bush team will come up with as bad a choice as Bush père did and we can look forward to conservative judicial activism long after the current miscreants are voted out. Shouldn't the Chief Justice be about done, too? At least his replacement won't tip the balance any further.

It is interesting that while "retirement age" is still somewhere in the neighborhood of 65, a Supreme Court justice who's 75, healthy, and apparently still close to the peak of her mental abilities seems too young to quit.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Tuesday, 09-Aug-2005 23:23:47 MDT