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unraveling

31.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The court is stacked Permalink to this item

Alito got his lifetime Supremacy award, as the Senate voted itself further from the center of power. Farewell and thanks for the service of many years from Sandra Day O'Connor. Her considered moderation will be missed for a long time to come.

Will wonders never cease dept. Permalink to this item

I'm not sure which factoid in this Wired News story is most amazing:

Cell-phone customers have spent more than $4 billion on ringtones.

The $100 laptop, and yes, that's a hand-crank generator on the side.

28.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

101 moments of Schadenfreude Permalink to this item

You might be embarassed to follow a link with that label, but 2005's 101 Dumbest Moments in Business? Can you say "server overload"? Sure you can.

31. Next up: the caramel crown of thorns.

"In March, Russell Stover unveils its new Easter candy: 6-inch chocolate crucifixes. The Roman Catholic diocese in Bridgeport, Conn., denounces the confection, saying that an edible version of the cross on which Jesus Christ died is not an appropriate Easter-basket mate for marshmallow chicks and chocolate bunnies."

First things first Permalink to this item

old palm leaf at the Solana Beach train station We have a lot invested in the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, including the lives of the Challenger astronauts who we remember today. NASA looks forward, outward, and also inward. Some of the reports on our home planet don't look good, and we would be well served to have the best possible data to inform our discussion.

Some of the folks in (and directing) the public affairs office don't necessarily agree. George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA HQ, for example, reportedly sees the task of "making the president look good" as higher priority. (He denies he said it. Nice thing about keeping the controls in phone conversations: no paper trail.)

Equal and opposite overreaction Permalink to this item

Karl Rove says Democrats are living in a "pre-9/11 world." The fact that it's laughably false does not detract from its effectiveness as a talking point. He had to lay low for quite a while until the subject could be changed, so who can blame him for leaning back into his offensive specialty? In the Bush/Cheney/Rove post-9/11 world, "we are at war," and extraordinary powers for the Executive branch are needed, assumed, declared legal.

This is not the first instance of extraordinary usurpation of power, and Joseph J. Ellis considers some of the experience history offers us: the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the denial of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Red Scare of 1919, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the McCarthy scare of the 1950s.

"In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing. Some very distinguished American presidents, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, succumbed to quite genuine and widespread popular fears....

"(I)t defies reason and experience to make Sept. 11 the defining influence on our foreign and domestic policy. History suggests that we have faced greater challenges and triumphed, and that overreaction is a greater danger than complacency."

"Roger, go at throttle up" Permalink to this item

It was 20 years ago today we heard those last words, moments before the skyscraping trail of rocket exhaust went horribly wrong. It gave me chills to hear Stardate's radio commemoration, and Ronald Reagan's words: "The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted -- it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God."

27.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One more lost opportunity: Health care reform Permalink to this item

President Bush's State of the Union address is going to include a good stretch on health care insurance. Like so many other things in Washington at the moment, the situation is so dire that it seems there's nowhere to go but up. Demographics are still pushing the other way though, as the catastrophic implosion of the old economy shows: General Motors loss last year was four times the size of the budget for the state of Idaho. $3.6 of those 8.6 billion$ is for "charges taken in the fourth quarter to fund the cost of factory closures and long-term pension and benefit obligations to former GM workers employed at Delphi." They're hoping big SUVs will drive them back to glory. And that the government will help them stop the bleeding in their health care expenses.

The prescription is going to be more tinkering, most likely. Will he have the chutzpah to claim Medicare Part D as a success we should build on? Matt Bai describes that as "a spectacular feat of alchemy," "combining an expensive and impenetrable government bureaucracy with an unseemly concern for corporate profits."

The right answer is relatively simple in concept, certain in its efficacy, and utterly beyond the ability of our current leadership to accept, much less champion: single-payer, universal health care insurance.

Neutron Jack Permalink to this item

Vampires don't have a reflection in the mirror I understand, and George W. Bush has never been photographed with Jack Abramoff, as far as anyone can determine.

Follow along with Talking Points Memo as the Republican photography business disappears up its most convenient sphincter, and reflect on the parallel between the apostle Peter denying he knew Jesus and George W. "I don't know him" Bush getting amnesic a about one of his Pioneers.

Democracy in the Middle East Permalink to this item

Hamas' electoral victory falls in the "Be careful what you wish for" department. Juan Cole: "Democracy depends not just on elections but on a rule of law, on stable institutions, on basic economic security for the population, and on checks and balances that forestall a tyranny of the majority. Elections in the absence of this key societal context can produce authoritarian regimes and abuses as easily as they can produce genuine people power. Bush is on the whole unwilling to invest sufficiently in these key institutions and practices abroad. And by either creating or failing to deal with hated foreign occupations, he has sown the seeds for militant Islamist movements that gain popularity because of their nationalist credentials."

Think about the situation in Iraq, and consider the distance to the rule of law, stable institutions, basic economic security and so on. From two to six hours of electricity per day.

It's going to be a long, hard road, and it's not clear were currently getting closer to the destination we're after.

Bush's Brain Spotted Again Permalink to this item

Karl Rove popped out of the shadows of his bleak "rag and bone shop," as Ms. Dowd memorably describes it, and resumes his in-your-face program of the bold-faced offensive answer to nattering nabobs. Rove says that Democrats aren't patriotic, they're just living in the past, the "pre 9/11 world," unlike those of his party, which has a clear handle on reality.

"That doesn't make them unpatriotic, but it makes them wrong, wrong deeply and profoundly and consistently."

And it makes Bush and all his boys right! to ignore those crusty old laws that get in their way, and right! to leak the name of a CIA operative whose husband pissed them off, and right! to stonewall anyone and everyone who thinks our government's actions should be ethical enough and moral enough to stand the light of day.

Backbone, but maybe not enough of it Permalink to this item

Senator John Kerry's itching for a filibuster, noting that keeping your powder dry for the future only makes sense if you have one. With a Supreme Court prepared to submit to a President with dreams of the power of a monarch, there may indeed be no time like the present.

There's no indication any of the Republican Senators are prepared to resist their President and stand up for the separation of powers (they'd rather ridicule Kerry than face their own impotence), and 3 Democrats have already voiced their intention to vote to confirm Alito. Imagine Robert Byrd voting down a Democratic filibuster to fill out your "irony" file.

Location, location, location Permalink to this item

Here's a sample of mapblogging on Flickr, although the map part is just a single image he swiped from Google. He says "I wish Google Maps had this kind of annotation," but of course it does; you just have to dig into the API some. This is 10 months old, so done before it was possible. One of the comments suggests the search string for lots more of this sort of thing: "geolocate photos," turning up such even more ancient efforts as the USC Interactive Media Division weblog entry for Location-based Photo Albums.

Shouldn't cameras have built-in GPS units to associate location as well as date and time? Of course they should. (Throw in a cellphone too, while you're at it.) June 2004 article, A Brief Introduction to GPS Photo Linking.

Jon Udell: Annotating the Planet

Speaking of travelogues Permalink to this item

This mashup of Google Maps, travel photos and a journal puts anything I've ever undertaken to shame: "Journal for our trip to Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands in the summer of 2005." It's even indexed for goodness sake!

Wayfaring is another mashup with Google Maps, a (free) subscription interface for you to make your own, share, collaborate. Sort of a Flikr for mapblogging? I signed up, tried out the interface, got the HTML to stuff it in my blog. Pretty cute.

Warning: they'll email your password back to you in plain text. Don't use one you have for any secure purposes.

It seems to be just a few months old, the design relatively sophisticated, but the "best of" not yet compelling. Track your latest pub crawl? Yawn. Or was it just the luck of the draw? "Some of our very best maps" seems to be a variable, random (?) sample. Nevertheless, some people are accumulating significant information. (Can I save mine, I wonder? Will it be useful if Wayfaring Media goes away?)

26.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Time to be Committed to Improving the State of the World Permalink to this item

Yes, that's right, it's time for the captains of commerce, industry, government and journalism to converge on Davos for another World Economic Forum. And once again, my invitation somehow did not arrive in time.

A longer view of spying Permalink to this item

Robert X. Cringely serves up some history on the interception of foreign communications, and it makes for an interesting story, including "one fun fact from that monitoring: The CEO of International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) reportedly spoke with Adolf Hitler on the phone from New York City every week of the war."

His "hint from a lawyer who used to be in charge of exactly these compliance issues for one of the largest RBOCs" matched up pretty closely with one of the points Alberto Gonzales made at Georgetown University Law School Tuesday: even though the FISA court is "easy," they still have to do their homework and have applications that pass "close vetting (by) DOJ attorneys" before or after the fact of the spying. Gonzales complained that all that work to do vetting and make sure the proposal was legitimate came at too high an opportunity cost.

So much easier to just skip that part, eh?

It's Legal. Just ask us. Permalink to this item

As I watched The News Hour excerpt of Alberto Gonzales' defense of the Bush administration's semi-domestic spying last night, I was wondering what is so funny? He seemed to have a smirk thing going on while reading his speech which was fairly dry legalese. Was the notion that this lame justification (Congress said we could, see?!) would actually fly so obviously ludicrous to him that he was laughing at his own delivery? No, I'm sure he takes himself too seriously to do that.

"We have to collect more dots before we can connect the dots."
–Alberto Gonzales

The wider view showed some of what the audience was up to: a team of hooded protesters holding a banner quoting Benjamin Franklin, others standing and turning their backs to him. You'd think that would be chilling to someone addressing such a group, rather than funny. Maybe I was misreading his reactions; I didn't have a view that showed the two scenes at the same time. (C-Span has it here for the moment.)

CBS News' pullout quote from Gonzales was "These press accounts are in almost every case, in one way or another, misinformed, confusing or wrong." He was speaking about press accounts of the other spying that has not yet been publicly disclosed, and which remains "highly confidential." and of course necessary. Trust us, we know what's best.

Oh, and we would have told you more about this, but it would have compromised our effectiveness. Secrecy is so important, now and forever.

Not that we really wondered about the question, but it's easy to see why Bush avoids giving speeches to anything other than hand-picked audiences.

22.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Web 2.0 Killer App Permalink to this item

There was another epiphany for me in O'Reilly's Web 2.0 article (next item): having twiddled in databases and SQL with far too many user-unfriendly software packages, and wondering why it was that no one had brought a powerful and easy-to-use database program to the mass-market desktop, I see the moment is at hand. Web 2.0 (and Google in particular) brings the global database that "just works" to everyone. "Google isn't just a collection of software tools, it's a specialized database."

I don't think it's overstating where we—and they—are by saying Google is the database.

Web 2.0, and Ajax Permalink to this item

It's difficult to read something of more than very modest length on-line, even with a nice, big high-res monitor. You always have only one-screenful before you, and have to hold the past and what's to come in mind as you fight off other the other screensful of distraction.

Printing is so last-millennium, but I went ahead and printed the 4-month-old paper (!) by Tim O'Reilly, What is Web 2.0 : Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software and sat down this morning to read it end-to-end, without interruption. The article's title is a model of microcontent, and O'Reilly delivers on its promise.

One of many bits I appreciated was having the epiphany light-bulb come as to the meaning and import of AJAX "christened" "in a seminal essay by Jesse James Garrett of web design firm Adaptive Path." I'd read the essay and grokked the basics, but it seemed so complicated. After a week or two of experimenting with the stuff it still seems complicated, but the essence is much simpler than Garrett's florid elaboration. ("Itís really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways....")

AJAX = Asynchronous Javascript And XML. Whatever else it is and isn't, it's a model of acronym design, eh? Here's the nut of what it is and does: it's a javascript method that reads data without forcing your browser to wait until it's done. When the data are read, a signal is sent and they can be further manipulated as need be.

At the user end, in the best case, you see no inkling of what's going on behind the scene, and are treated to a seamless and rich user experience. In the next-best case, the delays and/or drop-outs are minor enough and there are enough other interesting things going on that you may not notice, but at least you don't mind. And in the worst case, the delays and/or missing data are significant and annoying and you give up permanently, or "try again later."

I know some of my readers just roll their eyes at this techy stuff. If you somehow survived to this paragraph and are still totally mystified, a single example might provide the equivalent "aha": Google Maps uses Ajax to deliver the rich and time-consuming data stream underlying its interactive map of the world such that usually don't have to wait. Too much.

(If you're on the other side of the tech curtain and want to know how you can play too, look up the succinct note on my maps index.)

O'Reilly's Web 2.0 article describes how that isn't really Google's map of the world, but rather NavTeq's and TeleAtlas' and Digital Globe's, but you don't have to care about that, either. You can just enjoy the view.

21.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mistaken loyalty Permalink to this item

Charles Marsh asks "What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty?"

The Lausanne Covenant of 1974 affirmed the global character of the church of Jesus Christ and the belief that "the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology." Times have changed.

"An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003 [to go to war against Iraq]. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war."

A more thorough critique of the RNC campaign Permalink to this item

I don't know if it's any better considered, but a bit less sarcastic, and covering the questionnaire more step-by-step, my freshly updated home page essay provides a longer (I'm sure of that part) analysis of the RNC campaign for the mid-term elections. Alternately formatted and permanently located here.

My Republican Party Census Document Permalink to this item

I have been selected to be a representative "of all Republicans living in (my) voting district" to answer a few questions. Woo hoo!

Do I support President Bush's initiative to promote the safety and security of all Americans? And to spy on them without bothering to get a warrant? Oh wait, that second question wasn't there.

The second question was "Do you support the use of air strikes against any country that offers safe harbor or aid to individuals or organizations committed to further attacks on Americans?" Hell yes! And don't stop at air strikes, go for invasion, occupation, the full meal deal!

Should the Inheritance or "Death Tax" be permanently repealed?

Heck, these are easy! Of course not. Tax bad. Growth good. Wasteful spending bad. Bush good. Bush Agenda good. Ah, Buuuussssshhhh.

Should students, teachers, principals and administrators be held to higher standards? We all should be held to higher standards, don't you think? I personally would like to hold the President and Vice-President to the higher standard of the Constitution, for example.

Bush initiative to allow private religious and charitable groups to do more? Support the law banning partial-birth abortion? Save Social Security? Pass the Federal Marriage Amendment?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, yeeeesssss!!!

United Nations bad! Fight terrorists! Missile defense! Elect Republican candidates and "rebuilding our majorities over the next ten years?"

Rebuilding our majorities?!

What the hell? I support stronger math education for these guys.

After I make the choice between joining the RNC for $500, $250, $100 (which will pay "to mail 250 more CENSUS DOCUMENTS to registered Republicans"), $50, $25 or Other $, OR $11 "to cover the cost of tabulating my survey." I bet they get a lot of those, eh? $11 to tabulate 20 Yes/No/Undecided answers, good work if you can get it.

SPECIAL QUESTION FOR RNC MEMBERS ONLY

From what source do you receive most of your news and political information? Here's where all that tabulation money gets spent, it's multiple choice. Big 3½ networks? CNN, MSNBC, "News/Opinion Websites," Daily Newspaper, Radio, E-mail, News Opinion Magazines, Other __________?

(Oh, and the enclosed cover letter was the requisite 4 pages. I'm in the first wave they tell me, and "based on (my) answers, the RNC will mail an additional 5.5 million" of these to my fellow Republicans in the next 4-6 weeks.)

Speaking of reform for "fairer" Permalink to this item

Both the RNC's invitation to join and its "Republican Census Document" came to the house with "NONPROFIT ORG" postage. As the current president of one of those that has long qualified for 501(c)(4) status but is a good bit of paperwork short of 501(c)(3) and still more paperwork short of getting the nicer non-profit rate at the P.O. (different requirements, don't you know), that piqued my curiosity.

Sometime advocacy organizations such as The Sierra Club have to be very careful to sort out their "educational" activities from their political advocacy. The former ("c3") are more tax- and fee-advantaged than the latter ("c4"). The RNC is obviously not an "educational" organization. How is it they get cheap postage?

When you write the rules, you get to specify the privileges you want. The big pols gave themselves a big "OK": There's a list of political committees "authorized to mail at the Nonprofit Standard Mail rates without regard to their nonprofit status." It includes national and state committees "of a political party" (so any party), as well as the Dems' and Repubs' Congressional campaign committees specifically.

The rest of you schmucks? 39 cents.

My new membership card was enclosed Permalink to this item

The format for fund-raising letters seems to be converging to a single variation. I'm not sure of the topography of the pitch because I stopped reading them years ago, but I do know they're supposed to be four pages long. White space is deemed "wasted paper," and waste doesn't look good when you're asking someone for a contribution. The fact that much of the ink (or black toner) is wasted seems to escape the designer's notice.

Ken Mehlman's letter of invitation for me to join the Republican National Committee is only 2 sides of a single sheet. Efficient. It's dated "Friday morning," which is efficient also: no need to change the date header when the next batch has to go out. Most of the language is simple us vs. them, win vs. "the Democrats will do everything they can to stop us."

What is it the Republicans are for, though? "The positive vision President Bush has for a safer, stronger, more prosperous America." "Agenda" is enough most of the time, but what is that, exactly? "From making the Bush tax cuts permanent to reforming the tax code to make it simpler, fairer and more pro-growth, from fixing our nation's immigration laws to securing the homeland," your support blah blah blah. That's all there is, in a thousand words.

(Not that there are any Republicans in my audience, but) God almighty, is that really enough for you people?

20.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fastest rocket ever launched Permalink to this item

The Atlas 5 lit and flew flawlessly, no Pu-238 spewed over the Atlantic, and on its schedule to go a long, long way. It's long past the moon as I write and by the time you read this, but more than 9 years from its appointment with the edge of the solar system. It takes four hours for the sun's light to get to Pluto, think about that.

Only one way to go from the zenith Permalink to this item

I haven't read the 42-page whitewash paper from the Justice Department yet, just the news about its release, but hearing that the authorization from Congress after 9-11 to deter terrorist attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the N.S.A. activities" definitely gives pause.

"The NSA activities are supported by the Presidentís well-recognized inherent constitutional authority as Commander in Chief and sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs to conduct warrantless surveillance of enemy forces for intelligence purposes to detect and disrupt armed attacks on the United States."

The Executive gets to say what the Legislature has enabled it to do, is the claim. Some presidential powers, particularly in the area of national security, are simply "beyond Congress' ability to regulate," the Bush Justice Department says.

With Sammy sc'Alito filling up the right end of the Judicial bench, George and Dick are apparently pretty confident that they'll win any 2 out of 3 matches in the balance of power contest. 42 pages from the Alberto Gonzales team is definitely aimed at the black robe gang, not the bare populace out here. For them, the simpletons, the message is simple:

Trust us, we're doing this for a just and noble purpose, and to protect you. We know what's best.

There's still the framers' wild card: impeachment. Harry Reid said "it's way, way too early for that" on Jim Lehrer's News Hour this week (right after he said that former Senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham told him "when he was briefed on this they didn't tell him all that he should have been told, and as far as he's concerned, they didn't tell him everything, and he says what they're doing is unconstitutional"). Reid's talk seemed to be entirely pre-scripted political calculation however, and it's not at all too early when the President has admitted breaking the law, and vowed to continue breaking the law for as long as he and his Vice deem necessary.

That just isn't the form of government we defined for this country.

That PR campaign did the job Permalink to this item

Whilst channel surfing last night, I came across one of the second-tier reality shows, "Beauty and the Geek," wherein good-looking gals and nerdy guys are somehow paired up and then played against other couples to see who gets to stay in the game. It combined that gripping drama with quiz-show questions, tailored to be "geeky" for the beauties and pop-culture for the geeks. I'm clearly in the latter category, since I have little clue about who won Grammies or what bands they used to be in, or who's in the band now, or mass-market brand identification.

But I (and the geeks) knew the geeky questions inside and out, and the show got some mileage out of that by showing the boys in a soundproof room, reacting to the girls getting the answers right (or not).

Anyhoo, one question was "What is the address of the White House?" and the blonde beauty just didn't have a clue. "1 White House Avenue?" she offered weakly when time was up. (I loved her comment when she and her opponent were in the soundproof: "What does it even need an address for, it's the freakin' White House!"

But then the big one to the other gal: "What is the capital of Iraq?" Deer in the headlights look. Stalling for time (we hope), she asked "could you spell Iraq?" The MC patiently did so. Long pause. "We need your answer."

"Afghanistan?"

19.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Call before you dig Permalink to this item

The 'Digline' graphic, linked to Idaho's version Otherwise, you may dig up the phone line and then you won't be able to. It's been "calculated that there were more than 675,000 excavation accidents (in the US? the world?) in 2004 in which underground cables or pipelines were damaged." It's not just a good story anymore, but also a serious Homeland Security issue. Don't miss the illustrations for Wired's story about "the ultimate denial-of-service tool."

The Feds are working to coordinate a national dig line, as 8-1-1, but it's 15 months away (at least). Until then we have state's rights and 50 versions.

18.Jan.2006 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Portals are kind of old school Permalink to this item

But then this is for a 300th birthday. I imagine Ben Franklin would be over the moon about Ben.clusty.com, gathering his proverbs (409 of them), access to resources on the web, his writings, links for educators and so on.

Shoot the outliers, full steam ahead Permalink to this item

The lede from this story says it all: "Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, including five who served Republican presidents, said Wednesday that the Bush administration needed to act more aggressively to limit the emission of greenhouse gases linked to climate change."

The 5 years we've wasted (and let me make a forecast: the next 3) during the Bush administrations may prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity... missed. "We were too busy, worried about terrorists," we'll tell future generations. They'll shake their heads in wonder at how we could have been so incredibley stupid.

Mega pow-pow Permalink to this item

That's how the Bogus Snow report described what skiers and riders would find up the hill today, after 3" overnight and 9 to 10 inches! as Gretchen Anderson so breathlessly put it in the morning reports. As-in 9-10" over the last 24 hours; it seems yesterday was really good. The enthusiasm is fine, but for god's sake, don't lie in the damn snow report.

There was a good-sized line by the time they started turning us loose up the hill, some minutes past 10am. Most of us chowderheads headed for the backside, and started cutting it up, after which it became a curious split between medium-weight peanut butter that yielded beautifully to my wide knife, and the sharp and less beautiful grooves of previous trails. It was fun, and it was all over, but I was suprised at how much of "yesterday" was showing through. I made my year's first run at Lightning, had two yummy face plants for breakfast and enjoyed every bite.

Meanwhile, up north... Tamarack said they had seventeen inches overnight, Brundage got "seven more" on top of lots and lots, and I'm certain they were both colder and lighter than Boise's hill. But then there's the winter driving between them and us, so we go for the cheaper thrills.

He's not nuts after all Permalink to this item

I just talked with Statesman reporter Brad Hem (about the library bond, and Rod Beck's latest cabal of nay-sayers who want to torpedo it: that was who sicced the automated survey machine on us earlier this month), and I'm here to tell you he's a nice fellow and seems perfectly sane. He said he re-checked his fact on Salt Lake City's population, so I had to re-re-check mine, and sure enough the City itself is tallied sub-200,000 and sub-Boise City as of the 2000 census.

We're still "catching up" (if that's the right term) to the SLC metro area, but on a tear to do it. This 7 page PDF from census.gov lists us #7 in the top ten fastest-growing metro areas. We're up 46%, a notch above Phoenix-Mesa. (But then their 45.3% was a million people, versus our increase of 136,494.) It also includes a striking graphic of national percent change in population by county, and by state. Too bad they didn't do that info-resizing trick and scale the counties by their beginning population.

Population density map of the 3 biggest metro areas of Idaho and Utah Extracting point statistics leaves us short of the whole picture, eh? I thrashed census.gov a while and got into the "Thematic maps" section, settled on this view (impressive URL, btw!) of population density by metropolitan area. Boise has 263 people/sq mile, in the same bracket as Provo-Orem at 184 people/sq mile. Salt Lake City-Ogden is in a very different category, with 825 people/sq mile. (They may have "thinned" us out a bit by stretching all the way to the Oregon border, but still.)

I rest my case: Salt Lake is a way bigger conurbation than Boise.

16.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Year of Living Dangerously Permalink to this item

Tom Englehardt handicaps the main event in 2006: Bush v. Reality. We've all got front-row, Chinese curse seats; it's going to be an interesting time.

"Iraq as a rolling, roiling, ongoing disaster, Republican congressional representatives and administration figures under indictment, bureaucrats leaking madly, possible seats put into play in Texas, presidential polls dropping -- all having the potential to threaten an administration already filled with the biggest gamblers in our history and capable of doing almost anything if they think themselves in danger."

Republicans... must... not... lose... one... house... of... Congress. Or else.

Location, location, location Permalink to this item

The future's all about target marketing, and if you're carrying a cellphone, it'll be a homing beacon for people in your vicinity to try to sell you things. Google's supreme innovation and implementation is relevance: it helps you find what you're looking for, and for its reward it can take advantage of the knowledge that you're looking for something. Since they were all about technology rather than marketing, they combined that with low-key (but relevant) advertising... et voila! They're worth $137 billion.

Let's hope they find a way to dominate "cell phone search," whatever that's going to turn out to be, so that what you see will not be a flood of spam coming to your cellphone. "Short video clips" first, then "full-blown campaigns" from all your favorite brands.

At least the law is on your side (for the moment): you currently have to opt-in to allow your carrier to divulge the location of your phone. Not counting divulging your location to the NSA, of course.

Business-friendly Idaho: homeowners pay for it Permalink to this item

In his State of the State address, Governor Kempthorne summarily dismissed the notion that the legislator had a role to play in addressing the growing inequity in the property tax system that rapid inflation of residential property prices is driving.

"If citizens believe they are paying too much in property taxes, that debate belongs in the county courthouses and the city halls," he said, before tossing out a proposal to expand the Property Tax Circuit Breaker to cover 10,000 more households (from 26,000 now).

The homeowner's exemption was established by initiative in the early 1980s, as the lesser of 50% of the value of the house, or $50,000. (There is no exemption on the value of the land the house sits on.) The average sale price back then was $46,000. The $50,000 upper limit has never been adjusted for inflation. If it had been, it would now be $100,000, and we would not residential taxes increasing four times as fast as total taxes on commercial, utility and farm property and 50% faster than the growth in property tax spending by schools and local government

In the last two years total residential taxes have increased $143 million, total non-residential taxes $15 million.

Maintaining this trend comports nicely with the wishes of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and The Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, both tools of industry. (The ATI says its membership includes "individual taxpayers," which I'm sure the members of their Board are, when they're not running corporations, banks and law firms.)

Here's a 3-part proposal to fix the biggest problems, from Ken Robison:

References: Greg Hahn's background piece (Nov. 2005); Dan Popkey's Mar. 2005 column describing what he calls the "Tamarack Tax Break."

Further reflections on a wonder drug Permalink to this item

There are so many pharmaceutical miracles to consider from the last century or so, but Albert Hoffman's 100th birthday gave reason to think about LSD, which Ann Harrison wrote about in Wired, under the subject The Geek's Wonder Drug?

An interesting bit of ancient history: "the rituals of Eleusinian Mysteries took place for two millennia beginning in 1500 BC." At the symposium this weekend two researchers gave a seminar on the mythology and chemistry of those mysteries, hypothesizing that an ergot-based drink provided a "psychoactive Eucharist."

Plutonium to Pluto Permalink to this item

MarsBlog has an ascerbic assessment of the New Horizons mission's Environmental Impact Statement, responding to the hue and cry from protestors worried about the radioactive material on board causing terrestrial problems if there's an accident. I'm reasonably confident in the rocket scientists on this one. Three dozen people driving to Cape Canaveral for a protest probably create more net societal risk than the launch. On the other hand, the production facilities and waste-handling involved in getting the 10+ kilos of Pu into armored ceramic pellets probably has more risk of harm than the launch, too. We've already run this risk scenario: radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) have already flown on 6 Apollo flights, Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Galileo, Ulysses and Cassini.

At any rate, if we get to t plus 40 sec. without anything exploding, we should be a-ok.

14.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Don't you dare pledge Permalink to this item

Jeff Sessions shows up as an exceptional party tool for his President. Chucking up softballs to Sam Alito, he laments the Ninth Circuit's "attack" on the Pledge of Allegiance, and how their recent opinion means that "40 percent of the population of the United States really are not able, if you follow that opinion, to render the Pledge of Allegiance."

Before this week's confirmation hearing, he played the same sort of roll as Al Gonzales and John Yoo, except working from the Senate instead of the Justice Department. He introduced a last-minute amendment to the recent defense-authorization bill explicitly denying all Guantánamo detainees habeas corpus rights, and providing an end run around the Supremes and their decision to give detainees access to our courts.

(I can hear the right-wing retort now: "I really don't understand why you lefty nut-jobs are so concerned about rights for terrorists!")

T minus less than 3 days Permalink to this item

excerpt of NYT graphic, linked to their story and counting, for a mission to what used to be the last planet, Pluto. New Horizons will take 9½ years to get there, after only 9 hours to zoom past the moon. Launch currently slated for Tuesday.

It makes me want to cry, too Permalink to this item

to have the biggest story about Alito's nomination hearing be how his wife started crying at the tough(?) questions Sam was getting. The guy ducks and weaves, slides over all the extremism of his past and looks to have a free pass from his Republican pals in the Senate. Bush reshapes the judiciary with Republican activists (somehow OK if they like a monarchy) for a generation, yanking it far right of the country that barely gave him a majority on the second try and that still casts more votes for Democratic Senators than Republican ones. It's a sad story alright.

But hey, those were tears of joy as Lindsey Graham came to the nominee's rescue! You're not really a closet bigot, are you, Sam?

13.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some meta-geographical information Permalink to this item

Spent a good chunk of my day fleshing out my understanding of geographic information systems, by way of rewriting a reference page on the subject of projections, data formats and sources of "live data." It's now in my maps directory, along with some first experiments in coding Google Maps applications: GIS Standards.

12.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

High-tech Idaho Permalink to this item

Not an adjective that springs readily to mind, but a characterization (and/or vision for the future) that many boosters are eager to amplify. In yesterday's Guest Opinion, Mark Solon, Managing Partner of Highway 12 Ventures (oddly named Boise firm: they like the pioneering feel of the highway that follows the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers across the panhandle) does his part to beat the drum.

He laments the comparatively scant attention science and technology get from the state (other than for touting purposes, such as bragging about being #1 in the nation for patents per capita on the Office of Science & Technology homepage), and encourages the governor to find useful leadership work for some of the "very capable executives" late of Micron and HP, "now spending time skiing and honing their golf games."

Launching from the interesting but unprovable notion that "patent activity is perhaps the best measurement of research activity and innovation" (and observing that Micron and HP are the predominant sources for "Idaho's" output), he wraps up with a demonstrably erroneous observation:

Boise State University has been prominently establishing a reputation as a metropolitan research university. The College of Engineering was established in 1997. This has helped the high-tech industry in the region to begin to grow.

Some kind of carpet-bagger? HP and Micron "began to grow" long before BSU added its College of Engineering, and hit their stride completely independent of that capacity.

How to manage wolves Permalink to this item

Wolf management units map excerpt showing the I-90 corridor and Lolo Zone Idaho leaders are all excited about the shift of "management" of gray wolves from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state wildlife officials.

South of Interstate 90 (which is way up in the panhandle), the State's in charge, and they'd like to start their management by killing 43 wolves, to boost the elk herds in the north Idaho Lolo Zone. That's 75% of the wolves in that zone. So Idaho hunters can have more elk to shoot.

The Statesman reports the "F&G calculates wolves are responsible for killing about one-third of the cow elk that die each year in that zone," significant because "cow elk drive the overall population."

"Mountain lions and bears are the main predators on newborn elk calves, not wolves, and F&G has aggressively tried to increase lion and bear harvests in the Lolo Zone by lengthening their hunting seasons and increasing bag limits."

I looked to see the relative take of wolves, lions, bears, and people, without finding it.

Brave new world: Signing statements Permalink to this item

If you've been paying much attention to Alito's confirmation hearings, you've learned about signing statements, a sort of sticky note the President attaches to laws he's signing in order to stake an early claim to his interpretation of the law.

It's a problem of activist Executives, don't you know. (Why does this not scare the Right more than "activist Judges"?)

The Congress handed Bush and his Dark Lord a stinging rebuke on the question of McCain's anti-torture amendment, passing the Defense Appropriations bill that contained it with a majority far beyond what would be needed to override a veto. (FYI: a "veto" is when the President refuses to sign a bill into law. It's available to the current President, but he hasn't seen fit to use it yet.) Bush handed the Congress a return slap, "unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on," that he isn't going to follow the law when he feels it will be too constraining.

In the words of our favorite source, the unnamed senior administration official, "a situation could arise in which Bush may have to waive the law's restrictions to carry out his responsibilities to protect national security." Like the situations currently arisen that have made Bush decide he doesn't need to follow FISA law.

Ok, he's not above a little PR Permalink to this item

Bode Miller offers an apology for going too far over the top in his 60 Minutes interview. "Obviously, the message that came through was not something that I would promote or (what) I'm about in any aspect of my sporting career."

Now go win those 5 Gold Medals for your country, ok?

Is that a secure line you're talking on? Permalink to this item

Your cellphone records are available to anyone, for a price. AMERICAblog reports the price from a couple providers, and particulars. Buying his own records didn't make the news, but buying General Wesley Clark's should get a bit more attention.

At $90 for 100 calls, people who use their phone much might want to do their own selling, and get some help paying the phone bill! As AMERICAblog noted in his earlier report, the availability was reported by The Washington Post last July.

The good news is that getting the information is generally not legal, and you can take precautions to foil some of the most common techniques used to get at it. (Stopping people at Telcos from being bribed is going to be tough, though.)

11.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Zeitgeist Permalink to this item

Two headlines:

China's Trade Surplus Tripled in 2005

Wall Street Bonuses to Hit Record $21.5 Billion in 2005

The NSA's new toys Permalink to this item

Jon "Hannibal" Stokes parses the wiretapping reports to infer what he can about the spying technology that's being deployed "for our protection." Think of it as a first background piece for the legal battles to come.

House on a hill needs more land Permalink to this item

The governor's mansion, formerly J.R. Simplot's Jack Simplot's gift to the state didn't include all of his property in the neighborhood, and now he wants to sell (and the governor wants to buy) the "30 to 40 acres" next door, for $2 million. Apparently the exposed hill and 30+ acres isn't enough to stave off development, or provide a sufficient sense of security for our governor and his potential guests.

This is in addition to the "separate, private fund-raising effort is currently under way to raise more than $3 million to remodel Simplot's 1980s-era home," expanding it to 12,000 square feet from its current, measly 7,400.

Kempthorne's swan song Permalink to this item

Our term-limited governor had a long list of what he'd like added to his legacy in his last State of the State address (which he has merged with his budget presentation, mercifully). With the state flush after its earlier hard times, the state employees are in line for a raise, and possibly right away. He asked for 3%, starting in February, rather than in July when the new fiscal year begins. (One commentator noted that the raise wouldn't kick in immediately for teachers, but I couldn't find that verified anywhere in the news reports.)

He dodged the property tax issue that state tax-payers are confronting by saying "that debate belongs in the county courthouses and the city halls" after reciting all the wonderful things the state does for cities and counties. As he said "the state does NOT assess, collect, or spend a single penny of property taxes," but the state does set the homeowner's exemption. Recent real estate inflation has made that $50,000 amount absurdly inadequate.

The Statesman provided an interesting list of fact-checking on the speech. They contrasted the governor's highlight of record low unemployment (3.4%), "ahead of 46 other states," with its falling per capita personal income: we dropped from #42 to #46 in the last couple years.

And the Democrats gave a press conference with their response to the speech and what they'd like to see on the Legislative agenda. For them to get anything done with the Republican control of both House and Senate is no mean feat in this state.

An uphill (and worthy) fight for Boise libraries Permalink to this item

The February vote to see if taxpayers will pony up for new branch libraries has to meet a two-thirds hurdle, and at last check (in June), there was a scant plurality in favor, with 20% undecided. The mayor kicked off the campaign on Tuesday, so I guess the unidentified recorded survey call on Monday was probably from the forces in favor, gauging the size of the effort that's going to be required.

The Statesman reports that "among Western cities of similar size, such as Salt Lake City, Spokane, Tacoma and Eugene, Boise has the smallest main library, the least total library space per resident and less than half the average number of items available to residents." (Salt Lake City is similar size to Boise?! That sent me running to census.gov to find out that they're nuts, not me: the 2000 population of the whole state of Idaho is less than the SLC metro area.)

The point remains: we need to expand our libraries! As Mayor Bieter put it: "For less than the cost of one hardcover book per family, Boise can quadruple its library sites, provide better service to a larger geographic area and make a wise investment in our children's education as well as our neighborhood livability."

The guy can dance Permalink to this item

Judge Samuel Alito has a credibility problem as the next most "outstanding" nominee since Robert Bork, but since he was chosen for his brand of judicial activism, and the choosers' party control the Senate, he's likely to be confirmed and make a historical shift in the character of the Supreme Court of the United States. The only suspense left is whether the Rs will have to go nuclear to get it done.

All that suck-up stuff he used to get his job with the Reagan administration? Irrelevant, forgotten, or just "misleading and incorrect."

Asked by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) about an endorsement of "the supremacy of the elected branches of government" in the 1985 job application, Alito disavowed it:

"It's an inapt phrase," he said, "and I certainly didn't mean that literally at the time, and I wouldn't say that today. The branches of government are equal."

Kennedy: "So you've changed your mind?"

Alito: "No, I haven't changed my mind, senator. But the phrasing there is very misleading and incorrect."

This slip-up is telling: in 1952, Justice Robert Jackson referred to a "zone of twilight," "when the president acts in absence of either a Congressional grant or denial of authority." For Alito, the the president enters the "twilight zone" when s/he "is exercising executive power in the face of a contrary expression of Congressional will."

So much for the Law being above the President; now there's a light haze at dusk.

10.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fireball schedule Permalink to this item

Sometime about 3am (MST) this coming Sunday, the 100 pound sample capsule from the space probe Stardust is slated to streak across the western sky, and "should be visible from areas in Northern California, Southern Oregon, Northern Nevada, Southern Idaho and Western Utah, depending upon clouds and the brightness of the Moon, NASA officials said."

The hoped-for payload is... stardust, no less: "more than a million particles (from a comet's tail) weighing in total less than a small fraction of an ounce..."

The planned trajectory looks to give us a front-row seat here in Boise, except that we'll be fighting the moon. South of the track, looking north would be better... for your 30-second thrill. (And then, wait for it... the sonic boom, maybe three minutes later.)

A buddy says he saw the capsule from Genesis come in: "I happened to be outside when the last one came in, and it was really spectacular to see. (It) had a fighter escort when it crossed here and was screaming across the sky, leaving a billowing trail. It was daylight then, and this will of course be in the dark, so I don't know what this will look like."

Bad Boy Skier told to suck up Permalink to this item

We saw the 60 Minutes piece on Bode Miller, and now the "chief executive" of the United States ski team's problem with his comments about skiing while drunk seem... irrelevant? As Miller's agent points out, the profile was "awesome," and showed the guy's charisma, intelligence, likeability, and... well, he's kind of whacked. That seems to be a significant asset for being at the top of a death-defying sport.

No one is going to be tuning into to watch Bill Marolt go down the hill, or do anything else. He can probably get some news time if he makes a big enough stink, but that would be anti-entertainment if you ask me. Let the kid do his thing and have his say; he's only young once and if he brings home some gold we'll all be over the moon. (Whether or not he wins those medals, the all-important ratings bait has already been set out.)

Forget about the bunny Permalink to this item

Lord Weber has outdone himself, with the 7,486th performance of Phantom of the Opera in New York. That surpasses Cats for "longest running show on Broadway." Frank Rich considered the musical "as much a victory of dynamic stagecraft over musical kitsch as it is a triumph of merchandizing über alles," and theater-goers have responded with a resounding "oh yes!" to the tune of $3.2 billion.

Add it to Beloit College Mindset® for the class of 2010: Phantom of the Opera has always played at the Majestic.

The owner of the theater likes it too: "It's got years to go; there's no end in sight."

More lifelike than being there Permalink to this item

I went to Comdex, once, and I've got some great stories to tell (especially now that the statute of limitations has run), but I just haven't got around to it. Comdex is dead, of course, and CES is now the must-see-TV Las Vegas geekfest. David Pogue's video reports from the scene are probably better than anything I'm going to do for my 6-year-old once-in-a-lifetime experience. He's funnier, better-looking and a lot more up-to-date.

9.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And then what? Permalink to this item

The rundown of likely legislation for Idaho's 2006 session includes this from Max Black: "Changes bicyclist right-of-way laws so bicyclists no longer have the right of way when on the sidewalk or traveling against traffic on the road."

I'm as annoyed as the next guy when kids (or adults?!) ride down the wrong side of the street, but I bicycle on the sidewalk on occasions and in places where it makes sense, generally improving the lot of motorheads who think "get off the road" is the height of witty repartee. But taking away bicyclists' right-of-way? So if you run over one, you can dodge the civil suit that follows?

Whatever the Idaho Code says about it, bicyclists have precious little right-of-way as it is. Their bodies are on the line against multi-ton killing machines piloted by drivers who are often inept, inattentive or in-communicado on their cell phones. If we don't learn to act as if we're invisible—forget about having the right-of-way—we generally get killed, maimed, or scared away. How is this going to improve things, Max?

Speaking of tax dodges Permalink to this item

Wouldn't you like to own 14 acres of prime Idaho real estate near Cascade (that's the neighborhood of the new "world-class resort" all our boosters are boostering) and pay only $5.72 in property taxes on it? It helps to be governor.

Who wants new libraries? (I do!) Permalink to this item

Mexican fence post cacti, at the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, CA A telephone interruption: "We're taking a simple automated poll..." We? Who's we? "to determine whether you support raising property taxes $38 million to build three new libraries in Boise." My choices were yes [1], no [2], don't know [3]. I pressed [4], the recorded message started to replay, and I hung up.

I imagine this is from some group opposed, because the emphasis was on the total amount of money, which is a lot. And also because the miscreants didn't identify who they were. Proponents of measures funded by property taxes like to break it down to the personal, as was done in this Aug. 2005 Statesman story (still available from their site, months later?) when the estimate was $5 million less, estimated to "raise property taxes by up to $17 on a $100,000 house."

The current story is an election planned for February 7th, letting voters rather than people pressing buttons on their telephones decide whether to go ahead with raising $38 mil. That works for me, I never miss a chance to vote, and this would be my favorite part of our tax bill. I love libraries, and one of the ones they want to build would be a pleasant walk from my front door.

State of the State Permalink to this item

Our Idaho Legislature is a part-time deal, kicking off this time of year, and wrapping up just as soon as possible. March is typically the goal everyone has in mind, but it can go on into April if there's enough contention.

The Statesman offers a a guide to this year's Legislature, as we prepare for the governor's opening salvo the State of the State, and its budget tonight.

End of Pensions, continued Permalink to this item

Yeah, I'll be one of those old coots who says "sonny, when I was working, companies had pensions for their workers, I ain't kiddin!" Employer and employee loyalties wane in concert. Will time of service and experience within a particular company ever become valuable again?

The transfer of long-term security from professionally-managed company pension plans to self-managed 401(k) plans raises the average level of risk for society as a whole: individuals can't or won't manage their affairs as professionally, on average.

The NY Times story illustrates two categories of workers who will be paying the difference for coming changes: older workers who get frozen or knocked out of pensions they've already worked themselves into, and women, whose longer life expectancies made their annuities more valuable.

What a long, strange trip it's been Permalink to this item

In two days, they guy who made one more than two dozen tries to come up with something pharmacologically useful from the active ingredient in ergot fungus will turn 100. This profile of Albert Hofmann honors the milestone.

One of his remaining concerns is what will happen to us if/when/as we forget where we came from. "It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature. In the big cities, there are people who have never seen living nature, all things are products of humans," he said. "The bigger the town, the less they see and understand nature."

7.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And I used to like cold pizza Permalink to this item

Scott Lazar's EULA for the ColdPizza product (as amended) is a parody, of course. But I doubt the CD from ColdPlay that inspired it is anywhere near as tasty.

"You are licensed only to permit the one-time travel of FOOD PRODUCT through a single digestive system in the conventional direction. Re-ingestion, regurgitation or sharing by yourself or others in any other method is specifically denied."

Financial spam-o-rama Permalink to this item

Been getting lots of unwanted financial spam in the past weeks? I sure have. The latest bolus has "From" texts Financial.Group, FinancialCorp, FinanceLetter, Financial.Member, NewsletterFinancial, with addresses suggesting they're abusing myriad systems to do their sending. The subject lines have permutation of the same words and "Weekly" in the subjects. At least they're plain text and short. The payloads point to k6883.com.

What's in your Wishlist? Permalink to this item

Tom Owad's tried his hand at a little data-mining, finding subversives with Amazon Wishlists. I thought mine would qualify easily enough, but I see I somehow dodged all his specific books and keywords. (Mine is one of the 44,647 "Tom"s this morning.)

For his demonstration, he took the trouble to make sure he was operating within Amazon's Conditions of Use, and not contravening their robots.txt file, pleasantries that I doubt the FBI or NSA (let alone our Commander-in-Chief) would be much concerned about.

Even Nixon's Laywer is Troubled Permalink to this item

Epiphany sunset The ACLU ad is to the point: why did we bother debating the Patriot Act if President Bush could make up his own rules about spying on US citizens? They've also written a letter to the Attorney General, "Requesting the Appointment of Outside Special Counsel for the Investigation and Prosecution of Violations, or Conspiracy to Violate, Criminal Laws Against Warrantless Wiretapping of American Persons."

Somehow I have my doubts that Alberto is going to jump right on it (and indeed, 2½ weeks have passed without action on his part). We don't need to belabor the point that Gonzales is not sufficiently independent of the President to act in the public interest: "Regrettably, your own statements indicate that you, yourself, are implicated in violating these federal laws, regardless of any defense you may assert."

Their letter cites chapter and verse of U.S. Code that has apparently been violated, noting that the FISA law provided for emergencies, and wartime, and oh by the way Congress declined to declare war when they had the opportunity.

"(E)ven if the resolution (on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan) were misconstrued as a declaration of war, however, it did not provide any authority to violate federal law on wiretapping."

The carefully non-partisan Congressional Research Service has also considered the question of whether Bush acted within the law. They couldn't reach a conclusion, "in part because it said so many details remained classified." They did say that the legal rationale "does not seem to be as well grounded" as the administration's lawyers have argued.

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

Modern medicine Permalink to this item

Agave, Quail Botanical Gardens in Escondido, CA Something to be thankful for today, with my father getting a huge helping of it. They tell me that bypass surgery is getting to be pretty routine these days, but that has to be by some kind of relative measure. Successful so far...

Otter apologizes, even if he doesn't get it Permalink to this item

From the "ready, fire, aim" artillery school, Idaho Congressman Butch Otter and pals lit off "another in a series of 'shots across the bow' on the issue of federal land management," before being informed by his constituents in no uncertain terms that he had a screw loose. Otter is running for governor now, and his Democratic opponent, Jerry Brady, helped generate the outcry that led to Otter's apology, which ran in today's Statesman along with Greg Hahn's news report of the fracas.

HR 3855, which was going nowhere in a hurry, sought to "raise funds necessary to respond to Hurricane Katrina and future disasters by selling a portion of the lands administered by the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior." Specifically, 15% of the lands in the National Forest System and under management of the Department of the Interior would be mandated to be sold off.

One of the obvious issues is the prospect of losing access to more than 8 million acres of public land in Idaho and other states. Otter's reply to a constituent's letter recited his sportsman bona fides (a must for getting elected to state-wide office), and derided those who would conclude privatization would mean loss of access: such thinking "does a disservice to the value that Idahoans place on stewardship" and "betrays a lack of trust in the good work of Idaho sportsmen's organizations over the years to encourage greater access to private property for hunting, fishing and other recreation." Nothing in the bill would prohibit access easements (which the FS and BLM have included in some previous sales), and Otter said he would "insist that such easements... are required as a condition of any sale."

The letter from Otter is dated January 4th, apparently just moments before he realized his support for the bill was a mistake and started composing the Guest Opinion piece that ran today.

There is the larger issue, which our parochial representatives ignore when they find it convenient. As Wallace Stegner said in 1986:

The fact is, the states never owned those lands, and gave up all claim to them when they became states. They were always federal lands, acquired by purchase, negotiation, or conquest before any western state existed.... All of the western states except Texas, which entered the Union as an independent republic and never had any Public Domain, were created out of federal territory by formal acts of Congress, which then did everything it could to dispose of the public lands within them.

As far as a little beyond the Missouri, the system of disposal worked. Beyond the 98th meridian it did not, except in the the spotty way that led Webb to call the West an "oasis civilization." Over time, large areas of forested land and the most spectacular scenery were reserved in the public interest, but much land was not considered worth reserving, and could not be settled or given away.

(Quoted from "Living Dry," collected in Marking the Sparrow's Fall, 1998.)

Far from being the "absentee landlord" Otter still decries, the federal government is a generous manager, with more than 11,000 employees and a payroll of over half a $billion in Idaho. In 2003, Idaho received $1.32 of federal spending for every $1 we paid in taxes: $8.7 billion returned for not quite $6 billion paid out. Grazing fees, mineral leases and timber sale prices are "so low that they amount to a fat subsidy to those who enjoy them," as Stegner put it.

5.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Crash course in winter driving Permalink to this item

Thank you for using the Slow Vehicle Turnout An 18-year-old got a lesson from an icy patch on Bogus Basin Road yesterday, with the exceptional good fortune to live and profit from it. The Isuzu Trooper he and his two buddies were in was squished by the time it stopped rolling and flying, 450 feet below the road. I was up top when it happened, having successfully negotiated the icy road a bit more than an hour earlier, and had to wait the last half an hour or so of the 4 hours (!) the road was closed for ambulances, a helicopter and the rest.

Bogus Basin spokesperson Gretchen Anderson "said the accident was a reminder for people to use caution when driving the windy road to Bogus Basin." Good plan.

"I think it's so important that people take the road easy," she said. "It's not a road to be in a hurry on." And you'll be so much more comfortable without people on your tail, so do use the slow vehicle turnouts, would you?

(Access to the Statesman article and photos for 7 days...)

Big Boost for Charity Permalink to this item

Jack Abramoff's perp-walk headgear compared
Baseball cap, or Fedora?
It's nice to see some of Abramoff's influence peddling turned into charitable donations. Makes one think of the game of "hot potato," doesn't it? The pols don't miss a trick though: witness the subtle calculus of which of Abramoff's political donations are "tainted" and which can safely be held onto. Bush's team figured that 6% of the more than $100,000 Abramoff raised on behalf of re-electing the boss was bad money, and donated it to the American Heart Association.

Some have delicately referred to this as "money laundering," but should we look a gift horse in the mouth?

By Jonathan Weisman's account, the overall yield is running about 10%, over half a $million coming from "at least 24 politicians," from the "$5.3 million that Abramoff, some of his lobbyist colleagues and tribal clients paid to 364 federal candidates and campaign committees between 1999 and 2004. About 64 per cent went to Republicans, 35 per cent to Democrats and 1 per cent to independents."

This explains a lot Permalink to this item

David Pogue's review of the new Windows-based Treo concludes with a guess at why it doesn't matter that usability took some serious hits in the "marriage not made in heaven": "It was built for corporate buyers, whose top priorities may not include providing the most pleasurable experience possible for the worker bees."

3.Jan.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No to purity Permalink to this item

Kwame Anthony Appiah's New Year's Day essay, The Case for Contamination is an interesting read, starting on a palace veranda, travelling the world and ending with a call for a system of global and cosmopolitan ethics that recognizes the possibility of error. "Fallibilism," he terms it. Out of "respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices(,) cosmopolitans don't insist that everyone become cosmopolitan. They know they don't have all the answers. They're humble enough to think that they might learn from strangers; not too humble to think that strangers can't learn from them".

"Cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes. Societies without change aren't authentic; they're just dead."

Real-estate disintermediation Permalink to this item

From Madison, Wisconsin, where "bucking the system is a civic pastime," fsbomadison.com. For Sale by Owner is not for everyone (as they note on the home page), but 6% of increasingly large sums of money is a big and attractive chunk of change. They launched way back in February of 1998, and today's NY Times story has their hit counter spinning.

To real estate agents, "for sale by owner" conjures up some cranky tightwad trying to sell an overpriced, ramshackle house. Agents utter FSBO as if there was something foul stuck to the bottom of their shoe. "It's a commission-avoidance scheme," said Sheridan Glen, manager of the downtown Madison office for Wisconsin's biggest real estate broker, the First Weber Group.

Gee, you think?

Bye-bye milblogs Permalink to this item

The story about military bloggers getting shut down (demoted, etc.) leaves the burning question: why on earth did it take so long for the military to get around to squelching them? But then wondered about the digicam shots from Abu Ghraib, too.

For some gain in security, we lose the immediacy and credibility of the first-hand accounts. The powers that be are comfortable with another propaganda channel, but not a lot else; certainly not a broadcast from "the risk-takers, the mavericks, and the one percent that's bitter." Will they be cutting off email next?

Guilty! Conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion (at least) Permalink to this item

We all knew he was, but now Jack Abramoff said so himself. Like most plea deals, we can safely assume he was guilty of a lot more than he admitted to, in exchange for his "cooperation" in bringing down some number of his former best friends. Misery loves company, and Abramoff's misery will love a lot of it.

More minutes of fame Permalink to this item

and to a blogger more deserving than I. Julie Fanselow and her Red State Rebels blog garnered a share of the award for "Most Valuable Local Coverage" in the Northwest Progressive Institute's David Neiwert Awards.

NPI seems to be slowly recognizing that Idaho is in the Pacific Northwest. [Who knows if we really are or not, but we like to think so. Botanically speaking, C. Leo Hitchcock drew the boundary to include "all of the state of Washington, the northern half of Oregon (north of approximately the 44th parallel), Idaho north of the Snake River Plains, the mountainous part of Montana, and an indefinite fringe of southern British Columbia."] Their home page only has two states in the top banner, but their portal has three. Their blogroll includes Alaska.

Is the President Above the Law? Permalink to this item

"Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, a wiretap requires a court order."
–George W. Bush, 2004, 2 years after he authorized the NSA to conduct wiretaps without warrants

His behavior certainly seems to show that he believes he is, although when disclosures force his hand, he gives us lip service. As if, this super top secret program of spying was unquestionably legitimate, he emphasizes that "This program has been reviewed, constantly reviewed, by people throughout my administration. And it still is reviewed. Not only has it been reviewed by Justice Department officials, it's been reviewed by members of the United States Congress."

This administration, the model of forthrightness and candor.

In the more typical reponse, we hear the convenient attack dogs loosed on the messenger: Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, #2 Republican in the Senate, says we need to hunt down the miscreant(s) who disclosed the operation. Yeah, that'll fix it.

Is Technology Above the President? Permalink to this item

No sirree, he's got an iPod, and knows how to make it go: "...crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle. Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on."

2006 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When the little hand sweeps by the dot (no numbers on my watch), covering the big hand already there, and it's tomorrow, it never feels like a threshold has been crossed. Where I was, no one worked the lights, dropped a ball, lit a fuse, or anything. We bravely called for a Happy New Year and clinked glasses all around, said goodnight to the early departing and went back to our nearly-done game of dominoes.

January.

2006.

January first.

On with the show.

Who's in charge here? Permalink to this item

Olivia Judson is happy to have evolved, "proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea."

The "impartial - and comprehensible - forces of evolution" are preferable to the "caprices of a deity."

Post-silicon projects Permalink to this item

Reading about what the chip industry will do after silicon made me wonder what we'd do if the trend described by Moore's Law were to change slope. What if computing power stopped doubling every couple years? Computers work pretty darn well right now, do they not? Google solved the vexing problem of how to quickly find most information, and we're better off with regard to the harder-to-find information than we used to be.

Cellphones, cameras, PDAs and what-not are certainly small enough (and often too small for we presbyopes). We could clean up some of the hideous mistakes in bloatware that pass for operating systems and application software and get one last 10x improvement in price, performance and capability, and another 10x improvement in the quality of the user interfaces. Then go to work on solving problems like equitable distribution of the world's resources, sustainable energy development, making clean water available for everyone and so on.

Maybe if we weren't so busy shopping to replace obsolescent computer gear, we could get on about some other work.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 06-Feb-2006 18:06:36 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200601.html