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Where was this plain-spoken, clear-headed assessment of the situation in Iraq before the election? From a Republican, no less. Senator Chuck Hagel:
We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.
Juan Cole points out that the focus on "the botched character of the American enterprise in Iraq" and its economic cost could be (and in fact has been, so far) "countered by the White House as insufficiently urgent to require a withdrawal." So... what exactly is the mission, and how (and when) is there any hope of accomplishing it?
(I)f there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not.
While waiting for enough snow to pile up on the Boise Front to open our local ski hill (nice start over the end of the weekend: 14" and 19°F this morning), there's time to check the weather elsewhere, and read about Seattle's wet November. 14" of rain at Sea-Tac is a lot, but look at the Cascades: more than two feet of rain, and over 30" at the top of the Olympics. Where it's cold enough for that to be snow, it could be ten or twenty feet deep.
We're collecting snow deeper in the Rocky Mountains, but nowhere near 10 feet yet.
Sounds kind of dorky, but we have to admit there's some honor for Bill Sali to be elected by his fellow newbie Republicans, even if the explanation "because of his background in the Idaho Legislature" sounds completely lame. Most of the 13 new House Republicans have been in their state Legislatures, and the former minority leader from California would have been the more logical choice based on experience. The Chronicle's terse rundown doesn't say much about past effectiveness at legislating, either. Sali has no claim to fame there.
It's getting harder and harder to define the problem down to "sectarian violence," but the P.R. men at the White House are still working that angle. It can't be easy, with an assassination attempt reaching into the Green Zone, more than 200 killed in Sadr City on Thursday and the inevitable retaliation following.
Leave it to Mother Russia to bring back the intrigue of poisoning when so many more direct forms of mayhem are available. As I was reading about the apparent murder weapon used on Alexander Litvinenko, I was thinking that I'd come across polonium before in a more mundane setting. Perhaps it was a different isotope, not so "highly radioactive" and "very toxic"? No, it's polonium 210 that I remembered correctly as the functional isotope used in ionizing air guns, for control of electrostatic discharge.
It's an alpha emitter (alpha particles are helium nuclei; two protons and two neutrons), so "safe" when properly enclosed. When I first learned that's what was used, I figured it was chosen because it would be less alarming than plutonium to the general public (including the production line operators who used the tools and followed the directions we engineers specified). But the more likely reason is that its much shorter half-life (less than half a year, vs. 24 thousand years for 239Pu or 88 years for 238Pu, used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators) means more emission, and so more useful effect if the ionization is what you're after.
Article author Donald McNeil Jr. didn't do his homework, letting a source who should know better convince him that 210Po was "such an obscure thing," "something like the KGB would have in some secret facility or something." It's obscure as a poison, no doubt, but not as an industrial material.
Well down in the story, we have a CDC source acknowledge that polonium had industrial uses and could be produced in commercial or institutional reactors. Yes, "could be," and is. The most likely explanation as to the source does not involve a secret KGB facility.
From a NYT editorial today:
To head family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Bush has tapped Eric Keroack, a doctor affiliated with a group vehemently opposed to birth control and someone nationally known for his wacky theory about reproductive health.
This administration seems determined to "prove" that government is utterly incompetent, by making it so. It's doing a heckuva job.
Mark Danner's lengthy and remarkable piece from the upcoming New York Review of Books (posted early on TomDispatch) re-examines how the Iraq war was launched with minimal connection to reality. Facts and plans and analysis would have slowed us down, they get in the way of bold decision-making. In retrospect, Danner sees "a strikingly disfigured process of governing," riding as it did on The Decider's gut instincts, said guts unfortunately never gaining the experience or training one would want for a world leader.
Unlike his son, George H.W. Bush never got in the habit of speaking only before hand-picked crowds, and he's still willing to make a public appearance in another country. But the confrontation of reality embodied by critics of his son in Abu Dhabi came as a shock, in a country where he's more used to finding reliable business partners.
"I can't begin to tell you the pride I feel in my two sons," Bush said. "When your son's under attack, it hurts. You're determined to be at his side and help him any way you possibly can."
The hecklers were telling him something about what it's like to have their part of the world under attack, and how well the "George W. Bush as peacemaker" theme is going over beyond the reach of Fox News.
The enormity of the body count in Iraq—growing by no less than a 9/11 event every month now—is another reality that our leaders are inclined to simply ignore. We don't "do" body counts any more was the official word from Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, and will be happy to ridicule those who do, along with their results. The Lancet study remains the best estimate, and without credible criticism beyond the out-of-hand dismissal it got as an "October surprise." Which October would that be, one wonders? We've had four of them since the war began, the violence and mayhem deeper with each passing year.
Death tolls aside, even the still-lowering standard for "victory" in Iraq—"a government that can defend, govern and sustain itself"—seems far out of reach. The decisions implemented before the end of the spring of 2003 salted the earth from which our leaders imagined democracy would spring: no army, no competent bureaucrats, a looted infrastructure... and a civil war that our high-tech shock-and-awe theater can not quench.
Is classified advertising the only thing keeping newspapers alive? Robert X. Cringely thinks it may be, and in the process of losing out to Craigslist, available now for a city near you. I'm not much of a classifieds guy; I've made plenty of online purchases, but none via advertising on Craigslist (and only one through eBay). (And reading his description of what a great business self-storage lockers are, I'm a surprised to consider that we've never fallen into that habit; I guess the idea of paying rent is more unpleasant than a crowded house for us.) "John" in the reader comments spells out part of the problem with newspapers:
If advertising is your most important source of revenue, wouldn't you think the newspapers could provide a tiny bit of information on their current ads on their website? If you are losing business to the internet, doesn't it make sense to try to recapture some of it through your website?
...(W)hat is the incentive for me to buy my local paper? In my case the answer is simple -- we get the weekend paper for the weekly ads and the TV listing. Suppose you ran a restaurant and your customers only came in to buy a cup of coffee and use the bathroom. How long would you stay in business?
Our local rag is a running one of those seedy sites where you have to ask for the key to use the restroom, and you wish you didn't have to go quite so bad. Last redesign was... this century, maybe. Today's innovation is an ad for St. Al's LifeFlight gliding across the screen with a whirring helicopter rotor. Whoopie! And the "News Updates"? The #2 item is "Shoppers, retailers start early Friday." Maybe that article was written 15 years ago and has become a classic, like the one about Virginia and Santa Claus... (Latest AP news #2 item eerily parallel: "Some Stores Begin Shopping Season Early" Shocking! And don't miss the Online Poll: "What time will you be hitting the stores on Black Friday?" 83% of 741 respondents said "Not at all.")
Just another hum-drum piece about who's blogging now (it's university presidents this time, until we get to the part about the president of Michigan State University criticising a planned event put on by a student group. It was to be "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day," involving "finding a student to play the role of an illegal immigrant and turning the "immigrant" in. (Do I have to disclaim that I'm not making this up?) "Dr. Simon derided the game as 'a way to mock and demean, not to educate; a way to exclude, not include, voices.'"
The conservative group that wanted to put on the event, "Young Americans for Freedom," was not happy: "(they) said that the blog inhibited free speech, and that no professor or administrator should express an opinion publicly about anything."
No really, I'm not making this up, it was in the New York Times.
"We’re here to be educated, to get our degrees," said Kyle Bristow, chairman of the group...... "They’re here to provide an atmosphere where we can be educated. We should be able to think for ourselves and not have people like Lou Anna Simon thinking for us."
In Bristow's case, it's not entirely clear that he should be thinking for himself without adult supervision.
In recent memory, our big oak tree has held its leaves into winter; shifting from green to gold to dry brown, but hanging on, long past the city's month-long composting pickup program. The sycamore does that too, does it watch for the trucks, waiting until they're gone?
Some combination of this year's weather changed things, though. Maybe it was the weather warming to the upper 60s! on Tuesday, coming in with a warm wind out of the SE, and sunshine, making it feel more like early October than late November. Perhaps it thought those few frosty nights we've had was all we'll have for winter this year, and spring is on its way? Can't say, but the leaves pretty much all let go in within the last week, early enough to be bagged and (soon) carted off.
No bigger dust-up than this one: Science v. Religion. We're not ready for no-holds-barred, however, with the generous benefit of the doubt afforded "faith," as well as the convention of polite deferral to all things pious gives religion a significant head start. So to speak.
I like Steven Weinberg's comparison of R. to the crazy aunt in the attic
"She tells lies, and she stirs up all sorts of mischief and she’s getting on, and she may not have that much life left in her, but she was beautiful once," he lamented. "When she’s gone, we may miss her."
We so love it when people find reason to yuk it up at our expense. The reddest among us wear it as a badge of honor, while the blue-tinted sort roll their eyes and silently appreciate the fact that such stories must discourage people from coming here, right? (We like our wide open, unpeopled spaces.) The only problem with that theory is that it does seem to encourage a portion of like-minded wing nuts to emigrate to Idaho. Bruce Reed's Notes from the Political Sidelines:
The rest of America may be hungry for common-sense centrists who'll change the tone and solve the country's problems. But in Idaho, voters looked at the extremism of the last six years and said, "Bring it on," "Stay the course," and "Full steam ahead!"
That Nigerian email scam seems like it's been a joke forever, but of course that's just in internet years. It can't be more than 10 or 20 years, right? But it's working well enough: this story from the BBC says to the tune of £150M/year, and an average of £31,000 per sucker. That's most of 5,000 hits, in just one country. Damn.
In case you've been living on another planet, you can find out all you want to know about the scam, and pretend you answered Mr. Madu's email, without actually risking your good fortune.
The Dixie Chicks were famously disappointed in the way our current President reflected on their state. There's plenty to disappoint in the way he reflects on our country too, and he and his advisors appear to be completely oblivious to the impression they leave trailing behind them after the exhaust from the speeding motorcade settles.
Nation Security Advisor Stephen Hadley (who is commenting on this because why exactly?) thinks that Bush "connected" with the Vietnamese people, "gotten a real sense of (their) warmth," by looking out the car window, and waving his way to new heights of public diplomacy.
From David Sanger's and Helene Cooper's Reporters' Notebook:
Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War. There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.
I thought conservatives were pretty united against "welfare" as a concept (or at least as a strawman), but here some of them have made a business out of it: business-to-business Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements. For output from a federal bureaucracy, this is pretty interesting reading, and the "conservative" angle does start to come visible:
Although MEWAs can be provided through legitimate organizations, they are sometimes marketed using attractive but actuarially unsound premium structures that generate large administrative fees for the promoters....
The Department (of Labor) has devoted significant resources to investigating and litigating issues connected with abusive MEWAs created by unscrupulous promoters who sell the promise of inexpensive health benefit insurance, but default on their obligations. Particular emphasis has been put on identifying ongoing abusive and fraudulent MEWAs, and working to shut down such operations.
Sounds like welfare abuse, eh? But make-believe handouts used for bait aren't the only handouts. A good machine needs lubrication, and it seems that generous political contributions are greasing the wheels. And why not direct those contributions to someone who thinks we have too much government regulation? That's where eleven of the top employees at Boise-based Employer's Resource directed their meter-pegging $2-large contributions: to our newest Congressman-elect, Bill Sali.
Nice work by the MountainGoat to shed a little preventative light on what might have become a seamy dark corner. Of course, we have some reason to question their investment acumen; their guy is having a bit of trouble finding his way around D.C.
I learned about the variability of "personal space" from my Learning and Study Skills professor, who used to have a class activity where students would pair off and learn-by-doing where their boundaries were. When an odd student would get paired with the professor, he'd find that Dr. Ross had an exceedingly small innermost threshold; he would get uncomfortable and stop well before she said "that's too close."
Stephanie Rosenbloom's article in the NYT mentions many variables that come in to play, as well as multiple thresholds that I hadn't considered separately ("intimate," "personal," and "public" distances). A college classroom has a situational asymmetry between students and a teacher, regardless of personal variation. Low lighting in a singles bar brings us together; bad lighting in an alley would keep us apart. Anxiety from other factors will widen our need for protective space, and the results will show up even when "personal" is translated to the highway or a virtual world.
If it's a universal behavioral trait of animals to resist the touch of strangers, as David Givens of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane surmises, I'd guess it goes back to eat or be eaten: is something about to take a bite out of me? No thanks!
"Snuggling" is a good thing. "Unwanted touch" is bad, especially if you're using your fangs.
It was Trent Lott's longing for the good old days, about how if only we'd elected Strom Thurmond president, we'd all be happy as pigs in mud, that got him moved to the back of the bus. After the Republicans got thumped at the polls this year, their response is to... bring Lott to the foreground, as Minority Whip!? Must be why they call themselves "conservatives," not wanting to give up an old idea too soon.
The Democrats took a different angle, unanimously electing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, bringing a woman just one and a half heartbeats away from the Presidency. The Rs did their best to demonize Pelosi, using her "San Francisco liberal" connection as a scare tactic, but the voters didn't buy it, for the most part. Maybe Idaho voters did, but they also voted themselves a dose of irrelevance in the House of Representatives for their trouble.
There's so much on YouTube that's wonderful, but just in case you're not getting enough (or for any other gripes you may have), the Helsingin Valituskuoro (Complaints Choir of Helsinki) is not to be missed. Was it intentional humor to leave an extra minute of black at the end? Never mind, the length is satisfying.
You may have even heard about the Spokesman-Review lately? The Frontline episode that aired this week, A Hidden Life brought them and Spokane, Washington, more attention than they're used to, and probably more than they like.
As one letter writer points out, one of the chilliest moments in the film is when one of a group of upstanding citizens, angry, says "I know he's guilty, I looked into his eyes!" We've heard this story before, many times.
Now why does that make me think about George W. Bush telling us he knows Vladimir Putin so well because he's looked into Putin's eyes?
Ok, calling the Spokesman Review "mainstream" might be a bit of a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have a nice feature with their expanded blogroll of "local blogs of note" for the Inland NW, a loosely defined area that roughly corresponds to their potential circulation. (One of their reporters has a blog that's local here, Eye on Boise, so I'm waiting to see how flexible their geography is.)
The more we look around us, the more we find big craters... and now there's evidence that big impacts aren't as scarce as we thought. It's a multidisciplinary study, of "geology, geophysics, geomorphology, tsunamis, tree rings, soil science and archaeology, including the structural analysis of myth."
That last one is where this particular story gets really interesting. Bruce Masse thinks he knows when the comet landed: May 10, 2807 B.C.
...14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C. Half the myths talk of a torrential downpour, Dr. Masse said. A third talk of a tsunami. Worldwide they describe hurricane force winds and darkness during the storm. All of these could come from a mega-tsunami.
kdawson on Slashdot raises a glass to the web at sweet sixteen (this month, if not this day).
And while we wrapped up our trip to China, my term of employment for Hewlett-Packard ended, three years ago today.
Nick Gier's reflections (and brief history lesson) are a valuable remembrance for the occasion:
Veteran's Day is... not only a time to remember those who have served, but it is also an opportunity for us to think about how we can bring about world peace. We should redouble our efforts to make sure that our military men and women never again have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
No president should send these good people to war unless we are directly attacked; or unless, in situations of no immediate threat, the issues are thoroughly debated and a consensus to intervene militarily is reached with as many major powers as possible.
The men and women who lay their lives on the line for our country have a greater claim on patriotism than those of us who stay behind in the security they provide. (We all have our civic duties.)
And the mothers of those men and women? They deserve our gratitude, and our attention as well. Jill Kuraitis has some things to say about "family values" and how our political process should support them.
I was a little quick on my capsule indictment of Douglas Feith yesterday, and decided to do some fact-checking beyond the collection of vague recollections in my head. Wikipedia provides a telling quote from Rummy: "Doug Feith, of course, is without question, one of the most brilliant individuals in government. He is—he’s just a rare talent."
So we can understand him rushing to defend his deposed former boss.
When he left DOD in 2005, one of the accomplishments Rumsfeld lauded was his "creation of an Office of Post-conflict Reconstruction in the Department of State." As in post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq? It's not clear if that office has anything beyond planning work to do, as we haven't quite reached "post-conflict" yet, have we? But in the usual jargon of Defense, we do understand that to be "Phase IV," after the really big ordnance have been dropped, a.k.a. "major combat operations are over."
Beyond the deception leading us into the war, the failure to plan for Phase IV and to execute an effective occupation and reconstruction is Rumsfeld's next greatest failure. Feith's defense of Rumsfeld as a person is a nice thing for them, but entirely without credibility as a statement of job performance.
"MLM" being Multi-level Marketing, shorthand for Mr. Ponzi's scheme in the worst case, but at best a communitarian enterprise that can involve you and your best acquaintances in mutually beneficial commercial activity. My logical faculty tells me "it can't always be bad," but my practical side insists I "run away."
It's in the news not for the mundane disappointment and deception it often carries, but for the effect of the effort to regulate said failings. Pending regs have short sellers circling like vultures.
Requiring "companies to tell potential recruits how many sales representatives have failed to earn more than their start-up costs and how many customers have filed lawsuits for deceptive practices" does indeed sound like the businesses are being "treated like criminals," which we know not all of them can be. (Indeed, for the pyramid to be stable, most of the participants must be credulous "contributors.")
And a week-long cooling-off for sign-up remorse? That really would quench the enthusiasm a good salesperson can generate, pooping the "party." Consider this bald fact reported in the story:
Industrywide, multilevel marketing companies typically replace almost all of their sales representatives every year.
Just one of a baker's dozen of suggestions for "How to evaluate any company you might do business with," from the chairman of the HP Alumni Association:
The quickest check: enter the company name (in quotation marks if more than one word) and the word "lawsuit" on Google. Of course, any big company gets sued regularly and has angry customers who can post anything they want—you need to read the actual items to see if they cause you concern.
That incisive assessment did not come from the President this time, but rather from Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy under Rumsfeld. Feith has moved on to being a professor at Georgetown University, and we can only hope that the remaining members of the Bush administration are not so persistently capable of rationalization, excuses and denial of failure.
If only you all could know Donald Rumsfeld as I did, Feith tells us, you'd know he isn't an idealogue.
Whatever. We do know that whatever flexibility he might have had behind the scenes, the facts on the ground demonstrate error in conceptualization, planning, execution, or some combination of all three.
Rumsfeld had to resign, I suppose, because the bitter political debate of recent years has turned him into a symbol. His effectiveness was damaged.
And this man is a university professor? That's embarassing. Rumsfeld was fired because of the demonstrated enormity of his failure. We don't need "all the information for a full analysis" to ascertain the blindingly obvious.
Who knows, people might really be the same all over... but we do know that cultures, economies, governments and history are wildly different the world over. Now that our elections (and failed SecDef) are behind us, we stand ready for the report from the Iraq Victory Definition Team, to learn a new way forward.
Joking about bringing back Saddam has moved on to serious discussion about whether we can find a strongman to lead. Let's just say we're postponing the notion of imposing an instant government to our liking on a manufactured tribal kingdom, rather than making an "about-face of historic proportions" in giving up the "core mission" of democracy-building.
You can't blame John Burns, or me, or anyone else about being confused about the mission, or the way out. The war on Iraq was sold as counter-terrorism, preventing a "gathering" threat to our own security, and implementing the Congressionally-endorsed policy of "regime change." When the threat turned out to be nothing more than a bluff that worked too well, the "core mission" was redefined, as needed. The counter-terrorism program has been horribly botched, worse than useless, the phase IV aftermath of Rumsfeld's charge of the too-light brigades become a recruiting and training laboratory. We got the regime change we were after, and an object lesson in the warning to be careful what you wish for.
The country needs control, and we muffed the chance to impose it, having planned only for the best-case outcome of the invasion.
Now, who's going to answer the help wanted ad for new leadership?!
Vanity publishing seems like a great business idea; there's no shortage of the former, and the web has proliferated the latter, but without the tangible satisfaction of an object to hold in your hand, or to hand over as a gift.
The cute alliteration doesn't exactly establish the "professional" feel of the proposition, but at least you know what they're talking about: "With one click, Blurb’s Blog Slurper slurps your blog right into a slick coffee-table book, professionally designed and bound to attract attention."
Who wouldn't want to attract some attention, after all?
But the "one click" beta program is "currently filled," so you'll need a few more clicks to use the regular BookSmart thing from blurb. I guess. The web design is lovely, and the product intriguing, but it could be more clear... Illustrating that it's easier to click something into existence than it is to do the hard work of selection and editing.
I've come across Fred Miranda's website from time to time, found it again yesterday. It always knocks my socks off. (Then my feet get cold eventually, I have to put my socks back on and get on with life.)
And if you like that Flash-based stuff, try Flappr, a "gorgeous interface" to Flickr (yet another bug I haven't really caught).
TED 2007 Registration is "open," but limited, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you probably aren't invited. Just like the Monterey Peninsula, where it's held. David Pogue went last year, and had a "mind-rattling experience" of "four days of talks, each no longer than 18 minutes," given by "speakers (who) are either famous, pioneers in their industries or just fascinating people—and often all three."
Their web design is at the cutting edge, of something. With Flash enabled, I get the "Adobe Experience," which is not always satisfying. It's glitzy, clever/cute, and something you probably can't do, but it doesn't seem to deliver much beyond tightly cropped celeb pixs and a tiny bio. Allowing pop-ups lets it send me off to speakers' sites, but I don't get to find out what they said at the conference.
Power up with 120V at every seat as you fly through Canadian skies, and other sorts of skies where Air Canada goes.
Here it is a drizzly Saturday morning, Linda Laz playing the Youngbloods' Ride the Wind, and after looking for something in my inbox, I figured I'd read some of those deferred unread items, finally. Start with the oldest. January 28, 2006. (At least it's this year.)
The weekly NYT Books Update that I hardly ever get to, the links accessible "for free" today, in their no-paywall teaser week (but probably still subscription-required?), and after enjoying a blurb or two, I jump to the first chapter of a book.
A book! How can I make any progress when there are good books clamoring for my attention?
Half the one message and 518 more to go...
Update: hours later, after reading some, filing others, deleting the rest, I'm down to 452 unread, 1935 total. In the Inbox. Not counting the other folders mail sorts into before I read it. The sun has come out.
Reading about Idaho Republicans basking in celebration of taking "all seven Constitutional offices" (among many others) just makes me sad. With a "super" majority, and what seems like nearly assured victory, surely there must come a responsibility to advance qualified candidates for every office. They failed to do so for Superintendent of Public Instruction, and for Controller, and the state will be the poorer for it.
Ah well, time to move on, and do the best with the hands we're dealt.
Responding to my election rundown, a reader asks "How is blindly voting FOR the magistrates any better than blindly voting AGAINST them?" My answer:
Think of the "innocent until proven guilty" model of our legal system. My default assumption is that the magistrates are competent in the absence of even an ALLEGATION to the contrary. Elected officers face challengers claiming to be able to do a BETTER job (and in some cases, rightly or wrongly, claiming that the current job-holder isn't qualified to hold his or her position), which is a legitimate contest.
No guarantee of an optimum result there, either, but that's beside the point.
These magistrates are being held to a lower bar, as it were: they're doing a job, and the question is whether they should be fired or not. In my ethical world, you don't fire people without cause. You sure as hell don't fire them just because you don't like the fact that such a job as they hold exists.
It's damn mean-spirited to know nothing about a person (or his or her job, probably, much less his or her specific performance on that job) and blindly try to get them fired.
Two fish are idling with the current when they meet another fish, swimming upstream. "How's the water?" the swimmer asks. The other two continued drifting without answering, and the lone fish is soon out of sight around the upstream bend. Some time passes, until finally one of the drifters asks the other, "What's 'water'?"
You need to get out more to recognize what's all around you and accepted without question. From the temporal center of the Baby Boom, where fallout shelters and duck-and-cover exercises were scary but not foreign, I grew up in the Nuclear Age of families, and weaponry. Both ages have transformed in the intervening decades, even as they have become embedded in, and transmuted by, our culture and lore.
We're starting a new century, and millennium here, and the times they are a-changin'. Idaho just voted to add suspenders to its legal belt against expanding marriage, but Mexico City has endorsed civil unions for gays. Even granting proportional representation for the 17 of 50 city legislators who voted against the change, that great city has more people in it than our whole state. By, oh, about five or six times over.
Stephanie Coontz swims upstream a while, and asks us How's the Water? of "traditional marriage," the one-man and one-woman idealized model of romantic love that stretches back not to Biblical (or some other Original) time, but rather about a hundred years or two.
Her NYT opinion piece provides a good teaser for Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, which is going on the list of books I'd like to read if only I make the time to read them.
AND the Senate.
Which is to say that the winds of change didn't quite sweep up to the Gem State on Tuesday. They did sweep through Ada County but left Butch Otter crowing about the state's reddestness.
It doesn't matter what you know in this state, it matters who you know, but mostly whether or not you've got the ® seal of approval after your name on the ballot.
The interactive graphics team at the NYT is raising the bar at each election. This set of graphs with results analysis for the U.S. House of Representatives is absolutely brilliant: it offers 6 subsets of districts by voting history, 8 by demographics, 4 by region, all with comparisons between 2004 and 2006.
The default view of the House results gets apportioned by population, the same as the seats do, and shows the Democratic gains distributed across the country, and the "Population" view of the Senate shows the way states' rights trump population in our "upper house," as I heard it called on the Beeb last night.
The Montana Senate race goes to the Democrat, Jon Tester, ousting incumbent and Jack Abramoff pal Conrad Burns.
The people have spoken and "they cast their vote for new direction." "Regardless of the outcome, we can work together over the next two years." Hmm, haven't we heard that before?
Bush says he "hoped we could change the tone in Washington," when they got there 6 years ago. Freakin' mission accomplished on that goal. Now for "a new era of cooperation?" Pardon the light cynicism, but we'll believe that when we see it.
Q: Just last week, you told us Rumsfeld was staying, now this. What's up with that?
A: I didn't want to tell you the truth right before the election, so I just lied about it.
More famous quotes:
"People want their Congressmen to be eithical and honest."
"I should not try pundintry."
"It's important (that) people understand the consequences of failure."
"After a series of thoughtful conversations," Bush has finally sacked Rumsfeld. Two years late (or maybe five), but better late than never.
(David Brooks called this shot last night, before midnight EST!)
Fascinating graphic (among many others) from the NYT showing Counties that have changed voting equipment in the last 3 elections. Hawai'i, Oklahoma, New York and Massachussetts stand out as the only ones unwavering, with Idaho close by, having changed only in 1 of our 44 counties.
Our fairly trusty punch card ballots (albeit not without mysterious counting problems in the middle of the night) are clearly on the way out, deprecated after the "hanging chad" debacle in Florida 2000. "Optical scan" systems are leading a grab-bag of "Electronic" designs toward an even split, it would seem.
There seems to be no means for us to move toward a uniform
voting system, with individual states and counties making piecemeal
decisions. "Let the market decide" does not seem like a smart approach
for the infrastructure of democracy. We have yet to hear about an
"Electronic" system that can meet basic criteria for:
– creating a permanent, indelible, physical record of each vote;
– protecting the secrecy of the ballot;
– protecting the integrity of the ballot;
– enabling voters to cast exactly the votes they intend.
The confident bluster from Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman was either wrong or a bluff; the cautious but hopeful Democratic estimates turned out to be accurate. We've seen a lot of that in recent years, "bold visions" that turned out to be disconnected from reality.
Locally, Bill Sali started declaring victory in the 1st Congressional District race when the very first vote totals came in, but in his case, it appears that he may have been right after all. It's a measure of how far off the right edge Idaho is that on a day of historic gains for Democrats, we pushed our Congressional foursome even more all-red than it has been. Sali touted his win as giving Idaho "a unified voice" with its Congressional delegation, but unity hasn't been a hallmark of his political career. My prediction is that he will be worse than useless, a minority member of the minority capable of only obstruction in (hopefully) small ways.
The hints of "why" center around taxes, and "social issues" for many. A non-partisan assessment makes it clear that taxes will have to go up after the ridiculous excesses of the term and a half under Bush and a Republican Congress more concerned with graft than good governance. The only way not to have higher taxes, or to buy the inflation that will create the same effect is to agree we're going to have less government, something no major party in power has been willing to actually work toward.
And social issues... Idaho voters said
NO to Howie Rich's eminent domain Trojan, by a 3-to-1 margin;
NO to telling their Legislature to fund public schools (but YES to the endorsement of Jim Risch's property-to-sales tax shift to benefit the better off);
NO to a new Ten Commandments monument in a Boise park;
NO to a competent candidate for Controller, and YES to an unqualified party hack (who I'm sure is a nice person);
NO to every Democrat running for statewide office;
YES to a divisive anti-gay Constitutional Amendment that the state will repeal in shame a few decades from now;
YES to a superintendent of public instruction with no credibility with educators;
YES to protecting the tobacco settlement funds from raiding by the state legislators;
YES to all but a few state House and Senate incumbents; the exceptions were mostly here in the Treasure Valley where Democrat candidates defeated several incumbents: House 16B, 17A, 17B, maybe 18A and 18B; and 33A (maybe) across the state in Idaho Falls.
That leaves the Republican super-majorities in charge of our state legislature, and the prospect of even greater derision directed at the damn liberals in Boise.
Deep in a hospitality suite, either out of range of the wireless, or too late to get in on the limited ports, the first calls of Cleaning House are coming in soon after 9pm, and cheers ripple down the halls of the Owyhee Plaza.
The lights went out in the ballroom while we were passing through, a big circuit breaker overloaded by too many TV power packs sucking at once. Channel 7 switches their feed to Rep HQ, and Larry Craig's talking about what a tragedy it would be if the insurgents felt they swayed our election, and I'm thinking the damn Republicans swayed the election, screwed the pooch, bought the farm.
What do people in the rest of the world think of us? Larry Craig's concerned that they think we'll "turn tail and run, more often than not." This after we bombed the hell out of their country for going on 15 years now, half a million dead in the latest wave. Turn tail and run. Nice try on the metaphor, but no sale to the electorate.
Lots of races too early to tell, but plenty going Blue, and making this the most upbeat Democrat election night party in a long, long time.
After 9pm Mountain time, and they're showing lines of people still waiting to vote in nearby Meridian. Anybody who was in line at 8pm gets to wait it out, and it may be hours before they get their chance. If they can wait. And have the patience to wait.
VotersUnite! is collecting and cataloging trouble reports.
They say good weather favors independents, since the "decided" are going to get out and vote no matter what. After some hard frosts last week, into the low 20s overnight, the weather in southwestern Idaho has gone nuts. 55°F at 8 in the morning today, just right for our tandem ride through our neighborhood's fallen leaves to our polling place at Leisure Village. Feels like a California morning.
It was bustling, and everyone looked happy to be there. We bumped into Stan Oliva, and when he jokingly asked one of the ladies if she wanted to see his Green Card, she said that she would like to see a Green Card, because she'd never seen one. Jeanette's attempt to show her official voter registration card (let alone any photo ID) was waved off. Don't need that, just say your name, address, and sign the book.
No irregularities in our settled locale, and no Republican poll watcher, either. (I think they get all the paying jobs at the polls.) The Democrat poll-watcher was struggling like mad to keep up with the rush of the first hour, her voter list dog-eared from the effort, and her forhead wrinkled from trying to hear the names announced.
I love that part. I always say it loud and proud, so everyone in the room knows it: Thomas von Alten has voted.
Jill Kuraitis has been drafting "Citizen Journalists" (as in, "will work for no pay"), including me, and Jane Freund, who was willing to go on record with more predictions than I am. We showed up at the same line to vote on Monday, and guessed it might be the 45 minutes she was told, decided we could get it done quicker at our regular polling place tomorrow. That is, today.
So we missed out on the folks-in-line polling. But Jeanette has been out on three weekends, going door to door with leaflets and friendly conversation, a listening ear for people who have a lot to say this time around.
"It's not the party. Some Republicans have been there too long."
"I've always voted Republican but something has to happen. I'm giving the Democrats a chance."
I'm still thinking about Jimmy Carter; not his presidency (in those halcyon days when we had a giant of a Democratic Senator from Idaho, Frank Church), but about his work overseeing elections. Carter has been working down in Nicaragua, and talked to NPR on Sunday about the election that appears to have brought Daniel Ortega back for a second act. At the end of the interview, Debbie Elliott asked Is there a need for a poll watching system of outside observers at U.S. elections?
...there's no doubt in my mind that the United States electoral system is severely troubled and has many faults in it. It would not qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center in observing. We require for instance that there be uniform voting procedures throughout an entire nation. In the United States you've got not only fragmented from one state to another but also from one county to another....
(W)e require that every candidate in a country in which we monitor the elections have equal access to the major news media, regardless of how much money they have.
Robocall at Jenny Shank's house:
"...activist judges will take away Sunday..."
(Jeanette: "You just have to go to Winco on Sunday afternoon to see who's taking away Sunday: brown America with all their children, the ones who work night shifts and clean our toilets, on their way home from church, using the only free time they have.")
Greg Palast posted his column, HOW THEY STOLE THE MID-TERM ELECTION, yesterday, writing as if it was a done deal, but also giving advice on how to steal your vote BACK, and to stop whining.
...you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. If you can’t get the 55% you need for regime change, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to take charge.
I woke up thinking about the 2000 election that brought GWB to power, the Republican staffers flown in to Florida and acting as an "angry mob" to stifle the recount. That the "corrective" response of the Help American Vote Act turns out to contain time-delay sabotage ("a cankerous codicil," "strategically timed to go into effect in this mid-term year") is certainly in keeping with other legislation named with Newspeak. Didn't even need a signing statement to enable Secretaries of State to do selective culling of their voter lists.
Know your rights. Insist on them. Vote.
In the not-so-competitive 2nd Congressional District of Idaho, we're not on the serious robocall list, but we have been getting a few. Yesterday evening, we had one from Massachusetts (!) Governor Mitt Romney, for Republican candidate "Butch" Otter. (No, we don't have a lesbian running, he's a good ol' boy.) Jeanette repeated the keywords as he ticked them off, "Family, Faith and Community," explained that Romney's a Mormon, so not so far out of his element making robotic telephone calls from the east coast back to Idaho.
Language shapes the way we think. If I say "Medicare Drug Benefit," you may think about flawed legislation, but you almost certainly think "benefit" is something that individuals eligible for Medicare would be getting. That's not the way it's working, really. Those people aren't first in line, at any rate:
For big drug companies, the new Medicare prescription benefit is proving to be a financial windfall larger than even the most optimistic Wall Street analysts had predicted....
(The lede of this NYT story)
If you're in one of the contested district and getting hit by the RNCC telephone machine, here are counter-insurgency tools from a PBX engineer.
That was Ken Mehlman's subject line for his day-before goad. Before I read his message, I read Paul Krugman's column, "Limiting the Damage," and I started thinking about momentum in terms of "death spiral."
There was a Pew poll that showed a Republican resurgence, just before the election. Maybe they're all smart enough to pay no attention whatsoever to the months of campaigning, and only light up in time to go mindlessly pull the big R lever one more time? Yeah, that's a funny combination, isn't it.
Have they drunk the Kool-Aide? Do they like the Grover Norquist plan of choking government down to something that can be drowned in the bathtub? Are they paying so little attention that the unreality-based community persuades them?
Iraq is on the voters' minds (we're told). Finally, we might add, after more than a hundred times as many people have been killed as on that fateful day in September, 2001. But it's not the only disaster we confront; Krugman writes "almost every part of the executive branch I know anything about, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been FEMAfied."
But in the Republicans' favor, we have the Bush's campaign of "attacking the patriotism of anyone who criticizes him or his policies," the news media's "feeding frenzy over John Kerry's botched joke," the gerrymandered Congressional districts across the country, and of course the verdict to hang Saddam Hussein. That makes the half a million Iraqi deaths all worthwhile?
And then there is the vaunted Republican "machine," which used to be a metaphor, but is now the real thing, with computer systems making millions of calls a day. This is a robocalling push-poll system that neither Machiavelli nor Richard Nixon could have dreamed of. Reaching "hundreds of thousands of homes in five states over the last several weeks" with what its organizer describe as a "very sophisticated approach to voter education," so that voters can decide based on which candidate would like "research done on unborn babies," versus "opposing any research that destroys human life."
Of course, these computerized calling systems would never be used to masquerade as the opposition candidate, to disseminate rumors and outright lies... would they?
Things could get worse before they get better.
On my way to Canyon County today, the reddest county in this reddest state, I was passed by one of those grand land yachts, this one flying under the "Yukon" nameplate. Big as Alaska. The license plate caught my eye: FEARHYM.
I was listening to today's This American Life episode, "What's in a Number?" about the estimating of Iraqi war dead, and thinking about the news that Saddam Hussein had been found guilty and was sentenced to hang. Maybe the scene described by Kirk Semple was there in my mind too, Hussein thrusting "his finger emphatically into the air" and chanting "Allahu akhbar."
God is great. Fear Hym.
One of the questions on our local ballot concerns the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public property. There may be some variant wording on some of the Ten, but we expect one of them to be "Thou Shalt Not Kill." This is not one of the confusing, equivocal or negotiable Commandments. It's pretty much straight up.
Maybe we do need more monuments; the message doesn't seem to have sunk in just yet.
The editorial board of Army Times: Time for Rumsfeld to Go. Regardless of who wins the election.
Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised.
When a group of backers chips in a million dollars to your campaign, the best you can hope for is to be compromised. The worst is that you are bought and paid for.
Bill Sali's unwillingness to stand up and say he supports the eminent domain Trojan horse Proposition 2 (in opposition to the vast majority of respected members of both major parties, and independents who have stated a position) suggests he's closer to the latter category.
There's more. Julie Fanselow (of Larry Grant's campaign) has a six-part comprehensive look at "the Real Bill Sali", worth reading if your mind is not yet made up on how to vote in ID-01.
First-year law school student and blogger, feeling his oats after sheriff's deputies curtailed his free-speech rights in the George Allen / Jim Webb Virginia Senate race.
Maybe, maybe not. In regard to this and other sequestering of protest into "free speech zones," a friend responded simply:
The police state ends Tuesday.
We're all chuckling about "Borat's" antics, and primed to boost his box office to the stratosphere. Not all butts of his big joke are pleased, but they can't deny he's put their little country on the map.
But wait. It's not a "little country," as reported on BBC News, it's "the size of Western Europe." I had to run to Google Maps to see for myself. That's a bit of a stretch, but it is big. The biggest "Stan," and bigger than Mongolia!
Randy Stapilus says we're on the bubble, and don't know if it'll pop for Otter/Sali or Brady/Grant. Even stranger than the decisive wins emerging from the late, close polls would be a split decision.
We're all a twitter about Dead-Eye Dick making another pass through the state. The Spokesman-Review and Bruce Reed reveal a bit more about the "micro-targeting" of the base that goes into vetting the crowds that are allowed to enter in the presence of the Big Men. This is all about Feeling Good, and the dream of another "clean sweep" on Tuesday. Fantasy? Nightmare? Stay tuned.
And all this national press... such a thrill!
Democrat candidate for Governor Jerry Brady has used his opponent's misstep on this question as a campaign slogan. Otter said he screwed up and corrected his position (if not the political philosophy underlying it), and that race should carry on with other issues.
But the money flowing into the ID-01 race for Congress raises the question more directly. I went through the individual contributions reported to the FEC for Grant and for Sali, and sorted them by address. 26% of $171,167 in contributions for Grant came from out of state. 65% of $357,059 for Sali came from out of state.
It's not so easy to parse the $523,768 (Sali) and $224,464 (Grant) given by committees, but I would expect the sources behind those sources are more biased out of state for both candidates.
(Tip to The Sniff Test and its link to the Million Dollar Bill ad on YouTube for the link to the FEC reports.)
A week past due now, and Sali still can't figure out where (he'll say) he stands on the Idaho ballot measure. Incompetence or deception? We report, you decide.
If "limited government conservatives" were actually interested in limiting government to its highest and best purposes instead of (a) crippling government, and (b) limiting what's left to graft-enabling influence peddling, they might make a righteous political movement. As it is, they play a more destructive (if less dramatic) role than terrorists do in this country.
It's not the agenda, it's the hidden agendas. "National security" is an agreed-upon purpose of government, but supposed limited government conservatives took us into Iraq under that cover, for what turned out to be an imperialist adventure. Once the military drove to the Green Zone and cleared some office space, they launched an experiment that would have impressed Mengele. Let's see if privatizing government functions works... oops, no, it doesn't. Little things like water and electricity don't get delivered, and sewerage doesn't get taken away. Our own government systems provide services so reliably that looters in suits imagine they can "run them more efficiently," and cart off wheelbarrows full of cash for their managerial prowess.
That worked so well for California in 2000-2001, didn't it? The patron saint—and martyr, no less—for that glorious chapter is Friend-of-W Kenny Boy. There must be a posthumous medal we could give Lay; freeing his estate from the financial obligation of paying cents on the dollar restitution is insufficient monument to his accomplishments.
But I digress; I mean to write about Bill Sali, our local Club for Growth water boy running for Congress in the Idaho 1st district, and one of his tools, former Ada County Commissioner Gary Glenn. After Ada County voters decided they'd had enough of Glenn in 1998, he moved to Michigan to cause trouble there, working to ban gay marriage. He promoted the amendment to the US Constitution to that end, not because it had any chance of passage, but just so his side could collect names of those "in favor of the activist judges who want to overturn the will of the people."
Hans Johnson reports that Glenn now leads a groups boycotting Ford for having the audacity to market their products to non-heterosexual consumers. Those people should all use public transportation, I guess.
Political demotion, disgrace, and obstruction is a perverse "badge of honor" to Glenn, and presumably to Sali; our current government is so evil that any opposition to it is righteous. Incompetence is effectiveness. Ignorance is strength. It makes for an odd campaign argument: vote for our man because he'll do so little.
If only this crowd had been more true to that implicit promise over the last 6 years, we might be better off.
George W. joked about being in the land where cowboy hats outnumber neckties, as if this were his natural element. Most of us in the neighborhood wear neither most of the time, and reserve suspicion for those who do. The act is getting old, in fact, and even in what were once strongholds, Bush likability is losing out to his dislikability.
But on the stump for once-secure seats, he can still work the hand-picked crowds of supporters. The goals are more modest this time around, as Jim Rutenberg reports in the NYT. Keeping a Senate seat in Montana. Whatever his Veep can dig out of north Idaho. And Lady Laura in California, whipping up something for Richard Pombo, who—once again we assume without irony—got airtime to complain about "all the outside money" working against him. Air Force One-L came from heaven, he imagined, and Laura was travelling light, carrying "less political baggage than her husband."
The one good aspect to this story about a surprise! provision in a new law is the implication that conference committees aren't supposed to just insert new provisions that weren't in either the House or Senate versions of a bill.
The bad aspect is that it didn't work that way, thanks to "staff members working for Duncan Hunter" (R-Ca). Have we heard of this guy before? He has plans to change that, having just declared he wants to be President. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which provided the instrumental opportunity to shut down the oversight Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
Ken Mehlman's succinct description of how well the Republicans have gerrymandered an electorate that is split about 50-50, on the Newshour tonight:
(O)ne of the advantages Republicans have going into the election is that our voters are more efficiently divided than the Democratic voters. That is, there are a lot of Democratic districts -- there are like 70% Democrat districts, and there are more Republican districts that are like 52, 53% Republican districts.
One of our local ballot questions is whether or not a new monument shall be installed in one of our city parks, to address Brandi Swindell's and the Keep the Commandments Coalition's sense of loss over the movie advertisement that used to be in Julia Davis Park being moved to the Episcopal Church across the street from the Idaho Statehouse.
Yes, it's that ridiculous. Anyway, they want a new Ten, with a selected Thomas Jefferson quote for good measure, and they managed to get the question on the ballot. But the layout is a bit tweaked, especially compared to the other ballot questions. Is NO favored? Uh, actually, it would seem to be YES that would benefit from whatever possible confusion there is. But it may be a judge who ends up deciding the question.
Seems like there ought to be a Commandment against pettifogging.
This is the first campaign where "ads on YouTube" figured. There are myriad opportunities, not so limited by how much money you can come up with to put them on TV. Here's a fine example, for the better candidate in the Idaho 1st Congressional District race.
(The robocalls are less persuasive. Just now:
"Hello, this is ___ ___, and I don't like these automated calls any more than >click<"
We've got the debate between the candidates for Idaho's next governor in the can, but haven't watched it yet. The first report to jump at me came from Jill Kuraitis at NewWest, and her account makes it sound entertaining: "an American classic—one good ol' boy, one anti-good-ol'-boy, one sincere but inarticulate guy, and a nut."
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org