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New Year's Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Rundowns Permalink to this item

Something about the end of the year makes people want to make lists of things, I can't explain it. I'm not feeling particularly listful this evening, so I'll just do the cheesy, bloggy thing and point to other people's lists...

"He's the crème de la crème" Permalink to this item

Brett Favre, courtesy of Wikipedia I didn't get to see many Packers games this season; when I saw the results on some of them, I figured I was lucky to have missed them. But kudos to the league and NBC for leaving the schedule open to pick a good game to close the regular season, and hooray that it turned out to be the Packers vs. the Bears.

It would've been a better present if the finale mattered for the playoffs, but any day the Packers and the Bears are on tap is a Good Day. And even better to have Green Bay come up with a great performance, starting with an opening drive for a touchdown, a 13-0 first quarter, and a strong finish.

Brett Favre's 257th consecutive start, 16 seasons of greatness, what can you say? Al Michaels' observation is a fitting conclusion for a great run.

30.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A Hanging Before Dawn Permalink to this item

George Bush defined himself as executioner while governor of Texas, "confident" that every one of the 131 prisoners the state put to death was guilty as charged, and justice was served by state-sanctioned murder. I imagine he slept through them as peacefully as he slept through Saddam Hussein's execution last night.

The standards of Saddam's trial were probably higher than some of the cases in Texas at least, 30% of which had no evidence presented by the defense.

And so, the canvas of Camp Justice flaps in Iraq's desert, calling to millions less justly murdered in decades of war, asking when the search for vengeance will be satisfied.

Not today. 68 more killed, twice that many wounded by bombings before 11am Eastern Time. The AP wire reporting that "Saturday's violence was not unusually high."

What Can Brown Do For You? Permalink to this item

step 1 of the UPS Claims Process In our case, dump an obviously damaged package on the porch, ring the doorbell, and—literally—run. Jeanette was near the door, and managed to respond before the brown grinch was out of sight, saw the gaping hole in the box, the nearly empty compartment, and the paperwork hanging halfway out, yelled "hey! Wait a minute!" The driver shouted "call the 800 number" and sped off into Friday evening, anxious to get to his weekend.

Considerably worse for wear No Merry Christmas at our house, the new printer short the "accessories" bundle that was in the compartment when UPS accepted the box for shipment. We probably have a spare power cord around the house, but I assume the three CDs matter, and the user interface bezels with labels for the buttons would be at least nice to have.

I wonder how many calls like mine the customer service agent has to field in a day? He sounded well-practiced at making contrite apologies, which he went into after informing me that there is no requirement for the driver to obtain any form of acceptance from the recipient. Is there a checkbox on the electronic form for "rang and ran," I wonder?

29.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One More Big Dam For The Road? Permalink to this item

The heyday of big dam construction in the arid west is fading to distant memory, but for some, the dream still lives. Witness the Black Rock dam proposal in the Yakima Basin, a laughably bad idea with a price tag over $4 billion, and projected operating expenses 10 times higher than the Basin's current bill. What, is central Washington part of the third world now? Hard to explain why else the BuRec would be burning bits for project studies on a concept that would generate only 16 cents for every dollar invested.

Some folks never saw a dry canyon they didn't want to dam, I guess.

More on Black Rock Follies from the Columbia Institute for Water Policy....

The Spuds Are On The Line Permalink to this item

And some beef, and chips. Our short Governor Risch has a bet with Oklahoma's Gov. Brad Henry over the outcome of the very most important program at Boise State University, its football team, meeting the Sonners in the Fiesta Bowl, Monday night.

The locals are agog and atwitter. The daily "news" is running out of blue ink. And I have yet to decide whether I'll be rooting for the home team or the opposition, given that I'm a University of Idaho alumnus. I guess it would be just mean-spirited to have the intramural rivalry color this one Great Moment for Idaho college sports, so I'll say no more.

Just kidding, give it back Permalink to this item

Microsoft now emphasizing the "give back or give away" part of the disposition options for the "review" laptops (and software) it gave to the whizziest bloggers (yours truly not among them, sadly). Honest, they didn't mean to bribe "key community folks" with multithou$and schwag.

If you can believe an e-Bay auction, the package is worth as much as $3500! But we don't know how much of that is sillygoose109's sentimental value.

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

Stop the Insanity Permalink to this item

The Simplot estate's flag, at half staff for Gerald Ford After a last-minute review of tax publications, account shuffling and recalculation of estimated tax, a call to my favorite accountant answered my question about whether I had to chip in a ton of $$ by January 15th to start paying the bill for converting a tradtional IRA to a Roth IRA.

I found him on the road to Salt Lake City, but his wife was driving, and he had a nice cell tower in the neighborhood, so he could tell me that no, I just need to get in one of the safe harbors: 90% of this year's liability, or 100% of last year's.

Did the arithmetic and decided to go ahead and set up the payment with EFTPS, for settlement on Jan. 14. Probably don't need the extra day, but just "to be sure" I'm on time. Looked up my bookmark for the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, and get a quirky "not found" page from it. Ask google, and it says, which works.

Punched in the SSN, PIN, and internet password which worked as recently as September,
and each time it was rejected. Call the 800 number and listen to the recording. "eftpsnorth" doesn't work any more, use or (My bookmark was for eftpssouth, so apparently that's gone further south, as well.) (Incidentally, does not work: it redirects to https://weba.fdc/eftps/, where server not found.)

Then "if you are unable to login.. but have successfully logged in in the past, call..." another 800 number. Must be something that was broken when they did the server change and site remodel? Ok, fine, it's a known problem, and not just me.

Called the other number, got a new recording, with two choices: if you need an initial password, or if "you forgot your password."

I HATE these kind of tests, where neither answer is correct.

Fortunately, they don't have bad word voice recognition on the system and the robovoice simply said "this field is required" when I failed to press [1] or [2]. What the hell, try [1] for "initial." What's the difference?

With my new password, I got in, and was prompted to immediately change it. Sure thing.

Now set up the amount to transfer, for tax year 2006, settlement date 1/14/2007.

No can do!


The following errors were found, please correct and re-submit:

The Settlement Date must be at least one business day in the future, or two business days in the future if the current time is after today's cutoff time.


Hmmm. How about 01/14/2007, to match that mm/dd/yyyy pattern? Nope, same problem.

January 14th, 2007 doesn't look like at least two days after December 28, 2006. I thought about calling customer service, but decided I'd check back next week, instead.

Boxing Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Surrendering the Moral High Ground Permalink to this item

Alfred W. McCoy's article, History of U.S.Torture (expanded upon in his book of that name) gives a chilling synopsis of how much damage we've suffered since 9/11, and how that damage has been self-inflicted.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, Geoffrey Miller and others have a lot to answer for. I doubt history will be kind to them; should they meet the Maker they profess to believe in, it could go even worse.

With the calculated application of means, the development of a global infrastructure of prisons, the deprecation of habeus corpus, the legal circumscription of international treaties and Congress' acquiescence in making evidence obtained from torture acceptable for military tribunals, we are left with "the rule of law" made a mockery.

George Bush's term is limited (we still assume), and we expect his reach to be at least partially reduced by Democratic control of Congress, but the defense of torture as a "presidential prerogative" has left a serious blot on what claim we might have had to moral superiority. Blaming the problem on a few hapless soliders at the sharp end of the spear adds cowardice to the list of charges against those responsible for the policies and instructions that put these horrific practices in our name.

Christmas Permanent URL to this day's entry

A (very big) Lump of Coal Permalink to this item

Tom Prugh, editor of World Watch Magazine proposes a new sort of felony: "the carbon crime," "knowingly and willfully acting to sharply increase the atmosphere’s carbon content, without provision for redress, for short term financial benefit, thus inflicting on the entire planet and its billions of inhabitants a dangerously unstable climate."

Companies in the U.S. is off and running to build 150 coal-fired power plants; three or four times as many are planned for China.

Shaping Reality Permalink to this item

Mr. Bush reminds us that the demands of his "second constituency" require him to make-believe. I thought about my own parsing of (some of) what he had to say, but beyond the pointlessness lies the vortex problem: being sucked into responding to nonsense. Jay Rosen succinctly describes the predicament of trying to follow the lead actor of empire:

The alternative to facts on the ground is to act, regardless of the facts on the ground. When you act you make new facts. You clear new ground. And when you roll over or roll back the people who have a duty to report the situation as it is—people in the press, the military, the bureaucracy, your own cabinet, or right down the hall—then right there you have demonstrated your might.

Up and Out Early Permalink to this item

The neighbor's big bow, on a sunnier morning than today's Monday morning, 5am alarm. Jeanette's been volunteering a weekly shift for Boise's Sanctuary, and I was just waking up several hours later when she returned. One of the recipients of the measured generosity wanted to know just why they had to hit the streets at 7 o'clock on Christmas, and he wasn't satisfied with an answer about the contract with the city for the use of the old Carnegie Library.

Perhaps those who made the compromise to placate the neighborhood's tax-paying residents by making sure the neighborhood was clear by the time they were leaving their houses could have made a specific exception for Christmas, had they thought it through, but then it's hard to anticipate all the particulars when drawing up a legal document.

In Boise's warmer seasons, 7am is a splendid time of day, sun coming over the foothills and the air suffused with promise. In deep December, it is dark and cold, and "uninviting" is far too kind a word.

23.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nice Pix! Permalink to this item

And a hint that somebody's getting some website design work done, finally: The Statesman's Pictures of the Year. (Thank you for not resizing my browser, though.)

And Those Year-End Bonuses Permalink to this item

It fell off my radar after the first salvo, and the Republican finger-wagging at the outrageous act by the one Democrat serving in a state-wide elected office, but it turns out a bunch of state agencies were handing out bonuses, following instructions from the Legislature (as well as reasonable, ethical compensation practices).

The Statesman acknowledged that their specific criticism was misplaced, even though they felt the need to repeat their dig about handing them out to all the employees.

A flat out apology would have been more appropriate, folks. Howard did the right thing, in a way that was completely within her purview as a manager and elected state official. Now that all the state-wide offices are held by that other party, I guess we can go back to the favored "lottery" model of compensation. Most everybody loses, but there are a few big winners we can trot out on the front page. Lovely.

$45,000 in Hush Money? Permalink to this item

Short Governor Risch gave Depity Everett the heave-ho back in June, except not quite: he's still getting his rull $87,000/year salary, with no need to come into the office.

Nice non-work if you can get it.

We suppose that the long list of agency heads that Otter's axing won't all be put on administrative leave, will they?

All that hair, and attitude, too Permalink to this item

She couldn't get him into the Sunday paper, but Maureen Dowd did give the Donald a bully pulpit in her Saturday column, "Trump Fired Up." Sorry for you non-Select readers, here are a tantalizing couple of quotable quotes. (The rest will be spread over the 'net soon enough, I'm sure.)

"No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag," he says. "Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history."

...And how about Monica Lewinsky, who just graduated from the London School of Economics? "It’s good she graduated," he says. "She’s been through a lot."

Winter Permanent URL to this day's entry

All in the Dark Permalink to this item

I'm a believer in the scientific method and the results it has produced. I've figured out a few things and stitched together my own understanding in some tiny corner of reality. Beyond what I know for myself, I have good reason to give the process the benefit of the doubt. Beyond what I can even understand... well, I'm not sure. This business about dark matter, for example. If everything we can observe only accounts for one part in 25 of what's out there, and nobody knows what all that other stuff is made of, seems like all bets are off on reality, doesn't it? God could be out there in the details, or the devil, or a crazy Pantheon, and who's to know?

What it's taking to get some evidence of neutrinos, or neutralinos, or WIMPs means that once the evidence is in, maybe from a giant vat of liquid xenon, and someone says "see? see?!" I have this suspicion that I won't see, any better than I can see now. Maybe if I saw the inventory sheets, and added it up for myself.

204 Orbits Later... Permalink to this item

A flawless landing, at sunset, at Kennedy Space Center.

At 5 minutes to go, NASA TV had Discovery on visual, and for final approach, I watched the pilot's heads-up display in real-time. How awesome is that?

I stayed with NASA TV from de-orbit burn to touchdown... with no hint given of nervousness for the do-or-die blackout period between spaceship and airship.

A Prius In Every Garage Permalink to this item

Or at least in 10 million garages, of the people whose cars are guzzling the most gas these days. That's Bob Cringely's alternative investment scenario to letting telcos rob us of $200 billion, as has happened since the summer of 2001, "when government oversight of these particular programs came pretty much to a halt."

Solstice Morning Permalink to this item

Snow on fence, still in morning shade The weather hit its schedule with aplomb: a couple of inches of fluffy snow here in town, and an overcast sky made the longest night of the year one of the brighter ones. The sun slanting up from the southeast is hitting the big red bow on my neighbor's house for a cheery start to the new season.

Coming Home Permalink to this item

astronaut Christer Fuglesang in space, on Discovery's robotic arm It's landing day for Discovery today, maybe. Once again, we've launched seven astronauts into space in "the most complex machine ever built," and are hoping to bring them back safely. Was it just two? three? missions ago that all were lost in a similar effort? The incredible grabs our attention and then fades, faster than we'd ever guess, into the miracles of everyday life.

"Unfavorable weather forecasts" mean they're not sure which of the three landing sites to use; they have seven specific ground tracks mapped for orbits 202, 203, 204 and 205. This is rocket science.

Looking at one of the "long-range" tracks, I was struck by the map, at a scale where the political boundaries get sketchy, but the rivers stand out, cyan on black, showing more about the shape of our continent than most of the maps we use do. The Rio Grande outlines Texas, and the Great Lakes show my home state and its eastern neighbor. The Missouri and the Snake/Columbia touch fingertips to divide the mid-upper plains. (And... Mexico has no rivers of note?!)

With the first try at Kennedy waved off, the blog noted the cost impact of the weather: a couple $million "ferry flight" if they land at Edwards AFB, and 4 or 5 times that if they land at White Sands, and a "possible turnaround time of 25-45 days." (On a subsequent update, the cost information was removed.)

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

Contempt of Government Permalink to this item

Watching Frontline's The Persuaders last night, seeing inside the reptilian brains of the marketers who are climbing over one another to get at our reptilian brains, Frank Luntz's "clarifying" use of language reminded us of how far the devolution of government has come.

In my own tilting with federal bureaucracies, a recent meeting gave me new insight into the "do nothing" alternative. There is definitely risk in inaction as well as action, but the former has a measure of anonymity that provides safety—or at least the perception of it. The redirection of inquiry, the strategic concern, the unset priority, the issue deferred to someone who couldn't make the meeting; these are the deft tools of conflict avoidance.

There are two kinds of people that can shake an organization out of this paralysis: the first is a champion, the Hero of myth and lore, someone who is fully committed for a cause and who will follow his or her heart to make something happen. These people are not common, and most organizations cannot tolerate very many such personalities. The corporate immune response is promotion. The very few who are broadly competent and politically capable can rise to the top; the narrowly competent and the brilliant will be inevitably absorbed by the Peter Principle.

The second kind of person who can make something happen is the well-appointed person with formal power, otherwise known as "the superior." If such a person is either personally motivated, or motivated by someone in a more superior position, the "chain of command" can overcome inertia and grind into action.

The Contract on American Government was based on a simple ideological principle: people are after their own interests, and government is an obstacle to achievement. That principle resonates for anyone who has been stymied by a bureaucracy, which is to say, everyone. But to go from mere frustration to full-on contempt takes training. It takes steady reinforcement, repetition, sculpting of the language and control of the focus of one's attention.

There is no question that the effort has been a "success," measured by changes in employee behavior. Actions are not judged against objective measures of progress but by a single question: will this make me more or less likely to lose my job? As long as there is no Hero or Superior who can identify the root cause of a problem, articulate a strategy to solve it, and defined specific tactics to solve the problem, "do nothing" is the safer approach for everyone.

This culture of paralysis creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: government is incompetent.

The antidote for the poison pills we've been taking is a strong dose of higher expectations, throughout the organization. Expect results; demand results. Don't take "no" for an answer. Persist. Be annoying. If you get fired... look for an organization strong enough to accept what you have to contribute.

17.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Globalization Permalink to this item

What could be more all-American than Westinghouse Electric Company, founded by engineer and inventor George Westinghouse, the man behind essential Industrial Revolutions such as the railroad air brake, and our alternating current electrical infrastructure? Keith Bradsher tells of concern that the U.S. may be selling its competitve advantage in this story about Westinghouse selling nuclear reactors to China. He tosses off a fact I didn't know: Japan's Toshiba Corporation bought Westinghouse Electric earlier this year! So... what does the U.S. Energy Secretary have to say about the business deal then? U.S. jobs are affected, said jobs with a Japanese company (but a "western" one, whatever that means).

Big power plants come in Gigawatt packages these days; capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 MW for a large coal or nuclear plant. Perhaps more alarming than China buying its way into "our" best technology should be its plans to bring 300 more coal-fired power plants online by 2015, bringing its capacity to more than 600 GW.

Forget about the U.S. and its guilty affluence; the biggest lever on the world's climate is going to be in China.

15.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bicycle Helmets Put You At Risk Permalink to this item

One of the more provocative entries in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine's rundown of the top ideas of the year. Ian Walker quantified the danger: motorists coming more than 3" closer to him when he wore his helmet than they did when he went bare-headed.

One proposed explanation—that motorists assume a helmeted cyclist is more-skilled (or safer?), so they can come closer—is plausible enough, and fits well with a proven technique I have for maintaining my preferred separation from other cars when driving in slippery winter conditions. A bit of judicious swerving provides good calibration for how slippery things are, even as it encourages motorists around me to keep their distance. It could work while cycling, too: I usually am careful to hug the fogline, even more so when the shoulder is small and traffic is heavy. If I put a little weave on, drivers would be less sure I was going to stay over there and would give me a wider berth. I know I would give an unsteady rider more room.

Wretched Refuse of Your Teeming Shore Permalink to this item

Cheap trick to leverage the most beautiful poem known to colossi, especially in the absence of any lamp-lifting plans, but we do have to wonder what plans may be afoot with Energy Solutions investing so much in a shiny new governor. Their business is in nuclear services, highly radioactive nuclear facilities, fuel sludge and waste treatment, so maybe they're up to some good, as we have some of that in our state. On the other hand, should "Butch" Otter find himself dispensing favor upon the company, we would be asking more questions about the rush of $5,000 contributions coming in with less than a month to go before the election.

Barackomania Permalink to this item

"He has a pretty liberal voting record," said Dan Balz on Washington Week in Review tonight, leading up to his opinion that "people are going to be disappointed" when they learn more about Senator Obama. Gosh, Dan, you make it sound like a bad thing to vote liberal. You haven't been drinking that Republican Kool-aide out of the WaPo water cooler have you?

Get used to this call-and-response, though:
"He doesn't have much experience, does he?"
"We went with the 'experienced' team last time, and they took us into the Iraq war."


Nothing Graceful About This Exit Permalink to this item

As if his "war is confusing" speech weren't enough, Rumsfeld offered up a few more warnings on his last day on the job. First, Bush told us that a "graceful exit" wasn't congruent with reality (without telling us when he got in touch with that), and now Rumsfeld warns us against a graceful exit.

"A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power."

Let's see, what possible direction could an "imbalance of conventional military power" tip for the country with the largest military machine in the world? Rumsfeld was in charge of that machine, and he fears weakness? This is a strange obsession.

"The United States" does not show a lack of will by rejecting a misbegotten mission. Take heart, Don. Things are looking up for the rest of us.

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

Rounding Up and Down for Dummies Permalink to this item

Great illustration by Thom George seen on Huckleberries Online, with a helpful Christmas gift idea for the leaders of Idaho's Legislature.

More on the Wilderness Story Permalink to this item

The Sniff Test unloads on Larry Craig more directly than my piece on Saturday. What she said. My commentary got picked up by New West, where you can join the commenting if you like.

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

Smell a RAT? Permalink to this item

Known by some as the Recreational Access Tax, slipped in as a "Demo" program, and now more dysphony (see how much we needed that word?): the America the Beautiful Pass.

Oh, we have to pay for access to our public lands now?

Bill Schneider's got a real good question: if this was such a fine, upstanding and appropriate idea, why was secret legislation required to dodge public reaction? But that's silly rhetoric, of course. Secret legislation was required because the public would have been outraged. Now that it's apparently a done deal, are we just going to roll over for it?

Hold that burger Permalink to this item

D.T. Max has written a book about The Family That Couldn't Sleep, and shares some of what he learned about prions in the process, in an interview with Wired News. We don't eat a lot of hamburger at our place, but all the same, this bit of dietary advice seems worth noting:

WN: Are you a vegetarian?

Max: I don't eat cheap hamburger. When I learned it [comprises] hundreds of thousands of body parts and when I learned how it was blown off the bones of the cow and steer, I just decided I didn't quite have the stomach for it anymore.

Cheap hamburger comes from old dairy cows—that's our thanks to them —and the older the animal, the more the possibility of prion diseases.

Another Nuclear Power Plant in Idaho's Future? Permalink to this item

We don't have any production facilities, but we've had R&D operations for decades, more than 50 reactors come and (almost all) gone. As part of the program for plusgood acronyms, it has evolved from the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), to INEL, to INEEL to the now-homey sounding Idaho National Laboratory.

The re-branding includes this idyllic snippet: "The INL is more than a remote location to test reactors and build large projects. The varied wildlife and plantlife of its high-desert terrain, and the fact the Site is protected from outside intrusion, make it an ideal location to study nature. In 1975, the INL became the nation's second largest National Environmental Research Park." Hence the second of its two Es when it had them, "environmental." Many thought the only thing environmental about the place was an object lesson in what can go wrong with waste management, but unintended consequences aren't always bad.

Organizations that survive long enough have spinoffs, and INE(E)L was no exception: they've spun off the Idaho Cleanup Project, "charged with safely and cost-effectively completing the majority of cleanup work from past laboratory missions by 2012."

Nice euphemism for some profound mistakes: "laboratory missions." On their "news desk" is the positive report that "the last of the 1950s-era fuel storage basins to be deactivated at the Idaho National Laboratory Site has been cleaned." It hasn't been easy dealing with the legacy of nuclear research. 50 years on, the scale of progress comprises removal of 55 tons of "contaminated sludge" and just over a million gallons of "slightly contaminated water." And some "contamination control and shielding of remaining radioactive materials."

Back in 2002, the state oversight's problem list included 900,000 gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste, 9,000 cubic meters (call it 20 modest-sized houses full) of highly radioactive waste in powder form, an 88-acre landfill with "chemical and radioactive wastes which have migrated or could migrate to the (Snake River Plain) Aquifer," and 270 metric tons of heavy metals in spent nuclear fuel. The issues list has some recurring themes:

Dumping barrels of waste from the Mother's Day (1969) fire at
 Rocky Flats into Pit 10 "There’s no clear plan for treating this waste, and no place ready to take it once it’s treated."

"It will take several years for the INEEL to complete its evaluation..."

"DOE has not identified ways to deal with problem wastes...."

"There is no permanent disposal site..."

"It’s not clear what programs will assume responsibility..."

The current Idaho DEQ overview site organizes the cleanup activities by 10 "Waste Area Groups." WAG-7, the Radioactive Management Complex is where the intractible stuff is, including the pits where they dumped thousands of 55-gallon drums, cardboard boxes, and other containers with largely undocumented chemical and transuranic waste from another Cold War weapons plant, Rocky Flats (Colorado) in the 1960s. "Rough estimates indicate one metric ton of plutonium is distributed among 60,000 cubic meters of waste in the burial grounds," the latest INL Oversight newsletter tells us.

As readers have noted, some with dismay, my blog doesn't have a direct comment facility, so it can't host the kind of fascinating (and presumably endless) give-and-take that, say, Red State Rebels has going on the general topic of the environmental costs of large-scale (and other forms of) power generation, and the latest proposal for Idaho in particular.

Having travelled to China and seen the environmental degredation from coal first-hand, I find the point that stopping new coal plants should be higher priority than obstructing all things nuclear to be well-taken. (Setting the highest possible standards for coal plants, and remediation of existing plants should be high on the list too, but the Bush Administration stuck a fork in that idea under the dysphonious "Clear Skies" initiative.

Dismissing the problems of nuclear waste as merely political doesn't convince me, however. It's going to take the best technical, political, and marketing efforts that can be mustered to educate and persuade the public of the benefits of new nuclear power. It may be that it can't be done and we end up worse off with more coal power after all, if we can't get smarter, faster.

It may be that idea of a former consultant now heading a startup spearheading the project to build a 1500 MW nuclear power plant in Owyhee County is simply too incredible for all concerned, too.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, the brainchild of a considerably bigger brain than Don Gillispie's, has a succinct statement of their position on nuclear power. If the nuclear marketeers want to find some traction, they should forget about alleviating the fears of people who will never understand or accept numeric arguments about relative magnitude and background radiation, and start with disproving or obviating the RMI's objections.

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

Shootout over Idaho Wilderness Permalink to this item

Larry Craig's closeted opposition to the Wilderness bills from the other members of Idaho's Congressional delegation isn't a secret any more. The Idaho Statesman's editorial board outed him on Dec. 1st, describing his "conditional" support: all the money promised in the bills has to be paid up front to satisfy our senior singing Senator. The board admits "a certain logic" to the requirement and it even sounds like a sensible test for any piece of legislation, until you consider how often it isn't done.

Former Governor Dirk Kempthorne's big highway manuever using GARVEE bonds to put payment far into the future (and, as always, on the Fed's tax bill, to insulate us from immediate pain). The mmm, Iraq war. ("We have no idea what this is going to cost. Couldn't even make a guess.") The profound, structural, and far-reaching tax cuts that the Republicans used to bribe their way through the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. And so on.

The board writes that Craig "doesn't want one group to get what it wants—new wilderness—while other parties wait for the check to come in the mail." Excepting of course that no law makes "new wilderness"; the law designates protection for what's already there. (The proposed laws do a lot more than that in their particulars, some of which provide for removing protection elsewhere, which would no doubt proceed without waiting for funding also.)

The biggest problem here is the timing. Craig, after 26 years in Congress, is keenly aware that timing is crucial in politics. Here, it almost appears that he waited until the worst possible moment to introduce a potential deal-breaker.


Some of us expected Craig to do something like this, all along. Last-minute deal-breaker. We'd call it "passive hostility," but it isn't passive; it's active, calculating, premeditated. The fact that his unwillingness to compromise in favor of Idaho Wilderness plays into the hands of opposition on the left, thinking they might be able to get a better deal from a Democrat-controlled Congress would be sweet irony were it not for the fact that Idaho's delegation (particularly in the Senate) has all manner of tools to obstruct action they don't like.

Representative Mike Simpson is gung-ho to get his bill in under the wire, ready to "attach his Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill to any legislation that moves before Congress adjourns, as soon as (yesterday)" according to the sidebar for his counterpoint to Craig's "Reader's Opinion". (Not just any old "yesterday": the sidebar was Thursday, it said "Friday," now come and gone.)

Craig tries to explain himself in the Dec. 7 Statesman, claiming he told Simpson and Crapo "I would not do anything to get in the way, and stood by, ready to help if they needed me." Simpson says he's ready now, thank you, demolishes Craig's one substantive argument about the Steens Mountain legislation in Oregon's high desert.

Oh wait, the problem is how late we are in the session, and the fact that so many appropriations bills for the fiscal year that started more than two months ago haven't passed yet, and are about to be punted from the 109th to the 110th Congress with a Continuing Resolution. Those would be the appropriations bills coming out of... which committee that Larry Craig sits on?

I guess they were all too busy with Ted Stevens' $315 million bridge to nowhere and the supplemental appropriations process to keep the enormity of the war in Iraq from confronting the public all at once. We're now running about $8 billion a month in Iraq; enough to pay for the likes of CIEDRA and the Owyhee Initiative well before lunch.

Today, our other Senator, Mike Crapo weighs in, insisting it's a tempest in a teapot. Idaho Republicans are one, big, happy family after all, and Craig went out of his way to hold the first hearing on the two bills "within weeks" of their introduction in August. Awfully generous of someone whose legislation is getting skewered by a supposed member of his own team; we take it as an acknowledgement of Craig's power and that the obstruction is fait accompli.

That leaves the wilderness bills dead with Larry Craig's knives in their backs, and only Butch Otter yet to post a Reader's Opinion from an Idaho seat in Congress. As Representative, Otter played out his own passive hostility to the bills. As governor-elect? He could help, but I'm guessing he'll be too busy with other matters to act one way or the other.

8.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dems Uppity on Opening Day Permalink to this item

Idaho Democrats staging a walkout Some fuzzy math in the Idaho Legislature led the GOP to conclude that 2 seats was still plenty for the Dems on the 10-seat Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. 73% of 10 is 8? 27% of 10 is 2? Yeah, that's it. Our citizen legislators struggling with the 4th grade stuff.

Of course, they can do the math, and they're using it to ensure their dominance in the committee that matters most to them. Having more than twice as many members apparently wasn't deemed sufficient.

"It's not all about football" Permalink to this item

Today's modest quote from the Boise State University football coach, as local boosters arc over the moon, holding the USA Today weekend edition over the heads, screaming "front page!" BSU is on the front page... all because of football, of course. Three whole days up there in newsprint, even though they're gone off the home page in a hurry. (No sign of them on the Sports section, already; fame is fleeting for small school football.)

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

90% Spam Permalink to this item

That would be a funny label for "contents" on a can of something, given that there's always been some mystery about the canned meat product. But this is "the other spam," that stuff that fills your inbox (or at least your email filter). It's more than the "waves" I talked about on Friday, but has reached the level of inundation.

Brad Stone reports in The New York Times that unsolicited commercial email has doubled in the last year, and "now accounts for more than 9 of every 10 e-mail messages sent over the Internet." Much of it is coming from zombie spam-bots, a "vast network of computers belonging to users who unknowingly downloaded viruses and other rogue programs," estimated to be growing by as much as a quarter million computers each day. That gets around the blacklisting problem. And the notion that Bayesian filtering would always work because the message has to have a "payload" that's a link to something? Bzzzt. A "pump and dump" scheme just needs a link to the brains of credulous humans, to try to get in on a quick-profit stock deal. (Next big market winner!)

Though the scam sounds obvious, a joint study by researchers at Purdue and Oxford Universities this summer found that spam stock cons work. Enough recipients buy the stock that spammers can make a 5 to 6% return in two days, the study concluded.

And yet... many of us continue to rely on email for essential business and personal communication, and can't imagine doing without it. Seems like something has to give.

Reader Mark O. responds:
...just blacklist all dynamic-IP space: "here be zombies."

Server-side blocking on generic rDNS names in the last Received header has been working a treat for about a month. (Now if I could only convince my ISP to limit the Received-header checking to the last Received header and stop there....) [With links to Google Groups postings in and]

6.12.6 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Terrors Within Permalink to this item

Once upon a time, detention was where you were made to go and sit for a while after school, when you'd misbehaved in class. The paroxysms of our terror have turned it into a nightmare too bleak for believable fiction. The Dixie Chicks were embarrassed to have our President come from their state; I'm mortified for my unwitting part as a citizen of a country that would do what has been done to Jose Padilla.

How profound must be our fear when it takes leg shackles, manacles, black-out goggles, noise-blocking headphones and guards in riot gear, to take a prisoner to... the dentist, for a root canal?! Said prisoner "completely docile," with "not one disciplinary problem," "not one citation, not one act of disobedience."

"I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla's temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of 'a piece of furniture.'" one of his lawyers said in an affidavit.

He can't trust his lawyers at this point, after years of interrogations with hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of execution, drugging and prolonged isolation. Is this another trick? Black-out windows, no calendar, no clock. Was it three years of indefinite detention without charges? Or three months? How could he imagine anyone outside the prison (let alone the Supreme Court!) cares about him or his case?

None of the fantasies that justified holding him indefinitely, without charges or due process have survived to come to a criminal indictment against him. Now there are just two charges, of "conspiracy" and of "providing material support to terrorists."

Afternoon Permalink to this item

Sun pierces our chilly inversion, chickadees flit in the fir and oak branches. They'd like cotoneaster fruit but will settle for mint seeds. The squirrels are all about acorns.

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

Bad News Permalink to this item

Interesting to see the MSM catching up with what I reported here more than a week ago, when the Po-210 was fresh; it's not some exotic substance only to be found in obscure KGB labs. I'm sure lots of other people (like photographers who use anti-stat brushes with the stuff) knew the score, but apparently a couple authoritative and uninformed sources can go a long way when they get picked up by the right reporters.

Yet another email scandal (yawn) Permalink to this item

Randy Stapilus provides a rundown of the affair in Kootenai County and the Huckleberries are peppered with it.

It's not so much the tittilation, as the banality at some point. And the stupidity. Like turning over a CD to demonstrate that see, nothing's wrong, and leaving "Deleted Items" on it...

Those records inadvertently provided to the Spokesman contain information that another County employee has claimed a right to privacy and were not intended to be released by the County. Please return to Kooenai County any and all records contained in the "deleted items" folder. Thank you for your cooperation.

I guess it's a little too late to put the cat back in the bag now?

"Noble Americans," Permalink to this item

I'm trying to imagine George Bush or one of his speechwriter's work translated into Farsi, and presented to the Iranian people in a way that would make it persuasive. It's really, really hard to do.

We don't have to imagine Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rhetoric in English, as we can get it from CNN. The style is a little foreign, but not so much as it might appear at first. There's more God-talk worked in, but it's just a form; the built-in invocation, the rhythmic repetition. (You all are God-fearing, aren't you? I guess if you're not, he isn't talking to you.) And for closing...

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

You don't hear that so much in our country. It's "God Bless America" and to hell with everyone else (although we don't usually come right out and say that). Have you ever heard a U.S. politician ask for God's blessing on any other countries? I didn't think so.

On the other hand, Ahmadinejab's list of possibilities includes the notion that "it is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets" and I'm not sure we really have a good example to refer to for that.

2.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

5,700,000,000,000 doses of Polonium Permalink to this item

That's not counting Mr. Litvinenko's, and only .04 picocuries apiece, but as Robert Proctor points out, it adds up to more than a chest X-ray per pack of cigarettes. 200 X-rays a year for a pack-a-day man. Instead of gamma rays passing through however, it's alpha particles being emitted inside your lungs. "(T)he World Health Organization estimates that 10 million people will be dying annually from cigarettes by the year 2020—a third of these in China."

Disservice You Can Count On Permalink to this item

Pajama days, missing email, worse than useless customer support, Anti-Quality Control, and your future phone service "secure." As long as you "trust" us. All that and more in yesterday's Pulpit, "In a Jam." The Pulpit Poll has a nice feature: you can add a 35-word comment, and view the "comment cloud" of what others chipped in.

The email tale of woe sounds vaguely reminiscent of how well Newman did at delivering postal mail on Seinfeld. 8 or 9 out of 10 messages simply redirected to /dev/null, no bounce message, nothing?

...Earthlink hasn't mentioned the problem to these affected customers unless they complain.... Were they thinking these thousands of affected customers simply wouldn't notice? ...the company says it is installing new software and hopes to have the problem resolved...

That sounds so familiar. One of our ISP's recent slowdowns prompted me to set up a gmail account; with two destinations for mail handled by fortboise, I could see what messages were delayed, and ensure that I'd get at least one copy of everything. Cableone hasn't been losing messages, but delivery intermittently goes out to an hour, 4 hours, or more. (And fortboise has had its own problems as well; more service providers means more ways for things to go wrong.) Google's gmail service is the closest thing I have to a "best case" reference. It isn't perfect, but it works more of the time, and works more effectively than anything else.

Just wish I'd held onto that GOOG I bought when the first digit was 1, and the second digit was 0.

1.Dec.06 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bureau-speak goal: Increase Diversity Permalink to this item

In his Dec. 1, 2006 "Friday Letter," University of Idaho President Tim White wrote: "The organization, culture and climate of the University of Idaho is one of the four goals of our Strategic Action Plan; we will create and sustain an energized community that is adaptable, dynamic and vital to enable the University to advance strategically and function efficiently."

"Organization, culture and climate" is not a goal, it's a set of three descriptors. An "energized community that is adaptable, dynamic and vital" is a dynamic and vital phrase that doesn't tell us anything meaningful. Enabling "the University to advance strategically and function efficiently" is always a good idea, but it should go without saying that the administration is working on that.

The news was not about Applehood and Mother Pie statements applicable to every organization in the world, however, but about the appointment of a new "director for diversity and community." Few (outside of Idaho, anyway) would deny that Idaho could use more diversity in many respects than it has now, although the results of the state's 2006 election show us that many in Idaho rather like things the way they are (or once were, in the rest of the country).

Increasing diversity for its own sake? I lived through many meetings, memoranda and strategic initiatives for that "goal" during my years as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard Co. The most useful concept that came up in those years was that diversity, like so many other dimensions of society, is a continuum with severe problems at either extreme. Too little diversity leads to Groupthink. Too much diversity leads to civil war. Increasing diversity is a goal fraught with unintended consequences. Optimizing diversity is what we should strive for, and acknowledging that fact allows us to move beyond platitude and to usefully specific strategies and tactics.

Graceful Exit? "No realism whatsoever" Permalink to this item

George W. Bush is taking a try at speaking for the reality-based community, dismissing the rumors that the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group would offer a way for us to get out of the quagmire: "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

This affirms his earlier pronouncements that we wouldn't be leaving during his presidency, that the can of snakes we've opened up is not about to be shut away anytime in the forseeable future. 2006 was not soon enough to marshall an "anti-war vote" it seems; just changing Congress may not be enough to get the job done.

On the other hand, there is a loophole. Bush also said "we’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done as long as the government wants us there." The Iraq government is going to change well before Jan. 20, 2009, and the next one may not have the same interest in keeping U.S. troops on the ground.

At any rate, it seems 2008 will not be too late for our voters. The next presidential election is going to be a contest to see what candidate can best finesse an anti-war position. Forty years ago, it was the comeback kid, Richard Nixon who did it, so it's too early to be taking any serious bets.

But did he do the Monkey Dance? Permalink to this item

excerpt of Richard Drew/AP photo Steve Ballmer rang the opening bell at Nasdaq, to celebrate the (partial) rollout of new versions of its flagship O/S and office software. Can't help you for the current shopping season though, this is business-only; the consumer-grade distribution is set for Jan. 30th, long after your Christmas tree has gone to the dump.

It's been five quiet, productive years since the last O/S roll from the 800-pound gorilla that rules (most of) our desktops, "a lengthy gap Microsoft has vowed will not happen again." Actually Steve, no big rush, WinXP is mostly working OK.

Waves of Spam Permalink to this item

photo of tire tracks at our driveway, night, Nov. 30 You may not know about Bayesian filtering, but once upon a time it was a shiny, new anti-spam tool. The idea is to collect statistics on words used in messages, and characterize "spam" and "not spam" accordingly. It was brilliant, and worked wonderfully for a while. A short while, before the purveyors of penis enlargement, mortgage loans and pump-and-dump stock schemes started devising workarounds. Misspelling, l33t, burying the message in graphics, then hiding it in a forest of plausible, slightly unusual words.

And so on. It isn't going to stop, but each round prompts a new filtering tool, and then a new anti-filtering tool. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is being promoted as a means to validating the identity of a message's sender, so "that identity can be held accountable for the message," even though we're not sure what "held accountable" would entail. If it meant the spammer would have to pay... 1 cent? 2 cents? for every message s/he sent, to the recipient (or some other good cause), we might have a more reasonable balance of power, at least.

Right now we have crude "accountable identity" programs in place, with "black lists" of bad IP addresses, from which messages should be sent to a black hole. Hence, the "RBL" (Real-time Blackhole List), or "DNSBL" (Domain Name System Black list), or the more specific SURBL, the Spam URI Realtime Blocklists.

We end users don't want to know about all that stuff, though. We want to receive good email in a timely fashion, and have our bad email filtered into whatever blackhole is convenient, and for the sorting to never, ever make a mistake. Since we can't design and build systems that never, ever make mistakes (especially when they involve arms races), we have to decide how to bias the system to screen "false positives" and to not screen messages that might be spam but we're not sure. We'd prefer to always get good messages, and can tolerate some garbage requiring manual filtering, hence we'll always see some spam.

And like pornography, we know it when we see it, right away. If it's so obvious to us that

From Subject Message
Kuhn earshot railroad crossing are suspended until I can work up a better pr...
Vincent efficiency constant covers Companies and individuals are starting ear...
Heiko Spada Re: centenar blotch On this planet to stay, sealed, guarded, patrolle...
Sutton Watty tiredness Dat deert mij op mign beurt dan weer geen donder. I've taken...

are spam, why can't our filter recognize that too? It will. Maybe tomorrow. When we'll see a new pattern, obvious in retrospect.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Friday, 05-Jan-2007 11:20:10 MST