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unraveling

30.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dad's Obituary Permalink to this item

It's being run in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, but the most fitting place for it is on the Wm.K.Walthers, Inc. website, the company that my grandfather and he (and now my brother) built into a model railroading empire.

28.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bruce Julius Walthers von Alten Permalink to this item

* Sept. 9, 1919—Jan. 28, 2007

photo of me and my dad Even the best-lived of lives must one day come to an end, and last night brought the end to my father's. It was expected, and a release from the failings of an old body, but still seems too soon for those of us who loved him so dearly.

His mind was still as sharp as ever when we visited earlier this month. When the too-short visit was almost over, and Jeanette was nervous about our departure time, I urged patience, saying "I'm trying not to feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, watching the sand run out of the hourglass!" Dad said, "that should be me saying that."

The sand ran out. We had to say good-bye, too-short moments later.

His wife, my two sisters, one of his many grandchildren, and one of his three great-grandchildren were with him, at home on his last day yesterday. Judy said he brightened up and said "oh good, my family is here." And now it's up to us all to carry his spirit on in the world.

27.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tall, Light and Handsome Permalink to this item

The right skin color is worth 8-15% extra pay. (Light makes right.) And some high heels wouldn't hurt either. If you'd taken another pinch to grow an inch, your pay would be 1% higher still. Joni Hersch's study isn't a surprise, so much as a confirmation of what we might have guessed. (But 15%!)

Even when taking into consideration characteristics that might affect wages, such as English language proficiency, work experience and education, Hersch found immigrants with the lightest skin color earned, on average, 8 to 15% more than immigrants with the darkest skin tone.

Hersch said the effect of skin color even persisted among workers with the same ethnicity, race and country of origin. Hersch’s research also found height played a part in salary. Taller immigrants earned more, with every inch adding an additional 1% to wages.

Like a Rock Permalink to this item

Bubblehead actually took the trouble to read the anti-gravity Bill, and found another layer of humor for us, wherein the gravity-challenged Mr. Sali noted the problem from a "combination of caloric intake, busy schedule, sedimentary profession, and lack of exercise."

You're Not the Boss of Me Permalink to this item

A fine and informative Op-Ed essay from Garry Wills today, describing the history of our Commanders in Chief of the Army and Navy, etc.

"...we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and "the duration" has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever—more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism."

This "wartime footing" has been used to justify an awful lot of undemocratic action, most spectacularly under the Cheney administration initiatives to arrogate executive prerogatives that are rightfully the people's, or those of the other branches of Congress. The ability to declare War, no less, has been practically wrested from Congress, aided by the President's own Party's mistaken notion that it would be to their benefit.

If Mr. Bush is as interested in spreading democracy as he likes to say, he can get to work right here at home, by stopping the inappropriate military posturing. (Don't hold your breath.)

Holy Explosion Permalink to this item

Sense of humor in the DOD, naming their proposed test explosion Divine Strake? The nominal upside is how much more secure we'll all be if our military knows a little more about penetrating the earth and the airblast produced by 700 tons of buried ammonium nitrate/fuel oil mix.

The downside is that oh yeah, all that soil in Nevada is contaminated by the Cold War nuclear weapons testing, so we'll be lofting that crap into the atmosphere and spreading it over the rest of the country. Share the wealth.

We're having a public meeting in Boise on the subject tomorrow, during which the military-industrial complex representatives will listen politely to people telling them their plans are at or over the border of insanity, perhaps after they give us a little presentation about how Safe and Important it all is, don't worry, everything is under control.

Noon to 2:30pm at the Grove Hotel in downtown Boise.

A Bid to Support Diversity in Idaho Permalink to this item

Surfing the Pacific, off Solana Beach We're known for our Famous Potatoes, not so much for the diversity of our million and a half citizens. Outside agitators introduced a resolution to amend Micron Technology's personnel policies, and unlike most such initiatives, it was approved by the shareholders. The result was not publicized, but rather slipped into a note on page 37 of its latest 10-Q filing with the SEC. The 300 million to 241 million vote requests "that management implement equal employment opportunity policies... prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

Management recommended voting against the resolution, as usual, and so far is not showing much interest in taking action, but Marc Gunther sees it as a milestone for the gay rights movement in corporate America. He infers that "more institutional investors, including the major mutual fund groups, are voting their shares for gay rights."

A comment in a Pam's House Blend entry about the Board and officers dragging their feet describes one of the more typical elements of "diversity" in these parts, "including non-Mormons alongside the Mormons."

Local Paper Makes Good Permalink to this item

The Idaho Business Review has mostly been under my radar, but one of my regular readers tells me it's looking up: "(It) seems to have turned over a new leaf. The paper has some new people with a new attitude, a now accessible online version, and a healthy skepticism toward urban renewal agencies (CCDC, in particular) and the downtown 'Good Ol’ Boys' crowd!"

26.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Through the Looking Glass Permalink to this item

It makes your head spin. All those questions about the illegal spying are moot now, because the administration is going to start following the FISA law. Forget about all those lawsuits, there's no evidence that we could let you see anyway.

Documents? What documents?

You must be mistaken.

Some of the people involved do remember well enough, however. They claim that the government spied on them without a warrant. The government also happened to "inadvertently provided a copy of a classified document" to one of the plaintiff's lawyers. The document confirmed the claim and apparently the evidence of the spying was the only thing "secret" about it.

It's classified, top secret, war on terror, can't see that anymore. The Justice Department collected all the copies and has them in a secure location.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Frosty the No-man Permalink to this item

He doesn't believe sex education or condoms should be in school (or in his bedroom, apparently; he's fathered 7 so far). He believes in the "earth is 14,000 years old" variety of Creationism, making him the child of a merry prankster God, who pulls the wool over the eyes of scientists by making our planet look thousands of times older than that.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Frosty Hardisan's review of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth: "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

And why should we care about Mr. Hardisan's crockpot notions? No good reason, really, but he's having his moment of fame by stirring up trouble at his local school board in Federal Way, Washington. The Board rolled over in an attempt to generate come up with a policy to insulate themselves from "controversy," good luck with that. Hardisan's demonstrably unqualified to present "a credible, legitimate opposing view"... are they going to have him approve the rebuttal?

Of course, he's not objecting to the observable fact of global warming, nor is he necessarily speaking out on the cause; he just doesn't like the idea of blaming America for any of this. But if, as he says, a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day, shouldn't he be proud that his country is helping bring about that happy day?

24.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scooter: I Wuz Set Up! Permalink to this item

Now that it's just him v. the United States of America, Mr. Libby and his defense team are prepared to deconstruct the stone walls of the Bush/Cheney administration. Their second round suggests that for protection of top aides, at least, Bush is the boss of Cheney.

Initially, it was just "misremembering," but maybe there weren't enough people in the jury pool who answered this question favorably:

Do you think that someone could say one thing, and then two weeks later say exactly the opposite, just from not remembering correctly?

Ok, that's an interesting theory, that Libby was instructed to lie, to protect Karl Rove, but it hardly seems like an argument for the defense. That would be an admission of guilt, and obstruction of justice to boot. Please tell us who the co-conspirators were, Mr. Libby.

Theodore Wells, one of Libby's attorneys put in more than two hours working to sow confusion in the jury box, tossing out the "protecting Rove" theory, and trying to sell the prosecution as having a "weak, paper-thin circumstantial case about ‘he said-she said.’"

Unfortunately for the defense, what "he said" was said to a Grand Jury, and to many reporters who were taking careful notes.

23.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The State of the Union Permalink to this item

It's "strong," of course, but President Bush made us wait all the way until his closing to assure us. He also assured us that "our cause is right," something not so clear to the rest of the world.

The generalities and cheerleading comes easy. Calling upon us all "to solve problems and not leave them to future generations" carries a heavy weight of irony at this point. An even better place to start is to stop creating new problems.

"Earmarks" are almost as convenient a bogeyman as those illegal aliens or the evil terrorists. $18 billion is a lot of money, to be sure, but compared to what we've pissed away in Iraq, it does seem that the outrage over earmarks may overblown. The call is to cut them in half, a proposal that was a two-winker for John McCain and whomever he was winking at. Enough "good sense and goodwill," and we can take care of that, arrange for "affordable and available healthcare," solve the immigration issue, and so much more.

He thinks we should be able to balance the Federal budget... 5 years from now, long after he's out of office. That will bring us back to where it was... when Bush came to office, and worked with his party to enact broad tax cuts while doing nothing to balance those cuts with changes in spending.

And on "the serious challenge of global climate change," we've progressed as far as having him acknowledge there's a problem, at least. No particular initiative to address it beyond the list of bullet points for a 10 year plan to continue the oil-based economy. Clean coal, and clean nuclear (aka "nucular") power, everything clean as a whistle. Higher CAFE standards might have helped with that goal to "reduce gasoline usage by 20% in 10 years," but Bush's party has quashed that for the last 10 years.

But most importantly, "America is still a nation at war," and Bush expects us to judge his "success" "by what did not happen." There really is no limit to the things that have not happened, eh? Let us all Support the Troops, and let us find 92,000 more of them in the next 5 years. (That will be no mean feat with the existing recruiting targets not being met. But there is so much to be done, after all.)

Freshman Senator Jim Webb did a fine job of giving the Democrats' response, expressing the hope that Bush is "serious" about education, rebuilding New Orleans (which I don't remember Bush mentioning this year), and action on our energy problems.

The mismanagement of the quite probably unnecessary Iraq war is responsible for an increase in our strategic vulnerability. "We need a new direction...."

Do as He Says, Not as He Does Permalink to this item

Senator Larry Craig, visiting Idaho for the weekend, couldn't resist getting a jibe in at Al Gore, in a "press conference" staged at the airport before he went back to D.C. on Monday. The big local paper didn't bother covering it, but The Idaho Press-Tribune did (as well as Gore's presentation). Craig, miffed at all the "hype" Gore is getting, tried to leverage a little publicity for himself, apparently.

Warning the audience to "listen very, very closely to the message involved," Craig apparently hasn't bothered to actually listen to it himself. He's content to attack the strawman that Gore's messages is to "turn the lights out and shut the world down."

I called Craig's office to find out if he had really flown here just to stage the event. I was told that he was here over the weekend, "to talk to some Veteran's groups," but the gal in the Boise office sounded pretty sketchy about what he'd been up to. She assured me there were always "many reasons" for Craig to visit the state that elects him to his D.C. job.

Craig's attitude matters: he sits on the Committees on Energy and Natural Resources and on Environment and Public Works. It doesn't matter as much as it used to when he was in the majority party, but he's likely to be mining his position papers, proposed legislation and what-not to keep his apparent preference for "doing nothing" active.

Gore Rocked the House Permalink to this item

Julie's got a roundup of coverage in the blogs of last night's speech at Boise State University (as well as her own report, and her notebook from the Frank Church conference that Gore's speech is part of).

"...of 928 peer-reviewed scientific studies, none disputed global warming–but 53% of 636 articles in the popular press did so (including this morning's Page 1 story in the Idaho Statesman). He also roundly debunks the false choices between a vibrant economy and a healthy environment, noting how growing legions of CEOs are embracing the idea that we can have both."

The Lord took the Man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend it and keep it.
–Genesis 2:15

Even one of our sincere conservatives was won over and finding points of agreement. We are definitely in this together, regardless of how the politicians are scrambling over one and another to stand on the top of the heap. Some of the protesters are afraid of "animal rights" and "one world government," but that's already in place: our lives our governed by this one world we're on, and we have reached a technological pinnacle from which we are uniquely positioned to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak.

As the old joke goes, God has sent us a neighbor in waders, a rescue party in a boat, and now a helicopter. If we're going to wait for the God that some of us imagine to come out of the clouds to save us, instead of acting in this real world now, we are going to drown. Some of us quite literally.

Just Say No (to escalation) Permalink to this item

excerpt of BBC poll results graphic How many more lies will this year's State of the Union introduce, I wonder? The record of George Bush, Dick "full speed ahead!" Cheney, and the rest of their administration has not been good. Frank Rich has a catalog (and Truthout has a copy for you non-Select subscribers) of those in the latest episode.

I saw Bush on 60 Minutes and on the Newshour and heard him say that "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction" (that's "everyone" not including the U.N. inspection team) and that "the minute we found out" the W.M.D. didn't exist he "was the first to say so."

It's not easy to respond quickly with facts in close quarters, but I sure wish Scott Pelley had taken a moment, looked at Bush with incredulity, and said: "Wait a second, Mr. President. That's not right. You told us those trailers were biological weapons labs, even though the people investigating them found no evidence for that."

His even bigger bully pulpit comes tonight, when he gives Congress some exercise doing jumping jacks and chest-thumping. It's part of the script that he tells us the "state of the Union" is strong, but on his watch, the state our Union has declined to a nadir. He has managed to dissipate much of the strength of the greatest military in history, and to lead most of the world to question America's leadership.

Bill Sinkford has an open letter to the President, demanding a change to the policies that "have betrayed the trust of thousands of patriotic Americans."

(Y)ou would have the American people give our blessing to all of these ill-advised plans. As a religious leader, as a father of a former soldier, and as a concerned American, I am compelled to ask -- To what end? The whole world is asking this question and unless you can answer it, America will continue to lose credibility with the international community....

22.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dear KTVB: Please Find Clue Permalink to this item

Our most biased local TV station put in a little overtime to garnish its preview of Al Gore's speech tonight with controversy. The movie is so controversial that "it's banned in some school districts in Washington," Ysabel Bilbao wrote. Or is it that "one school board in a Seattle suburb has restricted showing the movie"? That's the only story I remember seeing. Finding one wingnut school board in the Pacific Northwest is no harder than shooting elk in a pen. Unsportsmanlike.

If she needed to spice up her story about Al Gore at the Frank Church Conference, she might have investigated the freshly minted (?) astroturf group "Idahoans for Oil" who she reported would be picketing.

The Bush administration has been hiding its heads in the sand for more than half a decade, denying the consensus among legitimate scientists that we are on the brink of catastrophic disruption of the planet's climate, induced in signficant measure by global industrialization. The oil industry that Bush and Cheney have done such good work for has been manufacturing controversy, through pseudoscience and organizations such as the one KTVB mentions. Please do tell us more about "Idahoans for Oil."

Not enough evidence for all that at KTVB? Step outside some evening, and look at the sunset colored orange-red, in part from the emissions of China's coal-fired generating plants.

21.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"It's all about marketing." Permalink to this item

Quoted from the Mother Jones interview of Rick Scavetta, former head of the Army’s Media Relations for our "shining jewel of the war on terror."

One of the things I hate to hear in the news is, "and in stocks today." Especially NPR, it always seems like they squish our guys just before the stock market.

Well, not so on the Newshour at least; their Honor Roll is respectful, and set apart. I expect Jim Lehrer's Marine heritage is responsible for that.

And We Really Have No Idea If It Works Permalink to this item

Deep in last Tuesday's Washington Post, report of the report that the "effectiveness" of the interrogation methods we've been using is not established. I haven't read the report, but suppose that these are the "official" methods moreso than the "ad hoc experimentation."

I think we have established however that "such practices could undermine the legitimacy of government action and support for the fight against terrorism," as Robert Coulam, research professor at the Simmons School for Health Studies in Boston is concerned they might.

I do wonder if somewhere within the 374 pages from the Intelligence Science Board there is any wonder of the morality of the "techniques" described.

A National Problem with Self-esteem Permalink to this item

The brief and unlamented history of the emphasis on "self-esteem" in our educational system is old news, but the underlying problems are still with us. What we (might have) learned from the episode is that self-esteem is not an end in itself, but rather the earned result of education, experience and learning. Without the foundation that justifies it, we're left with overconfidence, supressed insecurity, and the many forms of bad judgement. Without the self-awareness to recognize shortcomings and mistakes, a cycle of failure (and more mistakes) is the likely result.

A father and son team of M.D. and Ph.D. examine the consequences of having our President playing out the psychological drama of (demonstrably well-founded) feelings of inadequacy, falsely imagining that as "the boss," he need make no explanation of himself or his problems.

This is not the feigned incompetence that Bush uses as an act to identify with the "ordinary folk" he is not, the act that worked so well to bring him to power or keep him there, but the genuine incompetence that has brought us to (or perhaps already beyond) the brink of disaster in the Middle East.

"At this point, the president seems to have entered a place in his psyche where he is discounting all external criticism and unpopularity, and fixing stubbornly on his illusion of vindication, because he's still 'The Decider,' who can just keep deciding until he gets to success. It's hard not to feel something heroic in this position - but it's a recipe for bad, if not catastrophic, decisions."

Waves of Catastrophe: Film at 11 Permalink to this item

The Guardian billed its sneak preview of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as "the final verdict," but of course there is still much to play out. Forecasting is an inexact science, and the strength of consensus is not quite the same as the degree of certainty of the conclusions.

Nevertheless. The writers who generate propaganda for astroturf organizations covering for Big Oil and other Powers-that-be are going to have to put in some overtime to deal with the momentum of scientific opinion.

Consider that tickets for the first venue (1,000-some seats) where Al Gore was slated to speak tomorrow night were scarfed up 10 minutes after they went on offer. The revised venue will be the 10,000 seat sports arena on the BSU campus now sponsored by a fast food franchise, and tickets for it sold out in short order.

You remember Al Gore, right? Ran for President in 2000? Lost in Idaho by just shy of 40 percentage points? But now he's a movie star, and the "Inconvenient Truth" he's peddling may be the biggest story of the century.

If the current scientific consensus is close to right, historians may look at what we did and didn't do at the dawn of this millennium in uncomprehending horror for generations to come.

Google Hegemony Permalink to this item

They got where they are by being really smart, by meeting their mission of organizing the world's information more effectively than ever before, and by not being evil. Can they keep it up, do even more?

Of course they can, and what they do, and how they do it will make all the difference in the world. Bob Cringely imagines that being a verb will not be enough for them, and that they have designs a being a noun. A proper noun: The Internet.

20.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gora! Permalink to this item

Time is standing still in Boise today, while everyone who's excited about the Boise State University football team gathers downtown to parade, stomp and cheer, and omigod, 3 out of the 4 local TV stations have it all live.

Whoopee.

I wasn't all that interested, but I did happen to flip by at just the right moment to see Mayor Dave Bieter lead the blue and orange crowd in a big Basque cheer of Gora Boise State! The word means "Up with," by his explanation. So up with, ya'll.

It doesn't get any better than this, apparently.

There are some who question all the folderol. A set of letters to the editor yesterday made the sad observation that we never did get around to a parade or celebration to honor the service of thousands of members of the 116th Cavalry Brigade of the Idaho Army National Guard for their service in Iraq, a year later.

Not quite as much fun in that, apparently. Not the same kind of highlight reel, or magic overtime victory, or unqualified success; just putting their lives on the line in service to their country.

Natural Utopia Permalink to this item

Did you ever wonder what was behind the scenes, or behind the lens in one of those beautiful whiskey ads on slick paper? Guy Hand has taken some of those pictures, and his tale from Scotland about what wasn't in the viewfinder is fascinating. A thousand words worth more than that picture.

"I'd worked on assignment in Scotland enough times to feel nearly native. I no longer needed maps, could decipher all but the thickest Highland brogue, and, on my last film run to Edinburgh, had even earned a second glance from my future Scottish wife. So how could I have not seen the Highlands' hidden nature? And how many other landscapes had I misread as I bounced around the world taking pictures?"

19.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reality and Public TV Permalink to this item

"Reality TV" is of course oxymoronic on its face, as neither the ersatz verisimilitude of its subjects nor the carefully edited product appearing on the surface of a screen bear a close connection with the real reality. (Speaking of Alice in Wonderland moments....) Were it not for the term being applied to a certain genre of entertainment, our PBS would have a stronger claim to representing reality than anything out on the commercial networks. I could make a list of programs, but will mention but one: the Newshour, versus all the other "news" on TV. (CSPAN is the really real Reality TV, but it's not an everyday attraction. Reality for shut-ins, maybe.)

Over in the Merry U.K., public TV covers more ground than it does here, and I hear it has a show called "Celebrity Big Brother," with a recent flap concerning racism (and/or classism). Our PBS has had some "Reality" shows, all in the "house" genre, but more concerned with history than celebrity: Colonial House, 1900 House, and Texas Ranch House. Those all had some things to say about racism and classism, as well, but with a slightly more honest sense of reconstructing reality.

Something of an Extended Curtain Call Permalink to this item

Art Buchwald's extra time on earth was well-spent on his primary vocation: making people laugh. His NYT obituary includes a really touching "Last Word" video that covers a few essential facts, while letting his spirit shine through.

During the Cold War he marched alongside missiles, tanks and troops in a May Day parade in East Berlin. Another time, he rented a chauffeured limousine to tour Eastern Europe. He wanted the people there to know, as he put it, alluding to his plump physique, what a "bloated, plutocratic capitalist really looked like."

Democrats Deliver Permalink to this item

Miniature landscape, San Dieguito Park Not since the "Contract on America" have we had such an exciting start to a Congress. Say what you like about the "100 hour" gimmick, but the House has put on an impressive show for January. Implement the 9-11 Commission recommendations. Raise the minimum wage. Provide federal funding for stem-cell research. Negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare plans. Cut college loan interest rates. End the tax giveaway to Big Oil. Put a stop to gifts from lobbyists.

The bills still have to get through the Senate, and Bush's signature (and the extra-Constitutional "signing statement" B.S.), but what a start! Pity the poor Republicans who complained they were cut out of the process. Sort of like... what they've done to the Democrats for more than a decade, maybe? Sometimes "follow the leader" isn't good enough, especially when the leader is on the wrong track.

The vote margins say a lot about the Democrat agenda. A lot of Republicans had to admit that it was better to vote "aye" than "nay" to these bills. 299-128. 315-116. 253-174. 255-170. 356-71. 264-163.

The closest ones were H.R.3, providing for human embryonic stem cell research, and H.R.6, the Oil Companies Got Too Greedy bill. I see that the Statesman's reporting of the vote on the latter (in two places, one attributed to the AP, and another to McClatchy Newspapers) as 264-123 was simply wrong. Their story noted it "wasn't large enough to override a presidential veto," which isn't true for the more than 2-to-1 vote they reported, but is for the actual tally.

At any rate, only 4 Democrats didn't sign on to the energy legislation, while 36 Republicans—almost 20% of those voting—agreed to the Democrat's bill. (The New York Times online has a great presentation of roll call votes. Maybe someone at the Library of Congress will catch on to Ben Werschkul's and Aron Pilhofer's work?)

Old-Timey News Permalink to this item

The strangest thing happened the other day: I got a telephone solicitation (rare enough, with the nationwide Do Not Call Registry), and instead of giving the gal the bum's rush, as usual, I actually considered what she had on offer, and decided to take the deal.

She was just hitting her stride in the script, and I had to cut her off. "I'll take it!" She wasn't prepared for that.

A long, long time ago, we used to have the daily newspaper habit, but once it was gone, we didn't miss it, really. We still had a daily news habit, but it's being met quite nicely by online sources. So what persuaded me to launch a 13-week trip down memory lane? The Idaho Legislature, I have to say. I figured while they were in session for the next couple (or several) months, it would be good to have a more regular source of information.

I was assuming that The Idaho Statesman would have pretty good coverage of the Legislature, which may actually have been a leap of faith. For last Sunday, yesterday and today, I haven't seen much, even though plenty is going on at the statehouse. I checked with the better reader in the house, and Jeanette says "there's quite a bit in there," so I guess I need to look more carefully.

What I did notice is that by Friday morning, I'd seen most of the stories in the Nation/World sub-section already. Art Buchwald's last laugh. Democrats meet 100-hour target. 9-year-old runaway talks his way onto plane to Texas. China shoots down satellite with missile. Coerced testimony OK for detainee trials. Bad weather in Europe and California. And so on.

There are a couple (maybe exactly two) comics I like, both of which have emigrated from the comics page. And there are a lot of ads. In fact, this isn't so much "old-timey news" as "old-timey ads" that we're having delivered to the house in the morning. 13 weeks will probably provide us with a two-year supply of that.

18.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

China Rising, and Shooting Permalink to this item

China's doing so splendidly at leveraging its environment into a hot economy that it's ready to try something new: a space-based arms race, perhaps? Either way, if they hit their target (as it appears they did), the likely result is a "huge debris cloud" with a thousand big pieces and millions of little ones. It'll be there for decades, polluting the 500-mile high orbit.

Gee, maybe preserving our "freedom of action in space" and killing any chance of a global treaty affecting that was a really stupid idea.

How Many Fired Prosecutors? Permalink to this item

Just how contemptible can the AG be before Congress finds him actually in Contempt? I don't know if they can actually do that, but what the hell, the Bush administration is making it up as they go along. Some number of U.S. Attorneys larger than Alberto Gonzales can count have been fired in the past year, and by coincidence–I'm sure it must be–they happen to be ones who have successfully prosecuted corrupt politicians.

Paul Krugman's forecast is for "a rolling constitutional crisis" for the next two years, in this case, facilitated by Arlen Specter's maneuver in the last Congress to eliminate the requirement for Senate confirmation of replacements.

"Are we a little Alice in Wonderland here?" Permalink to this item

That was the question the new Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt) had for our Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, after being told that even though the administration would now be following the law and allowing the FISA Court to do its job, Gonzales wasn't sure if he could release secret details of the secret court order, under which the secret intelligence court began overseeing the secret surveillance program.

Gonzales sees his law enforcement duties as Attorney General as "kind of murky" and not something that he generally feels the need to talk to Congress about.

Oh, and it's not just because the Congress is controlled by Democrats that the administration decided it was OK to follow the law. It was only after the Justice Department's special effort "to be creative, to push the envelope" that "satisfactory procedures" for dealing with the Court could be in place. To follow the law.

Found Poetry Permalink to this item

Checking the spam bucket today, I'm struck by the poetic nature of some of them. This for example:

Jamie Abolish all you are indebted for not even sending another cent

I guess everyone in the audience named "Jamie" would be more likely to fall for that one? This one makes me want to finish the haiku:

round sun water a side

17.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not a Great Deal of Thought Permalink to this item

$865 million in unpaid royalties, because incomparable bureaucrat Johnnie Burton couldn't be bothered to "put a great deal of thought into the matter." She apparently didn't put a great deal of thought into the penalties for perjury when she testified in a House hearing last September, either. Maybe she got the Bush/Cheney "don't bother with the oath" deal?

Ok, this is funnier than mine Permalink to this item

My sister, who used to work for a third of the companies mentioned (which is really just one company, right?) sent me this clip of Stephen Colbert's take on Cingular/AT&T deal, which is probably copyrighted material and won't be up there on YouTube for much longer maybe? After it's gone, you can still relive the comedic excitement of the blog entry which surely must have been what inspired one of Colbert's writers. (They had a funnier map guy than Wikipedia's, too.)

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

Execution with Dignity Permalink to this item

The concern over recent executions in Iraq being carried out with insufficent "dignity" is a bit of a mystery to me. Execution is barbaric, whether it's done by a gang, an Inquisition, or a government. Are some crimes so barbaric that the response of state-sanctioned killing is justified? Some, including our President, think that they are. The execution of Saddam Hussein was a measure of "success," the unseemly taunting and recording of the gruesome proceedings, just an unpleasant, but insignficant sideshow.

The extra 2½ ft. drop and the decapitation likewise unpleasant, but presumably better than too short a drop and someone not killed on the first try. Does it matter if your head stays attached after you're dead, really? If you're viewing a corpse, I guess it's better to have it be in one piece, but the corpse doesn't care. The Egyptians believed that preservation of the body was important for the journey of the afterlife; as were provisions of various sorts. Most of us don't think that's so anymore.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel is looking for more "professionalism" in execution, a fairly chilling idea all by itself.

15.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All for McNaught Permalink to this item

We went out yesterday evening and found Naught instead of McNaught. Now there are reports of daytime sightings, including one datelined today with the unpleasant observation that "by the time anyone reads this article," (Patrick Wiggins, a NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah) said, "it would have become so faint that you're not going to see it" in daylight, even with binoculars.

Looking anywhere near the sun with binoculars is a Really Bad Idea, by the way, unless you are in the shade of something occluding the sun, and certain to have it occluded. However wonderful this comet is, it's not worth the risk of "instant blindness"!

There's still a lot of excitement about this, but not so much at 43°N: "It will remain a spectacular comet for weeks, perhaps months, in the Southern Hemisphere. It could emerge as the brightest comet in recorded history," says NASA astronomer Tony Phillips.

Spaceweather.com's gallery has photographs from plenty of spots at our latitude or further south; one on Jan. 8 from San Francisco, only 37.66°N! We just didn't find out about it in time. :-(

14.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Champagne Powder Permalink to this item

Delicate snow crystals on our Euonymus Not quite so cold this morning, and a little fluff on us, amazingly light and dry snow. We're short on water (which is supposed to be deep snow in the mountains this time of year), as ever, but the trim is sure pretty.

It wasn't so much shoveling as dispersing to clear the driveway.

What Next in Iraq? Permalink to this item

The only Guardian correspondent still reporting regularly from inside Baghdad's civil war describes an environment in which 20,000 more U.S. troops in Baghdad might do some good, as long as they work on their own.

Which prompts the question: would that bring us closer to completing the mission in Iraq? While Bush/Cheney is the decider—which it may or may not be for the rest of the term—leaving is not an option in any form. Can our presence stifle the violence until both native sides are ready to "do politics" instead of jihad? Can we separate and expel the al Qaeda forces who are interested only in mindless violence?

Later:
Is it my imagination, or is George Bush pulling his head down into his shoulders? He's come as far as admitting mistakes, and given his last 6 years on the job, I'd say this is huge. From the interview with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes:

Abu Ghraib was a mistake, using bad language like "bring 'em on" was a mistake.

That's a step. But does he recognize what the rest of us recognize, that he's stubborn to the point of self-destructiveness? No. He sees himself as "flexible, open-minded."

He's "blessed to be the President," he thinks. Would that the rest of us felt as blessed.

13.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cannibalism is a Bad Sign Permalink to this item

Whether for sport, or as a last resort, going after your own tribe is a sign you've hit bottom. Just the fact that we have a "deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs" gives one pause. That said deputy is opining against the idea of detainees even having lawyers is... well, the NYT editorial board said it well enough: it's contemptible.

Apparently the presumption of innocence is a thing of the past. Why would we be detaining those people if they weren't guilty, after all?

Happy Talkin! Permalink to this item

Jeanette said it was "Zero. Nothing out there" when she got up ahead of me today. Victor Picania is taking us to the South Pacific to brighten our spirits on a cold winter's day.

Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk,
Talk about things you like to do
You've got to have a dream
If you don't have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come truuuuuuuue?

The next big rock to come our way Permalink to this item

Bit odd to come across this item about an asteroid strike alert three years after the fact. Some sort of "this day in space history" item on a slow news day? Nevertheless, the next big hit will probably happen that way: short notice that you might or might see, then wham! Could change the topic off "global warming" in a hurry.

Got my feed on, y'all Permalink to this item

the now canonical feed icon I managed to leave hands off the perl script that aggregates my daily items and entries into this blog you're reading all last year, but I finally decided it was time to join the RSS train. I've added scripting to update an RSS feed file at the same time I update the blog, and added the <link> tag that makes that little icon appear in your Firefox location widget, maybe IE7 too? It works, for me, anyway, and from a Firefox "live bookmark" link, I see the latest titles, if not the descriptions (which are just the first 80 chars of the contents).

But I'm a newbie to having or using a feed reader myself. If you know what I'm talking about, and have one to recommend, drop a line would you? I think a plug-in/extension to Firefox would be my preference, but I'm not set on that.

And if I've done something wrong or suboptimal in setting this up, let me know about that, too.

12.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Comet McNaught! Permalink to this item

Spaceweather.com has a photo gallery. It looks spectacular! Time to brave the cold at sunset and go out and see this thing. Right after it comes around from the backside, Sunday evening.

I personally, too, understand and know the skepticism Permalink to this item

Robert Gates, trying to sell the Surge to Congress: "Whatever one's views of the original decision to go to war, and the decisions that have brought us to this point, there seems to be broad agreement that failure in Iraq would be a calamity for our nation of lasting historical consequence."

General Peter Pace, the next in the line of honorable men to take a fall for President Bush's unfolding disaster:

I am
of conviction
that this military plan,
properly part of
new political emphasis
and new economic plusup
can provide the success we're looking for.

George Bush is finally making good on his pledge to be a Uniter, with bipartisan opposition to what he's proposed. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska): "This speech given last night by this President represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

Staying in Iraq is rapidly eroding U.S. power. Our credibility and prestige are already devestated. Our presence is abetting the destabilization of the region, emboldening our enemies, and breeding terrorists far faster than we're killing them.

This has been apparent for months, stretching to years now. Something seriously disabled about our President's ability to perceive reality either prevents him from seeing what's obvious, or motivates him to do the opposite of what others tell him to do. Too bad the Iraq Study Commission didn't try reverse psychology. Or figure out a way to extract Dick Cheney.

Instead, we're waiting for the other shoe, the last card to be played in what looks more and more like megalomania.

They're Their Own Grandma Permalink to this item

linked to Wikipedia's big version I hope their wiring diagrams aren't as confusing as the corporate pedigree chart. AT&T was divested of its Regional Bell Operating Companies (aka "Baby Bells") in 1984. Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas are to the southwest of New York where all the investment bankers are, so they had "Southwestern Bell," whose name had to get smaller for the corporation to get bigger. SBC merged with Pacific Telesis Group in 1997, Southern New England Telecommunications Corporation in 1998 and Ameritech Corporation in 1999. (Ameritech, Ameritech... another RBOC, comprising Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin Bell.)

AT&T spun off a mobile business, AT&T Wireless, which got acquired by Cingular. BellSouth Corporation, another RBOC, and AT&T jointly owned Cingular, the largest mobile network in the country. Then AT&T absorbed BellSouth.

Just this week, Cingular made the big splash with Apple, for the exciting new product soon to be formerly known as the iPhone. But the Cingular name is going away, thanks to "rigorous research" by the advertising department. And SBC, which bought AT&T, is changing its name to... AT&T.

Wikipedia has a nice map showing the Deathstar's coverage across the country. Verizon has the NE, and Qwest gets the wide open spaces. For now.

Opening Salvo? Permalink to this item

The U.S. continues the expansion of bully tactics, now offending the Kurds with a raid on an Iranian facility in Erbil, Iraq. Sounds like we hoped to find something incriminating to justify the action, but whether we did or didn't will doubtless be Top Secret. Or cocked up. No talk of WMD this time, but just "routine security operations," leading to the detention of 5 Iranians.

The raid wasn't on an embassy, per se, which would have made this an attack on Iran; the facility is "not technically a consulate, but rather a liaison office which also provided some consular services."

And then there was the students' attack on the American Embassy in Tehran and the hostages taken during Jimmy Carter's term in office. That seems to be the only possible selling point for domestic consumption. For what allies we have left, it's difficult to imagine a statement of support. And for the rest of the world... let's just say we're not really working the public diplomacy angle very hard anymore.

11.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Takes Care of That Problem Permalink to this item

The Pentagon has abandoned the 24-month limit on active duty that members of the Guard and Reserve could be required to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. So much for our new governor's notion that the Idahos Army National Guard's 116th Cavalry Brigade won't get called again.

Now the limit is just 24-months at a whack.

Idaho's Freshman Cut-Up Permalink to this item

Bill Sali is working his country bumpkin act in the big House, attempting to illustrate the "natural law" violated by raising the minimum wage with a parody proposing partial repeal of the law of gravity, to solve the obesity problem. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. The bill–to raise the minimum wage–passed easily, 315-116.

But it does sound like Sali will move a successful resolution at least, H.R. 26, the "How 'bout Dem Broncos!" bill.

(Sorry about the S-R paywall; don't suppose the rest of the MSM is going to be picking up the story, though.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, Idaho still has the same minimum wage as the 20-some states that use the Federal minimum, $5.15, and one of our neighbors, Washington, pays almost $8/hr now. Minimum. Business, arguably, and wages, definitely are better in Washington state. Maybe the Federal legislation will help us catch up with the neighbors.

Slightly more than twice the state of Idaho Permalink to this item

I was treated to that answer by a search that led me to The CIA World Factbook when I wondered about how big Iraq was, compared to Idaho. The question was prompted by reading of 2.3 million Iraqis leaving their country since the war in Iraq started. I guess our state population is more than half that now, but that number of people couldn't leave our state. There aren't that many people here.

Sort of a Prom for Politicians Permalink to this item

That would be the Inaugural Ball. Sorry we missed the parade and tubas.

"Doubling Down on a Very Bad Bet" Permalink to this item

That's how Richard Holbrooke, former assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to the UN, described George W. Bush's latest "strategy" for his war in Iraq, a "Crusader's approach to foreign policy," on Charlie Rose last night. (Fareed Zakaria used the same expression last Friday night on his Foreign Exchange.)

"The biggest piece of Kabuki in the speech," in Michael Duffy's estimation, is that we're going to "follow the lead" of the Iraqi army; an army that at latest reports still has no components yet ready to stand up. Fareed Zakaria: "Fundamentally, this is a sectarian army." The problem isn't military, it's political.

Send more troops? Tom Ricks says the officers all tell him "We're out of Schlitz. There are no more troops."

So help me, ___ Permalink to this item

How much does it matter what name you use for your Supreme Being if you're a believer in a solitary Supreme? No such believers claim to really know all there is to know about said Supreme, although some do claim personal interaction, incredibly enough.

It was interesting to read from someone who knows first-hand that the Congress is sworn in sans Bibles, at least until it's time for the photo opportunities. And also that there is no "so help me" in Idaho's Constitutional oaths.

We do know that some who swore (or affirmed, as the case may be) didn't uphold their oath well enough. The ones who aren't doing time are probably lobbyists now. I don't think you need to take a public oath for that job.

10.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Now What Do We Do? Permalink to this item

We've got the phone company trying to sell us TV and broadband, and the cable company trying to sell us phone service. If I were bored, I guess I'd just swap them and see if either one could do a better job at the other business...

Cableone has now sent us direct mail, and email, both promotions touting the $29.95/mo rate, with an asterisk, and no statement of how much it will cost after the 6 months' bait is used up. Even without that, I'm like "you think your service is so good we'll sign up for more of it?!" How much do I want to have to reboot my telephone every other day?

Qwest is taking a different approach, advertising a guaranteed price for life, by which I assume they're talking about their life, not mine. $27/mo for DSL and MSN, if I get my phone service from them, too. $37/mo for "Premier" service, "up to" 7 Mbps (rather than 1.5 Mbps for the lower price). That Premier price is slightly less than we're paying Cableone for merely "Deluxe" service. Cableone can't do 7Mbps, apparently, showing "5 mb" as their max speed, for the $60 "Pro" setup.

(And hey, I see I'm only supposed to have one "CPE" ("devices include and are not limited to Computers, Game Consoles, and Routers") attached at a time. Good thing they don't know about our home network.)

8.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not so Clear It's a Democratic Senate Permalink to this item

"Unless you believe all is lost, we've got to do everything we can to win," Lieberman said, in his first important bid to prove how independent of the Democrats he is. The final election result neatly erased the primary spanking Connecticut voters gave him, as they either decided they were not as fed up about the war as the majority of Americans were, or bought themselves a pig in a poke.

"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."
–Santayana

And now if we only strain our military a little further, we'll turn the tide? This is utter madness.

Well, Bush is the Commander in Chief, and Joe is apparently happy to be his water boy, we may be going to see how well this works. My prediction is that it'll work about as well as the rest of the initiative has.

Google Earth Permalink to this item

Sunset on Eucalyptus, Solana Beach, California Wonders never ceasing, even more amazing things stuffed into v4. Google Earth Blog can help you keep track of it all. Wade Roush ticks off a few of the latest enhancement in his piece in Technology Review. From September, no less. We're months behind the curve.

Crying in our Beer Permalink to this item

Shortest governor ever, and he thinks we should be sad?. Yeah, we're all just huddled as close as we can get to the Elysian Fields of Boise's North End, gnashing our teeth that we can't win anything. And the Republicans? They're happy to continue to enjoy the hospitality of reactionary voters who only ask two questions:

(1) Is the body warm?

(2) Is there an R after his or her (or its) name on the ballot?

The combination of Risch's rampant ego, his overbearing, control-freak nature, and his sychopancy ("I think it would be presumptuous to give (new governor Butch Otter) my advice") is indeed a wonder to behold.

For the man-on-the-street view, travel slighly beyond the end of the earth, say, to Lowman, and hear how Democrats are responsible for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory "because of their hatred for the military and/or their country." Yes, it's the "non-thinking, reason-hating, reality-denying 'Progressives'" who will be responsible for the next millions of lives lost.

But we're coddled safe in Idaho, where Republicans such as Jim Risch look after our needs.

5.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Who Ya Gonna Call? Permalink to this item

FedEx's handling and delivery quality, illustrated Turns out that FedEx has the same delivery program as UPS: dump whatever's left of the package on the porch and get the hell out of there. It's just too much trouble to actually wait around to have something accepted. While those of us living in neighborhoods where packages won't (generally) be stolen off the porch appreciate not having to arrange for another delivery attempt, it's still pretty shabby for drivers to make their own judgement about what is and isn't or what might be damaged.

$36 Million Hardly Seems Enough Permalink to this item

The Bronco Fever has yet to break, and the money is flowing toward BSU football like water. 20% pay raises for the assistant coaches, bringing their salaries for next season to between $78,000 and $180,000.

The Statesman is selling more newspapers than ever, and peddling "memorabilia" as fast as they can print it. The local branch of Fox is going to show the game again, allowing everyone to relive the glory.

Who knows, maybe BSU will even spend some money on their website so it no longer hurts your eyes.

But the really big "bling" is the stadium remodelling. More skyboxes! More luxury in the loge! More everything!

I can't be the only one in town ready to gag on all this, can I?

3.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is a Private Oath Really an Oath? Permalink to this item

"Butch" Otter's intention for keeping his official oath-taking private was apparently not to spoil the big show, still before us. Some media are miffed by the secrecy, while others just say "whatever."

Speaking of algorithms... Permalink to this item

Can Google come up with one for hiring the best, well-rounded job candidates? I'm skeptical, but curious to wait and see.

Google has doubled its number of employees in each of the last three years.

With 100,000 job applications per month! they are definitely motivated to come up with smart filtering, which, after all, is their claim to fame. (If they do, will they make it available to other companies, to allow them to scoop up the second-best candidates?)

It's telling that the "vice president for people operations" expresses concern about possibly overlooking some of the best candidates, rather than the bane of big organizations: the Trojan Drudge.

For outsiders, what's sometimes termed a "technical interview" might look like "hazing prospects with intractable brain teasers," but qualified prospects are more likely to see that as "an interesting challenge." (This is before they learn the bureau-speak meaning of that phrase, which is "an ugly and intractible problem that we need to dump on someone.")

When Programming Languages Grow Up Permalink to this item

It helps to know something about a half dozen programming languages to enjoy the humor in Larry Wall's State of the Onion 10. Since I do, and have spent some time programming in perl, I can't be sure how much might communicate to the average reader. You tell me...

...If there's a particular problem that Perl is trying to solve, it's the basic fact that all programming languages suck. Sort of the concept of original sin, applied to programming languages.

As parents, to the extent that we can influence the design of our kids, we design our kids to be creative, not to solve a particular problem. About as close as we get to that is to hope the kid takes over the family business, and we all know how often that sort of coercion works....

(One reader said Wall's piece reminded him of Maira Kalman's blog on Times Select, The Principles of Uncertainty. I hadn't seen it, but now have a mental note to check it out, first Wednesday of the month.)

2.Jan.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past... Something something something Permalink to this item

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.: Folly's Antidote

Three decades ago, we suffered defeat in an unwinnable war against tribalism, the most fanatic of political emotions, fighting against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests. Vietnam was hopeless enough, but to repeat the same arrogant folly 30 years later in Iraq is unforgivable. The Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna famously said, "Behold, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed."

Coming Up Next Permalink to this item

Frontline: The Dark Side; inside Dick Cheney's War on Terror (originally aired June, 2006).

Boise State Rulez! Permalink to this item

"Cinderella" doesn't quite work as a metaphor for a teamfull of football players, but the l'il University at the end of the earth came up unexpectedly big in the Fiesta Bowl last night, finishing their undefeated season by upending the Oklahoma Sooners in overtime, 43-42.

Hook and ladder? Statute of Liberty? Yup, it was back to the playground last night, and who can argue with success? After dominating most of 4 quarters, they looked ready to pull it off in regulation, until Oklahoma managed to get a 2-point conversion on their third try (1 penalty each way) to tie it, and then Zabransky coughed up an interception for a touchdown by the OU defense. 35-28 with a minute to go, then 4th down and 18 from the 50 yard line for a last chance...

And my oh my from there.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words Permalink to this item

I'm not sure why we're at the end of United Parcel Service's schedule when we're on it, but we sure seem to be. After their driver's unbelievably bad performance last Friday evening, and my customer service call initiating further action on their part, set for "the next business day," it was 4pm before they got around to calling us today to follow-up.

The good news for us was that the company we made the purchase with was a lot more proactive, and their claims form inquiry about "concealed damage" prompted me to unpack our new printer, find all but one of the parts rattling around in the bottom of the box (and that one not essential), and proceed with installation and setup over the weekend. In spite of the abuse from UPS, it appears to have survived in good shape.

But imagine that it hadn't. We bought and paid for the product (and its shipping) before Christmas. It arrived late Friday, and would have sat here, steaming, for one, two, three, most of four days before the second customer service agent called to lard us with apologies. And then what? We make an appointment for... 4 or 5pm tomorrow to have them come out and review their handiwork?

I told him what I'll tell you: I used to have a positive association with the UPS brand; now I'm going to go out of my way to avoid doing business with them.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 03-Feb-2007 21:42:38 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200701.html