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31.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How 'bout them Packers? Permalink to this item

The Green Bay G, headed for the Super Bowl As in, them non-profit Packers, the one-and-only NFL team, and by Dave Zirin's report, the only "major professional team in the United States" to be owned by its fans.

"Volunteers work concessions, with sixty per cent of the proceeds going to local charities. Even the beer is cheaper than at a typical N.F.L. stadium. Not only has home field been sold out for two decades, but during snowstorms, the team routinely puts out calls for volunteers to help shovel and is never disappointed by the response. It doesn’t matter how beloved the Cowboys are in Dallas; if Jerry Jones ever put out a call for free labor, he’d be laughed out of town."

29.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Which part was confusing? Permalink to this item

Clarence Thomas got a federal appointment-for-life relatively early in his career, and his wife is no slouch either. Among her other employment opportunities, the Heritage Foundation paid Mrs. Thomas $686,589 from 2003 to 2007. And on the legally required financial disclosure form that Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America are obligated to fill out, there's a section for Spouse's Non-Investment Income. Seems pretty straightforward.

But not for Justice Thomas who has had to admit that mistakes were made in this most basic obligation of his high office. (No mention about regrets for the appearance of impropriety. And never mind such crazy advanced topics of his conflict of interest in deciding last year's landmark Citizens United case given his wife's founding the conservative legal group Liberty Central in 2009 to oppose Obama's policies, or Thomas' appearance at a private political retreat organized by Charles Koch, a prominent conservative financier.)

Just filling out the form with date and source and type of his spouse's non-investment income wasn't clear to him.

27.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Kids say the darnedest things Permalink to this item

Check out the Appendix of the Independent School District of Boise City's Analysis of Idaho Department of Education Public Schools Budget and Reform Proposal, with comments from Boise students about online courses.

"I don't think that online classes are legitimate ..."

"There is no substitute for a classroom setting with structure, social interaction, and a teacher. ..."

"You don't learn from online classes because you rush into it and do the work at the last moment. ..."

"I took an online class and hardly remember learning anything from it. ..."

"Students forget the class as soon as they are done with it. ..."

"... you don't remember a thing you learned. ..."

"... I don't recommend it to anyone. ..."

And yes, there's one "positive" statement among the overwhelmingly negative reviews:

"[Online courses] allow students to take a class that might not be super important in a couple months span."

Like if you just needed a High School diploma (or B.S.) to check a box on an application form or something.

Questions for Tom Luna Permalink to this item

Not that we're keeping score or anything, but none for, and six against Luna's plan in today's Idaho Statesman. Laptop questions from Janice Fenton:

"Will we also pay for their Internet? Will students who drop out get to keep the laptops? What if they move? What if they lose them? They are stolen? Dropped? Stepped on? Or simply crash? Will we replace them? What happens if they show up on eBay or Craigslist?"

Sally Andrus Mitchell shared Luna's plan with her high school students, "who are keen at seeing through lies adults tell them, and got this question: But if students come first, why would he want bigger class sizes?" And "But wait, isn’t creating more jobs a good thing? Bigger class sizes would mean fewer teachers, so wouldn’t that mean cutting jobs?"

And a question about the most revered cultural phenomenon in Boise, from Brett Crow:

"Do you think that substantial replacement of personal guidance with remotely provided online content delivery would improve performance quality in athletic competition, given athletic intellectual needs from rote facts to higher strategic thinking?"

Education conclusions Permalink to this item

Yesterday's entry and the essay it points to were rather a blanket condemnation of the Luna plan, and it occurs to me I should outline some particulars.

Thanks to Dale Garrard's letter for a pointer to The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades, which provides some background our Superintendent seems to lack. Idaho's class sizes for elementary schools reflect the understanding that yes, class sizes matter. (And even Luna's plan acknowledged that fact, by exempting grades K-3 from the proposed increase.)

26.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The future of education in Idaho Permalink to this item

The debate over Tom Luna's "Three Pillars for Customer-Driven Education" proceeds apace. His plan to remake Idaho's system goes beyond a response to financial exigency and into radical reinvention of government, putting at risk one of the foundations of this country's greatness: public education, available to all.

Excerpt screenshot of the Thomas Edison State College website There is nothing "conservative" about the plan, but some number of the state's reliably right political scene are happy enough with a plan to kill the teacher's union, and maybe rack up some collateral damage to boot. Darrel Deide's Reader's View in the Idaho Statesman gushes that "there is nothing in this plan for taxpayers and consumers of public education not to like!"

He apparently speaks for Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee with a mission of allowing parents to choose among public, public charter, private and home schools. (Which they can do, so ... mission accomplished, eh?) ICE-PAC's Board includes the inevitable Ralph Smeed (never mind that he, um, passed away last September), who they say has often been called the "H. L. Menckin [sic] of the West" in his defense of liberty, free markets, limited government and secure property rights in Idaho.

I sent in a letter to the editor to the Statesman, and I'm guessing there will be a steady stream of them, which, if they follow the pattern of those who attended last week's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hearing, will find a ton of things not to like in Luna's plan.

And I've posted my response at greater length in an essay on my home page, Pillar to post: gutting education in Idaho. (If you want your own retort, you can visit 43rd State Blues where it's open to discussion.)

25.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Rewriting history Permalink to this item

I guess the National Archives will be patting people down and confiscating fountain pens after this?

Thanks to acting chief of reference Trevor Plante for recognizing the crime, and exposing the work of "historian" Thomas Lowry, trying a bit too hard to make his mark on history. (Ironically enough, he has made a name for himself, with a single character.)

Been there, fought that Permalink to this item

Part of our sesquicentennial recollections, but unfortunately, the Idaho legislators trying to make a name for themselves by poking a thumb in Uncle Sam's eye are not doing it for a jolly historical re-enactment. March Johnson provides a helpful background piece on the topic of "nullification."

We appreciate that Wisconsin, in 1854, sought to nullify the federal Fugitive Slave Act, and draft northern states into service for the south's peculiar institution. But still. The other cases do not stand out on the right side of moral causes that I can see, nor have they come out on the winning side in the Supreme Court.

I have not, ever, pledged allegiance to a state. I've followed state laws, give or take, paid the taxes three of them have demanded from time to time, served jury duty, voted, shared my opinions with my (and other) legislators.

The trouble, as I see it, is that small groups of troublemakers without the native ability to do something useful in their (actually rather important) jobs are more interested in being in a parade and getting publicity than the hard work of governance. Yes, states have a share of "sovereignty," as does the federal government. But respect must always be earned, not simply usurped, unless the decision is to be by force of arms and might making "right." Idaho would lose that battle too, no matter how many sunshine patriots with NRA decals on their pickup trucks think another civil war would be jolly.

Update: an assistant chief deputy in the Idaho attorney general's office offered up his opinion on nullification, reponding to a request from Rep. Bill Killen (D-Boise). Shorter version: no.

24.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

They should talk to Payette County! Permalink to this item

Couple of Italian scientists say they've turned lead into gold. Er, nickel into copper. And a bunch of electricity coming out, too! Yes, that's right, it's time for some COLD FUSION again.

And not just some stuff in a mad scientist lab with dodgy record-keeping and missing neutrons, they say one reactor has been running continuously for two years, providing heat for a factory, according to the physorg news, and

"the scientists say that the reactor is well beyond the research phase; they plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011."

Too cheap to meter (almost, "less than 1 cent/kWh") and clean: the reaction produces radiation (as one would expect from a nuclear reaction) but "note that no radiation escapes due to lead shielding, and no radioactivity is left in the cell after it is turned off, so there is no nuclear waste." Tidy. They can't quite explain how the thing works, but they know when they've got a good thing!

Equally tidy, since no peer-reviewed journal has accepted their paper, "they published their paper in the Journal of Nuclear Physics, an online journal founded and run by themselves."

"We have passed already the phase to convince somebody," Rossi wrote in his forum. "We are arrived to a product that is ready for the market. Our judge is the market. In this field the phase of the competition in the field of theories, hypothesis, conjectures etc etc is over. The competition is in the market. If somebody has a valid technology, he has not to convince people by chattering, he has to make a reactor that work and go to sell it, as we are doing."

(H/t to slashdot, and here's the headline joke for those who missed: the earlier story.)

22.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Shooting to #1! Permalink to this item

Thumbnail of the NYT data graphic Some kind of outlier, too, as the graphic accompanying Charles Blow's op-ed shows, illustrating statistics for firearms and firearm homicides per capita, and the fraction of homicides by firearm in 14 countries around the world.

However we got to where we are, it stands to reason that if we have a lot more guns than other countries, we'd have a lot more shooting, and killing. Not that such conventional wisdom pervades our discourse on the topic; you're more likely to encounter the belief that the more guns, the safer we'll be, since more of the "good guys" will be ready to protect themselves and others. Timothy Egan's Myth of the Hero Gunslinger takes aim at the counterpoint with particulars out of Tucson, and one of the highlighted comments in the Opinionater blog revists the Western, citing Richard Harding Davis,

"later famous as a war correspondent, novelist, and adventurer, [who] toured the west in 1891. He pointed out that there was more crime and violence in New York City each day than there was in the whole west in a year. Those out in sparsely inhabited places carried guns, but no one was permitted to carry a weapon in town. Out-of-towners had to turn in their firearms at the sheriff's office when they arrived in town, and collect them when they left. Talking with old timers Davis concluded that the Wild Wild West was mostly the Mild Mild West, and old west gunslingers and outlaws stood out and were so well remembered because there were so few of them."

20.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Delusions of grandeur Permalink to this item

Nullification book cover, link to page I guess Tom Woods' tome is this year's legislative "let's all read the same book": Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. Touted by Barry Goldwater Jr. (son of the one you've heard of), and Fox News Channel's senior political analyst, who refers to the "just say no" idea as "utterly" lawful.

I guess that makes it even more so.

Brought to my attention by the Idaho Statesman today, I see that local firebrand of the Capitol steps, Mountain Home's Pete Nielsen is yet again a featured speaker, if late after the jump.

"The states created the Constitution and the federal government. Why should the creature be more powerful than the creator when it comes to deciding what the Constitution really meant?"

(Is it necessary to mention that Idaho's best minds had not yet been assembled in the late 1700s, and did not participate in the Creation?) The immediate context is looking for yet another way to defeat the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, after yesterday's resounding and inconsequential "repeal." Apparently waiting for the many court cases to be decided, appealed, and ultimately dispatched by the Supreme Court is just too boring to watch.

Perhaps we'll think back fondly to these rosy early days of the 2011 Idaho Legislature when the hapless solons are wailing about how long the session is going. Yes, we can't wait for you to leave town, either.

You can hear Woods speak for himself on NPR's "On Point" last March. I like the part where he neatly summarizes that "the left" have become "bureaucratizing freaks." Thank you for all you've done for us, Von Mises Institute.

19.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lax conscience Permalink to this item

Last year, Idaho's legislature passed the so-called Freedom of Conscience bill, SB1353. And our Governor did the least courageous thing possible: let it become law without his signature. It's not about your freedom of conscience, but rather health care professionals' conscience, should they wish to deny you their services.

It didn't take very long for someone to try it out. A pharmacist at Walgreens in Nampa didn't like the idea of filling a prescription for Methergine, an ergot alkaloid used to prevent or treat bleeding from the uterus that can happen after childbirth or an abortion.

Because... stopping bleeding violated his or her conscience? The pharmacist reportedly "asked [the nurse practitioner] if the drug was needed because of an abortion." As if that matters? As if federal law doesn't preclude answering a question that shouldn't have been asked?

It's an outrageous event, triggered by an outrageous law.

Fire for effect Permalink to this item

No, it's not the report that 6 of 19 missed their mark, nor that the president "was unhappy with the results, urging the military to improve its training," the funniest line in the story about Taiwan lighting up some of their munitions is that

"The timing of Taiwan’s missile tests—a day before President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China were to meet in Washington—was widely seen as coincidental."

You don't say.

18.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yes, it's probably a really bad idea Permalink to this item

Back when Windows Live ID was known as Microsoft Passport (and before their Hailstorm melted back to obscurity as .NET), that company was touting the convenience and benefit of a single login for all your web commerce needs. All those darn account and user names and passwords to keep track of. It's too much! Except that, well, things like your bank account and credit cards and bill paying are rather important to you, along with the money changing hands to keep it all going. So there was some tempering of enthusiasm to turn that all over to the most ubiquitous (decidedly not most popular) computer monopolist.

Yes it would be convenient, but maybe we'll just muddle along. Some years pass...

And then last summer, good old Uncle Sam drafted a proposal for a national strategy for trusted identities in cyberspace, in which he would create options for enhanced online security and privacy. Well maybe not him, how about if the private sector were to lead the implementation? That's what White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt and US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke were talking about earlier this month in Silicon Valley

Good idea, or bad idea? The ACLU's take is that "it's possible that if all the stars lined up perfectly, this 'online identity ecosystem' could be a good thing." But really, how often do the stars line up perfectly?

"The involvement of the private sector in this non-centralized or 'federated' identity scheme is of course preferable to a direct, centralized government-run identity system. That kind of a system would be a non-starter. But we would also have questions about what the private sector will do with this system. The interests and values of large companies tends to push toward stability, security and predictability—not toward the raucous freedom that online privacy and anonymity makes possible. Once a standard is in place, will people have to start identifying themselves everywhere online—even when it's totally unnecessary."

Here's what the ACLU would be looking for in another draft:

"We would support a system that empowers individuals, not large companies and government security agencies. That means a system that does not create records of individuals' activities online, and does not force them to reveal their identity significantly more often then they do now. It would be a system that uses advanced encryption techniques to expand the freedom and possibilities of what individuals can do online—not to track and control them."

Martin Luther King Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

We are bound together Permalink to this item

It might not stay up there on YouTube, what with copyright and all, but I enjoyed the chance to hear and see James Taylor (and friends) singing his song, Shed a Little Light. One of his all-time greats, gives me chills every time I hear it.

And this remarkable piece in the Coeur d'Alene Press, Zach Beck's apology "for the image of hate that I helped bring upon this decent community." Both he and the culture he's in are a work in process (as his return address, and the comments on quickly show). A glimmer of understanding is the first step in a long journey. In the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

15.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Catching my breath Permalink to this item

It was a busy campaign season, and I can't be expected to follow every race in the country, so imagine my surprise when cleaning out some old bookmarks, and considering a link buried in Timothy Egan's Curse of the Scorned Class (worth reading) from back in September, to this, The Sound of Silence, offered by the once-appointed, and now elected Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer.

You might say "words fail."

And you might say that the bar must have been set pretty low.

The deep divide in American political morality Permalink to this item

Whether you agree or disagree with my political views, can we at least agree that we live in a time of disagreement? See how you feel about the following statement:

Government has a proper and legitimate role in our lives.

If you think that's obviously true, you must be some kind of flaming liberal. If you think that's laughably, obviously false, then you're an anarchist. Or the mighty John Galt.

In between, there are those who merely pretend that the very idea is ludicrous when it's convenient, and go ahead and run (or manipulate) the government in a way that provides for their own self-interest, or bloviate about the horrors of government on TV and radio for entertainment purposes.

Paul Krugman is a regular target for such persons these days, but his Tale of Two Moralities provides what I think is a correct description of where we've come to:

"This deep divide in American political morality—for that's what it amounts to—is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform—whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress—was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.

"But that was then. Today's GOP sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today's Democratic Party does not. When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we're talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government."

David Brooks has a slightly more upbeat take on where we sit, meditating under the Tree of Failure, and identifying what's wrong with us. Civility, he writes "is a tree with deep roots... of failure, sin, weakness and ignorance." "A sense of personal modesty" ensues gratitude for a political process that can produce better communal results than any of us can on our own. Our current lack of civility comes from having been persuaded that we're each and every one of us more special than we are limited.

"The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves.... Children are raised amid a chorus of applause.... Athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process."

In keeping with his theme, he gives Reinhold Niebuhr the last word, and I might as well do that, too:

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness."

Invaders on the menu Permalink to this item

Canada geese grazing in Julia Davis Park A friend who studied at the University of Pennsylvania at the turn of the 1980s shared a variety of stories about local culture, including the fact that the problem of urban wild dogs was solved by an influx of Vietnamese refugees. I think about that whenever I see a gaggle of Canada geese in town. Times must not be really hard just yet, with all those uncooked goose dinners still at large.

James Gorman's recent Diet for an Invaded Planet piece notes that Jackson Lander's Locavore Hunter blog includes geese and pigeons as possibilities, but not zebra mussels ("too little meat and too much salmonella"). My own diet includes the occasional dandelion (definitely "all you can eat" for a good part of the year), but we haven't been bringing in any invasive game. Yet.

(Lander's gone semi-viral, says he's going to be on Michael Feldman's Whad'ya Know? today.)

14.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The soul-crushing tyranny of entitlement Permalink to this item

That charming phrase was in Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's windup, page 9 of his 2011 State of the State and budget address, which as local commentators pointed out didn't have a lot of "budget" in it. He looks toward "governance that emboldens and frees individuals and communities from the soul-crushing tyranny of entitlement."

Leading up to that, read his lips, no new taxes (except maybe $1.25 per pack of cigarettes), and that it's going to be time to "turn [the discussion] back to the family," to our communities, to personal responsibility, and to do more with less, just like his daddy used to say, when Butch was growing up in a family of 11 in southern Idaho. Otter hearkened back to "our Mormon pioneers" and the Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers, extending "community" perhaps toward communism... but whatever, just don't ask government to pay for anything more.

In fact, following the model of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, he's rather taken with Marv Hagedorn's proposal to lower taxes dramatically even though, unlike the federal government, we're not in a position to enable that reform through deficit spending.

There is something like that, except just a short-term loan: "a plan to eliminate the need to increase Idaho’s Unemployment Insurance rates and stabilize the trust fund [by] issuing bonds to repay the entire amount we borrowed and redeeming those bonds over four years." We're going to pay back he funds by... getting a different loan, and paying that loan back. Ok, so it's circular, at least the money is moving around.

He did avoid last year's mistake, identifying specific programs he wants to cut. This year, he's inviting the Legislature's "ideas for eliminating whole programs that may fall outside the statutory or constitutional responsibilities of State government." (See how you like it when the people who want to keep the program com after you!)

The Twin Falls Times-News has a suggestion for what needs an increase: the State Police, which currently has "exactly the same number of officers patrolling [Idaho's] highways as it did 34 years ago." When there was a lot less traffic, and 40% fewer people in the state.

12.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's really not that hard to create art Permalink to this item

A snippet of 'The Duke of Wellington' to illustrate my comments That's what Zhou "Joe" Tiehai said a few years back (and I'd guess he keeps saying it), when he was featured in a NYT Arts and Design article in 2006 by David Barboza. (You're reading about this in 2011 because I tucked away that reference when it was fresh... and stumbled upon it today.)

He's the idea guy, doesn't actually paint himself. Maybe a little Photoshop work, but he hires out the actual paint-to-canvas transfer to apprentices who are happy enough for the job, apparently. Given the contemporary art scene that we saw back in our 2003 visit, Zhou is actually moving Art forward in China. Especially if you like Joe the Camel send-ups. The scene was more industrial than artistic, with a whole lot of painters copying one thing or another, and tourists being led into "museums" and "studios" by Communist Party officials who ran the store but knew pretty much nothing whatsoever about art; except, perhaps, for what sells well.

"Mr. Zhou calls Joe Camel a likable character. But many in the art industry here say it is more clever than that. Joe Camel, they say, is the prototypical Westerner (Westerners are often referred to as 'big noses' in China), but also Mr. Zhou's alter ego.

"His Joe Camel is a globe-trotter who likes to play in the Western art world, wears dark sunglasses and does mischievous things, like inserting himself, Zelig-like, into paintings of historical scenes.

"In creating his own brand, Mr. Zhou says he has beaten China's great artists at their own game, and no one really seems to mind...."

Nice try, but no Permalink to this item

Figures that a smear plot cooked up against the woman who profiled the Koch brothers' funding of the Tea Party in The New Yorker last summer would be half-baked. Accusations of the author's having plagiarized a liberal blogger were dismissed by said blogger:

"Jane Mayer properly credited me in her story... She clearly did a ton of her own research. I have nothing but admiration for her integrity as a journalist."

The search for motivation can connect the dots between the Daily Caller, a self-styled "24-hour news site" with original reporting, most, best, wry and unvarnished conservative blather, founded by Tucker Carlson and former Dick Cheney aide Neil Patel, to Mayer's documentation of Cheney's latest visit to the Executive branch, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. Not that Patel would have any unvarnished opinions about Ms. Mayer?

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

"Months" of troubleshooting? Really? Permalink to this item

It appears that it was the 2004 tax forms from the IRS when I first saw PDF "fillable forms" that allowed you to type into the fill-in fields, save your form data in case you had to edit in multiple sessions, and print. Way better than printing paper documents for tax forms and filling them in by hand, which I'd been doing for years before.

Then the next year, our Idaho state tax forms had the same deal. Except that you couldn't save the form data. You could type your name and numbers and everything in, print a nice copy, and... throw away your typing. If you had to edit something, just start over. Not only annoying, it didn't make any sense. But oh well, it doesn't have to, does it? After running into this a few times (including with Wisconsin's tax forms), I complained to Adobe, figuring their product pricing was to blame. The state's couldn't afford the "full" version of Acrobat, maybe? No no, they told me that Acrobat allows you to go either way, and it was apparently simply a user choice to make the form data non-saveable.

Why would anyone choose that? (An answer occurred to me today: because (a) it's the default, and (b) it's not easy/obvious enough to change the setting, and maybe (c) Adobe invented the "fill in a form" before someone had the bright idea of "hey, let's let people save the form data," but they didn't think to change the default to the setup you would want either 99.99% or 100% of the time.)

Absent a good reason, can you, um, change it to the other way?

I asked that question of a company I do business with, when they provided me with some PDF forms that were fillable but not savable. Can they fix this, please? (I'm just sure I'm talking about a 2 to 5 minute job.) Here's the answer I got:

"I consulted with a peer who helps with the forms... This is an issue we are aware of and have been working to resolve since last year. After months of troubleshooting to determine the cause, a work order was submitted to resolve this issue. However, we do not have a date of expected completion."

Words fail. (And so do the 2005 IRS forms, I just found out, going back to the archives:
Failure message, trying to open a 6-y-o filled PDF form

Descent into madness Permalink to this item

Of course guns by themselves do not kill people. Barring accidents (which apparently do happen), it takes someone to operate the machine. And if we were to outlaw guns, only outlaws would have guns, so the old saw saws.

They don't call it an "arms race" for nothing, and there's not much question that the runners in this country have outdistanced the "hold on just a minute" crowd, of which Gail Collins is one, as shown by her op-ed, A Right to Bear Glocks?. While yes, "we should be able to find a way to accommodate the strong desire in many parts of the country for easy access to firearms with sane regulation of the kinds of weapons that make it easiest for crazy people to create mass slaughter," no, we're not going to talk about it much, because most politicians are afraid of the NRA.

"Today, the amazing thing about the reaction to the Giffords shooting is that virtually all the discussion about how to prevent a recurrence has been focusing on improving the tone of our political discourse. That would certainly be great. But you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it."

Candidates for Republican National Committee were asked "how many guns do you own?" and you know the person who answered "none" is no longer in contention.

In spite of Arizona eliminating the requirement for concealed weapon permits, there was not sufficient good guy firepower in the crowd to stop Jared Loughner's desire for massacre; he was instead tackled while reloading, apparently intent on another 30 shots. And for those who will still insist that if only more good people were walking around armed, we'd be safer, I have to ask if that's how it's working in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Or maybe there just aren't enough arms in those countries yet?)

And while we're talking about public policy, consider that if you think mental health services are too expensive to maintain—as Pima Co. did, dropping almost half its recipients off public rolls last year —consider the alternative.

2011.01.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Where transformation begins Permalink to this item

Tragedy can bring a moment of clarity, of recognition of our shared humanity, goals, purpose.... or not. It's been disappointing to read partisans debate who all is responsible for fomenting the violence that erupted in the mind of one young man in Arizona on Saturday, and led him to kill six and wound 14 others.

Marc Johnson's personal response is worth reading, as is the comment one our mutual Facebrook friends made in reply, regarding the "getting to the bottom of this American tragedy":

"The Buddha pointed out that ignorance and desire cause suffering. That each of us causes our own suffering and has the power to choose not to suffer. That there is an end to suffering and a path to that end. I'd call this wisdom 'the bottom,' and I'd suggest that each of us, in our own life, do all we can to replace ignorance with understanding and desire with compassion. That's where transformation begins."

7.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Get me rewrite! Permalink to this item

Crescent moon over the Boas Tennis Center bubble roof Most of us don't have good feelings about the Internal Revenue Service, but they have a job to do, that others have mandated. And believe it or not, one of their employees is an ombudsman, considering the interests of taxpayers.

Nina E. Olson has some criticism of her own, "sweeping," according to David Kocieniewski on the NYT, and calling for rewriting the tax code. "The time for tax reform and tax simplification is now," she says, and we say "hear, hear!"

"[T]he volume of the tax code had nearly tripled in size during the last decade—to 3.8 million words in February 2010 from 1.4 million in 2001. [Olson] estimated that Americans spent 6.1 billion hours preparing their returns each year—the equivalent of 3 million employees working full time...."

That equivalent of 3 million employees is about 50% more than the number on the federal payroll: 2.1 million full-time workers.

Out of order Permalink to this item

Barely edging above freezing down here in the valley, although the sun is cheery. Three thousand feet above us, it's in the mid-40s. You could get a sunburn, probably. No new snow for a week. We are tired of this inversion.

Saturday's forecast calls for maybe a little snow, and then colder temperatures into the week. Please send us fresh air, so we can get our lapse rate straightened out.

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

Birther in the House Permalink to this item

I have no idea how they decide who gets to sit in the big chair, but it's clear they get to take turns, somewhat. Imagine my surprise in seeing Idaho's Rep. Mike Simpson—my representative to Congress, no less—whacking the big gavel to call Order down upon the obstreperous House gallery goer who attempted to insert her opinion about our President's citizenship into the Veneration of the Constitution.

Ok, so he had to read the cue cards the Parliamentarian handed him, but still. Local boy makes good!

If that little snippet of the public participation portion of the Veneration was not enough for you, Jon Stewart gave a more complete rundown on The Daily Show tonight. Suffice it to say that much of the entertainment value was unintentional.

5.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tours of duty Permalink to this item

Not much to say about the fiasco of XXO Owen Honors naval entertainment aboard the USS Enterprise (nothing except a defense of the videos for their "positive effect on the crew's morale" , a great opportunity for reforming the Pentagon, a weird connection to the National Day of Prayer and implications of other superiors' guilty knowledge, and of course a parade of indignant editorials...)

Screen shot from Adm. Harvey announcing Honors' firing But one thing, about that on-camera announcement of Honors' sacking by USN Admiral John Harvey, Jr., there on the shelf behind the Admiral's left shoulder. Thomas Ricks' Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, the 2006 report of America's "misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly."

Michiko Kakutani's review of the book in the NYT noted that "many of the book’s most scorching assessments of the White House and Pentagon’s conduct of the war come from members of the uniformed military and official military reports."

If he didn't arrange his books for the taping, he's just a lucky guy. If he did, I'm impressed. It's a bit harder to read next to it, but right next to the Fiasco is Ricks' The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.

Nice work if you can get it Permalink to this item

Oh hello, speaking of the little-known Republican from northern New Jersey, here's Rep. Scott Garrett in the second news story to cross my desk today, How Wall St. execs bankrolled GOP victory. He figures into the story by being

"slated to become the new chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, a key panel that has direct oversight of the industry. A staunch foe of the regulation of Wall Street, Garrett has threatened to cut funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission and roll back some provisions of Dodd-Frank."

Sounds important. How much is that worth? Oh, about $195,800 from executives at Elliott Management Corp. and their spouses late last summer.

Let's pretend it just doesn't exist Permalink to this item

A concept which works so well for a variety of "it"s. Remember the deficit (as in, "THE DEFICIT!") last year? Right up until the end, when there would have to be some actual sharing of the cost of doing something about it, and then OMG, we can't raise any taxes!

As the 112th Congress swears its way in, we have a planned Veneration of the Constitution by the Republican leadership of the House, extended to include a rules requirement that all legislation submitted must include "a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution."

In case any members have trouble finding the support they need, get help, from the Federalist Papers, the Congressional Research Service's Annotated Guide to the Constitution (which may not be able to keep up with the workload), and your choice of think tanks. Let's review Article 1 Section 8 of said Constitution:

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States... [in many specific ways;] And To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

But wait! Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ, and founder and chair of the Congressional Constitution Caucus) doesn't like that wishy-washy catch-all "general welfare" and "necessary and proper" stuff. That shouldn't be good enough, he says.

Constitution not good enough?! Or, "let's read it my way." Word is, a conference meeting didn't see it his way, but stay tuned, right after we're done swearing and reading.

4.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Making the world safe for plutocracy Permalink to this item

Now that we've dispatched tax cuts for the rich for an election cycle, how about another round of union busting? Nothing quite like having the working class duke it out amongst themselves for class warfare entertainment. Never mind that "a raft of recent studies found that public salaries, even with benefits included, are equivalent to or lag slightly behind those of private sector workers." There's a lot of misery in the workforce looking for company.

And never mind that the most privileged public employees—the legislators slicing up the dwindling budget pie—are pretty much immune to any hardship other than occasionally being pushed through the revolving door to "retirement" and a career in lobbying. New Jersey's politicos do better than many, it sounds like, making

"an art form of pension collection. Some politicians draw multiple pensions as county legislators, called freeholders, and as prosecutors or union leaders. Back in Washington Township, people tend to talk of state government as a casino with fixed craps tables."

More fuel for the fire, off with their heads and everything, but don't it always seem to go, the folks in charge are last in line for the sacrifices? They watch the front lines of the battle through heavy lenses.

Non-starter Permalink to this item

Flush with electoral success and full of themselves, the House Republican leadership's first act, supposedly responding to "the American People," will be to... repeal last year's health care insurance reform law. W00t! That's the ticket.

Never mind the cost of repeal: we'll just make an exception to the new "CutGo" playbook. (So soon?) And of course never mind the mythical two-headed beast of "bipartisanship"; their plan is to just "jam repeal down the throat" (as they liked to say) of Democrats.

And the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the Democratic President are going to... I don't know, laugh in your faces? Or maybe have you stand up and be counted on the specific benefits you want to eliminate?

3.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Don't breathe the yellow air Permalink to this item

One of the most striking memories of our trip to China in 2003 was the hideously bad air quality in every region except while it was raining (acid, no doubt), and when a strong cold front blew down out of Mongolia and cleared the air around Beijing, temporarily. It made me appreciate the phenomenal success of environmental protection laws in this country, even as I wondered how much of their "externality" crosses the Pacific Ocean and is shared with us.

Morning in Shanghai, 2003 George Will's Dec. 30 column brings surprising news: the flow of coal in our neighborhood (more or less) is now flowing westward, with plans to ship Wyoming coal out the Columbia River, at a rate of 5 or 6 million tons a year. But that's relatively small potatoes: the Powder River basin, in 17 surface mines, is now producing more coal than all of the mines east of the Mississippi, according to 2009 stats from the EIA, and the quantity figured to move through Cowlitz Co. is well less than 1% of the western total production, and haulable with a couple unit trains a day. Every day. It would be enough to supply... about one large electricity generation plant.

The James Fallows Atlantic piece that set Will off, Dirty Coal, Clean Future, has the possibly hopeful preamble that China is now the leader in new technologies that will make coal "more sustainable." Highly recommended reading. I say "possibly" hopeful because why aren't we in front of the technology curve? One reason is that our environmental regulations have kept our air from being that yellow, and reduced the acid content of our rain so that it doesn't kill quite all the fish in downwind lakes. China is, how shall we say, more visibly motivated, with 70% of their rapidly growing electricity production from coal (versus about half in the world as a whole). Whether it will be clean, dirty, or somewhere in between, our future lies in a coal bed:

"Coal will be with us because it is abundant... It will be with us because of where it's located... It will be with us because its direct costs are in most circumstances far lower than those of the alternatives... It will be with us because its indirect costs, in miner deaths, environmental destruction, and carbon burden on the atmosphere are unregulated and 'externalized'...

"And it will be with us because of a surprising constraint: after a century in which medical diagnosis and treatment, computer and communications systems, aerospace and nanotech industries, and nearly every other form of technology have routinely achieved the magical, energy production is essentially what it was in the time of James Watt."

Odds are, what innovation there is to be done will be done in China, "a huge laboratory for deploying technology," because:

"In the search for progress on coal, like other forms of energy research and development, China is now the Google, the Intel, the General Motors and Ford of their heyday—the place where the doing occurs, and thus the learning by doing as well. 'They are doing so much so fast that their learning curve is at an inflection that simply could not be matched in the United States,' David Mohler of Duke Energy told me."

Fundamental evolution in education Permalink to this item

Adjusting a few place names could make Thomas Erdbrink's report of Iran aiming to purge western ideas from their schools serve pretty well for politicos in Idaho.

"Starting in September, all high school students will be introduced to new courses such as 'political training' and 'living skills' that will warn against 'perverted political movements' and encourage girls to marry at an early age, Education Ministry officials say."

Compare Idaho Rep. Steve Thayn's approach, eliminating public schools, starting from the ground floor, kindergarten. You might say that those who have no clue about the past are destined to wander off and get lost in the sagebrush.

2.Jan.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

U.S.B! U.S.B! Permalink to this item

Courtesy of Agencia Brasil
Madam President

What better testimonial to Brazil's strong economy than an 87% approval rating for their first working-class President, as Lula hands over the reins to his annointed successor, "a former Marxist rebel turned career technocrat," And their first woman president, to boot.

From the brink of default, to pulling 20 million people out of poverty, record low unemployment, the World Cup coming in 2014, and the Olympics 2 years after... maybe the United States of America should be taking some pointers from the United States of Brazil, eh?

There are a few political flies in the ointment, however, as Andres Oppenheimer included in his run down of "what really mattered" last year, offering the subhead that Brazil becomes new headache for Washington, having "embraced Iran's regime" and "[recognized] a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which did not include east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank." Speaking of political divisions, Rousseff's inaugural speech acknowledged that

"There is still poverty shaming our country. I will not rest while there are Brazilians without food on their table, homeless in the streets, and poor children abandoned to their luck."

Can you imagine? The U.S.A.'s cause célèbre at the turn of the decade is how we extended the tax cuts for the richest among us for two more years. The megayacht drivers say damn the deficit, full speed ahead!


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 07-Feb-2011 21:21:17 MST