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30.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How Grover Norquist drove us into a bathtub Permalink to this item

Given the choice between a selfish little weasel who has managed to hypnotize the GOP into a lockstep denial of the need to actually pay for the things we've already bought, and the Governor of Massachusetts, I'll go with the latter.

"For nearly a decade, our federal government paid for two wars and a costly prescription drug benefit with borrowed money. Our government paid for the Bush tax cuts with borrowed money. Now, after exhausting the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration, the only spending Republicans are willing to discuss cutting is spending that helps the poor and vulnerable—meaning anything that does not touch the interests of large corporations and the very rich. Last December, Republican hard-liners held hostage benefits for people out of work in exchange for an agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for those who make a million dollars or more a year. Last month, many of the same lawmakers rallied to protect special tax benefits for oil companies that have made record profits on high gas prices."

And it could well get worse before it gets better, if it gets better. Taxes may be the price "we" pay for civilization, but the program to have someone else pay is very popular.

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

Accounting not her strong suit Permalink to this item

Or, as the executive director of a consumer health care advocacy group put it, "she's giving hypocrisy a bad name." Turns out Bachmann's hubby's medical practice has been doing ok, "collecting payments under the Minnesota's Medicaid program every year for the past six years."

Damn those welfare rolls!

This would help explain why in spite of the wide-ranging and entertaining selection at hand, Republican voters apparently lack enthusiasm for their presidential contenders. Plus, it's hot, and there are other things to do. Check back in a year.

28.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our life on earth Permalink to this item

Another fine piece in Rolling Stone, this by Al Gore: Climate of Denial Can science and the truth withstand the merchants of poison? It remains to be seen.

"All things are not equally true. It is time to face reality. We ignored reality in the marketplace and nearly destroyed the world economic system. We are likewise ignoring reality in the environment, and the consequences could be several orders of magnitude worse. Determining what is real can be a challenge in our culture, but in order to make wise choices in the presence of such grave risks, we must use common sense and the rule of reason in coming to an agreement on what is true."

Helpfully, he's got a 5 step plan for individuals (summarized briefly here):

  1. Become an advocate for solving the crisis, starting with something simple: speak up whenever the subject of climate arises.
  2. Deepen your commitment by making consumer choices that reduce energy use and reduce your impact on the environment.
  3. Join an organization committed to action on this issue.
  4. Contact your local media when they put out claptrap on climate—and let them know you're fed up with their stubborn and cowardly resistance to reporting the facts of this issue.
  5. Don't give up on the political system. Make it do the right thing.

Definitely worth the read.

Home of the whopper Permalink to this item

I'm not laughing, I'm just saying: Politifact's scorecard on Michele Bachmann is 1 true, 2 half-true, 5 barely true, 11 false and 7 pants on fire. It's not just the lying, it's the bald-faced hypocrisy of decrying government aid while taking it that gets me. Integrity fail.

The Republican Party probably sees her as useful in an attack dog role, and easily expendable, but I have to wonder if the Tea Party types rallying behind her are as credulous as it would seem.

Tell us more, Norm Permalink to this item

The effort to recall Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Luna, faced pretty much insurmountable hurdles in terms of collecting signatures, and having any hope of getting enough votes to kick him out. And then... his pal, Governor Butch Otter would get to appoint his replacement?

On the other hand, the effort to enable Idaho to vote on the widely criticized "reform" measures Luna and others cooked up succeeded, and we will have a chance to vote on the three bills the Legislature just passed (even though the laws are having an "emergency" run between now and the 2012 election).

It's not too surprising that Luna would take a recall effort personally, and likewise that he'd lash out at his critics by saying they made it personal; what's more public school than "I know you are, but what am I" after all?

The Republican Party in the state has no reason to take it personally, however, and while the press release from its chairman, Norm Semanko could have been gracious and assured, that's not really his style. He's more of the fiddle-dee-dee nasty dancing leprechaun approach, celebrating the "huge blow to the anti-education reform establishment":

"The Union leadership's efforts to use scare tactics and spread misinformation in order to maintain the status quo and to place Union interests ahead of the true recipients of public education, the students, have failed in Idaho."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but public education in Idaho is not synonymous with the current Superintendent; we have other people quite capable of doing the job (and some who have actual experience in the field, rather than just good friends in the party).

But more interesting than the chortling was this very strange sentence attributed to Semanko:

"We are grateful that the efforts we engaged in were successful in beating back the recall petitions."

What efforts would those have been exactly, to "beat back" a legal effort to collect signatures of voters wanting to recall an elected official?

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

The battle for liberty right here in your backyard Permalink to this item

It's that gal with the Bunsen Burner eyes, featured by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: Michele Bachmann's Holy War.

"You will want to laugh, but don't, because the secret of Bachmann's success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger."

Is it OK if we quietly roll our eyes at teh crazy, called by You-Know-Who to rise out of obscurity, and in "just over 10 years from small-town PTA maven to serious presidential contender"? Taibbi might just be entertaining the possibility for its literary potential, but no matter that it beggars the imagination; stranger things have happened, and she comes from the state that elected Jesse Ventura its governor.

"Bachmann's entire political career has followed this exact same pattern of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying. ... She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty."

All serving a single-minded purpose: "getting herself elected is pretty much the only thing she has accomplished in politics," having "never passed a piece of meaningful legislation" in either Minnesota's state Senate or the U.S. Congress.

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

Labor for less Permalink to this item

China's got a bridge they want to sell California. Seriously. Actually, it was bought and sold 5 years ago, and now it's soon to be delivered. Some folks aren't too happy with yet another huge outsourcing of American might, but the steel industry mostly left a while ago. And then there's this little anecdote about one of the 3,000 workers on the job in China:

"Pan Zhongwang, a 55-year-old steel polisher, is a typical Zhenhua worker. He arrives at 7 a.m. and leaves at 11 p.m., often working seven days a week. He lives in a company dorm and earns about $12 a day.

"'It used to be $9 a day, now it's $12,' he said Wednesday morning, while polishing one of the decks for the new Bay Bridge. 'Everything is getting more expensive. They should raise our pay.'"

Seek and ye shall find Permalink to this item

Virginia Heffernan's headline was Google's War on Nonsense, which may be slightly too kind. So-called "content farms" are misnamed, since they're not farming content, but rather content-like verbiage (same as "nonsense"), designed to obtain search engine attention and page views from unwary "readers" (who won't read, because there's nothing to read) thereby collecting revenue from unwary advertisers.

How little attention does one have to pay to anything about this for it to make sense? It doesn't make sense, it's just a way to make money, just as parasites that don't debilitate or destroy their hosts make metabolism without really working at it.

I don't care what the Federal Trade Commission's anti-trust investigation digs up, I'm all for Google's effort to wave their magic algorithm and clean out the useless pond scum of the internet. They made this thing useful to begin with, and we need them to control the weeds.

Maybe Google should be a public utility, what do you think?

23.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of the Boise River... Permalink to this item

Kayak surfing the Boise Just responded to an Idaho Rivers United action alert, with an email to my congressman, Mike Simpson:

"I'm writing about HR 2018, and hoping you will vote NO on this bill to weaken environmental protection for our country's water.

"Boise used to have an open sewer running through the middle of town. Now the Boise River and its Greenbelt are a scenic attraction and the subject of considerable (and deserved) civic pride. Yesterday morning I went up to Lucky Peak Reservoir on the Boise River and went windsurfing, something I've been enjoying here for 28 years, confident that the only thing I had to worry about when I fell in was how cold the water was, not what's in it.

"The Clean Water Act has been a fantastic success for this country. Please cast your vote to continue that success, not dismantle it."

The bill, named the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, co/sponsored by 31 Republicans and 4 Democrats, proposes to "amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State's water quality standards, and for other purposes."

Because, 50 standards for clean water will work so much better than one? Because the Clean Water Act is suddenly too heinous to continue, after 40 years of success?

No, I don't think so.

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

Sail on Permalink to this item

I was singing and sailing on the lake this morning, the opening day of my 28th season windsurfing. It was better-than-average filled in, perfectly powered for my 6.0. First day of "hot" weather in the neighborhood, forecast for the mid-90s, a lovely sunrise decorated with little cumulus puffballs melting into virga. Sunshine and (just one) brisk splash in the lake. Nice.

Here's Bruce Robb calling it a morning, not too long after I'd had enough fun, and about the time the main wave of kitesailors were hitting the water.

Bruce Robb, riding a nice puff into Barclay Bay

It was all that.

Picture a beautiful morning at Barclay Bay

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Poisoning the well Permalink to this item

McKinsey&Company now says they were "measuring attitudes about healthcare reform," "not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act."

So when their survey says "30 percent of respondents who said their companies offered employer sponsored health insurance said they would 'definitely' or 'probably' drop coverage in the years following 2014, the year the Affordable Care Act takes full effect" that shouldn't be taken as "predictive." Besides which what somebody in business in the middle of 2011 says about what they're going to do or what will happen in "the years following 2014"—that is, more than three years from now—it's pretty much blue sky and hot air, eh?

It is interesting to imagine that this "panel" the subcontractor, Ipsos sampled from comprises "nearly 600,000 people" that they "maintain." Or is it the panel they say they maintain? They "wholly own" this "online panel," that's interesting. But be assured,

"Ipsos has three different ISO certifications—ISO 9001 for Quality management systems, ISO 20252 for Market, opinion and social research and ISO 27001 for Information technology, security techniques and Information security management systems."

ISO certified, what could possibly go wrong?

In carefully deprecating the predictive power of the study it commissioned M&C advises that

"Employers' future actions will be determined by many considerations [including] medical cost inflation, the details of new state health insurance exchanges, employee attitudes toward compensation and benefits, a company's ability to attract and retain talent, actions taken by competitors and the state of the economy."

Other than that, they stand by their survey! The Nancy-Ann DeParle at the White House pushed back, and Milt Freudenheim reported in the NYT Business Day.

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

Let's get caught up Permalink to this item

As if. But in shuffling through a few dusty corners of those 373 folders I have in Outlook, I came across one email from Howard Rheingold, and looked to see what he's up to lately. Here he is on his vlog, talking to a 12-year-old prodigy about what sort of things would constitute "digital literacy."

"How to deploy attention" is a fascinating question, which she starts to answer, but then gets distracted, talking about how yeah, she does do quite a bit of multi-tasking, and they both seem to forget what the question was.

I was going to say something else, but then the blasted computer locked up, my first video crash? since the Win7 re-install after my HD woe. As Firefox would say "this is embarrassing." Guess I'll just stick to Adora Svitak's TED talk, What adults can learn from kids.

"Ok, so [my parents] didn't tell us to become doctors, or lawyers or anything like that but my dad did read to us about Aristotle and Pioneer Germ Fighters when lots of other kids were hearing "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round." Well we did hear that one too, but Pioneer Germ Fighters totally rules. I loved to write from the age of four..."

Let's get organized Permalink to this item

In the last version of Outlook I got used to using, [alt]f,M would bring up a GUI (but arrow-navigable) dialog for what folder to move a message to. In Outlook2010, they dispensed with that, in favor of [ctrl][shift]v which my fingers haven't memorized yet (but I'm hoping this post will help them do). "Move" is readily accessibly in the graphically adorned buttons along the top of the screen and when GUI-clicked it offers the 10 most recently filed-to folders, or "other folder," and it seemed like I wasn't hitting the "top 10" list very often.

I have a lot of folders, so not a huge surprise, but still, seems like my odds should be a little better.

Just counted 'em up: I have a tree of 373 folders under Mail, which makes me think it's a little surprising I ever hit the top 10. I've got plenty of vertical space, could I make it the top 20, or 30? Some Outlook MVPs say no, you can't.


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

A go at healthcare insurance Permalink to this item

Subalpine fir cones, above Big Fisher L. Having left the cozy security of regular employment with health care benefits most of a decade ago, but further than that from signing up for Medicare, I have the privilege of experiencing a lot of the problems of "the system" first-hand. I've got a fat collection of links to interesting facts and opinions that I've been meaning to go through and digest into an Informed Opinion worth expressing (on my blog, at least; I'll admit that's a low bar). But it's complicated and other things have come first.

When my annual "we jacked up your premium again!" letter arrived, ahead of my May 1 renewal date, I finally decided I should so something more than just complain about how big the increase was and look into alternatives. How big was the increase? "Only" 37% this year, about the same as last year's 36%, both lower than the nice, round 50% increase in 2009 on top of 43% in 2008. The very first annual increase, in 2007 was "only" 20%. In case you can't do that multiplication in your head, let me help. From 2005 to 2011, my insurance premium went up a total of 381%.

And not because I'm going to hell in a handbasket either. I am aging, about a year's worth every 12 months, but I'd like to think I'm doing it gracefully. In 6 years, Regence BlueShield had to process a total of two, count 'em, two claims on my behalf, both for perfectly ordinary, small amounts. (They totaled less than my new monthly premium would have been if I hadn't changed plans.) It did occur to me that I haven't been using enough medical services; are they concerned that I'm not doing enough preventive care? Ha!

Anyway, when I called Regence, I learned that the plan I was on was defunct; they weren't signing up new accounts, but I was grandfathered in (with no pun intended on their part). A quote on the plans they ARE writing these days was more attractive, and by doubling my deductible, I could cut my premium by more than half. Without going into some gory details about just how horribly bad Regence administrative functions are working these days, the shorter version is that I switched to the new plan with a simple phone call. (A month and a half later, I don't have much of any details of exactly what all I signed up for, but hey, I'm insured! And some "highlights" are readily available.)

Thanks to a late, useless, and poorly worded letter from their underwriting department that showed up this month, I was motivated to contact the insurance agent I'd worked with in 2005, and to go through the process of applying with Blue Cross. Their administrative processes are working like greased lightning at the moment, and I had a quote for 25 variations of 6 different plans in less than 24 hours (via email, with a printed copy in my mailbox a day later).

(In Idaho, Regence BlueShield of Idaho and Blue Cross of Idaho are the only two insurance companies to choose from for an individual health insurance policy, simplifying your purchasing decision somewhat.)

Then today, I saw an item on the NYT site, Seriously, Some Consensus About Health Care, and I thought wow, some consensus would be great. I got as far as the first sub-head, The Value of Competition, and the observation that

"If choosing among competing private plans on a government-regulated exchange is a good idea for someone at age 50, why is it so horrific for someone who is 70?"

Before I answer that question, let's consider whether choosing among competing private plans on a government-regulated exchange (or, as now in my and pretty much every other state, a government-restricted playing field) is, in fact, a good idea for someone at age 50(-something).

I would submit that it isn't. It would be much better if a single plan provided for reasonable insurance coverage for everyone, and was coordinated through a single payer. We already have a nice name for that, it's called Medicare, and I've been paying for it most of my life, even though I've got another 9+ years to go before I'll get to use it, if I should live so long.

Having helped Jeanette navigate "Medicare Advantage" plans, I can tell you that that's a muddled and unproductive mess, too. She's gone back to "plain old" Medicare, and cast her own vote on the "Part D" prescription drug benefit; it wasn't worth the trouble.

I don't want a "free market" supplying my water, transportation network, sewer, trash pickup, electricity, or health care. Some things are too essential to be left to a profit motive to supply to the highest bidders.

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

Who says Republicans don't have a sense of humor? Permalink to this item

It's seriously twisted, but you can't deny this is funny: the Louisianans hired an Obama impersonator for the Republican Leadership Conference down there, and the guy just lit right into all of them. And then ... act like that didn't just happen:

"The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince R. Priebus, took the stage immediately after the impersonator. He did not make reference to what had just taken place on stage and instead turned the conversation back to policy and politics."

The GOP's deep-seated problem with bigotry Permalink to this item

It was Idaho's good fortune that Bryan Fischer decided to move to Mississippi. We can't apologize to them, since we had nothing to do with where he decided to hunker down, but we can offer condolences. Fischer's vitriolic and indefatigable bigoted spew provides his own hell on earth but sadly, it's not a private hell. It's all too public, as People for the American Way have documented in their article, The GOP's Favorite Hate-Monger: How the Republican Party Came to Embrace Bryan Fischer.

"Meet Bryan Fischer, a Right Wing extremist who tirades against gays and lesbians, Muslims, progressives, members of the military and President Obama. Prominent Republican leaders and conservative activists increasingly lend undeserved credibility to him, reflecting the GOP's embrace of the Right Wing's escalating radicalism."

What's most disappointing is that the GOP presidential hopefuls have somehow got the notion that they have to pay obeisance to this creep, as if the basest of the right-wing base would waver in their opposition to Obama come 2012? It's conceivable, I suppose, that they might stay home if the Republican candidate doesn't pass their litmus test. Perhaps there's reason to support Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination: Fischer's brand of "Christianity" is nothing if not narrow, and it doesn't extend any hands of friendship to Latter Day Saints:

"Despite the Constitution's clear pronouncement against religious tests for public office, Fischer questions whether a Mormon candidate like Mitt Romney should be allowed to serve as president. He urges people to ask Romney if 'he embrace[s] the fundamentals of LDS theology' in order to 'let the American people decide whether they want somebody with those convictions sitting in the Oval Office.'"

Double dipping Permalink to this item

Varian NMR instrument with a 21.2T magnet, in the UK Once upon a summer, I worked in an organic chemistry lab sorting out something or other about oxazirenes (which I guess didn't catch on to great shakes: it takes a couple tries to convince Google that's a word). After mixing some stuff together and I don't know, cooking it a while? Or just stirring? I'd take it down and get an NMR scan of the stuff, delivered as a paper plot from which we'd infer things about how the hydrogen atoms were feeling, and from that, what sort of reaction products we'd ended up with.

NMR stands for nuclear magnetic resonance, a form of spectroscopy used for chemical analysis. I have no idea what the machine at the University of Idaho looked like; safe to say it wasn't a beast like this Varian machine with a 21.2 Tesla magnet (but thanks to Martin Saunders and Wikipedia for the fun photo). These days, there's an "I" in the name, for Imaging, and because Nuclear makes a lot of people nervous, they dropped that (even though—shazam—all the atoms in your body have nuclei) which leaves us with MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and a lot of very cool pictures of people's insides. MRI uses big magnets, and none of the ionizing radiation stuff.

Computed tomography on the other hand (which used to be "axial," making for a nice acronym of "CAT" scan), uses a big old dose of ionizing radiation, about a year's worth of the old, relatively low-dose chest X-rays. One CT scan is like getting a chest X-ray every day for a year. Now that's going nuclear on your butt (or more likely, your head, or abdomen).

All this comes to mind reading that Medicare claims show overuse for CT scanning, with quite a number of people getting two scans in a single day, something that radiologists say is rarely necessary.

A suggestion for the next time you're headed into the scanner: ask the doctor if the plan is for just one scan, and if not, why not.

17.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Religion and public schools, the first time around Permalink to this item

Stumbled across The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today on PBS recently, set the DVR to record it and watched it this evening. It's a remarkable story that was slightly before my time, and gives me a lot of admiration for the woman who was the driving force behind the case of McCollum v. Board of Education, the landmark case in the separation of church and state in public schools in this country.

Vashti McCollum died in 2006 at the age of 93, not long after the film was made; the interviews with her in her 90s are a delight.

60 years on, it's hard to imagine what it was like to live under the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and the post-war cultural uniformity that spawned Levittown, let alone to be villified for not believing in God. A 1-hour film can't really convey all that either, but it does at least remind us that there was such a time.

Welcome to the 21st century Permalink to this item

Still from the IAEA video, 'Inside Fukushima Daiichi' and your holiday tour of the Fukushima Daiichi site. Please keep the bus windows closed, and when we're outside walking, keep up with the group. Now let's go over the instruction on "how to wear a hard hat" again, shall we?

Afterwards, we'll be off to Vienna for next week's Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety.

It's been pushed to the back pages of the news (because of, um, more important issues?), but conditions at Daiichi remain "very serious."

If you're getting away from it all for some R&R in the wild woods this summer, you can also contemplate this thought from the "principle water investigator" of a company that sells filtration (for some, but not all the hazards you might encounter):

"You cannot ever drink fresh water no matter where you are on Earth without filtering it. ... Bottom line, filter your water at home, filter it wherever you are."

That's his company's bottom line, certainly, but still, makes one a little queasy.

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

Maybe some Ritalin would help? Permalink to this item

So the facilitator who Tom Luna hired to get his Students Come First Technology Task Force off the ground suggests that in order to respect your colleagues' time and effort, participants should be punctual, and

"To the degree that it's possible, I would encourage you all to turn off your technology and stay focused on what you're discussing at hand. It will enable you to contribute in a much more significant and meaningful way. There are breaks built into all the agendas so that you can check in with your office, but please be present during the committee meetings."

But Tom Luna gets a big fat F in the "plays well with others" category on opening day, setting the example for the rest of the class to feel free to ignore anything the facilitator says. If you're important enough. Or if gosh, this thing is just sooo interesting.

"Luna viewed his iPad during much of the 45 minutes he spent in Monday's Online Learning Implementation subcommittee."

"Reform" = get rid of teachers Permalink to this item

It's got nothing to do with "local control," you can bet on that. It's all about transferring funds. Dan Popkey's rundown of the technology task force being run by Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction describes one district superintendent's plans being scuttled because he hadn't read the fine print of SB 1184 closely enough: "online course" means "the instructor is not physically located at the school or place in which the student is receiving instruction."

That looks to leave the state-funded Idaho Digital Learning Academy scrambling, too: the for-profit vendors of online courses will be claiming some of their students, and the funding that follows them. One of the task force members is the regional vice president of a for-profit, Insight Schools, and he's big on the "opportunity."

"It's been hard to come into a state and compete with subsidy," Cliff Green said, referring to IDLA. "Now, whoever has the best product will win."

As long as they don't let teachers too near their students.

The other education news in today's Statesman was above the front-page fold, parents pan kindergarten plan in Meridian, where the parents (and others) who voted recently said no to a supplemental levy, and one of the cost-saving ideas was to reduce busing expenses by having alternate day kindergarten. "Our" kindergartener is a generation removed (and he's in Washington, besides) so it won't rile our household, but seriously? Full-day kindergarten, two days a week for some, and three for others, that's the plan you came up with?

Among the sampling of public sentiment, bringing up the rear, there's the "education policy analyst" of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Briana LeClaire, with the chipper observation that Idaho schools have a chance to "rethink the way we do schools," with—you guessed it—more technology in the classroom, such as letting children use computers in the morning and work with teachers "to do the fun stuff in the afternoon." (Presumably she wasn't talking about kindergarten, but who knows?) LeClaire's credentials include a B.A. in English, a short stint on the IFF Board, and being on the Board of the National Coalition for Public School Options, so I'm sure she's up to snuff on fun stuff.

Thanks to Sharon Fisher's comment on Eye on Boise, noting that back in February, the Idaho Statesman's staff take on Luna's modifications to his legislative proposal would give districts "leeway" for

"blended courses that include in-person instruction, if the majority is online. They could work together through the state's network or hire private companies to host the classes."

So, more bait and switch?

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

Where in the world is Mitt Romney('s dwelling)? Permalink to this item

Let's gauge his commitment the good old-fashioned way, by money. There's the $12.5M home (at least it was when he bought it) in La Jolla, California, which I have to say is a really nice place to have a $12.5M home. A year after buying his place where he could hear the waves, they cashed in the Belmont, Massachusetts (for $3.5M) and moved into son Tagg's basement. Supposedly.

Last July, the Romneys bought an $895,000 attached townhouse in Belmont, on the grounds of the McLean Mental Hospital, which sounds kind of interesting. Thing is, Mitt kept voting in Massachusetts as if he were still dwelling there and it were the center of his domestic, social, and civil life. Which sounds a lot like ... voter fraud. Which, last we checked, Republicans all feel is just wrong.

Has the GOP lost its mind? Permalink to this item

Michelle Goldberg is just asking, on The Daily Beast.

"Here are things that Republicans suggested eliminating or privatizing in last night's debate: FEMA, NASA, the EPA, the Federal Labor Relations Board, Medicaid and food stamps. Herman Cain promised not to appoint any Muslims who want to kill Americans to his cabinet. Michele Bachmann supports states rights on gay marriage, but also supports a constitutional amendment outlawing it. Newt Gingrich faults big government for the lamentable absence of manned stations on the moon. Rick Santorum wants to 'a system of discipline' to 'punish' gay soldiers, which suggests that his problem with pornographic Google results is not likely to abate. Tim Pawlenty views Iraq as 'one of the shiniest examples of success in the Middle East.'"

(Did he really say "shiniest"?!)

The Beast has a roundup of debate recapping, take your pick. Michael Medved brings the happy news that Michele Bachman's ascendancy will keep Sarah Palin on her random bus ride to nowhere and out of the race. He seems pretty smitten though, and might not be a reliable source:

"... Bachmann looked simply smashing—radiant, self-assured, elegantly understated in her tailored, severe black suit with the luminous white blouse, simultaneously formidable and friendly, with her piercing, pale blue eyes igniting for the camera like Bunsen Burners every time she spoke."

"She's got Bunsen Burner eyes," sounds like a catchy tune.

Selective quoting from the Death Star Permalink to this item

For Flag Day, and Christmas I guess the basic talking points must be running out of gas (it is getting nigh on summer, and hard to hold people's attention, after all) when the Speaker of the House has to resort to misquoting the blogosphere. RJ Eskow had to send a Dear John letter to clear things up. Someone in Boehner's press corp liked RJ Eskow's lead sentence on June 10th,

"When it comes to jobs, sometimes it seems as if the White House is from Mars and the middle class is from Venus."

but didn't read as far as the next sentence:

"And Republicans act like they're from the Death Star, patrolling the economy in their Imperial Cruisers directing laser blasts at every job initiative they can find."

But apart from the jolly sci fi redux, we've still got this economic malaise problem, with what looks like gridlock and leadership failure from back east, with

"the Republicans are now running to both the left and right of the White House on jobs, emphasizing populist themes while pushing pro-corporate policies."

The populism is of course window dressing, with the "Plan for America's Job Creators" the actual policy intention. Cut taxes (definitely) and spending (maybe) and all will be well. In the Speaker's own words, when asked what was new about the plan:

"Just because we proposed it in the past doesn't mean it was not a good idea."

Riiiight. And, um, just because you proposed it in the past doesn't mean it was (or is) a good idea, either.

13.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Here's looking at you Permalink to this item

Anybody you recognize? Looking at a photo on Facebook yesterday, I was wondering who one of the people in it was, but she wasn't on the list of people "In this photo." Not too surprising, since not all photos get tagged, and not everyone in them gets tagged when they are. Maybe she wasn't a Facebook user? (Yeah, there are still a few people who haven't been sucked in yet.) But there were also a couple people listed as in the photo who I could see were most certainly not in the photo. And the little frame popping up for such names was on a face-free portion of the photo, such as shown here.

Nick Bilton's piece in the NYT Bits blog provides partial explanation: Facebook changes privacy settings to enable facial recognition, automagically!

"Facebook recently began changing its users' privacy settings to automatically turn on a facial recognition feature that detects a user's face in an image. Once the person's face is detected, the Web site then encourages Facebook friends to tag them. Facebook introduced this feature last year for its North American users; it is now rolling it out globally.

"Facebook also doesn't give users the option to avoid being tagged in a photo; instead, people who don't want their name attached to an image must untag themselves after the fact. ..."

The other part of the explanation is that the facial recognition is, how shall we say, "not 100% reliable."

Tax exempt no more Permalink to this item

From A SONG IN THE NIGHT INC to the ZONTA CLUB, the IRS' revocation of organizations' tax-exempt status listing includes 1,407 Idaho non-profits, among more than a quarter million nationally. It seems they didn't file their annual reports for 2007, 2008 and 2009. If some organization you know and love is on the list and wants to know how to get off, check the FAQ list regarding revocation for non-filing.

The sort-of good news is that small groups (gross receipts of $50,000 or less) can get reinstated for a reduced application fee of $100, rather than the typical $400.

The annual filing requirement for most of these small groups is pretty lightweight: the Form 990-N "e-Postcard." But you have to do it every year.

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

Strong man rules Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman forgot to put SPOILER ALERT in front of its editor's note atop the editorial from the Idaho Falls Post Register, where we see that Speaker of Idaho's House Lawerence Denney feels there is no need for an ethics committee investigation into the actions of State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher (R-Iona) ... or, for that matter, Denney himself.

Nothing to see here, just move along.

A bill providing for public hearings before abandoning county roads was printed in the Ways and Means Committee (whose chair, JoAn Wood, "has long been involved in legislative attempts to protect public access to county roads"), and then assigned to the Transportation Committee where it, um, belonged? And then ...

"Wood said she next checked with the Transportation Committee secretary to find out when a public hearing would be scheduled. Wood said the secretary told her HB 246 had been moved to State Affairs, the committee chaired by Loertscher.

"Knowing that only the speaker of the House can order such a move, Wood said she asked Denney why he had taken the bill from Smith and given it to Loertscher.

"Wood said Denney told her that Loertscher came to him and requested the bill be moved to State Affairs. Loertscher told Davis he needed to work on the bill and bring it back next year. The bill died without a public hearing."


But all of that would just be beaucratic folderol were it not for the fact that Loertscher had a personal interest in the bill he sucked into his committee in order to administer the quiet strangulation that is the prerogative of committee chairs. There are some county roads on his property which he's claiming are "actually private," and not having this law saves him the trouble of involving the public.

No need for an ethics investigation in this matter: the Speaker of the House already knows there are none to be found.

10.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Now do we get our $billion back? Permalink to this item

The case against former N.S.A. employee Thomas Drake just about evaporated after the government decided to reduce its 10-count indictment for obstructing justice, lying to investigators and what-not to a plea deal where he'd admit he illegally held classified documents at home.

We don't know if the reluctance to let a jury see some of the allegedly classified material was based on it being super-duper top secret, or the chances the jury would find for the defendant. The public's interest is outlined by this:

Drake "[shared] information about N.S.A. technology with a reporter for The Baltimore Sun in 2006 and 2007: the agency was rejecting a $3 million in-house program called ThinThread in favor of a $1-billion-plus contractor-run program called Trailblazer."

The denial that the prosecution was designed to deter whistle-blowing, is hard to believe, given that no evidence can or will be presented to substantiate such a claim.

There's more background and reference links (including one to the Baltimore Sun story archived by in the Wikipedia article on ThinThread.

How do people work? Permalink to this item

No idea if the story's true, but the way I heard it, when JFK was asked why he was able to keep his cool during the campaign while Richard Nixon often seemed flustered, he pointed out that he didn't have as much to think about in preparation, whereas Nixon had to start from scratch in the morning, asking himself "how do people walk?"

That came to mind while reading about Newt Gingrich's aides quitting en masse, apparently in large measure because he and Callista went off for a two-week cruise in the Greek isles and didn't take any of them with him.

"I don't know how other people work," Mr. Gingrich said in an interview on Wednesday. "To have a major breakthrough in policy, you have to be able to stop and think."

Looks like he's going to have plenty of time to stop and think his way through major breakthroughs, undisturbed by the pressing banalities of the campaign trail. How much longer do you think it'll take for him to accept what is pretty much obvious to everyone else?

9.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

15 books and stuff Permalink to this item

I'm not looking to change my "professional life" these days, and nothing jumped to mind for a prompt to "share the book that most influenced my professional life." Still, this list of 15 books that could change your (professional) life seemed like an interesting collection, with a number of things I haven't read. Orbiting the Giant Hairball, who could resist that?

Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People was a book that served my dad well. I've got a copy of Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think (I think), and, um, I should read that sometime. I think.

The collection came out of a "nonprofit blog carnival," whatever that might be, and even though my blog's definitely "nonprofit," they probably didn't mean that kind. The page on has links spraying off every which way, including Tobi Johnson's blog entry about the Hairball, in which a scan turned up "tiny little tome," "quick read" and the author "started out in the corporate behemoth that is Hallmark Cards as a graphic artist and had risen over the years to become an in-house leadership guru of sorts."

So maybe I won't get to that one, but some of the others?

8.June.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jiggedy jig Permalink to this item

Across the Salmon R., on the way up, June 3rd In 1975 when I was considering moving to (north) Idaho, my prospecting trip was put off first by timing (it would have been Memorial Day when I arrived to visit the campus in Moscow) and then by the color and line weight on the highway map I had. US 95 looked thin and squiggly, and not-so-good for the means of transportation I was using, hitchhiking. 300 miles from Boise up to Moscow on a two-lane road? That sounded like a whole day, at least.

That was back when I did have a day or two to spare, actually, and in retrospect, what a stupid idea to let that chance go by. But fate led me to Moscow all the same, my first visit and my arrival coincided that August, and I've had many chances to make up for the omission, since.

Those good old days came to mind during our 6-day weekend in north Idaho, visiting family, digging and planting in the Palouse, a little home repair, a day trip to downtown Spokane, a 15 mile bike loop around Paradise Ridge. We've made US 95 and Idaho 55 from New Meadows to Boise a well-worn path, familiar in its remarkably varied elements, but there's always something surprising and beautiful to be seen.

This time it was the astounding greenness of it all, from bottom to top (except where it was still snow-frosted in the mountains). On June 8th, only the cheat grass along the roadside in Riggins was showing signs of brown. Well that and a couple of rivers: looks like something blew out in the Salmon drainage in last night's thunderstorms, and the main was running high, brown and loggy. Don't see any news yet, but maybe some of the logjam from April came apart? Or something new, always something new in the work of cutting canyons.

Whoop-de-doo Palouse, down to the Clearwater (also a little muddy), up along Lapwai Creek, the Winchester grade, the Camas prairie (its namesake flower painting pastures blue), White Bird, the Salmon, Little Salmon, Bear Creek, Payette Lake and McCall, the North Fork and main Payette canyons and up and over Horseshoe Bend hill. It is indeed thin and squiggly, and a fine way to spend a day.

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

Tempest in a teapot? Permalink to this item

That's Stanley Fish's take on the contest between Idaho State University's administration and faculty. From his academic perch, it seems just another of those "petty academic squabbles" that come up from time to time, not the "holy war waged by the forces of good and evil" that he says the "guardians of faculty prerogatives" are claiming.

He does provide some history of how we got to this juncture, where the very notion of "shared governance" is either inexplicably "bizarre," or a target ripe for derision, and "corporate governance" (otherwise known as authoritarian hierarchy) is assumed to be the way everything should be managed, and the purpose of education is training for corporate employment. Fish provides a brief outline of events still unfolding at ISU, which have included the faculty senate giving the president a vote of "no confidence" and the president dissolving the senate in return.

Fish has been around the block in more than a few universities, and seems to have made a success of it, spending his effort on something other than tilting at windmills. It helps to have a career during times of expanding resources, rather than contraction. But the word of wisdom I heard decades ago seems apt enough: the battles in academia are fierce because the stakes are so small.

Some stakes may be; but to the person whose livelihood is put on the line, one should expect a fight with any weapons at hand.

In the comments, from T.L. Moran of Idaho:

"All this [consideration of whether faculty and/or administration members are suited to their jobs] is moot, however, in Idaho, where higher ed has been cut and cut again since long before the current Recession started. K-12 is already done for. The state is effectively positioning itself to be the low-wage third-world leader amongst the 50 states, raising its people only to the level of work in such sweatshops as 'call centers,' and paying them only enough to live in poverty."

A wide margin of error Permalink to this item

They're still trying to sort out the Becquerels and the Sieverts in comparing Fukushima and Chernobyl. Was the former 10% of the latter, or 20, or 40? Somewhere in that range. And yes, three of the 6 reactors did experience fuel meltdown. As the NYT update concludes,

"Officials cautioned that there was a wide margin of error involved in both calculations."

Now that's some lame bandwidth Permalink to this item

I can sympathize, having been limited to dialup speeds for some of recent days. (Imagine having to choose whether following a link was really worth the wait... and video? Fuhgeddaboudit.) But still, you wouldn't guess how bad the time estimate could be to "simply sign documentation."

Sign here ... and here ... and here ... aaaaand here ... and here ... for 18 to 24 months, says the guy from Deutsche Bank.

"Bandwidth" came up a lot in the discussion, apparently bankers are running short of the stuff. So many derivatives, so little time.

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

Where's the beef, Mr. Luna? Permalink to this item

Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction is using his bully pulpit to threaten teachers against any sort of political activism, adding a dollop of insult to the injurious suite of legislation he pushed through this year's Legislature, attacking the teacher's union and providing for "reform" to a less labor-intensive form of education.

In today's Idaho Statesman, some of the complaints Luna says he's received are trotted out, and I have to say, it's a rather pathetic lot.

Circulating the Boise School Board's position paper in opposition to Luna's bills sounds like appropriate communication to me. Teacher's aren't supposed to discuss their own business? Is there something magical that happens when their business becomes "political"?

But at least that claim at the top of the list has specificity and substance, and isn't just "according to my daughter and her friends" or "an unnamed sixth-grader at her child's bus stop." Or a phone message from "Randy" who said he didn't "want to be accosted at school" by recall petitioners. Me neither, Randy, and I don't want to be accosted in my home, workplace, or public property by a paranoid Superintendent of Public Schools with delusions of grandeur.

But maybe that's just me.

And I already signed the recall (and referendum) petition(s), thanks for asking.

Since our Superintendent is not a lawyer, he doesn't have to know what "hearsay" is (let alone "double hearsay"). And since he's not a teacher, the rules apparently don't apply to him:

"In response to a records request, [Meridian Superintendent Linda] Clark provided a February email exchange between Rocky Mountain High School teacher Shane Stevenson, who emailed Luna from his district account praising Luna's plan.

"Luna replied: 'Would you be interested in testifying before the House Education Committee next Tuesday, March 1, as to the benefits of the Pay for Performance legislation?' ... "

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

Spear phishing Permalink to this item

That's what they're calling the latest technological innovation in fraud: using friendly spoofed e-mails to get you to cough up something valuable. Forget about wholesale phishing that's filling up your spam bucket, this is coming . right . at . you.

If I get "an e-mail from [my] mother saying she needs [my] Social Security number for the will she's doing," I'm going to be very suspicious. "More like a traditional con game than a technically sophisticated intrusion."

Whoops, there went another one Permalink to this item

Electricity buzzing over the Palouse, 2011 Last month was my 11th blogiversary. What a long strange trip it's been. If following the chain of "raveling" links is too tiresome (surely it would be), you can jump about by URL hacking the simple yyyymm pattern, back to May, 2000, and all points between. Just like then, it's iris time at Ft. Boise, cool and wet spring, or no.

The Schaffer Butte tomato-signal still says "wait a bit," but it's June, for heaven's sake. Put those tomatoes in the ground, already.

New school Permalink to this item

Maine, one of the 20% of states that prohibit charter schools, is on the verge of joining the two decade-long public school experiment the rest of the country is conducting. The Bangor Daily News has a good, long article about the "best—or worst—idea ever," including some of the history that I didn't know about.

"Ray Budde, a University of Massachusetts education professor, began talking about 'education by charter' in the 1970s, and in the 1980s he proposed them as a way to support and encourage innovative teachers by giving those teachers more responsibility and autonomy. But his idea was to do that within existing public school districts, not separate from them.

"The idea was taken up by Al Shanker, head of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers' unions in the country. He liked the thought of giving teachers greater control and leadership opportunities. He publicized—and popularized—the charter idea. However, out in the public it soon morphed from a way to support individual teachers to a way to create whole new schools.

There's enough variation in schools generally, but charter schools in particular, that pretty much any research is bound to be equivocal, even before proponents and opponents start picking it apart. Sooner or later (and probably sooner), someone will observe that "we can't keep doing what we're doing and expecting different outcomes." Just as we can't expect change, in and of itself, to produce a better outcome.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 02-Jul-2011 16:51:08 MDT