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

Decent treatment, on sale now. $200 Permalink to this item

If you haven't suffered enough airline travel lately to be among the elite, some savvy businesses are offering you a way to buy into "a civilized airport experience." Just like the good old days. We could just have travel agents come back, call it a vig, or just a flat-out bribe. $200 up front, we'll let you skip the strip search at security, check a bag or two, give you enough legroom that you don't risk a medical emergency on a three-hour flight, and maybe even a little something to eat or drink, for "free."

For our recent airline Survivor episode, we got the equivalent of a good Community Chest card in Monopoly, "weather delay in your favor, make the connecting flight the airline tried to steal from your itinerary." No bribery payments, but we did have to cough up $25 for one checked bag on the final, United leg, after Lufthansa had forced us to check two bags that we'd previously carried on for dozens of flights around the country and world. (Lord help us if the Star Alliance actually coordinates their traveler inconvenience plans: you must check that bag, you must pay more to check that bag. Have a nice day!)

Which would you rather have, another debate or a job? Permalink to this item

Ok, so the President addressing a joint session of Congress next Wednesday probably won't actually get you a job, but the odds are considerably better for it than for another debate between the seven political dwarfs' early vying for the Republican nomination next year.

The apparently intention schedule conflict does make for interesting theater if nothing else, giving head GOP hack Reince Priebus a chance to tweet in protest that "this WH is all politics all the time."

We're shocked, shocked, but we certainly appreciate getting this important news in our Twitter feed.

You may already be a winner Permalink to this item

Nice to see one of these COURT-APPROVED NOTICE OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENTs come in email rather than a big paper mailing. More of the settlement money will be left for the lawyers to divvy up. This one is addressed to All Persons residing in the United States who were registered with or subscribed to ("Classmates") at any time beginning on October 30, 2004 through February 23, 2011, which includes me.

The plaintiff alleges the defendant violated the law and the privacy rights of subscribers. The defendant denies the allegation, but to make the consolidated litigation go away, it has agreed to fork over $2.5 million.

Some time closer to the beginning than the end of the 6½ years in question, I started redirecting email from the business to the spam bucket, so I haven't heard much from them lately. Facebook has rendered a business model of targeted teasers from one's past used for subscription bait so incredibly "over," that thing has the cobwebbed patina of an Apple ][.

Back in 2006, I took the trouble to respond to one of their emails to me, to verify that "Your message implies that if I do not become a Gold member, people will NOT be able to read the emails I send. Is that so?"

"If it is, I'm impressed with your marketing approach--present an email interface that's broken until I pay money.

"Not impressed in a good way though.

"If others CAN see the email I sent, and months and months have gone by without interest or a reply, either I am not interesting enough, or your service is not effective.

"Either way, it feels like game over. Might as well scrub me off your list."

Their business model definitely did not include scrubbing people off their membership rolls at the first complaint, so AFAIK, I'm still a member. The answer, couched in a fair amount of blather, was that yup, either somebody pays to play, or we just keep sending annoying teasers hoping to suck you into "Gold" membership.

So now, 5+ years later, I learn that IF THE COURT GIVES FINAL APPROVAL, THIS SETTLEMENT WILL AWARD YOU AN ESTIMATED $10 IN CASH, PLUS OTHER BENEFITS and why on earth do they have to SHOUT that and the subsequent bullet points?

To claim my cash award, I must submit a claim form. My past experience with class action settlement claim forms is that I need a convincing shot at $20, at least, to even consider filling out paperwork, and that hurdle has been factored in: there are as many as 60 million Settlement Class members, the email says, making a fully-divided per capita share worth a little less than 4.2 cents. But "based on the participation rates in the Prior Settlement [whoop! What did I miss?], it is estimated that each participating Settlement Class member will receive about $10. This is only an estimate, no one knows in advance how much this settlement will pay each claimant, and no one will know until the deadline for submitting claims passes...."

Turns out this claim form can be filled out online, one page, pretty much name, address and email, and "sign under penalty of perjury." I can handle that, and if the check comes in at $.07 or something, maybe I'll frame it as a memento of the early days of the web.

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

Coming up: through the wormhole Permalink to this item

Sunday's NYT Magazine combined gushing praise for almost everything Morgan Freeman's ever done with a promo for the upcoming series on the Science channel, deeming it "the best pop-science TV show since Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos: A Personal Journey'—a whirlwind tour of the fourth dimension with a sense of wonder and a sense of humor. And a lot has to do with Freeman. He's one of the show's executive producers, and supposedly a lifelong space buff, but he's also clearly in on the meta-joke of recruiting President God to narrate a show about whether there's a Creator."

Sounds good to me. I looked it up and see that they're scheduling six episodes in sequence on September 7. Not something you'd actually sit still for, 6 hours on a morning, but it'll make a nice DVR set, what with the "actual mathematicians, physicists and neuroscientists [to help] distinguish it from the various strains of paranormal crackpot-tainment with which it shares the cable landscape."

But even if you don't get the Science channel, or don't have plans to tune into the wormhole marathon, Alex Pappademas' review is a pretty rollicking "commercial for wonder" (or at least lively writing) all on its own.

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

Jailed by Big Oil Permalink to this item

Actually, it was by the D.C. police, but acting in service to Big Oil, defending TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline project. But definitely jailed, for protesting in front of the White House. George W. Bush was still president when we walked by, and were told to keep moving, rather than to stop for long enough to take a photo (from about right... here). For no political reason whatsoever. For Bill McKibben and his fellow protesters, the message was more pointed:

"The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming—and so with our first crew they were... kind of harsh.

"We spent three days in D.C.'s Central Cell Block, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like it might be. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours."

This is 2011 we're talking about, not some dusty history from the civil rights era. Tars Sands Action reports 522 arrests to date, after today's largest-yet haul including climate scientist James Handen "and a large group of religious leaders."

Growing inequality is shrinking opportunity Permalink to this item

Can America recover the pragmatic understanding of self-interest that Alexis de Tocqueville recognized and admired so many years ago? It may be inevitable, but the question of whether we'll recover the easy way or the hard way is yet to be determined. Joseph Stiglitz, Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%:

"An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America's—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

"First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. ...

"Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires 'collective action'—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

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

Going ordinary Permalink to this item

Guest entry, by Jeanette

I notice that atheists and humanists seem to have fallen off the bugaboo list assembled by various politically and religiously frightened parties. Why could that be, I ask myself, and how can we exploit it?

The (2009) billboard along Fairview, E of Maple Grove This seems to correspond with recent billboard campaigns around the country. In my town, Boise, those of us who helped it happen watched our billboard take a rather prominent place on a well-traveled road and waited for the outrage.

Da nada. No flurry of letters to the editor, no destructive graffiti, as happened in Moscow, the college town north of us. No big stories on Fox news, either. Finally I came up with a tentative explanation. Billboards are so done, such old technology. It was a fuddy-duddy way to get attention, so we couldn't be any more important than anti-smoking campaigns.

This has led me to a breakthrough proposal. Our goal should not be to show how cool, smart or clever we are. We should, instead, launch into a campaign that I have already named for us: Unbelievers are entirely Ordinary.

Think of it. We could have a booth at the fair, hand out pencils (with extra-big erasers) and paper fans that say, "Forget hot and sweaty churches. Fan all that." We could sell overpriced spiced nuts in the farmers markets, with a cute slogan "Nuts to Religion!" We could form a genuinely noisy, mediocre band with bad taste lyrics, perform free, first Thursdays. We could, in other words, make our selves look dismissively unimportant.

Just an idea.

Corporate behemoths and tar pits Permalink to this item

The obituaries of HP's TouchPad (not to mention the company itself) are flying off keyboards, including Jenna Wortham's and Verne Kopytoff's treatment for the NYT, Sell Big or Die Fast. Wrong headline though: HP managed its TouchPad to Die Fast and Sell Big, if only for the clearance sale. Turns out there's exceptionally strong demand for a $99 me-too prodcut with a new O/S and hardly anyone bothering to write apps for it. Act now, supplies are limited! (Just kidding, they're all gone already.)

HP's IPG revenue pie for Q3 FY2011 The last vestiges of my two decades' employment (at the "old" company, and into the start of the devestating Fiorina remake) were liquidated last year, leaving a vague and tenuous brand loyalty, a number of gadgets acting as dust collection systems and just a couple items of active hardware. The most important one from the company's point of view is the printer, freshly restocked with another set of toner cartridges to provide our small part toward the $4 billion/quarter they're collecting on supplies. When I joined the company, creating products of lasting value was high on the list of things to do. Now they're looking for products with lasting cash flow, and color printers whose multiple cartridges magically expire simultaneously are a nice profit engine.

The company's Q3 "highlight" bullet points include the timeless "embarking on company transformation to create long-term shareholder value" with the work-in-process "Exploring possible separation of world's leading manufacturing of PCs through spin-off or other transaction." Really? We're not quite sure what, but something. Big. And that last (if not "bottom-line") bullet point, "Shutting down operations around webOS devices; exploring strategic alternatives to optimize value of software platform."

One of my ex-HP colleagues told me that having "strategic" in your job title was a signal that you were on your way out. (Hmm, was his "strategic" job the last one he had before he left?). Extrapolate the corollary that featuring "exploring" in two of your corporate quarterly report bullet points (p. 4) signals that the company may be wandering off into uncharted territory, out of communications range.

Update, 8/31: The fire sale went so well that they're going to make more, so they can dump those, too. Ok, sure, why not? It's not like they cost two or three times the closeout price to manufacture, or anything.

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

Everything's bigger in Texas Permalink to this item

Including the whoppers, like the one Rick Perry tells about 21,000 doctors coming to Texas "because of" medical malpractice tort reform. (Maybe the Governor comes by his miraculous facts and logic the same way the Texas education system did?)

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

It's a hard rain gonna fall Permalink to this item

Irene is on one seriously bad track for the east coast:

NWS forecast for Hurricane Irene, 8pm EDT Thurs

SNAFU still operational Permalink to this item

Seventy years after that term was fresh, Max Blumenthal describes how the Army wastes the services of linguists like himself, and the Korean language specialists. Stationed in Iraq.

Buy low, take a big dividend, sell high Permalink to this item

We're in the money Nice work if you can get it (and have the pocket change): Warren Buffet drops a "nickel" in the piggy bank, for a deal with a 6% annual dividend, and the option for the bank to buy back his investment for a 5% premium any old time.

If we were cynical, we might call it bottom fishing, but who wouldn't snap up a deal like that? I bet Bank of America could line up another $5 billion if they were to offer the deal to all comers. But after Buffet's "vote of confidence" they might not have to bother:

"Investors cheered the deal, sending shares of most big bank stocks higher on Thursday morning. JPMorgan was up 4 percent. Citigroup rose 7 percent. And Bank of America jumped 17 percent."

Happy days are here again!

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

Altar girls?! Permalink to this item

Enjoying the little video of the authors of Beloit College's 2015 Mindset (even though the elderly statesman with the bow-tie didn't say anything), and, as ever, the milestone of just how much things have changed between my youth and today's.

One of many surprises for me is that "altar girls [have] served routinely at Catholic Mass." I had no idea. If there'd been a Mindset List® for the class of 1977, the comparable item would be that "altar boys have always said their prayers in English, rather than Latin," thanks to the reforms of Vatican II.

21. They've always gone to school with Mohammed and Jesus.

The originators are doing what they can to communicate with the younger generations they're talking about, with an off-campus domain (flogging their "forthcoming book"), a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, natch. I guess you have some time left to see their current Movie of the Month snippet, Thanksgiving Angst from The Ice Storm, just one of many I haven't seen. Kevin Kline, he's usually fun. And hey, Spiderman as the son and Sally Field's granddaughter as the daughter.

The coookies that won't die Permalink to this item

I didn't bring communications gadgetry on our 2-week trip to Europe, figuring (correctly) that there would be plenty to see and do and communicate without that. But I did end up using half a dozen hotel computers to check email, which involves a fair amount of trust, and a generous dollop of hope on the side. The quality of the visitor infrastructure varied from a wide open Windows-XP setup tucked in a room off the corridor to the kitchen, to a shiny "business center" with a couple machines with a full-on "hotel shell" requiring guest info to login and a time-limited session in a menu-driven sandbox.

Whenever possible, I used Firefox, and its "private browsing" feature. I see that Internet Explorer has "InPrivate Browsing" now, too. In either case, and for good measure, I finished by deleting all cookies, temprorary files, what-not. And washing my hands. (Probably the most effective hygenic practice of all.)

A couple computers in Budapest presented an additional challenge, with keyboard mappings I've never confronted, and some of the punctuation shuffled off into a "shift plus" realm I was only able to tap into once, and then couldn't repeat whatever it was that I'd done with [shift], [ctrl], [alt], &tc.

I didn't use any sites with Flash, so Flash cookies weren't at issue, and as far as I know I didn't use HTML5, but those two chunks of infrastructure that ordinary users shouldn't have to talk about are current and future security issues. Woody Leonhard reports on a variety of current and looming threats in InfoWorld (with not much about HTML5, actually), as recently revealed, in part, by "Microsoft getting caught with its hand in the zombie cookie jar":

"...a Stanford researcher caught Microsoft using both a cache-based zombie cookie and a more advanced type of persistent 'supercookie' to track folks even if they blocked or deleted browser cookies. Microsoft surreptitiously tracked users who had the temerity to visit (in the United States, Canada, and Spain), the U.S. English home page of, or the Microsoft Store.

"Perhaps even scarier, as HTML5 gains traction: Its local storage is a great feature, but one wide open for abuse for such items as zombie cookies. And Internet Explorer's InPrivate Browsing, Firefox's Private Browsing, and Chrome's Incognito browsing modes won't protect you from the ETag form of zombie cookies or from HTML5-based zombies."

H/t to slashdot, wherein one commentor was kind enough to point to Jonathan Mayer's original article on The Center for Internet and Society's site, Tracking the Trackers: To Catch a History Thief.

The ad stream Permalink to this item

Even having unsubscribed (or gone "no mail") from some of the too-many lists I'm on for our two week vacation, the flood just keeps on coming. Most are pretty easy to just ignore/delete and go on. The one from KAYAK this morning, for example, with the subject Alert. Europe Fares as low as $258* Each Way.

Kayak's earned some goodwill from me, for how effective their user interface design is to help me arrange air bookings, but even without the asterisk (I hate ads with asterisks), and the knowledge that the probability of me finding a $516* round-trip fare that I was prepared to use is zero, there's the fact that I'm just not prepared to plan another trip to Europe this morning. I have to get through sorting the pictures from the last one, at least.

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

Timeless travel advice Permalink to this item

Domestic business trip, 1998 The bad news is that I'm pretty much wide awake at 3:30am (which, after all, is the middle of the day back where we came from). The good news is that compared to MDT, that makes me about half-way adjusted. In any case, it gave me the opportunity to think about a dear friend gone before who I spent a wonderful weekend in Wales with, once upon a time. In addition to happy memories of his company, Darrel Bloomquist bequeathed two bits of very practical advice to me.

When you're exploring new territory, look behind you once in a while to see what the place looks like in the other direction: that's what it will look like when you're trying to find your way back (especially useful at turning points).

His approach to dealing with jet lag was to go with the average: sleep in the usual proportion of about 1/3rd the time. (Hence the nap I'm planning for later, to top off my 6 hours.) And eat a meal for every 5 or so hours you're awake.

Yesterday's note about decision fatigue adds a third piece of advice for traveling, relating to avoiding the mistakes and trouble that come from making the wrong choice: when you're tired (physically, or mentally, since they so often go together) and need to make a decision, take a short break and eat a little something if you can.

No doubt easier to imagine from the comfort of home, and the luxury of not being rushed by a deadline, but a little bit of a snack could go a long way toward a happier ending.

21.Aug.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Decision fatigue Permalink to this item

Maybe I shouldn't blog about this right now, given that it's past 9pm here, and past 17pm where I was acclimated two days ago, but John Tierney's summary of the latest understanding of decision fatigue seems astounding, important, and more than a little depressing, all at once.

The quality of justice varying by how close a judge is to a snack or mealtime is not the way we like to think of ourselves as working, but the (description of the) evidence seems persuasive. Or else, I'm easy to sway because I'm really tired.

Not that this is really an important decision, but sleeping on it seems particularly attractive at the moment. Where "it" comprises pretty much anything and everything. Good night.

What in the hell? Permalink to this item

No, LinkedIn may not use my name, photo in "social advertising." Whatever they might suppose that to be.

Now, who was the nice person who told me about that? And was it on Facebook (of all places)? Can't say, older posts have rolled off into the ether and on their way to heat death. Which is apparently OK with everyone, as well as inevitable, so I shouldn't fight it. I've got the link (and now given it to you), so that's that.

From Romania, to YouTube Permalink to this item

Stained glass window in the Unitarian church in Sepiszentgyoegy Márkó Laci recorded video of our first performance, in Sepsiszentgyögy, on our third day together as a group, after 5 rehearsals, and a bunch of bus rides. Of course we knew we weren't perfect, but hearing (and seeing ourselves) for the first time is a bit humbling. There were moments that seemed perfect... and some other moments, too. And of course, it's totally different hearing it from "out front," rather than from the tenor section in the back row.

Here's our processional with Steve Finner's arrangement of "Let Your Little Light Shine," and the 50+ minute second half (no wonder it seemed like we were standing for a really, really long time), and an album of still images from that performance.

We ended each of our concerts with one or two "native" songs that we'd mostly just learned, and that our audience knew by heart. In Sepsiszentgyögy, it was the Székely Himnusz. Two days later, we ended a short outdoor rehearsal in a small park outside our hotel in Székelyudvarhely that had busts of Hungarian heroes, with that same song. A Hungarian tour group had just arrived, and was rather wanting us out of their way, until we got to that song, and they joined us, then sang it themselves, for us; one of many wonderful connections we made, if only for a moment.

Another connection was our bass section: comprising 6 young men who'd graduated from the Unitarian high school in Kolozsvár (one just this year, the others ranging up to 10 years ago). They were the life of the party, and our Hungarian language experts.

Better than the last guy Permalink to this item

In Romania, you can't say anything without making a political statement, because you have to choose a language to say it in, first of all. As pre-beginners in the two dominant languages (Romanian, and Hungarian), our opening statement was usually "we are foreigners." In Kolozsvár (or Cluj-Napoca, or Klausenburg, take your pick), we walked down the steep steps from our grand post-Communist hotel on the hill overlooking the town and mingled with the locals, enjoying an evening stroll in Parcul Central Simion Barnutiu, but soon tiring to the point where we wanted to sit on one of the many park benches. This was a widely shared desire, and the best we could find were ones where we might persuade a couple to move over a little and make room for us. We finally made the request along the path around Chios "Lake," whose "surface is now crossed by ducks and boats in which children and young and inlove people take a short boat trip on the lake."

The middle-aged couple understood what we wanted, and that we were foreigners, and once sitting, we kept to ourselves at first, but a cute 2-year-old in the park got us talking, and to say where we were from. The man expressed affection for our country of origin, and then attempted to say something about President Barack Obama, pronouncing those three words ceremonially, and somehow communicating that he knew there were mixed feelings on the subject. Yes, there were, we acknowledged. "But he's better than the last guy," I said, and the woman brightened with both understanding, and the common political ground we'd established there on the park bench.

I understand that while we were gone, the Iowa State Fair and Straw Poll was held, resulting in Michele Bachmann Number One, the perennially trying-harder Ron Paul as #2, and T-Paw bowing out. Meanwhile, Rick Perry is in and running, yet another you-cannot-be-serious candidate schooled through the governership of Texas. Dialing in his message to his prayerful base, he's now admitted it was "a mistake" to support vaccinating young girls against sexually-transmitted human pappilamovirus (HPV) and the cervical cancer that can result, because... we don't want girls to have sex anyway. He erred on the side of life, he said... but now that he's running for President, insisting that girls not have sex is more important than their lives.

Ah, so much we could have talked to that couple on the park bench about, if only there were words to share that could have it make sense.

The chorus Permalink to this item

We arrived home dark-thirty, after a weather and/or operations delay mended the connection that United had broken by moving our Chicago to Boise flight earlier. From scheduled with "plenty of time" at 89 minutes to "disallowed" at 75, we saw it was +41 min. delayed after we'd cleared customs, claimed the 1st two spots on the standby list, and hoped for the best.

It ended up leaving 2 hours late, making up a little time en route, but we had no reason to care by then: we were destined to sleep that last half-continent hop in any event. Home by taxi and stumbling in after 15 nights away, the half-moon dappled through the Russian olive onto the bedspread, Jeanette was already asleep when I quietly wondered "did that really just happen, or did we dream it?"

We sang with new and old friends in 8 cities across Romania, Transylvania, and Hungary, and now were serenaded in turn, by our crickets, on the cool breeze through open windows.

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

We're Just Fine, thanks Permalink to this item

Idaho was among many states pushing back on federal health care insurance reform (politicos here gleefully use the "Obamacare" label), joining the states' suing, and occasionally making semi-preposterous claims about how we can handle things better than anyone from an east coast. Checking in on that, Idaho reported to the GAO that it examined only 14% of rates submitted by insurance companies last year (versus the national average of 84%). And they all looked a-ok to the state: "no rate was denied, withdrawn or lowered after the state looked at it."

Contrary to our Governor's occasional assertion about how we don't need Obamacare because Idaho can manage on its own, "Idaho was among 15 states that told GAO they didn't have sufficient capacity and resources to review rates in 2010."

Which would be why we heard last month that the federal government will start reviewing Idaho's health insurance rates for excessive increases later this summer:

"Starting on Sept. 1, if an insurer wants to raise premiums for small groups or individuals by 10 percent or more, it will have to disclose that change publicly and offer a justification for it."

That could be a lot of paperwork: are there any premium increases that are less than 10%? Maybe we could dust off that Homeland Security color code for rate increases: less than 10% would be green, 10-25% yellow, 25-100% orange, and if your rates more than double, that's a red alert. Say.

Helping out the Bob Permalink to this item

Speaking of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and cross-cut saws (which my boy and I were, just a few days ago), Maggie Neal Doherty's story about volunteering in Montana's largest wilderness complex is a nice read on NewWest.

Talk about sawing had to do with our dodging winter fall on the Idaho side of F.R. 320, coming down Medicine Creek to the St. Joe. Lake trailhead. A number of trees fallen across the road had been neatly cut, but leaving stubs high and low still projecting into the road. It's no more trouble to cut a log in the right place, so what the hell? Later, a buddy with lots of hunting experience explained: guys (you know it was guys) on 4-wheelers cut 'em tight to do their part to keep people in larger rigs from getting in to "their spot." (Their lame idea included lame execution: it didn't keep us out. A logging truck would have had trouble, though.)

Volunteer work in the Wilderness is quite a bit more generous, as well as strenuous: no motor tools! Haven't put many pulls on a two-man cross-cut, but I have done some time with Pulaski and McCleod. Whatever marks I may have left on the north side of the Grand Canyon, Arches, or the Eagle Cap have no doubt faded. (By design in one case: the work in the Wallowas was to eradicate some trail.)

Good on Maggie, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation for their contribution.

You want a background check with that? Permalink to this item

Is everything you've posted to "social media" for the last 7 years something you'd like to talk about in a job interview. (In my case, even though a "job interview" is not likely on any horizon, yes, it is. Let's go back even farther, why not?)

A year-old start-up named Social Intelligence is looking to make money by "scrap[ing] the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years."

"Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity."

H/t to my biggest brother... via social media, natch.

This is where it starts Permalink to this item

"It" being the St. Joe River, famed for commerce and railroads, fly fishing and wildlife, in the middle of the Big Burn. The river starts in the Bitterroot Mountains, at St. Joe Lake, reached by "an adventurous side trip for high clearance vehicles" (as the .gov guidebook terms it) and a 5½ mile hike.

Evening, St. Joe L.

At upper right, just under that log jam

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

Everything is possibly wrong Permalink to this item

Generally useful to keep in mind. And nice to hear from Richard Fehnman, on God (from beyond the grave, no less). Smart guy. Curious. It's good to be curious. And I like the timbre of his voice when he talks quietly. (His lectures can be a little heavy on the New Jersey.)

I guess today's stock market plunge is another form of the thought in my headline: everying is possibly wrong (or at least overvalued). But then there's a correction, and we close in on the truth a little, if we're lucky.

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

1 + 1 = 2 Permalink to this item

Pennsylvania joins states facing a school cheating scandal. Closer to home, our Superintendent Luna is amazed 62% of schools met performance targets.

Might want to check their work. Just saying.

Missoula Lake and Montana skyline
Evening at the Idaho-Montana border, over Missoula L.

The balanced budget idea Permalink to this item

Took a turn through Montana over the weekend, on my way to a lovely hike in the mountains with friends and family, up to the source of Idaho's St. Joe river. After the road improved on the north side of Lolo Pass, and the speed limit went from 50 to 75mph (woo hoo!), I caught some snippets of Montana Public Radio while making my way along the Clark Fork. The colorful Governor Brian Schweitzer was contrasting Montana's healthy state budget surplus with federal deficits, and offering to maybe teach them pointy-heads in D.C. a thing or two about how we rugged individualists know how to make ends meet.

Not sure if the irony was intended or not, but the next news item was about the Federal Emergency Management Agency making disaster assistance available to residents and businesses in 16 Montana counties and three reservations in response the damage done by the flooding of the Yellowstone River that started in early April. Not exactly breaking news, given that the President enabled the federal aid with a disaster declaration a month and a half ago.

It's nice to have a rich Uncle when unexpected trouble turns up. Or just when a big storm comes and a river floods, as will happen from time to time. And nice if that Uncle doesn't take it personally if you like to strut around about how independent and clever you are while you've got your hand out.

Do you want n-hexane with that? Permalink to this item

Global supply chains are long and complicated, many-branched. I've been a part of a few, but could only ever describe a tiny part of the elephant to you. In 2003 when the R&D project I was working on was cancelled, I had an offer to help engineer one such chain rooted in China, as so many now are. Lots of things entered into the decision, but the prospect of making 4 or more, 2-weeks-at-a-time (or more) trips to China in a year was not on the plus side, even though I had yet to make my first trip to that country and I was a little interested to experience it in some way. Nice place to visit, and all.

Anyway, for all that goes right and brings shiny new gadgets to retailers (and etailers) near you, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, too. Christine Larson's story about Apple's China manufacturing connections provides an example. The "rotten core" in the headline is a bit extreme, even though we don't learn who it was that originally specified the cleaning agent containing a nerve toxin (much less the process using it that exposed workers); just that Apple told their supplier to stop using it at some point, and that not every sick worker has been treated justly. One needn't single out China for "all too common" "examples of labor violations, heath risks, and pollution," from this third century of the Industrial Age.

We could talk about what happens to Apple's (and everyone else's) products after we're done playing with them, too, a story that comprises ample labor violations, health risks and pollution, just not in a way that makes it so easy to point fingers at culprits.

Still, the 5-year-old Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in China, a member of the "Green Choice Alliance" of NGOs, has singled out Apple in their fourth I.T. Study Report, ranking it dead last against 28 other corporations (none of which shows "green" more than halfway across their check-box chart of environmental management of supply chains). Outsourcing puts quite a bit more than jobs and expenses out of sight. The IPC invites consumers to contact Apple directly:

"Consumers have every right to express these wishes, since Apple has made a high-profile commitment to their supply chain and social responsibility. This means when a consumer buys an Apple product, they are also buying this commitment; a commitment that should not be violated."

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

Tea Party terrorism Permalink to this item

The crazy ladies of the right are eagerly absorbing news attention with indignation over being labeled "terrorists" by Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, and imagining the Vice-president said so too. As a sound bite, you might suppose that yeah, that's going too far, but Joe Nocera makes a pretty good case for the "jihad" Tea Party Republicans have been waging. I think "extortion" is perhaps more narrowly accurate, but the willful disregard for the consequences (already dire, and almost certainly about to be worse) adds an element of blatant stupidity to the mix. That's stupidity as in hurtful to self, as well as others; serving no useful purpose, and harmful.

"America's real crisis is not a debt crisis. It's an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn't address unemployment, it's guaranteed to make it worse."

This is not the "certainty" that the business community was waiting for to get back to creating jobs. We are in a world of hurt.

Congress fail Permalink to this item

Silly you, with the "crisis" averted and Congress clearing out of town for the month of August, you might have thought we were in "recess," but no: down there at the bottom of the F.A.A. in limbo we see that while its members are gone, "the House officially reconvenes every few days for a few minutes, a technical move meant to block recess appointments."

Members of the House will no doubt continue to be paid their $14,500 per month salary while 4,000 FAA employees and more than 70,000 private-sector workers have been cut off because Congress hasn't been able to get their heads out of their asses. Not to put too fine a point on it.

Some essential FAA employees are being asked to work without pay and cover their own work expenses with their personal credit cards? Unbelievable.

This is leadership? Permalink to this item

I'm sure our junior Congressman and his staff were delighted with the Sunday Idaho Statesman front page item, House Speaker John Boehner praises Raul Labrador as a leader in the debt negotiations, but given that what Labrador did was to rally some votes for a symbolic and dead-end bill, it seems like faint praise, or maybe damned praise.

I mean, the third "paragraph" pointed out that "the bill went on to the Senate, where it was quickly rejected."

Labrador was apparently instrumental in getting a balanced budget constitutional amendment notion as part of the debt deal. "Notion" because everybody knows an actual amendment is DOA. The useless bill passed by a narrow, 218-210 margin, nowhere near the two-thirds majority required in both the House and Senate before an amendment would be sent to state legislatures for consideration.

Labrador said he was "pleased that such an amendment now takes a prominent role in the speaker's plan to avert a fiscal crisis."

Except that it doesn't, actually.

"Quite honestly" Permalink to this item

Not that I have any particular knowledge or experience in the matter, but word I heard was that the Idaho Redistricting Commissioner Lou Esposito was a reliable partisan hack (or, on the bright side, "someone who crafts innovative strategies, maximizes human and financial resources, and delivers successful projects on budget and ahead of schedule"), which of course makes him a logical choice for the GOP nomination to that important body. I was waiting to see how the process unfolded, and it would seem that the L34 plan is the end of the benefit of the doubt.

As Dan Popkey reports, "moderate GOP senators appear to face a disproportionate number of contests under the GOP plan."

"All eight opposed Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's 'Students Come First' plan earlier this year, joining Senate Democrats on the losing side of 20-15 votes.

"Esposito said that's unintentional. 'It really was the geography and the deviation. Quite honestly, I didn't take a look until it was all done.'"

Just happened to come out that way, waddayaknow. Quite honestly.

1.Aug.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The bum deal Permalink to this item

Other than, I don't know, paying ransom, putting our "safety nets and public investments on the chopping block," increasing the odds of a double-dip recession and strengthening the hand of the radical right, what's not to like about The Big Deal? We averted catastrophe, woo-hoo!

The threat of catastrophe was totally manufactured, but still. Woo-hoo!

"By embracing deficit reduction as their apparent goal—claiming only that they'd seek to do it differently than the GOP—Democrats and the White House now seemingly agree with the GOP that the budget deficit is the biggest obstacle to the nation's future prosperity.

"The budget deficit is not the biggest obstacle to our prosperity. Lack of jobs and growth is. And the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands."

Or, if you don't like Robert Reich's take, try Paul Krugman's assessment of this "catastrophe on multiple levels":

"It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America's long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Wednesday, 18-Jan-2012 13:26:42 MST