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unraveling

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

The vig Permalink to this item

Graph of this site's earnings from Amazon As you may have noticed (I hope you noticed), I'm not that big on advertising, but there is a little something here. Back when the idea was new, and the company was a tiny but promising upstart, and the dot com bubble had yet to pop, and it didn't go without saying, I joined the Amazon Associates program to link to interesting content about books, and to ever-so-gently dip a toe in the flow of commerce on the web.

It wasn't obvious 11+ years ago, as I said, that I'd "ever make the $100 minimum for them to send me a check," in spite of participating in what as supposedly going to be "the most effective web marketing method." Never have got close to getting such a check, but they've now sent me $144.44 in gift certificates over the years (duly spent in their store), and once I garner another $0.26 in referral fees, I'll be over the top for another $10-something cert. Works out to about $1 a month (or 1% of what I spend to keep the lights on here), although it's been running half that lately.

I only contributed a handful of book reviews to their site, a long time ago, but I do still read them from time to time. There are, I'm sure, a lot more touts than there used to be. Lector emptor.

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

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss Permalink to this item

"Any irresponsible chatterbox will have to cross me."
Dmitry Medvedev, quoted in The Montreal Gazette

Or, how can you "return" if you never went away? It's the talk of Russia as the finance minister protests he wouldn't serve under a 3rd term for Vladimir Putin, the interim president says ok, then resign today, Alexei Kudrin says ok then, I will, and the last leader of the Soviet Union says "serious changes" are needed to the brittle and corrupt political system in Russia. Still and again.

"It is difficult to get away from the feeling that the Russian authorities have neither the political will nor the readiness to find a real way out," Gorbachev, 80, said in an article published in two Russian newspapers.

"They (the authorities) are limited to cosmetic measures and more often to resounding declarations and the imitation of reform: apparently powerful personal and corporate interests depend on the preservation of the status quo."

Not a bad description of our political system either, really, although we do provide for slightly more regular musical chairs up top.

Is this spam? Permalink to this item

That was the question I got back from one of my friends after hitting the Google+ [+1] button to spread the word about the interesting video, part 1 of 4 of The men who crashed the world, recounting the key events of the 2007/8 financial crisis.

"Please tell me if this is for real or your email got hijacked."

While it was invitation-only (and still), Google+ offered to add anyone or everyone in your address book to one of your "circles," and if they weren't on the system, to send them email. Without knowing what I was doing (pretty much how social media go viral), I checked a box that turned my "+1" into spammy email that was far more cryptic than intended, my intention being the { terse comment + headline + link + source-generated blurb } that is the stock in trade of Facebook, and as-cloned with variations into Google+.

My pithy comment ("The dramatic music is a bit much... but then...") had been turned into the subject line, the sender was a plus.google.com noreply address (tagged with my good name), the body started with a teaser for Google+, and then the link to "view the full post," via a 4-line https URL with multiple encryptyed attributes, and no signal whatsoever of what the hell I was talking about.

I wouldn't follow that link, and while I believe it is safe, I wouldn't expect anyone else to follow it either.

Fail.

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

Fridge-be-gone Permalink to this item

Nice work if you can do it: drop an old refrigerator in the hopper, and a minute later, turn 95% of the solid waste into useable raw materials while capturing 99.8% of the refrigerant (most of which is in the insulating foam, rather than liquid in the plumbing).

Sounds like some fabulous mechanical engineering in the systems described, one from Untha Recycling Technology of Karlstadt, Germany, the other from SEG of Mettlach, Germany. Untha's costs $5.5 million and can dispatch 150,000 used refrigerators in a year. If it lasts for 4 years, the capital cost would be less than $10 per refrigerator.

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

Missed it by that much (probably) Permalink to this item

Good news: If you're reading this, NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite didn't fall on your head. (Very) shortly before it fell to earth, (08:50pm MDT), NASA issued this final update of the mission:

As of 10:30pm EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 85 miles by 90 miles (135 km by 140 km). Re-entry is expected between 11:45pm Friday, Sept. 23, and 12:45am, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. During that time period, the satellite will be passing over Canada and Africa, as well as vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The risk to public safety is very remote.

Canada, Africa, Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans doesn't narrow it down very much, but at least it spreads out the risk.

Yell leader Permalink to this item

Parcul Herastrau graffiti, Bucharest, Romania 2011 Bit of a recurring theme in Republican circles, George W. Bush's days as a cheerleader, Rick Perry's old yeller time at Texas A&M... not there's anything wrong with promoting optimism. SecTreas Timothy Geithner could use a lesson or two before he rolls out the next edition of Debbie Downer. Granted, we can all see "deep concern" "across the world and around the country about whether the political system in the United States is up to the challenges we face," but doesn't he have enough to stay busy without stating the obvious? Like mom said, if you don't have anything nice to say, shut up. (I think she said it in a slightly nicer way, though.)

The utility of the noisy megaphone came to mind when I read Gabriel Iacoboni's effusion about "Exciting times for young conservatives" in the Idaho Statesman this week. The lamentable state of English education in our country also came to mind, as the media outreach coordinator for the Boise State University College Republicans does not seem to have reached full high school proficiency.

His lede doth run on a bit too much. "Slack" is not a verb, but we can give him partial credit for half the idiom "to slack off." We do not, however, believe that "one outspoken liberal professor [who] knows where you stand and expects more of you" will "deliver a brutal blow to your educational career."

"Most Republican students don't know there's a solution. College Republicans is that solution, and it's reached Idaho!"

So few coherent sentences, so many questions. If you join the College Republicans, your problem of liberal professors delivering brutal blows to your "educational career" for your slacking off will be solved? Sounds rather like a student union or something.

He goes on to give a shout out to new leader Domenic Gelsomino, and how things are moving fast. Some folks have "chaptered themselves."

"BSU College Republicans has made great strides in recent years. The group is consistently active and engages students everywhere."

Including, say, Timbuktu?

"Waves of real change you can believe in are coming."

So, um, make sure your sump pump is in good working order.

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

Reaping the whirlwind Permalink to this item

If the Congress in general, and the House of Representatives in particular, has become so obsessed with partisan advantage that it can't do its regular business, let along actually reform anything, it's safe to deem it a "disaster." And if the Congress can't figure out how to stop bickering long enough to provide funding for disaster relief, will it thus implode with a giant sucking sound, leaving a black hole on Capitol Hill?

The leaders of the House can't seem to count votes, let along whip the fringe Republicans into line. They've definitely changed the way Congress does business, but so far, not for the better.

Eight more days to the start of the new fiscal year, and no indication of how anyone plans to escape the developing singularity.

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

OK, it could be worse Permalink to this item

In terms of usability, a clumsy website for your bank is a minor annoyance, but a cheating casino could actually spoil your day. As Matt Richtel put it, "the millions of people who signed up for a Web site called Full Tilt Poker knew they were there to gamble. But it turns out they were taking on far more risk than they realized, even when they had no chips on the virtual table."

Just when the nuttiest GOP Presidential candidate (and front runner!) is trying to get some mileage out of name-calling on Social Security, federal prosecutors have a real, live global Ponzi scheme to go after. Most of $half a billion wired in by the rubes, not to super-safe-and-secure escrow accounts, but "transferred to the owners and management of Full Tilt."

The good news is that the federal government has actually been proactive on these guys, having shut down access to the foreign-based sites for Full Tilt, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker back in April, "arguing that they were violating fraud and money-laundering laws." And stealing, they now complain.

But hey, maybe it's a bridge too far to call it a Ponzi scheme. One Florida lawyer "who specializes in gambling and First Amendment law" (an interesting couple of specialties) "quibbled with the government's characterization," saying the outfit "may simply have been lying to players and possibly embezzling funds." Lots better.

Comment value is too long. Permalink to this item

That's what KeyBank's web form told me after I tried to submit the following:

Guess what the #1 reason I come to your site is?

Go ahead, guess.

If you said "to retrieve my bank statement," you're a WINNER! Congratulations.

One more question: guess WHICH bank statement I'm interested in?

I suspect we have ANOTHER WINNER!!! That's right, I want MY MOST RECENT statement (or sometimes my most recent 2 or 3).

Now guess what statement is NOT AT TOP LEFT, and/or FRONT AND CENTER after the 3 to half-dozen clicks[*] it takes to get to the list of statements on my one and only account with you?

Today is your day, that's right, THE ONE I'M INTERESTED IN IS NOT FEATURED... and in fact IS NOT ON THE PAGE. What's that you say, not on the page? Oh, but you've added a sort affordance, I can go "Descending" instead of "Ascending". Having done so, I find statements from 2010 and older... because you sorted just the first page of statements selected by ascending order.

This is crazy, are you running a usability counter-experiment and I'm in the negative control group? Fine, let me help you:

1) NARROW THE DEFAULT DATE RANGE TO NO MORE THAN A YEAR, 12 months, 12 statements. It's great that more are available, and I can use the date filter controls to get at them should I wish to, which 99.5% of the time I won't.

That one change will keep me from writing to you again, but if you want to actually improve the site, here are two more ideas:

2) SORT IN DESCENDING DATE ORDER BY DEFAULT. That's NEWEST FIRST, because NEWEST is what your customers want 99% of the time.

3) Get me to the statements list in ZERO, ONE or TWO clicks from login. You know how many accounts I have, I don't need an account selection menu if there's only one.

Thanks.

So I sent a shorter version, and then went back and fetched my September statement. Before I got there though, a pop-up: my password is expiring in 10 days, do I want to change it now or remind me later?

Neither, actually. I like my password, and it's a good one that nobody's going to guess.

While we're on the subject of usability, could you stop asking me what language to use when I stick my ATM card in the machine on the side of your branch office? And which account I want to take money out of? Thanks again.

The process:

  1. login form -> Important notice about Bill Pay, which actually isn't important to me, because I don't have or use their Bill Pay.
  2. Menu item Statements & Documents -> page with two menus of hyperlinks, for "Statements" and "Documents."
  3. "View Statements," please -> View Statements page, listing my "Currently Enrolled Accounts" [sic], of which there is one.
  4. Yes, "View statements" -> Finally, the list of statements, and one tiny bit of good news: the "descending" sort selection is sticky, and survives beyond one session.

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

It's a beautiful day Permalink to this item

What Sisyphus said over there on Huckleberries Online in the thread about today's final repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "The shameful legacy of institutionalized discrimination in the military is over." Still a few cultural institutions to go, but this is a major milestone for civil rights in this country.

Orwell is in the House! Permalink to this item

You remember the greatest hits from the Bush Administration such as the "Clear Skies Initiative" (more toxic pollution) and "Healthy Forests" (more clearcutting) and maybe you even can remember the oxymoronic appointment of James G. Watt as Secretary of Interior under the Reagan administration, following the Gipper's famous mispronouncement that "government is the problem," and his team's concerted effort to dismantle the "obstruction" to rapine.

The latest offering from the Republicans in the House carries its Newspeak irony between acronym and title. Who doesn't like trains, yeah? But the so-called TRAIN Act has nought to do with choo-choo, nor vocational education; it's all to do with "Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation."

Transparency.

As shall be facilitated by a committee comprising the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief Economist; the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the Chief Economist and the Under Secretary for International Trade; the Secretary of Labor, acting through the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the Secretary of Energy, acting through the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration; the Secretary of the Treasury, acting through the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Energy of the Department of the Treasury; the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors; the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regu1latory Commission; the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration; and the Chairman of the United States International Trade Commission, acting through the Office of Economics; said committee to conduct analyses for each of the calendar years 2016, 2020, and 2030, of the cumulative impact of covered rules that are promulgated as final regulations on or before January 1, 2012, in combination with covered actions; the cumulative impact of all covered rules (including covered rules that have not been promulgated as final regulations on or before January 1, 21 2012), in combination with covered actions; and the incremental impact of each covered rule not promulgated as a final regulation on or before January 1, 2012, relative to an analytic baseline representing the results of the analysis of the cumulative impact of all covered actions as provided above.

I won't go into the (proposed) legally mandated components of the analysis this committee is supposed to do, nor the laundry list of the regulations mandated to be analyzed, but the committee is supposed to make a preliminary report under this bill "not later than January 31, 2012," provide a 90 day public comment period and then come up with a final report by August 1, 2012. Because, uh, what else do those people have to do, anyway?

I suspect that even without concerted action on my part, this part of Eric Cantor's declared war on regulations is unlikely to see the light of day in the Oval Office any time soon. I could be wrong, but it just sounds like a complete laugher for getting past the Senate. (After November 2012 there may not be as much laughter, however.)

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

Let's go for a swim, let's fly through the tide Permalink to this item

Cormorants, perched over the Boise River While swimming in a sea of lies, you may find it difficult to recognize any one in particular what with the gasping for air and all. And the sea is so vast. Consider the "we're broke" one so popular in Tea Party circles these days (from what I hear of T.P. circles).

America is broke? Really? Even while we keep the holiday pageantry going, the flyovers for sporting events, the wars, the Congress, the Supreme Court doing their business (or not) as usual?

It's like saying "oh oh, the fiscal year is almost over (11 shopping days left!), we'd better get a budget ready to go for October 1st." I bet Speaker Boehner will be all over that with that new GOP discipline and all.

While we're supposedly "broke," the scene in the vaults of Scrooge McDucks across the land is the classic tycoons swimming in loot. They're not broke, suffering, struggling, nor even slightly indisposed, thankyouverymuch. But if you recall your Uncle $crooge comics, you will recall that there were no windows in the vault, and no passers-by to look in and see what's going on. Hence the duping, when we all pretty much agree on what's right, and yet most all are united in our delusion about what is. (That's a link to David Cay Johnson's article published in Tax Notes a year ago, starting with a fun little quiz.)

We tried this idea of giving tax cuts to the rich to create jobs, right about 10 years ago (when, you might recall, the budget surplus was projected to eliminate the debt in ... 10 years or so), and you know what, it didn't actually turn out that way. Not the debt elimination, definitely, because we gave away the surplus, but not the job creation either.

H/t to Dave Johnson and his Five Super-Congress Debt-Cutting Myths for getting me started this morning.

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

Yeah it's class warfare (guess who's winning? Permalink to this item

$2,000,000,000,000 is big even when all you're doing is typing it out for a blog. That's how much cash corporations are sitting on while waiting for the economy to head north and consumer spending to give them a reason to invest, hire, create jobs. If we cut corporate taxes, we can increase the size of that pile of cash, but

(a) if the economy doesn't head north and consumer confidence remains low, business still won't invest, hire and create jobs; and

(b) if the economy and consumer confidence do improve, businesses will invest, hire and create jobs, whether their taxes are lower, the same, or higher. (That's why they call it "business.")

So lowering corporate taxes at the moment would be a remarkably stupid thing to do. Which is not the message that corporations are going to be paying to advertise between now and the next election, but do keep it in mind as they tell you black is white and up is down.

John Atcheson tells the story slightly more floridly, as The Ayn Rand Six Step. (H/t to d2 for that.)

The truth of the matter will not, however, prevent those who really like the comfortably low taxes they've enjoyed for 10+ years from howling like stuck pigs at the suggestion—the very idea!—that they aren't pulling their weight.

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

The Boise River Sweep Permalink to this item

A little change in the weather put a bite in the morning, but we fleeced- and neoprened-up and floated the semi-serene 4½ miles from just above the Glenwood bridge in Garden City to just above Eagle Road in five boats, collecting garbage at frequent stops as we went. The river's down to 600 cfs at the end of summer, and there were a few spots that required getting mostly or all out of the boat, and one portage over a diversion dam.

Most of our party, and our trash haul

River Sweep t-shirt Turned out to be a beautiful day, not too chilly, good company (including the cormorants and kingfishers), good work, and a nice lunch provided by Bardenay as our reward.

There were hundreds more volunteers walking the river banks in Boise, Eagle, and Caldwell in this the annual River Sweep. Great community activity.

It would be nicer if there weren't quite as many slobs who can't be bothered to pack out there own trash, of course. But I guess the people drinking Keystone (the litterer's beer of choice, from what I've seen) in the bushes may be afraid of getting caught... or ridiculed.

That's Idaho Rivers United's Liz Paul (left) displaying the attractive volunteer t-shirt, which cleverly employs "Can Man" (who lives at the Boise Watershed) and his Roman numeral-like silhouette to match this 10th annual effort.

Update: Let it be noted that despite all that trash we picked up, and all the trash everyone else picked up in a 4 hour go yesterday, the banks of the Boise River are actually pretty darn clean. We were of course motivated to seek and find, and did do, but there are a lot of miles of river, and a lot of visitors who leave it as clean or cleaner than they found it.

16.Sept.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

News manufacturing is at least a growth industry Permalink to this item

Kudos to the Campaign for America's Future for expertly tapping into this week's Zeitgeist. When I posted the item early morning two days ago after reading their "Progressive Breakfast" piece, I didn't expect the "scandal" to be following me around all day. But there it was on NPR while I was driving, a Congressional hearing in D.C., a chatty conversation on the next tennis court over, and then topped off with the Newshour.

Even if it were a legitimate scandal, it's a pity all the energy expended to flog it couldn't be applied to generating electricity or HVAC or transportation. We could take a trip around the world or something.

If you're still keeping score at home, here are the five biggest right-wing lies about Solyndra, in Dave Johnson's estimation.

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

When metaphors collide Permalink to this item

Down toward the end of the short piece about a bigger economic role for the federal government, after the reminder of what government austerity did for us in 1937, and the reminder that the lack of demand for goods and services appears to be the economy's central problem, we read that the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago said that with the unemployment rate at 9%, Fed officials should be "acting as if their hair was on fire."

But Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said Monday that the Fed already had "filled the gas tanks of the economy..."

I would say there should be no smoking in those Federal Reserve Bank meeting rooms.

The latest, oily, whipped-up scandal Permalink to this item

I skipped right over the talking heads (I guess because I don't tune in to Faux News, ev-er) and to Dave Johnson's explanation of the phony Solyndra Solar scandal. The "beauty" of the free market (with or without government help) and entrepeneurship is that some ideas succeed, and some fail, and we move on to try, try again. Having a big enterprise (with big government backing) fail big means... the system works!

"If this was a sweetheart deal, it was the worst sweetheart deal ever."
"An official" quoted by Grunwald

Or, if you prefer the corruption and abuse version (with ties to people with ties to people who mysteriously benefit from having a company go bankrupt), you can follow the story on that other network, with lots of helpful links over there on ourfuture.org.

And you can follow the Heritage Foundation's anti-green attack machine (again, links over there) with such titles as "Green Jobs Are Con Jobs," "The Green Job Myth Exposed," "Obama's 'Green Jobs' Pipe Dream," "The Green Jobs Story Obama Doesn't Want You to Hear," "Are 'Green Jobs' the Answer?", "Are Green Jobs 'Gone with the Wind'?" and I'm sure much, much more. Having invested in a panel of experts funded by ExxonMobil, this stuff just about writes itself.

Johnson recommends Michael Grunwald's piece for Time as an objective report. If anyone's interested in such a thing.

"Soyndra's loan, the first approved under a clean-energy program that was launched during the Bush administration and expanded by Obama's stimulus bill, was supposed to finance a new state-of-the-art factory for the company's unique cylindrical solar cells. At the time, Solyndra was an exciting startup; according to the public filings, it attracted big money from bigtime financiers, including $35 million from Richard Branson's Virgin Green Fund, $57 million from U.S. Venture Partners, and even $2 million from affiliates of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts."

Plus the $535 million federal loan, $320 million from Kaiser-linked funds, $75 million tossed in for the first restructuring, hoping to salvage some value... I'm not sure I'm following it all, but it sounds like a lot of money and an impressively big failure.

So, let's compare and contrast: of the $30 billion in government loans made under the program (and "another $20 billion in private financing"), do we have some success stories to share, to balance off losing a fifth of the amount budgeted for failures?

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

Responding to terror with courage and love Permalink to this item

There seemed to be ample remembrances and commemorations yesterday, and not much need for me to weigh in. But Fran Korten's short piece about what the U.S. could learn from Norway's response seems particularly worthy.

And I kept thinking about my dad's response less than 2 weeks after the attack on the U.S., and long before we went to war in Iraq, rejecting the idea that there is any religious basis for returning violence for violence.

One of the songs we sang in church on Sunday has a repeated chant, something we fallible creatures need to keep telling ourselves: "We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love."

Starting right... when? Permalink to this item

Rick Perry's USA Today op-ed has the ever-so-slightly ludicrous title of I am going to be honest with the American people, that future tense suggesting he hasn't been, yet. If he were serious about wanting to "fix" Social Security, the first step would be to determine whether it was broken, and if so, how it's broken. That's basic analytical problem solving: first, define the problem.

He wasn't able to get through a short opinion piece for the newspaper without stumbling on facts, spouting confused nonsense, and repeating the word "honest" five times in barely eight paragraphs. Wethinks he doth protest too much.

Bill Scher is likewise unconvinced by the Texas Governor's avowed affection for truthful discourse, because, well, Perry's got a book out that's telling different tales than what he's spouting on the campaign trail.

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

Search is heating up Permalink to this item

Which would you rather have, a 60W light bulb that you turn on for three hours a month, or Google? Yeah, me too. So complaints about how much electricity the latter uses don't amount to much from where I sit. Plus it's a little silly to say that "every time a person runs a Google search, watches a YouTube video or sends a message through Gmail, the company's data centers full of computers use electricity," because they're using electricity whether or not anyone is searching or watching or sending. Just like your computer is using electricity when it's on but you walked out of the room or something.

The incremental energy a search takes is an interesting thing to consider. The story says Google's estimate is 0.3Wh (on their end, presumably) which seems high to me, but I guess they ought to know? At that rate, and a billion searches a day, that makes 95% of the company's energy used for YouTube and other stuff. Don't sweat the searching, I'd say.

One way or another, it's all turned into heat, and most of that heat is "waste" (although the data center in a former paper mill in Hamina, Finland could certainly keep some neighbors' houses warm in their long winter). In our house, just as yours, we obey the laws of thermodynamics, and law #2 says there's no breaking even.

Whoops a daisy Permalink to this item

They're still trying to figure out how the spreadsheet made its way from Multi-Specialty Collection Services to the Student of Fortune mercenary tutoring site, but having had names, diagnosis codes, account numbers, admission and discharge dates, and billing charges for patients seen at Stanford Hospital's emergency room during a six-month period in 2009 posted on a website for a year (apparently as a convenient dataset for illustrating "how to make a bar graph"), we might consider what Diane Dobson, of Santa Clara observed about the larger implication:

"Everyone with an electronic medical record is at risk, and that means everyone."

And in case you're thinking gee, this is just a random, isolated case, there's the HHS saying 11 million people have had their data improperly exposed in just the past two years, 306 cases of at least 500 people since September 2009, and tens of thousands affected by "smaller breaches." Take your pick of stolen laptops, hacked networks, papers left on a subway, misdirected e-mail and what-not. Mistakes are going to be made.

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

But they "really" apologized Permalink to this item

Chilling story from Minnesota, but not about Michele Bachman's latest lunacy this time: it's about being under suspicion at the Mall of America, exploring the legacy of this country's response to the dramatic terrorist attack 10 years ago. The vice president of the mall, Maureen Bausch thinks that as "definitely the No. 1 attraction in Minnesota, one of the biggest attractions in the United States," and with that name—Mall of America!—their facility is "attractive to people that want to hurt America."

She's not quoted on how many of the 100,000 or so people who visit the mall on a typical day are attracted with hurt on their minds. Just one determined terrorist could ruin everyone's day, after all. And only "a handful" out of the 750 million+ visitors over the mall's two decades of existence are "complaining." Bausch says "we apologize if it, you know, if it caused them any inconvenience, I mean we really do." Like the two hour detention, and having all your video erased. (Um, whoops, there goes the evidence!)

If you go to the Mall, just don't be suspicious, 'K?

Post-Labor Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of Top Secret America Permalink to this item

Thumbnail of Wash. Post interactive graphic; link to it The Washington Post investigation of the subject has some amazing information about the "fourth branch of government" that's come into its own in the last 10 years.

One of the reporters, Dana Priest, will be featured on Fresh Air today, talking about the work. PBS' Frontline episode of Top Secret America airs tonight as well.

Should we feel safer knowing that we know have 51 federal organization and military commands tracking the flow of money to and from terrorist networks? Or a 45 x 18 matrix of organizations and activities with half of the 800 boxes filled in? Or that we know have a "professionalized killing force" that responds to unilateral commands from the President?

Speaking of Congressional critics Permalink to this item

Joe Nocera's column today describes an internal critic, Rep. Jim Cooper, from Tennessee, and Cooper's perception in the villain of an institution "gone from Brigadoon to Lord of the Flies": none other than Newt Gingrich, who we'll be able to see flabbering about on Wednesday, in his quest for a 2nd political career, after the first one ended in such richly deserved disgrace and resignation ("it's the hypocrisy, stupid"), but maybe not as broadly applied as it should have been.

Gingrich apparently believes his skill in "historical fiction" permits him to create a new, post hoc reality. Cooper's view of the most important chapter of Gingrich's history:

Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. "His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it," Cooper recalled. "This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today," he added, "the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they're voting on."

It's hard to dispute the rest of Cooper's description of the Gingrich legacy of institutionalized dysfunction. It's nice that he holds out hope for us to overcome it, but hard to see what basis there might be for such hope. Just as the worst of the Bush administration remains institutionalized in the (supposedly "radical, left wing") Obama administration—you know, the black sites, Gitmo, a secret army—whatever tactics prove effective in a skirmish are reinforced. Not a recipe for greater democratic representation and shared decision-making.

Disloyal opposition Permalink to this item

Wandering onion, 2005 So to continue the graphic metaphor, having driven the country into the ditch, the Republicans have now unplugged several spark plug wires and continue to jabber loudly while we sit by the side of the road wondering what the hell just hit us and how are we going to get this thing going again. Wednesday night, they'll have a barker's half-dozen on soapboxes pronouncing the failings of everyone but themselves (and, if it's to be entertaining, at least a little bit at each other) while word is that the next night, the President is going to tell Congress he wants them to create some jobs. Or something.

Just in time for Labor Day, we had the big fat zero of the August jobs report, welcome fodder for administration (and, um, Congressional) critics and presidential hopefuls. (Dancing on a grave can get you in trouble but fomenting, and then using collective disaster to further your own interests, that's politics as usual.)

It's possible we could celebrate the other number that came out Friday, the low, low interest rate on 10-year U.S. bonds signaling that you know what, our debt is good enough, it's smart enough, and, doggonit, people like our bonds! People are willing to loan us money for about half as much return as they were two years ago, so whatever else the stimulus did for us, it did not ignite debilitating inflation. And the proximity to "default," that was all self-inflicted.

Remember? Was it just a month ago we "won" that game of chicken? Remember how great that felt to not go over the cliff?

Krugman's questions for the Thursday speech are good ones. They're no more cynical than the political climate the speech will be given in, but if he's right that "nothing [Obama] proposes will actually happen anytime soon," we'll have to acknowledge that the opposition's plan was a smashing success.

And then ask if we really want to reward them for smashing things, or try a different approach.

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

The Thomases vs. Obama Permalink to this item

There have been ample reasons to lament Clarence Thomas' elevation to the Supreme Court of the United States for the two decades since George H.W. Bush nominated him and the sorry spectacle of his confirmation hearings. Choose what you (dis)like from Jeffrey Toobin's piece for The New Yorker, Partners. For me, it was his conflating the honor of the country with his own, self-pityingly citing the "price to pay today for standing in defense of your Constitution."

Those respective honors will be at issue in decisions to come, when Thomas uses the Court's "honor system" to judge that he need not recuse himself for anything, thankyouverymuch, no matter what causes his wife promotes nor what donors are covering her travel expenses.

Worthwhile (and New Yorkerly long) article to catch up on how the silent Justice is steering the court to the right from his reclining swivel chair. Thanks to Marc Johnson for introducing it to me, along with some history about Abe Fortas that came before I paid much attention to the SCOTUS.

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

Extortion, sabotage, blackmail Permalink to this item

The new normal in Republican political strategy, as described by Paul Krugman: Eric and Irene. It brings to mind Mitch McConnell's highest priority, to keep Barack Obama from being re-elected next year. How much pain and suffering is it worth inflicting on the American people? Whatever it takes, is the answer spoken by his and Eric Cantor's actions.

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

"and bang! you'll find the Pinwheel Galaxy." Permalink to this item

At the vertex of an equilateral triangle north of the Big Dipper's handle. Why would you want to look for the Pinwheel Galaxy, 21 million light-years away from your optic nerve? Because there's a type 1a supernova just lit up ("just" 21 million years ago, eh), visible with binocs or a small telescope, estimated to peak in brightness within a week or so.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 01-Oct-2011 20:53:47 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/201109.html