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unraveling

29.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something else to celebrate Permalink to this item

Surfing the Boise, 36th St. wave, 2006 A brand new playground... er, make that playwater. A brand new playwater. The Boise River Park, dedicated yesterday. Not bad for something that used to be "an aging irrigation diversion, with hunks of concrete, wood and metal lurking beneath the surface of the river," "industrial debris" hiding along the banks. Pete Zimowsky:

"Today, the park is a scenic area complete with a new footbridge, paved paths, river-viewing areas, newly planted willows, grass, and a high-tech diversion dam with wave-shaping devices that create fun for surf-crazed whitewater boaters."

The shapers have "hydraulic flaps and other computerized gizmos," "designed to create a 20-foot-wide wave and a 25-foot secondary wave coming off the diversion" for play time most of the year.

Going out on a high note Permalink to this item

Turns out letting the news ripen for a day or at least an hour could result in a more accurate assessment. I just got the short (NYT) headline version, Health Care Law Stands, before going off to a morning meeting, caught up with the detail over the course of the day. It was late afternoon before I heard the funny story about the "scoop" of CNN, and Fox News after they'd had time to read the first two pages of the um, longer, 193 page decision. Sure enough, "Chief Justice Roberts concluded in Part III-A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. (Pp. 16-30.)"

"Wow, that's a dramatic moment."
Wolf Blitzer, for CNN

And eventually, the news people read some scotusblog to find out that (as stated at the top of page 4), "Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part III-C, concluding that the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congressís power under the Taxing Clause. Pp. 33-44." And then Jon Stewart had a field day for his evening "news" on The Daily Show. That was kind of fun.

Not that we needed a big hurry: yesterday was the SCOTUS' last of the session, and they're off until October. Three or four months should give us plenty of time to read the whole thing, and for Mitt Romney to explain why he's against what he was once for, and why he repudiates what he once celebrated. Timothy Egan:

"If Romney accomplishes nothing else in life, he will go down in history as the man who first proved, in the laboratory of Massachusetts, where he once governed, that an individual mandate could work."

aaaannd....

"Romney's worst character flaw — the weasel factor. Every time he opens his mouth to denounce the individual mandate, he contradicts one of the most successful things he ever did as governor."

Laurence Tribe: "Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a heroic rebuke to the growing number of Americans who feared the Supreme Court had lost the ability to rise above the narrowminded partisanship that dominates the countryís political discourse."

Sarah Palin: "Thank God."

Yes, there were winners, and losers, and errant opinons galore. Campaign and SuperPAC fundraising should be a big winner. (If only that money were put toward something useful, eh?) Paul Krugman figures there are the 30 million direct winners, but

"add in every American who currently works for a company that offers good health insurance but is at risk of losing that job (and who isn't in this world of outsourcing and private equity buyouts?); every American who would have found health insurance unaffordable but will now receive crucial financial help; every American with a pre-existing condition who would have been flatly denied coverage in many states."

That sounds like, what, about 99% of us?

Stand by while "that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people's lives" works to convince us how badly we've been served, in order to put their man in the White House.

28.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A billion here, a billion there... Permalink to this item

On the way home today we went by a newly erected fireworks stand, festooned with plastic pennants that say "free enterprise" and "stuff exploding" in a holiday way. It was adjacent to a Jackson's mini-mart and gas station. What could possibly go wrong?

That thought came back to me while reading about the upwardly revised ceiling for JPMorgan's stupendous trading loss, "may reach $9 billion". That's starting to sound like real money, almost, the size of a small federal program, or a less-populated state's budget. (Idaho's is about half that size.) It could be a couple quarters' worth of profits for the big bank. Story says

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee last week, Mr. Dimon said that the London unit had "embarked on a complex strategy" that exposed the bank to greater risks even though it had been intended to minimize them.

Whoopsadaisy.

The quarterly results due out in early July will start to detail the particulars, but it'll be months or maybe a year before the whole thing can be unwound. Hedge funds and other "investors" are circling their bloody chum,

"seized on the bank's distress, creating a rapid deterioration in the underlying positions held by the bank. Although Mr. Dimon has tried to conceal the intricacies of the bank's soured bet, credit traders say the losses have still mounted."

26.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Municipal deadbeats Permalink to this item

While mulling recent developments in our locale, this story from Moberly, Missouri popped up. It seems the quiet and uninteresting business of municipal bonds is getting to be as exciting as the "creative finance" that blew up the real estate bubble (and continues to simmer, out of sight).

When the city's guarantee was called, the Moberly City Council issued a statement saying: "The city's taxpayers, under these circumstances, should not bear the burden of Mamtek's failures or be asked to 'bail out' their shareholders or investors."

Of course, that "should not" isn't a legal opinion, but sounds more like preference. In the companion piece, we read that surprised local taxpayers from Stockton to Scranton are finding themselves stuck with the debts from enterprises gone bad.

"Residents of Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) recently learned from a forensic audit that their city's fiscal woes could be traced to a guarantee issued in 1998, for the bonds of a trash incinerator project." – NYT

Nearby Boise County found out the hard way that decisions have consequences when they mishandled an application for a teen treatment center, got sued, lost, filed for bankruptcy, and had that denied. They owe $5.4 million, which works out to $675 per capita in the large, but largely unpopulated county. The county's ability to tax its way out of trouble was a topic for this year's Legislature, even as courts, the county, the state, and taxpayers struggle to sort out the mess.

Even closer to home, the curious story of Dynamis Energy and its proposal to build a garbage gasification plant at the Ada County landfill, with the County having forwarded $2 million to the company (which is supposed to pay that back... some time), a contract signed just 9 days after an RFP was published in 2010, and construction that was supposed to have started in March, but for which there is yet to be a building permit application filed. Ada County Commissioners have questions, and they're not the only ones!

The newly formed Idaho Citizens for a Safe Environment and a Transparent Government had their attorney, Andrew Schoppe, send 20 questions to the company. Such as...

"6. Has Dynamis taken any steps at all to study the traffic, environment, or community impact of transporting an estimated 86 tons of tires per day in trucks going through Meridian, Eagle, Garden City, or Boise dozens or even hundreds of times per day to and fron the Landfill?"

I don't suppose they have. Why should they? That would be the County Commissioners' job, wouldn't it?

On the one hand, turning waste into energy sounds like a good thing, but presented as "let's bring all sorts of other people's trash into our county so we can burn it and get some money and power" doesn't sound like an easy a sell to the people in the vicinity of the landfill or this power plant.

Idaho's DEQ approved the site application in May, shortly after soon-to-be-former Commissioner Sharon Ullman crowed that it was Case Closed! on her personal blog. "There are naysayers who do not understand the science, technology, and landfill purchasing laws, but the project is sound."

The voters decided in May's primary that they'd seen enough of Ms. Ullman. But the Dynamis deal may be her parting gift that keeps giving, under a 20 or 30 year contract.

The DEQ application says 6 tons of tires per day (rather than 86 in the Schoppe's letter for ICSETG), but doesn't go into the air quality issue. The June 2012 air quality modeling report from JBR Environmental Consultants doesn't spell out readable conclusions (and notes that it doesn't model dioxin, cadmium, hydrochloric acid or mercury), but everything will be fine? Richard Llewellyn is not so sure, noting that "Compared to Spokane's large scale regional facility, Dynamis may emit twenty times the dioxin even though Spokane processes twice the amount of waste."

Upselling Permalink to this item

Thanks to my buddy Jim's nose for marketing news, this just in: Orbitz shows Mac users pricier hotel options. Because (a) they can, and because (b) Mac users spend 30% more a night on hotels, so they should. Hannah Miet says it makes sense "to target the apparently wealthy, ad-receptive, self-assured, high-spending contingent that buys Apple products." Noting a study report that iPhone, iPad and Mac work-use goes up with income brackets and job titles ("directors," 41%, "managers," 27%, "workers," 14%), she wonders:

"But what about those of us who irresponsibly purchased our iPhones on credit, have only been 'directors' of our own unemployment, and are only looking for the cheapest roadside motel in Devils Lake, North Dakota?"

The good news is that even if you get stuck with the rack rate, if you're in North Dakota, prosperity must be just around the corner. I'm more toward ad-rejective, myself, but do appreciate the heads-up to shop for travel with a PC rather than a Mac.

Not sure how NPR web readers sort out, but their blog poll is running more than 85% "YES" on the question of whether you'd be upset to learn you had been shown pricier options just because you used a Mac to search for a hotel.

What if... they told you it was a 30% nicer room, and you deserve it?

25.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scalia off the hook Permalink to this item

Or, as UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler put it, "finally jumped the shark," taking it upon himself to opine on the Obama administration's action on the immigration issue, unrelated to the case at hand. That's nice, Toni, but stick to your day job, 'k?

Such as writing your "22-page barnstorming dissent" against the actual decision your colleagues rendered in regard to Arizona's S.B. 1070, striking down 3 major provisions, and letting one stand on a trial basis (so to speak).

All hail the Corporation! Permalink to this item

It's the SCOTUS mischief season, and this just in: Montana's 100-year-old law, born of epic corporate corruption, was in the way of the 2010 Citizens United decision, and thus will not stand.

Fred Wertheimer's clarion call notwithstanding, the jury is still out on the question of whether citizens will allow our government to be auctioned off to billionaires, millionaires, corporate funders and other special interests using political money to buy influence and results.

That does look to be the direction we're going.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, quoted in the NYT:

"Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this court's legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court's finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana. Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the state had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations.

"Montana's experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the court's decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the court's supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so."

24.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One hundred and a day Permalink to this item

Ars Technica seems the perfect spot for a celebration of the life of mathematician Alan Turing. I caught up to it on the day after his 100th birthday. The "list of seven habits" trope is not too annoying, even if it seems utterly unnecessary. The British government's belated apology for its standard of "decency" that led to Turing's suicide, noted as conclusion, seems more essential. We still have wars, and flawed heroes, and too many suicides.

22.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Americana Permalink to this item

Joseph Bunt house on Cole Rd and Swift Ln, 2004 I went shopping this afternoon, something I just about never do, with two items on the hunting list: 1) use my replacement Staples coupons (before those too expire, tomorrow), and 2) re-up my low-cost, low-affect T-Mobile prepaid plan that expired in February, taking the old phone number with it a month later. I wanted something for the iPad from Staples, but with a reliable (if boring) backup plan, a toner cartridge. Those, um, iPad2 cases and keyboards, will they work with an iPad3? The salesman was every bit as knowledgeable as me ("I don't know") but suggested I could try it. I said I'd try something else. That was easy.

At the T-Mobile store, I was greeted slightly too effusively by three, count 'em, three agents upon opening the door. Three more agents were busy with two or three customers total. Still, the A/C in the little storefront was struggling to keep up with that much energy in the room. I whipped out my old phone, told them what I wanted, and the agent who drew the short straw did his best to hide his disappointment, if not incredulity. ("So, you just don't use that many minutes?" Yup, that's right. It's a special thing for me. Kudos for his quick recognition that he didn't have a sales pitch that could change my mind.) The process was gnarly, half on the phone, half on the web, but it wasn't me on the phone or on the web. All I had to do was sit and smile and enjoy being waited on for a change. New number, transfer the SIM foo, swipe the CC and we're done. Have a nice day!

Traffic was heavy, but lights friendly, and I made better time through the late Friday congestion than most cars did. Thumbs up for the ALEC out of Walgreens pickets, thumbs up from the guy in the wheelchair preparing to negotiate a curb cut (I think it was my tie-dye that made him smile), and how nice that more folks are out on bicycles today, sharing the sunshine. Around the corner on to Swift, that beautifully landscaped house on the corner with the crew just finishing up and the place looking ready for its Sunset photo-op, then the garden behind St. Mary's being tended and looking good enough to eat, three Somalia (I'm guessing) refugees working the land, another thumbs-up and big smile from me, a friendly wave in reply.

Next corner is the lot I can't go by without seeing the third-to-last farmhouse on N Cole Road, where Joseph Bunt put up a sign that said BUNTVILLE and lived out his life, still in my mind's eye in summer, before he and his beautiful house and his beautiful trees were scraped off the land to make it AVAILABLE, moments before the the real estate bubble went pop.

The giant sucking sound Permalink to this item

Maybe if Ross Perot had been taller, had smaller ears, and a less squeaky voice... well, Bill Clinton still would've won in 1992. But instead of just talking about a giant sucking sound of jobs headed south of the border back in the 1990s, Mitt Romney was doing something about it.

If you like how it turned out, "outsourcing has been a powerful economic force [that] has often helped lower the prices that American consumers pay for products and created a global supply chain that has made US companies more nimble and profitable."

If you don't like how it turned out, perhaps because your standard of living has gone nowhere in the last two decades, or has gone downhill because you're unemployed, or underemployed, you might say "They've been able to put American businesses out of business and kill American jobs."

(Weirdly enough, that's a quote from one of "them," pointing his finger at some other "them." It's China's fault we've shipped our manufacturing and jobs over there to lower prices and raise profits, don't you know? Such was Mitt Romney's pitch on the stump in Toledo, Ohio, in February.)

Tom Hamburger's reporting for the Washington Post has the campaign trail all atwitter about how Romney's version of "job creation" involved a lot of job relocation. And now he tells us if only we'll elect him, he knows how to bring jobs back home.

We all have flaws, but the rebuttal that Hamburger's work is "fundamentally flawed" because he didn't differentiate "outsourcing" from "offshoring" is some kind of weak tea, spilled over the territory between pathetic and ludicrous. The spokeswoman says: "Mitt Romney spent 25 years in the real world economy so he understands why jobs come and they go."

I never made Captain of Industry, but even foot soldiers can see that jobs come and go to follow the money, seeking out workers who will work for less, and countries who will dangle tax incentives (for Captains and Consultants). Mitt Romney did very well for himself in his 25 years in the real world economy, and wherever he spent the other four decades of his charmed life. I'm not seeing how that translates into qualifications for this new job he wants, however. Redirecting economic trends for personal advantage is far easier than redirecting them for shared, or national advantage.

21.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hello Lake Michigan! Permalink to this item

Excerpt of Richard Perry image, for comment Enjoyed Richard Perry's slide show of Mitt Romney's Bus Tour for its quirky selections and photographer's-eye-view. A visit to Bittersweet Farm, the festive atmosphere, the bunting, the rain, the Rambler, the OMG you din't from the Speaker of the House, the politicians in the factory, behind the scenes in Newark (Ohio), the security perimeter, "TTIM" supporters, red pants for making cherry pies ("Look ma, no pie stains!"), and last but not least, wading into Lake Michigan at Holland State Park.

I can relate to the factory snippet, having worked in a few, and toured some, with business (and engineering) on my mind, rather than photo-ops. The one time George H.W. Bush came to visit my workplace, it was a Big Deal, and blew multiple days' productivity, what with the advance walk-through, set up, crowd control, and what-not. Maybe it was when he was still V.P., and campaigning, I forget.

But the picture in my hometown Great Lake, that's striking. I've swum in Lake Michigan, cliff-dived into it, waded in... but I have never waded in with long pants on without rolling them up. I mean, I might have, I might have jumped in with all my clothes on (and forgot that I did), but there's something more than a little bizarre about "acting natural" and failing so badly.

Good news and bad news Permalink to this item

Rule number one of political responsibility is that you take credit for all the good stuff, and shuck off blame for all the bad stuff. If you're an incumbent, another round of half-full glasses for everybody! If you're a challenger, you point at the half-empty glasses on the table and look at the lipstick stains. (If you're a challenger with no current record, you apply the rule to whatever and whenever you used to do, and add the subjunctive: by golly, if I'd been in charge, things would be better now!)

With plenty of bad news (and a little good news) to go around, this puts Republican Governors looking to be re-elected in an awkward spot. You might mistake one of their campaign ads for an Obama pitch, as Brad Coker says he did in Michael Bender's run-down for Bloomberg, about Rick Scott celebrating Florida's job gains. (Such as they are: the rate reported in May was 8.6%, down from 8.7% in the previous month. Higher than the national average, but much improved from 11.1% in Dec. 2010, before Scott took office.)

In his first term, Scott's approval rating is sub-par, and on a downward trend, and Romney has to delicately keep his distance while avoiding being too distant. But my favorite part of the story is the quip from Florida strategist (and lobbyist) Mac Stipanovich:

"This is one of those situations where you could have it both ways and there's enough truth in it that it would resonate," Stipanovich said.

15 years on the street and all we get is this swan song? Permalink to this item

David Weidner is not so much leaving, as relocating, but wanted to get something off his chest before his vacation. What gets your attention is the "So long suckers," but I did hope for more from a list of lessons from observing the "industry." Distilling:

Repealing Glass-Steagall was a mistake.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

It's all about the money.

Donald Trump is a bozo ("a reality-TV star of questionable wealth who's had several business failures and bankruptcies and is generally considered a credit risk to bankers on Wall Street.")

Still, we can't live without all the self-serving, money-grubbing, untrustworthy and unsupervised people in this "industry." Oh, and "the business media are still too cozy with the powerful on Wall Street to do their jobs correctly."

And one bit of pithy advice: "What really matters is what the investments are worth when we need them."

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

36 spins ago Permalink to this item

Entry from my journal on the first day of summer in 1976:

MILBANK Gary & I climbed the water tower last night—scary concave up & a fine view. The morning was delightfully cool w/clouds. Rode thru the Coteau Hills after a gorge breakfast. I took a side trip to the Blue Cloud Abbey. Very beautiful architecture and some amazing plants. Coming down to the flats against strong S wind & into oppressive heat. Saved by a root beer float. Bought a tire & tube & we're staying for dinner. Town is big for its size.

73.9 miles that day put me 887 out from Moscow, and nigh on to Minnesota.

The Blue Cloud Abbey has a web presence, but the news from northeast South Dakota is not good: Abbot Denis Quinkert writes that they plan to formally close in August. The web guest book isn't quite working any more, but there are some old comments and a charming impression from Mariah Sahm (when she was 8).

Who's this "we" you're talking about? Permalink to this item

Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio says "We are generally skeptical of complaint letters that are sent to newspapers for publication before we receive them," without indicating if he's royal, or was expressing his and Karl Rove's opinion, or what. The nice thing about a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission is that defendant skepticism doesn't count for much.

Should be a simple question, and an open-and-shut case. Is this a political operation that should be required to pay taxes like others of its ilk, or is it entitled to 501(c)(4) status by virtue of providing some sort of "social welfare"? Yeah, that's right, Karl Rove wants welfare. More on the subject of the IRS working to deny inappropriate tax exemptions for political groups, from Businessweek. Doesn't sound like they'll be getting after the big boys until after the November election, but we'll see.

Flat tax Permalink to this item

CTJ bar chart of total effective tax rates in 2010 It's not surprising that the Senate Minority Leader is shilling for his Republican friends with a ton of money, any more than it's surprising that he doesn't have his facts on straight (richest 10%, richest 20%, what's the big deal?), but it is a little surprising to see that "the tax system as a whole, including all the types of taxes that people pay, is just barely progressive," illustrated by a succinct 2-page explainer from the Citizens for Tax Justice.

Those in the top 40% of income pay 30-ish % in total taxes, and it tails off to only a 16% total effective tax rate for the bottom quintile. Rather than the nonsensical "extraordinarily progressive" tax code Mitch McConnell imagines, our mess (can't argue with him on that point) comes out surprisingly flat, thanks to regressive federal payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, and state and local taxes "balancing" the more progressive federal income tax.

Get your goat Permalink to this item

We Rent Goats logo, more free advertising for a good business It's the same old story, a squirrel and a transformer, death by electrocution, and grass on fire. But this one has a happy ending: "Neighborhood Firewise practices, alert residents and a bunch of hungry goats are being credited with averting what could have been a disastrous fire in the Warm Springs Mesa neighborhood in the East Boise Foothills."

Can you say "the best advertising they didn't have to pay for" for Tim and Lynda Linquist's We Rent Goats business? Sure you can. (Their business-like name is "CT Biological Weed and Brush Control Inc." but I guess that wouldn't fit on a logo.)

Their home page has a long list of "What's on the menu?" which covers a lot of the same ground as Idaho's list of noxious weeds, including poison oak, poison hemlock (asterisked as a "Goat favorite"!) and puncture vine (a.k.a. "goat heads," ironically, for their nasty, spiky fruits that love to poke holes in rubber tori).

19.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reaping the whirlwind Permalink to this item

On The USS Midway, San Diego, 2005 Having been simultaneously at war and not-really at war for more than a decade now, the surreal blends with the day-to-day. When I hear helicopters overhead, whether the occasional Life flight or military exercises, I stop and think how glad I am that I can be confident they won't be firing in my direction any time soon. At a recent (outdoor) wedding, it never occurred to me to wonder about anything other than the weather, the joy of the happy couple, their families, and the guests.

If even one wedding party in this country had suffered a military attack, we would of course talk about it for years to come. Long before seven were, no one would contemplate such a party without taking serious pause.

"Imagine the uproar in this country if a jet took out a wedding party. Just consider the attention given every time some mad gunman shoots up a post office, a college campus, or simply an off-campus party, if you want to get an idea. You might think then that, given the U.S. record of wedding carnage in Afghanistan, which undoubtedly represents some kind of modern wedding-crasher record, there might have been a front-page story, or simply a story, somewhere, anywhere, indicating the repetitive nature of such events."

But the other side of the world is a long way away. Few bother to raise an alarm about the fundamental shift that has taken place when most of us accept that part of a U.S. President's job is to be assassin-in-chief. Instead, disclosure of the particulars is being met with calls to investigate whether it was a political ploy—intended to burnish the President's security bona fides. Congress is not calling for outrage over assassination (it did happen once upon a time), but rather over the "national security" leaks. (With so many bogus versions flying about, it may not be possible to sort out the incompetent from the calculated any more.)

Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well, on the ultimate no-fly list, and "how Obama's targeted killings, leaks, and the everything-is-classified state have fused":

"Here is the simple reality of our moment: the president has definitively declared himself (and his advisors and those who carry out his orders) above the law, both statutory and moral. It is now for him and him alone to decide who will live and who will die under the drones, for him to reward media outlets with inside information or smack journalists who disturb him and his colleagues with subpoenas, and worst of all, to decide all by himself what is right and what is wrong."

18.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gender bending Permalink to this item

The moment our oak tree leafed out, 2007 The best letter to the editor I ever wrote was in response to someone else's, informing the reading audience that drinking beer and wine is disgusting because they're riddled with yeast waste products. That's not the worst of it: plants excrete gas into our atmosphere constantly, and my response was under the headline "Living in a Plant Sewer."

In the New Age of Political Correctness, consider the Ohio state tree, Aesculus glabra, the buckeye. Jim Flechtner of Findlay, Ohio wants to remove its "state tree" status because... no, not that it's poisonous, or the leaves smell fetid when crushed, or the seed's husk is prickly, but because it's bisexual.

Good letter. So What About Carnations? (H/t to deadspin.)

Not as sorry as I am Permalink to this item

Or maybe the headline should be "Yes, you are." I tried to give HP some feedback after finding out that some years on, they never have provided a Windows7 print driver for their "All-in-one" CM1015. The "Universal" print driver they offer does not support color. (Universal's not what it used to be, either. Never mind the scanning half of the "All-in-one"; the twain does not meet in Universal.) There's some Vista-vintage software you can try, in compatibility mode. Let's just say it doesn't plug and play, but with a 400+MB download, something interesting is bound to happen.

There's space for "content feedback." I wrote what I thought about the situation from the perspective of someone who used to work there, when "lasting value" meant something. As I think it has been for quite some time, the form submit is broken too, and goes to a 404 redirect page.

We're very sorry!

The page you requested can not be found...

We apologize for the inconvenience!

Update: Did fetch the mondo Vista package, took most of an hour to download. Followed the clear instructions to unpack but not run, set compatibility mode for the 4 EXEs to Vista-SP2, and successfully installed the scan and print software. Haven't exercised everything, but it did at least show color in the test page. Slightly less annoyed.

17.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A breath of fresh sanity Permalink to this item

In addition to famous potatoes, Idaho seems to collect notoriety for its wingnuts and nutjobs (usually, but not always the same sort of wingjobs). Even after they move to Mississippi or Wyoming or wherever, our state remains part of the story.

Something more positive to consider: the newly released Idaho Democratic Platform, including some things that should really go without saying (but don't, thanks to our local GOP).

"...many of the milestone achievements of the last century are under attack, but we are strong in our beliefs:"

14.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The right wing crazy Permalink to this item

In Mississippi, while Jane Mayer covered the Santorum campaign, she found "viciously" anti-Obama sentiment, and wondered where that was coming from. Where these people were getting their information? She asked, and was told "Oh, they loved this talk show host, Bryan Fischer."

First she'd heard of him. We had more than our fill up here in Idaho, and many were glad of it when he left. The infection has been festering down south, however. "Fascinating," at first, perhaps, to find "a completely alternative media universe, even alternative sets of facts," "so far to the right, even of Fox [News], that it is just a completely different reality."

Mayer is featured in a Fresh Air interview, talking about Fischer and the "Letter from Tupelo" she wrote for The New Yorker, "Bully Pulpit: an evangelist talk-show host's campaign to control the Republican Party." A radio network of two hundred stations in 35 states now delivers Fischer's hate speech to more than a million listeners a day, by Mayer's report. And perversion:

[Fischer] posted columns on the [Idaho Values Alliance] Web site, including one in which he wrote that "it is actually a form of child abuse not to spank a child when that's what he needs," noting that he and Debbie had "discovered that five swats with a wooden cooking spoon on a bare bottom had a wonderfully salutary effect." (Recently, Fischer advised a caller that, in some instances, a child as young as six months could be spanked.)

13.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

End of the unions Permalink to this item

Harold Meyerson: What happens if America loses its unions: look forward to the continuation of "an economically stagnant or downwardly mobile middle class, a steady clawing-back of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever-rising economic inequality."

"Today, wages account for the lowest share of both gross domestic product and corporate revenue since World War II ended—and that share continues to shrink. An International Monetary Fund study released in April shows that the portion of GDP going to wages and benefits has declined from 64 percent in 2001 to 58 percent this year."

On the other side of the argument, Charles Krauthammer seemed nearly beside himself celebrating Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin, calling it backlash for "outrageous union benefits, far beyond those of the ordinary Wisconsin taxpayer."

Tax time two Permalink to this item

Having left the payroll, there is the sort-of quarterly business of estimated taxes. Sort-of, because instead of April, July, October and January, due dates are in the middle of April, June, September and January, an unexplained pattern. Perhaps there's no reason for it, it's just our policy?

Anyway, June 15, and occasion to remember that back in April, I'd overlooked some charitable contributions made in 2011 that the state (in particular) wants to encourage, with a limited 50% tax credit, this year with significantly higher limits.

For every $2 you donate to "Idaho educational entities," you get a $1 credit off your taxes, now up to a $1,000 credit on a joint return. (Said "entities" include nonprofit corporations, funds, foundations, research parks, trusts, and associations organized and operated exclusively for the benefit of Idaho colleges and universities; nonprofit private and public schools in Idaho; Idaho education public broadcast system foundations; the Idaho State Historical Society and its foundation; Idaho public libraries and foundations; and so on. We like the University of Idaho, BSU, the (UI) Arboretum Associates, Idaho public radio and Idaho public TV to varying degrees.

So, worth it to amend our tax returns, and find out how well TurboTax facilitates such a process. Surprisingly well, as it turned out. The most difficult part was getting the essential parts printed, to mail in. (No e-filing for amended returns.) I didn't just fire off PRINT from the end of TurboTax though, knowing that I didn't care to turn the 2MB PDF into... 139 pieces of paper. The IRS part was 7 pages, and 5 for the state, adding up to 17 mostly duplex sheets to satisfy the feds, state, and our file cabinet.

I mention this banal tedium here because when I mentioned it to a friend yesterday, still flush with the thrill of re-completion, he said he'd never heard of the 50% tax credit for donations to Idaho educational entities. It's something I think everyone in the state should know about. If you're willing and able to be so generous, the state stands ready to help.

9.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mitt Romney, unhinged Permalink to this item

Over the course of my lifetime, elections have pretty much hinged on economics. Economy good, incumbent (or incumbent's successor) wins. Economy bad, incumbent loses. No doubt that's oversimplifying, and someone could think a lot more deeply than I just did and add any number of useful nuances, but to a first approximation. So our current incumbent has some upstream swimming to do.

However much it is or isn't the president's doing doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that we look to leaders to solve problems and to assign blame. You're on top, things are bad, it's your fault. Or, things are good, hooray for you! Thus, "campaigning" is a matter of celebrating the bad (if you're the challenger) or the good (if you're the incumbent). Blaming is easier, because finding fault is easier, in general. If you haven't had any responsibility beyond managing your own fortune, all the better! Nothing whatsoever is Romney's fault, right? The best one can do is consider some of the wreckage in Bain Capital's wake and suppose he might be to blame for taking the money and running, regardless of success or failure that follows behind him.

But Romney's penchant for making stuff up, saying slightly crazy and inconsistent things makes me wonder about the guy. It reminds me of the old joke about the guy complaining about how bad the food is at a local restaurant. "And the portions or so small!" One day Romney's arguing the stimulus was exactly the wrong thing to do, and the next day it's "and see, we didn't do nearly enough of it, either!"

But this is not about nuance. This is about "things are bad, Obama did stuff, so there." Is that enough of an argument to get Romney elected?

8.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Burning down the house Permalink to this item

If two lines are in a plane, they either intersect, or are parallel. Two lines that don't lie in the same plane can do pretty much anything they want, most of which is skewed. Here's life imitating the art of geometry with our 3-D world reduced to a 2-D caricature, and the "parallel" between 1980 and 2012 almost perfect, as far as Phil Gramm and Glenn Hubbard can figure. (Yeah, I can't read it behind the WSJ paywall either, oh well.) David Frum, on Rip Van Winkle economics:

"[When] you will consider only one policy solution—cut taxes and regulations—then you must insist that there can be only one policy problem.

"Yet in almost every way, today's economic problems are exactly the opposite of those of 30 years ago. Then we had inflation, today we are struggling against deflation. Then we had weak corporate profits, today corporations are more profitable than ever. Then we had slow productivity growth, today it is high. Then the top individual income tax rate was 70%. Today it is 36%. Then energy regulations produced energy shortages. Today the removal of banking regulations has produced an abundance of debt. ..."

Then we had some pretty strong unions, now they're mostly busted. Then we had a strong middle class, and so on. Michael Tomasky draws the picture with a sharper line:

"If the Democrats under Tip O'Neill had behaved as today's Republicans behave, they'd simply have blocked the Reagan budget, never let it come to the floor, let the country go to hell and let Reagan take the blame. That's exactly what Republicans did. It may seem quaint, but they are legislators, and it was actually their job to help pull the country back from the brink—which, remember, they were willing to do as long as Bush was president.

...In 1981, the house was on fire. Democrats did a lot of finger-pointing, but at the end of the day, enough of them did help unfurl the hose. In 2009, the house was ablaze again, and the fire was more intense. And Republicans went down to the basement, turned the water off at its source, and sat back hoping to see the flames spread.

Mission accomplished!

The Righteous Mind Permalink to this item

Finished the library copy (due dates are wonderful things) of Jonathan Haidt's fine book with that title, and subtitle Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and added it to my recommended reading list with a number of related links you might be interested in before, or after you read it. From his final chapter, "Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?"

"Morality blinds and binds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.

"If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness. As a first step, think about the six moral foundations, and try to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in a particular controversy. And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first. If you can have at least one friendly interaction with a member of the 'other' group, you'll find it far easier to listen to what they're saying, and maybe even see a controversial issue in a new light. You may not agree, but you'll probably shift from Manichaean disagreement to a more respectful and constructive yin-yang disagreement."

And from William Saletan's review for the New York Times:

"You're smart. You're liberal. You're well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can't understand why working-class Americans vote Republican. You figure they're being duped. You're wrong.

"This isn't an accusation from the right. It's a friendly warning from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a partisan liberal. In The Righteous Mind, Haidt seeks to enrich liberalism, and political discourse generally, with a deeper awareness of human nature. Like other psychologists who have ventured into political coaching, such as George Lakoff and Drew Westen, Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He's looking for wisdom. That's what makes The Righteous Mind well worth reading. Politics isn't just about manipulating people who disagree with you. It's about learning from them."

Taking action on his ideas, he has a site to "find and promote evidence-based methods for increasing political civility," CivilPolitics.org. Not sure why, but I'm thinking we won't get started on that until after the November election. If ever.

Fundraising folderol Permalink to this item

We should have a couple weeks' respite before the OMG IT'S THE END OF THE QUARTER WE NEED YOUR CONTRIBUTION deluge that will reach maximum intensity three weeks from tomorrow, and the latest news cycle meme to catch my eye was that Mitt had outraised Barack recently: by a cool $17 million in the merry month of May. So I'm surprised (ok, only a little) to see NRCC chairman Pete Sessions whining about all the money Obama's been raising... even if he obviously was looking for a way to use "from his liberal Hollywood allies in California" and "hobnobbing" in sentences.

In English (unlike German), the rule is that we only capitalize proper nouns, and whoever is ghostwriting fundraising emails for Sessions surely knows that well enough. S/he also knows it creates an opportunity for fabricating "Meaning" where none actually exists. Such as turning "west coast millionaires" into "West Coast Millionaires," and thereby making them even more elitist, apparently.

I, on the other hand, am addressed as a lower-case "patriot" (good old rank and file) who he says he is counting on to elect a stronger majority. And by "elect," he means send money, with helpfully suggested amounts of $100, $50, or even $25.

Sort of a funny coincidence that the amount raised from those Hollywood elitists that's supposed to outrage my patriotism—$15 million—is slightly less than the May margin Romney scored, but neither amount is relevant to Sessions' work. This is the National Republican Congressional Committee after all ("not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee"), working for Congressional races, not the top of the ticket.

But pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain! Observe the jets of flame and smoke and the large, frightening visage before you!

7.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Spit and polish Permalink to this item

File this advance in DNA blueprinting under unexpected technological achievements: "researchers have determined virtually the entire genome of a fetus using only a blood sample from the pregnant woman and a saliva specimen from the father." Slightly beyond the state of genomics when I went to school, the good old 1 + 1 = 2 (and Aa + Bb = {AB, Ab, aB, ab}) of Mendelian pea-crossing and the like. In addition to sorting out the physical snippets of genetic material, there's the statistical gymnastics of figuring out what's his, hers, and ours:

"The researchers used an approach they developed to figure out which variations in the mother's genome were likely to be passed to the baby together. That made the problem more tractable than trying to make a call individually at three million locations in the genome.

"After it was determined what the fetus inherited from the mother and father, what was left in the fetus's DNA was considered a possible spontaneous mutation. There were initially 25 million such candidates, though statistical approaches narrowed that to 3,800. ..."

of which 99% were shown to be false positives: only "44 such spontaneous mutations [were] found after the baby was born and its cord blood sequenced." That problem and a 5-figure price tag will keep this from being "routine" before a lot more work. But still, "an extraordinary piece of technology."

Rapid transit Permalink to this item

Wrapping up our Earth-Sun-Venus astronomical coverage, and adding to an image collection that includes some witty bits, there's this different kind of transit, seen through a telescope. (No, really.)

6.6.12 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Big wind, cold snap Permalink to this item

NWS temperature graph across the cold front on Monday In the "coulda been worse" department, we didn't have to run for non-cover the way the folks at the Krassel Work Center in Valley County did, spending the night on the airstrip so they didn't end up under a falling (or snapping) tree. Two dozen 120-foot trees down there, and "three-quarters of a mile of ponderosa pines snapped off at midtrunk in the same area" according to the NWS.

We did have a branch broken off our larch. And while I was out watching neighborhood trees bend in the big gusts, the nearest transformer went FLASH and POP! and there went our power for the duration. Tried to phone in my eye-witness info, but merely joined the "unprecedented volume of calls from customers" and got the broadcast message about problems from Ontario (Ore.) to Glenns Ferry, more than a hundred miles. One sensor on the east end of that read an 84 mph gust; 70 mph on the Perrine Bridge over the Snake River at Twin Falls must've been exciting enough.

The Idaho Power crews working through the storm had a long night; they brought our power back on around dark-thirty, after about 4 hours out, but some folks were still waiting Tuesday afternoon.

Not a lot of water in the system, but a really sharp cold front, 90°F on one side and low 50s on the other, settled down below 40°F overnight. Fortunately the forecast "patchy frost" (in June!) didn't find us.

5.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Another view of the transit Permalink to this item

From NASA's sunearthday site, not sure of the instrument used for this segment of the broadcast, but that moment Venus crosses the limb is awesome.

Screengrab from the NASA sunearthday video

Meme infection Permalink to this item

Here I thought the continuing affection for the magical explanation of where we came from was a uniquely American idea, but this report in Nature describes that they've got the bug in South Korea, too, and their fever is running hotter:

"A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. ...

"The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the 'error' of evolution from textbooks to 'correct' students' views of the world, according to the society's website. ...

"The STR is also campaigning to remove content about 'the evolution of humans'..."

Yes you do have to vote today Permalink to this item

...if you're in Wisconsin, and you want to recall your Governor. ThinkProgress' roundup says there's no actual recording of what's been widely rumored: robocalls, possibly with a Tom Barrett impersonator, saying that if you signed a recall petition, you don't have to vote.

"Election day antics were a near certainty in Wisconsin. In the last week, reports of other campaign antics surfaced, including an attempt by Walker supporters to disable the Barrett campaign's phone lines by flooding their call centers with spam phone calls."

Antics certainly to include accusations from both sides, and hours of fun investigating which ones will turn out to be true.

Transit of a lifetime Permalink to this item

cropped snippet of the TRANSIT OF VENUS from SDO There's no question what constitutes the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" today: here on Earth we're set to see the last transit of Venus in the lifetime of anyone reading my blog today. If it's cloudy where you are (it is where I am), or if you're not prepared to safely view the surface of the sun (I'm not), head on over to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, and see the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory's view of our favorite star.

The show starts at 4:09:38 pm MDT (a.k.a. 22:10 UTC) and the full shadow of Venus will be visible just before 4:30 pm (MDT). (It's a 6 hour and 40 minute show altogether, so don't fret if you're not right on the dot.)

Update: Getting antsy, with 10 minutes to go... and I see the APOD site is offering an image that looks to be almost an hour ago, rather than the "live" as teased in the caption. No "live" sunshine at my house right now.

Update #2: Now seriously put out. It's 22:29 UTC, happening, and APOD still has just the 21:00 image.

Update #3: THERE IT IS!

Update #4: A clever, more-realtime updated view from the Slooh Space Camera.

4.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Timing is everything Permalink to this item

I'm not sure if it's the greatest on in history, but Jason Alexander does offer http://outsports.com/jocktalkblog/2012/06/03/jason-alexander-offers-the-greatest-apology-in-history-for-gay-cricket-jokes/ a fairly impressive apology for a little comedy schtick he delivered on The Late Late Show last week. I'm not in a position to be offended (but am a little curious; do they really roll a tea trolly onto the field?) but I think I can learn from the template if I ever do anything that requires apologizing for later. Which seems likely to happen.

A bigger spectacle Permalink to this item

Ok, maybe I actually had no idea of what a Royal Jubilee could amount to. Quite a bit more than the Queen Mum's birthday, if you can line up a thousand boats on the Thames, and get a million spectators to come see. On the one hand, it's mighty heart-warming to feel that kind of love from so many of your subjects. On the other, if it's in the mid-40s with stiff winds and rain, One should don a Royal Coat of some sort, lest One end up in the news for an unwelcome reason. And miss tonight's concert with Sir Elton and Sir Paul.

Head spinning Permalink to this item

Another piece from long ago, Kate Murphy warning computer users about "ID-10t" errors, including—who knew?—how you really shouldn't use your laptop on your lap top.

Probably good advice, but after years of engineering disk drives, some of the other tidbits sounded comically skewed. In particular,

"Many modern laptops have gyroscopes that shut down the hard drive when they sense movement, but that sometimes doesn't happen fast enough to prevent harm."

Gyroscopes.

And have you ever "thrown" your laptop in a case, as the director of technical support for Micro Center says you shouldn't do? Maybe you have tripped over the power cord and created havoc, though? Don't do that.

On her soapbox Permalink to this item

Jeanette cutting oregano for lunch, May 2012 If I had a nickel for every item that caught my eye and I'd set aside for blogging, maybe this would be an ad-driven site and I'd be rich, rich, rich. But oh well, I don't mind having this be noncommercial. After bringing in a bunch more email messages that I'd previewed and then left "unread," I thought about maybe cleaning up some of the 600+ "unread" messages still in my inbox, jumped down a bunch of months and started whacking away. Anything my wife sends me gets special attention... but not necessarily timely consideration, it seems. Plus, I'd already enjoyed this story from her telling me directly. But now, time to share it with the world, as a featured essay on the so-seldom updated home page: God's Bullies.

"All right then, watch this," I said and opened one of my books, May Sarton's journal, The House by the Sea. I stepped in front of the podium and shouted over the voice of the podium speaker, waving my book. "I am hear to share the gay agenda!"

3.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flame bait Permalink to this item

Lots of interesting angles in the world of weaponized software, including Mikko Hypponen's admission that his anti-virus firm was out of its league in detecting and responding to Flame. He's probably confident that readers will recognize he has plenty of company sharing miserable performance in that regard: it was around a couple of years (and maybe more) without anyone noticing. Admitting solo "spectacular failure" is harder than when the "industry in general" goes down.

New York Times reporter David Sanger is working up a whole book on the topic of American cyberpower, with his June 1 report in the paper, Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran providing a teaser. Didn't expect to see all that reported, and no doubt many will question whether it should have been. But secrets don't stay secret forever.

Information Week published facts about the "powerful malware arsenal" that The Flame (a.k.a. Flamer, and Skywiper) comprises.

2.June 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Life in work Permalink to this item

Can't even imagine 60 years on one job. Even a third of that seemed like a ton to me, and that time with one company was hardly limited to "one" position even if it all sorted loosely into "engineering." My Beloit College Mindset could have included "Elizabeth II has always been Queen." I can imagine celebrating a Royal Jubilee, having happened to land in London on the queen mum's birthday once upon a time. (It seems to involve joining a large crowd to see a royal carriage trot by, and some sort of picnic?) I suppose you might argue ok, that's not a real job even if it is a sort of lifetime position, being a Royal.

Either way, it prompts discussion, and The Independent found an entertaining perspective, collecting statements from others in the "elite club which clocks in way past retirement age." You have to be of a certain age to have 60 years in; the youngster in the bunch is Colin Davies, a 66 year-old salesman from the Isle of Man, who followed in his father's footsteps more literally than most:

"My father had a shop in Liverpool selling menswear and as a young child I wanted to help so I pestered him and when I was six he took me out with him door-to-door selling. It became a regular thing. ..."

And words of wisdom (and a compliment to his fellow club member) from a practitioner of civilization's oldest profession, Bryan Collen of Gisleham, Suffolk:

"Experience is important in farming. There is still room for older people because there is no substitute for the knowledge that you gain over time. To work for as long as I have you need your health and you have to love your work and have to be able to earn enough to put food the table. I think the Queen has done well in her job. She's had difficult times but has kept the monarchy on an even keel."

Measuring outrage Permalink to this item

With God on your side, there's a certain tendency to make oversized pronouncements, such as, I don't know, comparing a requirement to provide insurance coverage for contraception to employees to "terrible persecution," Hitler and Stalin. Seriously? Gary Gutting gives a go at parsing the U.S. Bishops' case against Obama, considering the "main rational arguments" versus the "rhetorical appeals."

His angle is a bit more interesting in light of his job, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Let's just say he doesn't line up behind the church authorities, but he is OK with prayer:

"We cannot, of course, be certain about the bishops' motives in overdramatizing what should be a routine disagreement. But their often demagogic reaction suggests political rather than religious concerns. There is, first, the internal politics of the Church, where the bishops find themselves, especially on matters of sexuality, increasingly isolated from most Church members; they seem desperate to rally at least a fervid core of supporters around their fading authority. But the timing of their outbursts also suggests a grasp for secular political power. It's hard to think that the bishops—especially given their concerns for social welfare—would more than mildly prefer a Romney administration to an Obama administration. But, hoping to emulate the success of Protestant evangelicals, they may well want to establish their own credentials as significant players in American politics. We can only pray that American Catholics will see through any such effort."

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 02-Jul-2012 08:22:01 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/201206.html