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unraveling

31.July.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

School (superintendent) choice Permalink to this item

Steve Smylie isn't running for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, contrary to what ran in the bio footer of his Reader's View in today's Statesman, but he is taking a big swing at what our current Super teed up: the "dubious on so many levels" high school WiFi deal that's been big news in the state just now. Not to put too fine a point on it,

"This is not the first time that an out-of-state company was chosen over a local one, which bid half a million dollars less. This is not the first time that the company that gave generous campaign donations magically got the job. Nor is it the first time that the executives of this company just happened to be old supporters of the superintendent, a past official of the ruling party, oh, and recent member of the superintendent's staff."

And yes, while the $2.11 million is prix fixe for the first year, nobody can say how many schools that will be for. (The contract is for 5 years at that same rate, which will put a new light on the big "dairy" industry in our state: set up WiFi for however many schools it turns out to be the first year, and after that, just walk your cash cow to the bank once in a while.)

The Coeur d'Alene school district (one of the largest in the state) already said no, thanks, we'll do it ourselves.

Democratic legislator Branden Durst came out with an entertaining speculation about which way the state-to-industry revolving door is about to spin next, prompting the K12 Inc. communications VP to pipe up in blog comments on Huckleberries Online and Idaho Education News, to say it's "ridiculous speculation." He can't know whether it's speculation or something more substantial that led Senator Durst to say that "Luna has already told top staff he won't seek re-election." K12 Inc. should be interested in that subject; as Dan Popkey reports, "K12, its employees and major stockholders spent about $44,000 supporting Luna's re-election" in 2010.

But Joel Kennedy's comment in the Huckleberries thread may be more to the point:

"I think Luna has been so spectacularly unsuccessful in routing actual money to his potential future employers (the new Wi-Fi contract will possibly be mooted by the Legislature next year) that I think he'll need another 4 years in office to finally get a big taxpayer-funded contract through for one of his contributors that will allow him to get the 'consulting from home' job as a reward after he leaves office."

30.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

my Windows support center guy Permalink to this item

Caller ID said "unknown name unknown number" which really, by now the only reason to pick up is it's a convenient way to make the ringing in your ears stop. And it's a measure of devolution that I'm now slightly pleased to have an actual, live human being on the other end, even if I know no good can come from the conversation. At least it's not the span of dead air followed with the robotic "Good bye." and disconnect that makes me wonder if it's burglars checking to see if we're home, or the momentarily cagey "uh, John, ready to deliver that alert system you [actually never] ordered," or the tiresome Rachel from cardholder services, or a This Is A Very Important Message robot.

No, hello, real human being, so nice to talk to you!

He was from the "Windows Support Center" and said they'd had notice that we had computer problems. (Talk about your safe bet, huh.) And his voice had the unmistakable lilt of Indian British.

"Hello! Are you in India?" I asked. It set him back just a moment and I had to repeat the question while he thought about how he'd answer.

"No, I'm in Alabama," he offered, with either a best try at a "southern" accent, or else the sarcastic drawl he applies when he knows this is not a live one, and it's about time to punch the "next call" button. Either way, it made me laugh out loud and suggest that he needed to work on that one a bit.

I would've talked longer, but there was nothing more to say.

I'd like to buy a vowel Permalink to this item

Bees busy in our lavender Specifically, an "A" to replace this tawdry "C" in algebra. Not the good Tony Bennett, this is another one, the "former Indiana and current Florida schools chief" who promised to hold failing schools accountable, by, well, we're not exactly sure by what means, but it seems one big donor's pet project got special attention.

"There was not a secret about this," Bennett said. "This wasn't just to give Christel House an A. It was to make sure the system was right to make sure the system was face valid."

If you know what the hell that's supposed to mean, do tell. The story continues, "a weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued" and this made me laugh out loud:

They examined ways to lift Christel House from a 'C' to an 'A,' including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high 'B' look like an 'A' and changing the grade just for Christel House.

There's a lot of instruction available here, thanks to the AP and ABC News including 4 PDFs of emails and a Word document fragment that were flying back and forth in September 2012. They made you work a little, with compressed URLs that weren't hyperlinked. Let me help: emails #1 emails #2 emails #3 emails #4 doc frag

Lots of iPhone and iPad users who didn't bother/couldn't figure out how to fix the default signature-ad. Heather Neal had a "Kate Spade iPhone," cool. Indiana's Department of Education "Chief Accountability Officer" Jon Gubera's nickname is "Goobs," gotta like that. Tony Bennett's prescient observation that "This will be a HUGE problem for us." shows you don't have to know what you're talking about to be right about something. Goobs worked some "Growth analysis" but sadly found that

there is nothing in "rounding" than can help...ran every possible scenario...

Earlier, he was able to comb the arcane accountability code and twiddle the spreadsheets so that "you can now say over half of Charters are C or better (couldn't on Wed)." A little more work and all their kids could be above average. Goobs eventually expressed his irritation at the fire drill with bureaucratic sarcasm:

"If you have any questions about the Growth Only model, see Rich Hogue, but only while his entire division and the divisions working alongside his division are in the middle of a critical moment in their biggest project that requires the utmost and sustained attention to thousands of details, and under a hard deadline. And when you do it, make sure you are on speaker phone in the middle of his whole division so everyone is thrown off task for at least 30 minutes."

To which Bennett, felt he "must add," "I am not sure why the last part was necessary." Goobs explained:

"[T]he entire second floor over here were shocked and thrown off our pressing and most important task of the year by Rich's antics at 330pm today--which definitely were not necessary and actually cut down our productivity."

Goobs sent his email at 8:18pm, closing with

"maybe I can see my new kid for the first time in three weeks while he is awake."

For his part, Bennett was very frustrated and disappointed because he could not count the number of times that he promised Christel House was an A school, based on data, maybe, "the 162 day calculation" and stuff. It seems that "terrible 10th grade Algebra I results (33% passing)" blew up the school's grade, which might lead one to figure out that gee, there is something wrong with the accountability system if the sharpest pencils in the state Department of Education are more concerned about a school's letter grade (that can hang on one grade and one course) than what's going on with actual instruction.

28.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Grumpy old man Permalink to this item

Our greatest deliberative body has provided interesting examples of longevity and working past retirement page for many a year. Critics may question (I certainly do) whether it's really "working," but you do have to show up and talk to reporters and campaign donors on a regular basis. Since Utah's senior Senator won't be interested in correspondence from the likes of me, I'll have to comment on this jolly bit from Newsmax here on the blog. The Obama administration and Eric Holder's plan to go after Texas for voting rights violations is "outrageous" in Orrin Hatch's opinion, showing that "this administration ignores the law" as they act like "tinparty [sic] despots."

The perky Newsmax interview lobbed one softball after another down the phone line, and Hatch obliged with batting practice, waving off signs that the Supreme Court had struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, and the Attorney General was continuing to pursue enforcement of existing law.

"If I were a Texan, I'd be so doggone livid that I don't think I'd ever get over it."

I think they edited out the part where the Senator shouted "hey you kids get off my lawn!" At any rate, the good news is that his lividity isn't likely to go on for all that much longer, even if a staff member helps him out with an explanation about how laws and Congress work and a reminder that it was tinpot dictator he was looking for there in his dudgeon.

(While you're there on the Newsmax site, don't miss the chance to "vote" in their "urgent" "poll" to see if you "support the full repeal" (or just partial repeal) "of President Obama's healthcare plan Congress passed in 2010?" And stuff. They just want your email address and "in appreciation of casting your vote" they promise to send you FREE daily email alerts.)

Yes and no Permalink to this item

In the spirit of the Sunday talk shows, our local paper picks op-eds deemed to straddle some issue of the day and staking out a YES position on one side, and NO on the other. I noticed last week they had a pair more like NO and PURPLE, and this week I LIKE THIS WORD and WE ARE OUR BROTHER'S KEEPER. Not that there's anything wrong with those sentiments, but still.

Let's start with the question "Should the IRS be removed from its health care role?" to which you might first respond by asking "huh?" or "health care role?" But of course, you know, Obamacare, and the IRS will be tasked with collecting the don't-call-it-a-fine-it's-a-tax for people who are supposed to get insurance but don't. It doesn't actually seem a legitimate question, which might be why they couldn't actually find arguments pro and con.

William Rice, of Americans for Democratic Action said NO. Never mind that it's "from a purely technical standpoint," the IRS is the appropriate agency to collect the payments. That could be the end of the story, but there was space to fill, and by the way, yes it's ironic that the individual mandate was a conservative idea out of the Heritage Foundation, even if now many conservatives are disavowing any knowledge of their actions.

For "YES," they found Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute, who just wanted to say how terrible and unworkable the Affordable Care Act is. (He co-authored a 2011 book, "Why ObamaCare is Wrong for America," so familiar turf.) He's happy to take a few healthy kicks at the IRS based on that being a popular activity at the moment. It's "scandal-plagued" don't you know, and "grabbing" for more taxpayer funds, and they shouldn't be allowed to do anything more "without clear and convincing evidence of reform that will curb their abusive practices."

Said abusive practices being... scrutinizing applications for 501(c)(4) exemptions from political-sounding groups, and did we mention that really bad Star Trek parody at the "training" conference that cost tens of $millions? So really, given the ACA's complexity, and the estimated hundreds of millions that will be needed to enforce the provisions that Congress enacted, we should refuse to give the IRS any more funding for their work, "until its officials demonstrate a permanent commitment to reform of past abusive practices." Bonus points for getting "steroids" into the argument, figuratively speaking; Miller's sports broadcasting experience gives him an extra punch.

This week, Fred Andrle opining The people we help today will be productive taxpayers tomorrow as NO, and R. Bruce Josten, Federal leaders in strong denial as they stumble toward the fiscal cliff as YES. The manufactured question: Are entitlements pushing U.S. toward bankruptcy? Not that a U.S. "bankruptcy" has any meaning whatsoever, but "entitlements"! Damn it.

The Executive VP for Government Affairs at the US Chamber Commerce fires for effect and aims high:

"By settling for denial, distortion, and delay on entitlements, we risk our nation's future. If we fail to address the crisis—and soon—we threaten our commitment to America's poor and elderly, jeopardize our investments in other national priorities, leave future generations vulnerable and ultimately face national bankruptcy."

Nice to hear they're committed to the poor and elderly, eh?

And eventually, he gets around to the many reform options available for consideration (by his Chamber and "an array of think-tanks"), including "relatively small adjustments in payments, benefits, eligibility, administration and overhead; coverage options and program efficiencies."

All of which sound rather less dire than Fiscal Cliff and Our Nation's Future and ultimately National Bankruptcy, don't they? It would be nice (but probably wouldn't be in print, because "nice" is boring) if "relatively small adjustments" were featured more prominently than "overblown catastrophe rhetoric" but when the looming "crisis" is that 13 or 20 or 75 years from now, these programs can't possibly be exactly the same as they are now, it is, YES, hard to get really worked up.

26.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Secret judicial activism Permalink to this item

The local paper picked up a shorter version of the New York Time's longer analysis of how Chief Justice Roberts is reshaping the FISA court to suit his ideological preference. Plenty of people call it "conservative," although "authoritarian" would be more like it. Charlie Savage says "critics say" that Roberts' choices "make the court more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary," which brought to my mind the question, how could the court possibly defer more to government arguments?

All they ever hear are the government's arguments, first of all. As far as we can know, more than 98% of the requests for warrants were granted without requiring any modification. And likewise as far as we can know, 99.98% of the requests over its history have eventually been granted.

There's nothing like one-sided proceedings and complete secrecy to foster unanimity and groupthink. The act establishing the court, 35 years old now, came as a Congressional response to Executive abuse, and appears—as far as we can know (which is farther than it was before Edward Snowden blew the whistle)—to have been co-opted by the Executive as a rubber-stamping Judicial seal of approval, an "unelected judges" jamboree.

23.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Expectations couldn't be lower Permalink to this item

Summer sprinkler After seeing my Congressman's celebratory pronouncement that he'd put an appropriations bill through his subcommittee to whack the Environmental Protection Agency back to a level from 25 years ago, and thus preventing it from implementing the cornerstone of President Obama's recently-announced climate change initiative," I sent him a message via his (constituent-only) contact form to express my displeasure at his role in the House of Obstruction, and of course I don't expect much more than the generic boilerplate response. But first the auto-reply, with unctuous thanks, and this:

"Not only do I carefully consider the content of each letter or email that I receive from Idahoans, I believe it is important to respond to each one in a timely manner. Because of the complex nature of the issues and the volume of mail that I receive, please allow 2-3 weeks to receive a written response via email or postal mail."

If the preamble were true, a couple of weeks might be "timely," and who knows, I might receive a considered reply from him some day. Just because it hasn't ever happened before doesn't mean there might not be a first time.

Location matters, and income mobility Permalink to this item

Fascinating report in the New York Times of a study some "are calling the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States," leading with an excellent infographic: In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters. The study, linked from www.equality-of-opportunity.org, is titled "The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures: Evidence from Spatial Variation Across the U.S."

From the executive summary, I gather it's quite detailed, but for a very narrow cohort: children born in 1980 or 1981 and who are U.S. citizens as of 2013, looking at their economic outcome as of 2010-2011. The summary identifies a number of interesting correlations, duly cautioning that teasing out causal factors is "an important question for future research."

The second NYT infographic in the piece has interesting interactivity, illustrating regression to the mean among other things. But there's more than just that. The balance point between parents' earning and the child's is perhaps telling. As you slide the parents' earning percentile, you see that there's a level at which the child comes out the same. For parents of higher income, the child's lower, on average, and conversely.

Comparing Milwaukee and Detroit areas, I see Milwaukee's balance is right at the 50th percentile; in Detroit, it's the 44th. That is, the child of 50th percentile earners in Milwaukee ended up in the 50th percentile, on average. For higher-earning parents, the child's average outcome was reduced, and for lower-earning parents, the child was better off. Booming areas of ND (for example) have the balance at and above the 60th percentile; the lowest income areas balance below the 40th.

The third graphic... well, it does Edward Tufte proud, combining area ranking, population and the chances for the best off and worst off in the 30 most populous areas, with a touch of interactivity to highlight each in turn. One of the four broad factors they identified as correlated with income mobility was

"the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods."

That brings Detroit's current crisis to mind, and analysis such as Richard Florida provides in The Atlantic Cities:

"The reality is that Detroit's fiscal woes have been a long time in the making. They are the product of the city's history finally catching up. They reflect much more than a revenue shortfall, or even incompetent and at times corrupt city politics. They are the product of a half century or more of white flight, the outmigration of industry, deindustrialization, sprawl, and the huge racial and class division between the city and the suburbs, all of which have been well-chronicled."

"Detroit's problems surely run deep. But beneath its fiscal problems, lie the seeds of rebirth."

It's not downbeat hand-wringing and finger-pointing, however; Florida is actually quite positive about the area's prospects, especially with "true regional cooperation," given that many of the region's assets are in suburbs, and adjacent communities and metro areas:

"Detroit's downtown urban core is seeing more investment, economic activity and an influx of talent than it has in decades. This revitalization is concentrated and spotty and it is far from inclusive, but it is certainly something positive, generating jobs, revenue and much-needed hope and optimism that provide a foundation to build upon.

"The broader metropolitan region is home to huge assets—truly great research universities, world-class research, development and design capabilities, abundant musical and creative talent, a great global airport, and, after years of neglect, a massive effort to invest in and revitalize its downtown core."

Boehner: it's like golf Permalink to this item

Except now we're going to be subtracting strokes when we feel like it too. Ever hit a hole in one? How about a hole in none? Or a minus two on the par 3?

"Congress ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal." – John Boehner

To branch off into track and field, the Speaker of the big House proposes to set the bar so low as to be subterranean, never mind the Tea Party stock in trade of obstruction (which he at times has seemed to oppose, albeit ineffectively), we are now talking about active sabotage. Perhaps the Speaker believes there is nowhere to go but up, given that

"According to the latest Gallup Poll, just 13 percent of the American public has a positive opinion of the job that Congress is doing. Eighty percent take a negative view."

I suppose the remaining 7% said something like "Congress, what the hell is that?"

And did we mention that they're talking the month of August off work? Regardless of whether you like Progress or Congress, they'll be batting a level .000. If you're a betting sort, think of it like "High/Low" except that the high and low hands don't split the pot, everybody keeps anteing up and guys in suits pocket the chips and head for the bar while saying "did you see that?" and "what just happened?"

21.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Why be normal? Permalink to this item

Peter Crabb is making weekly hay out of bashing the Federal Reserve, and the Idaho Statesman is happy to use his wandering complaints to provide spacer for the advertising. For May 7, he questioned any connection between inflation and unemployment and complained that keeping interest rates low is "like a tax on the elderly to help the young."

"With positive inflation, the Fed's policies of low interest rates benefit the young over the old. For example, a college student taking out a $10,000 loan today at 7 percent interest will owe about double that in 10 years when the loan comes due."

Funny he didn't mention Congress jacking up the interest rate on student loans, but it hadn't quite been making headlines just then.

"The Fed is fighting the wrong battle and hurting many in the process."

On May 21, he was concerned about the Fed overheating the stock market, by "artificially suppressing interest rates," leaving investors "no choice but to move their money out of bonds and into risk investments like stocks." Then when the Fed "switches gears and starts raising the interest rates it charges banks," stocks would go down. Except for the fact that "managers at public corporations are doing a better job keeping the interests of shareholders first and foremost."

I have to tell you I'm amazed to see the claim; if he actually had facts to make the case, that would have been a hell of a column. As it is, he ended up saying we could rest easy because "today's competitive markets provide more assurance that investors' interests are protected."

June 11, he's after "tax justice" for gold and silver investors, by which he means a jolly tax incentive to speculate in precious metals by pretending that gold and silver coins are "money" instead of "collectibles."

Even though "there is little evidence the Fed has caused any inflation since the crisis," he's worried about their mischief, and ways to hedge against "the loose money policies of the Fed."

"If people don't like our money, they should be able to go elsewhere. If we want U.S. businesses to compete in a truly free market, they should be able to accept any currency for payment on goods and services, be it private, virtual currency or that issued by foreign countries and banks. ... More competition is your best enforcer."

Which, hello, is slightly crazy talk. "Competition" in media of exchange is good for speculators, maybe, but for people who want to make exchanges of food, housing, clothing, and so on, predictability (which he often professes a fondness for) is quite a bit more attractive.

As in... the next week it was uncertainty! from the Fed's intervention, previously dissected here.

Earlier this month, he criticized Fed chairman Ben Bernanke for not "molding a stronger consensus" among the policymakers on the Open Market Committee. "Any hint of a change" "is not taken lightly."

And then the directive that we should return to normal, starting with the mind-reading insight that

"Over the past couple of months, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other members of the Federal Open Market Committee have been toying with investor expectations."

"Toying," really? You think?

He trots out Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps for the 3rd time in two months to reiterate his point that policy tradeoffs are only effective for short periods, and "In the long run, low interest rates and the consequential growth in the money supply have no real effect on the economy."

I'm surprised he didn't mention that in the long run, we're all dead. (They don't call economics the dismal science for nothing.)

"It simply goes to show that all the tinkering with interest rates and bond buying over the past few years has been ineffective. A return to more normal monetary policy and interest rates is likely to be better for the economy."

What I don't know, and don't expect to see him explain any time soon, is what on earth he imagines is "normal" and how we get from here to there with broad consensus among policymakers and without disturbing any one's expectations.

18.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Billions of other people's money, and sugar beets Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman's Business Insider had its annual agriculture edition this week, with a lovely portrait of a sugar beet gracing the cover. It's the state 6th largest crop don't you know, right behind hay, wheat and potatoes, cattle and milk. (We may have "Famous Potatoes" on some of our license plates, but cattle and dairy had more than 4 times the cash receipts of spuds last year.)

At slightly less than 5% of Idaho ag, you probably won't see "Famous Beets" on our plates anytime soon, but it's still big business, hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of jobs in farming, and processing. As with all farm commodities, prices vary widely, from profitable to budget-busting:

"Just two years removed from record highs, beet prices may tumble to lows not seen since the Reagan administration. Some experts doubt whether farming sugar beets can remain viable."

The farmers featured in the story figure they'll carry on one way or another; you can't stay in the dirt end of the business if you're not an optimist. University of Idaho agricultural economist Garth Taylor figures that

"sugar beet farming—and the U.S. sugar industry, for that matter—wouldn't exist if not for federal policy established in the Farm Bill"

which makes you wonder how they'll fare when Congress can't figure out which end of a tuber is up to renew that legislation. As reporter Zach Kyle detailed in another story this week, the government helps the sugar beet business by limiting imports, by stepping in as a buyer if the price gets too low, and with USDA loans. Other countries subsidize their producers too, and I have no idea how the competing manipulations sort out.

Leaving that globalization puzzle aside, the reporting also presents the challenge of understanding all the players in the U.S. The sidebar under the headline Amalgamated, Snake River Sugar and a Texas billionaire is like the précis for a detective novel.

"All sugar beet farmers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon must belong to the Snake River Sugar Co., a grower cooperative formed in 1994 to acquire the operating assets of The Amalgamated Sugar Co., the nation's second-largest sugar beet processor,"

whose three processing plants "monopolize the region."

"Co-op members sign contracts obligating them either to raise sugar beets on the acreage representing the shares of stock they own in the co-op or pay a penalty. The co-op can guarantee a price before the harvest and can dip into cash reserves to honor the agreement if the market price ends up lower."

If you want out of the game, you can sell or lease your shares. The shares aren't registered with SEC, aren't subject to the Securities Act of 1933, and aren't registered with state securities commissions.

And the Texas billionaire?

He owns Amalgamated, and is in the process of selling it to the growers' co-op, under a deal that sounds a heck of a lot better for him than it does for them.

"In 1997, the co-op signed agreements to take control of Amalgamated's operations and take minority ownership...

"The deal was structured so that [billionaire Harold C. Simmons' holding company] Valhi retains 95 percent ownership ... until the co-op completes payments on a 30-year debt to Valhi. But the deal allowed the co-op to assume full operating control. One set of board members oversees both Amalgamated and Snake River, and Valhi does not seat directors on it. The arrangement also allows Valhi to defer taxes on the sale of Amalgamated until the loan ends in 2027."

So the government props up the industry for this guy's benefit, he figures out how to let somebody else do all the work, take all the risk, send him money for 30 years... and defer taxes until kingdom come? His Wikipedia entry features both his "capital gains tax opposition and activism" and his checkered history of general political activism for Republicans and conservatives, including backing for Rick Perry for president in 2012, and a desperate $3 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads before the end of the campaign. (He's spared some change for better causes as well.)

Simmons is 82, so what happens in 2027 is probably moot for him, and his heirs will probably have enough to make ends meet, but I was struck by what a piece of work the guy is, cornering the market, co-opting growers with a co-op, and playing Uncle Sam for a sucker to boot.

17.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dell drama, part 2 Permalink to this item

The update in the NYT Dealbook today, Worried About Defeat for Dell Offer, Board and Bidders Prepare Maneuvers, has some fascinating details, and confusion. It mentions "the tough threshold for approval" of the deal without elaborating on why only "more than 42 percent of the company's shares must be voted in favor." Submajority rules?

And if the big boys said to be opposed (including Blackrock, T. Rowe Price, and Carl Icahn) have "more than 21 percent of Dell's shares arrayed against the proposal," that leaves the outcome widely uncertain. But I guess uncertainty is the (intolerable) point, leading to the plan to "briefly open the shareholder meeting and then adjourn," giving the special committee "more time to twist arms."

Seems to be a certain amount of making this up as we go along. One of the three questions shareholders were given to vote on is whether the board should be able to adjourn the meeting if they don't have the votes to win their proposal. But they can just do that regardless?!

16.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Summer library Permalink to this item

At the Library! at Cole and Ustick's grand opening, 2009 It's furnace-blasting hot today, a good day to go pick up a book at our local neighborhood library, with its state-of-the-art air conditioning. I arrived at the same moment as a woman with a row of children marching through the entrance, single-file, and I thought about the thrill of visiting a library when I was a beginning reader. What adventures were just through that second door?

It turned out quite possibly none, as she had them all sit down on the floor behind her while she transacted some business at the front desk. Did she really just bring them along with her on the errand for her convenience?

I had a book on hold, and while browsing the new books, I was close to the boy end of the line, and the one least able to contain himself, who addressed the woman as "mom" in one of his whiny utterances. She told him to "move over" and "further" away from the next boy, slightly older and slightly bigger. As he continued to squirm, I caught his attention and whispered "be cool" and he whispered back "what?" After a couple more tries, I considered that we might not share the vernacular. A different approach: "Be happy. It's in your power."

"I don't want to," he replied in an emphatic whisper that made me smile with 50 or so years' experience that I wasn't going to be able to explain to him just there. "He's bothering me."

Meanwhile, up in the financial section of new books, a yellow, red and black cover design fulfilled its mission of catching my attention. The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide: How to Survive, Thrive, and Prosper During Obamageddon by Wayne Allyn Root, styled as a "capitalist evangelist," and even more preciously, with a cover banner blurb from Ann Coulter. And an endorsement from Mike Huckabee!

"President Obama, look out. There's a new sheriff in town and he's not afraid to speak his mind LOUDLY. Wayne Allyn Root is a living, breathing Capitalist Evangelist. Wayne shows you how to beat Obama at his own game, how to protect your assets, and prosper during the next four years. Bravo Wayne!"

I'm thinking, you have to be effing kidding me, what is this trash doing in my library?

I moved on to the computer books, noted the tired sadness (Windows Vista, Office 2007, a book "now with the latest release" of something as of 2009), but maybe The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick will be more durable. I added that to the other book and called it good, rode home through an unexpected, delightful, warm rain shower, and put 2 and 2 together while recounting the experience to Jeanette.

That 6-year-old boy who didn't want to be happy, and the writers and readers of the Ultimate Obama Survival Guide, sharing the same determination and paranoia.

Rather than checking it out from the library, or buying your own copy, I recommend browsing the Amazon reviews at the low-star end for their entertainment value and to wonder why the guy who "honestly thought it was satire" gave it two stars. And this two-star pathos, under the headline 7 more reasons to buy gold:

"This book is very current and has many of the Presidents problems noted. But the reason I purchased it was to see the secret to surviving the Obama term. What I got was sales promotion on buying gold, which has dropped in price about $300 from when I bought. Thank you Mr. Root"

Gold's off another $hundred or two since that was written on May 22.

Mutually assured destruction Permalink to this item

Looks like Harry Reid's nuclear brinksmanship paid off, and omg, something might happen in the U.S. Senate. Votes on a handful of nominees for the Executive branch leadership! Along with two free vetoes for Richard Griffin and Sharon Block, sort-of-recess sort-of-already-appointees to the National Labor Relations Board.

It happened on a Monday night with "all but two of the 100 senators cloistered in the Old Senate Chamber" and a chance for "nearly all" of them to have a say, "some passionately" and all off the record.

It used to be log-rolling that was the problem (and I'm sure there's still plenty of that), but now the log-jam is the main feature. "Complete gridlock" by one account. Think of it as the second item on Mitch McConnell's to-do list. There was "make Barack Obama a one-term president," which didn't quite happen, but #2, make sure just about nothing gets through Congress, a work (not) in progress.

Market rate and extreme stature Permalink to this item

The thing about capitalism is, you never know what something is worth until a willing buyer and a willing seller get together. And even then, if one or the other party has limited information, the price may be distorted. Oh, and if one party has more money than they know what to do with, or worse, they're working with someone else's money, all bets are off. We can watch, and learn, but it's hard to predict.

A long time ago, I worked in teaching at the University of Idaho, as a one-on-one tutor, a lab teaching assistant, and as a T.A. for a course in Learning and Study Skills. It was definitely "entry level" pay, but seemed fair enough, and well-appreciated at the time. It was also a great learning experience for me: nothing motivates learning the way that having to stay ahead of students does.

That makes the Gawker exposé of CUNY's dabbling with celebrity fascinating to me. Times have changed, and universities continue to innovate to reduce instructional costs. Rather than a faculty they now get most of the teaching done with piecework, "adjunct faculty" ("adjunct" means "not actually") who are paid by the course, maybe not quite as much after adjusting for inflation as I was paid to be a T.A. while an undergraduate. At the City University of New York (a public institution), it's typically less than $3,000 per course, and if you bust your hump teaching a full load of courses, you might be able to edge over the poverty line for a family of four.

To call what Petraeus is slated to do as "teaching" may be overstating the case. This is about a "seminar," not an actual course. And now it's not about $200,000 (or $150,000 a year for a few hours of weekly work either; he'll do it for $1, and good for him. Especially given that

"The truth is that I could have had gotten more money or more prestigious places (you won't believe what USC will pay per week) but Matt and you convinced me that this was the principal place to teach."

Oh, don't keep us in suspense, General, do tell! It seems USC is also happy to pay what we won't believe for part-time work, while he puts in a few hours on the other side of the country at CUNY, too. And brings all the pieces together as the nexus of the KKR Global Institute's focus on investment implications.

In the March letter from CUNY's Chancellor (there on Gawker), I see that his seminar series is to "pertain to the areas of energy, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences." Petraeus is by all accounts a very smart guy, but those aren't exactly his areas of expertise. Not that it matters much—two graduate students at CUNY, and three at Harvard will be happy to do the legwork in exchange for front row seats and face time with the celeb.

After the Schadenfreude wears off, the deeper scandal, as noted in passing toward the end of the NYT article, remains: "Adjunct professors, who currently teach more than half of CUNY’s courses, get just a few thousand dollars per course."

15.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

My troll can beat up your troll Permalink to this item

Backyard columbine in the blush of spring Speaking of apps, when I saw the teaser for this story mentioning "Jump Rope," I was wondering what that would be like on a tablet computer, and why there should be a newspaper story about it. It's not about the age-old exercise, but rather cutting through a queue, offering the means for you to "pay some fee to get to the front of a line—at a club, a restaurant, a museum or any place where a premium for entry could be charged."

I suppose because that doesn't happen to me very much. If there's a big line, I'll find something else to do. (But if I had Jump Rope... maybe a premium price and no waiting would appeal.)

David Segal reports on a case of Troll v. Troll, it seems, making the guy someone called the country's "most notorious patent troll" sound like the good guy, after coming to the rescue of someone attacked by another intellectual property lawyer trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. The story isn't over, but the apparently bigger troll, Erich Spangenberg of IPNav, has chipped in 6-figures for capital, and agreed to "make the lawsuit go away," all for only 40% of a company that is all hope and promise.

Said lawsuit has already been won—once—by the defendant (the Jump Rope inventor, Peter Braxton), on summary judgment no less, and legal fees to Braxton. But the smaller troll "disagreed with the judge" and appealed. You don't have to be right to win sometimes, you just need to be able to last longer.

With Spangenberg on the case, Braxton would appear to have obtained winning stamina to go along with his winning argument. Preliminary happy ending.

Update: The next day (but URL-dated 7/17, go figure), news that "the FTC is expected to begin a sweeping investigation of the patent system," thanks to "a variety of aggresive litigation tactics" including hiding behind shell companies. That matters because

"If two operating companies sue each other for patent infringement, each runs the risk of its actions being found to infringe, therefore putting its own business at risk. But a patent troll has no continuing operations that can infringe a patent, so a targeted company cannot easily countersue.

"Antitrust enforcers say one of the most troubling activities of patent owners is what regulators call privateering. That is, a company sells a patent to a troll company, which then uses it to sue the original owner’s competitors. If the troll wins the lawsuit, it raises costs for the target, a benefit for the original patent holder."

Must have app Permalink to this item

This is the first thing I've heard about that sounds really compelling to do with an iPad—from my favorite technoinfotainment guy, David Pogue:

GLASSES.COM 3-D VIRTUAL TRY-ON APP
"...free iPad app creates a 3-D, photo-perfect model of your head—and then lets you 'try on' thousands of different colors and styles of glasses and sunglasses. ...

"You hold your iPad flat against a bathroom mirror. The app's voice prompts you to turn your virtual head slowly from fully left to fully right; in a second step, you hold the iPad facing the mirror against your chin while it measures your face. You see it create a wire-mesh 3-D model, 'Terminator'-style, and then boom: there's a perfect, photographic, 3-D model of your head.

It sounds pretty fun even if you aren't shopping for glasses. One of the 5-star customer reviews deems it "freakishly amazing."

The Dell dénouement Permalink to this item

Whether that rhymes with "doomed" or "brilliant corporate makeover" remains to be seen, as does the outcome of Thursday's shareholder vote to endorse the plan to sell the company back to the founders, or hope that Carl Icahn or somebody can do something smart and profitable.

We own a few shares, worth decidely less than we paid for them, not enough to matter, much, but enough to hold our attention a little while longer. The Board and its special committee have sent us at least three proxy notices, hoping for our vote, and the Icahn team sent us one, with what seemed to me a more persuasive argument for "no."

The first question is in regard to whether the company will be taken private, and shareholders dismissed for $13.65/share. The second asks for approval for golden parachutes all around, which gosh, that's nice. $14.7M here, $12.3M (and 10.4M, and on and on), it adds up. To more than $70 million altogether. And the third question is, if at first we don't succeed, can we try again? That is,

"to approve the adjournment of the special meeting, if necessary or appropriate, to solicit additional proxies if there are insufficient votes at the time of the special meeting to approve the proposal to adopt the merger agreement."

The Dell pitch letters are a combination of cajoling and threats. The liquidated damages they propose are said to provide the "highest value and greatest certainty of any available alternative," and the price provides "a substantial and certain premium to the price at which Dell stock was trading before rumors of a transaction were reported by the media."

The rumors were true, and who cares about the price from before they started? We can't go back to last fall when the stock slipped into single digits, or the $10 days of January. (In hindsight, the best "vote" might have been to collect the 8¢ dividend on March 27, and get the hell out at $14-something.) Do I believe Icahn when he says maybe $15.50 to $18? I'd like to, but I have my doubts. What does seem certain is that if the people who know the very most about all the ins and outs of the company want to buy it for $13.65 a share, that price is almost certainly less than it's worth. It's certainly plausible that Michael Dell is right when he says "his plan will hurt revenue in the short term, and consequently drive down the stock."

But he's not stupid, and he certainly thinks he can turn it around and recover to higher levels (and/or milk more $millions out of the cash flow while he tries).

Appropriate creative? Permalink to this item

Yet another poll-driven story about how big group A and big group B are so different, it's the Millenials v. Boomers with some neurotransmitters drizzled in to make "Nielsen NeuroFocus research" sound quasi-white coated authority. I was thinking one group would get the dopamine and the other the serotonin, but no, old people are losers.

"[A]s early as the mid-40s there are severe and dramatic drops in neurotransmitter levels, dopamine and serotonin in particular. Dopamine drops lead to thrill-seeking behaviors to compensate. Serotonin drops lead to the feeling that something is missing, typical for midlife crises of career and relationship."

More thrill-seeking in 40 and 50-somethings you say? Yes, I feel something is missing, a sense of proportion and skill on the part of the writer.

"[D]espite being born 30 years apart, these two mega-generations are in demand by advertisers wishing to attract their attention and their dollars. Understanding how to reach these consumers and capture their hearts with appropriate creative is crucial, says the report."

"With appropriate creative"? And did you imagine that people born between 1946 and 1964, and those born between 1977 and 1994 are "in demand by advertisers"? (I guess if you were born between 1964 and 1977 you are chopped liver. Sorry. Not in the preferred half of the population, it seems.)

Boomers: The aging brain is more easily distracted—as the brain ages it slowly loses the ability to suppress distraction.

Versus...?

Millennials: Millennials can equally deal with the bleeding-over communication we see in most dynamic banner ads on Web portals, while older generations need a clear-framed separated communication to be able to engage.

Riiight. As a Boomer, I'm supposed to prefer clever, light-hearted humor (rather than mean-spirited) instead of off-beat, sarcastic slapstick humor, so I have to assume that this summary was written up by a Millennial. It's all over slapstick.

14.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This just in Permalink to this item

From my Friday, a photoshoot on the subject of "rhythm."

13.July.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The verdict is in Permalink to this item

Cord Jefferson: The Zimmerman Jury Told Young Black Men What We Already Knew.

"If you're a black man and you don't remain vigilant of and obsequious to white people's panic in your presence—if you, say, punch a man who accosts you during dinner with your girlfriend and screams 'Nigger!' in your face, or if you, say, punch a man who is following you without cause in the dark with a handgun at his side—then you must be prepared to be arrested, be beaten, be shot through the heart and lung and die on the way home to watch a basketball game with your family. And after you are dead, other blacks should be prepared for people to say you are a vicious thug who deserved it. You smoked weed, for instance, and got in some fights at school (like I did)—obviously you had it coming. You were a ticking time bomb, and sooner or later someone was going to have to put you down."

Divide and conquer Permalink to this item

The Environmental Working Group's farm subsidy database shows that the surname "Fincher" is a good one for getting farm subsidies. In Halls, Tennessee, there were seven different Finchers who collected federal help from a couple benjamins (Teddy) on up to $1.2 million (Joel) over 1995-2012. $2.24 million for the lot of them. In the middle of the pack, Stephen L. Fincher collected $114,519.48.

But wait, there's more! Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms toted up $3,483,824. Not sure how many of the Finchers in Halls, TN are related, so whether we're talking 3½ million, or most of $6 million, I don't know.

And Stephen Fincher is multitasking as well: he's a member of Congress for Tennessee, and on record as using Biblical verse to diss the idea of deadbeats getting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. "food stamp") dollars. Yes, that's right, and never mind that 45% of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the USDA reported that as many as 41% are working poor," just get a job, will you?

A month ago, Mark Bittman observed that "The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day."

No wonder Fincher cannot overstate his disappointment at the House's failure to pass a Farm Bill. Haven't heard how he feels now that the House has passed half a Farm Bill, without food stamps. (Fincher voted for the hack job.) Eric Cantor assures us they'll get around to that other part "with dispatch." Some time real soon. And then they can dispatch it up in conference, I guess, since the Senate already passed a whole Farm Bill.

The Speaker of the House weighed in on the contentious and defective result, thusly:

"If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. You've heard that before. My goal right now is to get the farm bill passed. We'll get to those other issues later."

Update: Gail Collins, too, making the naked preference for corporate welfare over individual welfare expressed by the House Republicans more plain.

"The House bill actually spent more money on subsidies for farmers than the bipartisan Senate version the Republicans scorned. It also dropped the Senate's limit on aid to farmers with incomes of more than $750,000 a year."

12.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can you code a better government? Permalink to this item

I've coded a bit of government here and there, although nothing as catchy as an adopt-a-fire hydrant app. We don't have any storm drains right close by, but I know if the ones downstream from us are working or not when it's stormy, and yes, I would take matters into my own hands if need be, without asking for permission or help.

Maybe an app is overkill for that.

Being "bureaucratically active" the way OccupyTheSEC is, sending in a 325 pg. comment letter on the Volcker rule (for example) is different than flash in the pan "politically active," but I'm not sure that's actually facilitating useful collective action.

Still, fun food for thought in Jennifer Pahlka on the TED Radio Hour, asking "Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open?"

The web generation doesn't lament not being able to be heard; they know they can be heard, through their choice of channels. Writing apps is one.

11.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nuclear winter Permalink to this item

Some unintended humor in Paul Kane's piece in the Washington Post about the Senate's latest acrimony and the chance that it will change a rule or two. His lede has "the Senate hurtling toward a climatic showdown," and I suppose the missing "c" will get fixed, and leave us to chortle at the image of the U.S. Senate "hurtling" to anything. Sad sack Mitch McConnell says

"My friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader in the Senate ever," McConnell said, frostily. "It makes me sad."

Because... he was hoping for first place for himself? Anyway, the hurtle is:

"[Majority leader Harry] Reid's announcement that he would set in motion a process to change the Senate's rules to make it easier to vote on Obama administration nominees that have been blocked by GOP filibusters."

In the greatest deliberative body, any motion whatsoever amounts to hurtling. But as described, it sounds so easy: a simple majority vote to change the rules to allow a simple majority to confirm nominees. The Republicans have stalled those for secretary of labor, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Export-Import Bank, and several members of the National Labor Relations Board. Sabotage by decapitation, if you will.

The idea of changing the rules with a simple majority runs against precedent, but apparently not any rules. It's the "nuclear option" because should the minority become the majority, it will be payback time, which in Harry Reid's case could be literally nuclear: Kane notes that that might include reviving the program for a waste respository in Yucca Mountain in Nevada which Reid has so tenaciously blocked.

The threats and brinksmanship may yet break the logjam without going nuclear, with "one last-gasp effort at civility" set for Monday evening, in the form of a caucus of the entire Senate scheduled in the Old Senate Chamber. We shall see.

About that landline out in the country Permalink to this item

Ok, this is electric, but such a nice photo For the most part, I don't pay a lot of attention to our monthly phone bills, although the price creeping up caught my eye at some point and I whipped up a spreadsheet of our Qwest/CenturyLink billing history, because it's far too complicated to see what the hell is going on just by looking at the far too complicated monthly statements, even if it weren't the case that we have TV, internet and phone bundled up.

The "Taxes, Fees & Surcharges" section involves eleven different line items, ranging from a few cents to a couple bucks. Never mind the two "bundle savings" credits, there is Federal Excise 3%, 911, ID Universal Service Fund, Federal USF, Telephone Assistance Program and Facility Relocation Cost Recovery Fee for "Local" service, and then Federal USF, Fed Telecom Relay Service and Idaho Universal Service Fund for long distance.

Let's talk about just one pair of those, how the Universal Service Fund is redistributing $billions as detailed by a study that the Americans for Generational Equity commissioned. A 16% tax worth $9 billion in the first half of 2013, earmarked "to extend networks." (Last I checked, the two USF lines were more than 60% of the "taxes, fees and surcharges," and 7% of the total we pay for phone services.)

"USF expenditures—about $110 billion (in 2013 dollars) since 1998, of which $64 billion went for telephone carrier subsidies—extending voice services to, at most, one-half of one percent of U.S. households. This generous estimate of about 600,000 residences implies a cost-per-home of $106,000, just counting the federal carrier subsidies. ... Some carriers receive more than $10,000 per line per year to support voice service."

The FCC protests that hey, it's been fixed, we now have a cap (being phased in) on the subsidy of only $3,000 per line. $250 a month, you say? That should buy you some nice phone service, I would think. But maybe not:

"Even with subsidized lines, subscribers typically pay $400 a year or more just for voice service." That's in spite of the authors' observation that "satellite voice-and-broadband service is offered to virtually every U.S. household for $600 a year."

10.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Guaranteed plan Permalink to this item

One of the leading architects of failure in the House declares that "if we don't to it right politically it's going to be the death of the Republican Party," so there you go. Our local columnist gave Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador's point of view first, but what I saw first in the news was that conservative opinionater David Brooks said he had "rarely seen as intellectually a weak case" as the Congressman made.

Whatever Labrador's intellectual prowess (to say nothing of his loose habit with fact-like substances), he seems to want most of all to be in front of a camera, and a "leader." Leadership in the G.O.P. has been mostly about symbolism and obstruction, so perhaps this is his ticket to even greater nothingness than he has already produced.

His background as an immigration lawyer makes him think he has a claim to the territory, but he does not play well with others. He seems to have never met a compromise he could accept, and I suppose many or even most of his constituents are fine with that. A "do nothing" Congress is assumed to be the best of all possible worlds.

It may be that $40 billion or so of pork for the ever-popular "increased security" to keep Mexicans out can buy enough votes from the rest of the House to get something—anything—as far as a conference committee. But if it fails, Labrador will sure to be in the vanguard of those who deserve full credit.

9.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Science marches on Permalink to this item

Although it turns out a slow chant will bring out the greatest synchrony in choristers' heart rhythms. For as many decades as I've been singing in groups it didn't occur to me to think about synchronizing our heartbeats. The breathing is obvious enough, given the regular instruction when and where (unless we're staggering). But the heart follows the breath, and I dare say the mind follows the heart.

According to the BBC report, the researchers in Sweden "now want to investigate whether singing could have an impact on our health."

"We speculate that it is possible singing could also be beneficial."

That hedging makes me wonder if they've actually tried it themselves, or if this is just an academic exercise.

While "researching" my blog post, I came across this gem, a U2 song I don't remember: Two Hearts Beat as One. Not so much choral, but there's Bono, singin' away, 30 years ago. Woah. Back when mullets were in.

Help me help you Permalink to this item

The spam o' the day (at least according to my current filtration), subject "I just reviewed your website" which makes me think "did you now?" and then just a little curious about which one he might have stumbled upon, given how many I have a hand in.

It's addressed to my good old fortboise.org address, so this one here, that I've been accreting to for more than a dozen years? The body:

"I took a quick look at your organization's website and although it's a nice site, I was wondering if there was more to it?"

Not exactly the Dale Carnegie approach, but lots of his target audience probably have feelings of inadequacy.

"I can build you a brand new custom website with a set of tools specifically designed to help your organization raise more money and achieve success. This service is only $9.95 a month and does not include any other fees whatsoever. As you may know having a basic website is the absolute minimum requirement. You also need effective tools that are designed to help you generate revenue, cut cost and increase productivity."

nonprofit web consultant's site $10 a month, shaDAMN! No wonder his sig says he's a "Nonprofit Web Consultant."

It didn't look much like phishing though, because there's no payload; the only hook is the reply address, which I assume is good. I took a look at the domain it pointed to... but shucks, it's Under Construction.

6.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Perjury is still a crime, is it not? Permalink to this item

Top US officials have been deceitfully concealing a massive, worldwide spying apparatus being constructed with virtually no accountability or oversight.

So far, it seems that Congress is willing to overlook the outright lie by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he answered Sen. Ron Wyden's question, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" with "No, sir." In lawyerly fashion, Wyden might well have known the true answer, but "national security" has put Secret in front of True, and kept Wyden from saying all he knows. Glenn Greenwald:

"That Clapper fundamentally misled Congress is beyond dispute. The DNI himself has now been forced by our stories to admit that his statement was, in his words, 'clearly erroneous' and to apologize. But he did this only once our front-page revelations forced him to do so: in other words, what he's sorry about is that he got caught lying to the Senate. And as Salon's David Sirota adeptly documented on Friday, Clapper is still spouting falsehoods as he apologizes and attempts to explain why he did it."

Our DNI is not the only one lying to Congress and the American people. Multiple "senior US officials" have made statements now proven false by Greenwald's reporting and Edward Snowden's disclosures.

Idaho's last great Senator, Frank Church saw this coming: it's a rerun.

"Between 1975 and 1976, the Church committees produced more than a dozen reports detailing the illegal activities of the NSA, CIA, and FBI, which included opening mail, intercepting telegrams, planting bugs, wiretapping, and attempting to break up marriages, foment rivalries and destroy careers of private citizens...."

In the final committee report, he said the NSA "could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left."

"Nearly forty years after Church, the NSA has grown to three times the size of the CIA. Partly in response to the gross intelligence failures of the years leading up to September 11, 2001, the physical infrastructure of surveillance has metastasized. In the Utah desert, the government is finishing construction on a massive data center—essentially a $2 billion external hard drive—that Bamford reports will use as much energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined."

And from the New Yorker, What It's Like to Get a National-Security Letter:

"[Maria Bustillos] spoke with Brewster Kahle, the founder of the nonprofit Internet Archive, perhaps the greatest of our digital libraries, and of the Wayback Machine, which allows you to browse an archive of the Web that reaches back to 1996. He is one of very few people in the United States who can talk about receiving a national-security letter. These letters are one of the ways government agencies, in particular the F.B.I., can demand data from organizations in matters related to national security. They do not require prior approval from a judge, only the assertion that the information demanded is relevant to a national-security investigation. Recipients of a national-security letter typically are not allowed to disclose it."

We just need a way for everyone to check in, with an answer to the question, "have you received a National Security Letter?"

No
I'm not at liberty to say

Thanks to Marc Johnson for the link to Harper's, and his blog post on these subjects, Everything Old....

5.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bonjour messieurs! Permalink to this item

We are not exactly shocked, shocked to learn that France, too, is sweeping up data. Of course they are. It would be far more surprising if the source for that New York Times report, Le Monde, had an English version.

I can make sense of their headline at least, Révélations sur le Big Brother français, and that nice graphic showing how stuff flows to their version of a puzzle palace, "Le stockage." And of course there is someone who gets the unfortunate job to défend la légalité du dispositif pour "collectent en masse les signaux électromagnétiques émis par téléphones et ordinateurs."

(Ordinateur, you say? Ah, how they kept the computer out of their language. "Une machine électronique qui fonctionne par la lecture séquentielle d'un ensemble d'instructions qui lui font exécuter des opérations logiques et arithmétiques sur des chiffres binaires." And spying and stuff.)

4.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Air conditioner repair Permalink to this item

10 day temp graph at BOI How sweet the sound of "lows in the sixties" after the unseasonable run we just made. Ten days ago, it was cool and rainy, but good luck finding any plants in the neighborhood who remember that. Last Thursday night, the low was up around 70°F and then up, up and away: 72, 70, 76, 83, 80, while the daytime highs hit triple digits, peaking at 109 on the 1st. Hotter if you're out in the sun anywhere, near pavement, etc. Which, actually I was, 6:30pm, Monday, July 1st, at the tip top of that graph, playing a tennis match, and putting myself at the edge of thermal breakdown. (I survived, and won, handily; managing coolant, electrolytes and effort carefully.)

For more nights in a row than I can remember ever doing here, we kept the windows closed and the circulating fan going, the a/c on thermostat. But last night, by midnight, the temperature gradient was palpable, and we opened up to the world again, "as usual." Tonight's forecast low 62°F, and touching the fifties on Friday and Saturday. Lovely.

3.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If not repeal, why not sabotage Permalink to this item

It may not be the exactly correct explanation, but it sounds pretty close to a working approximation. From Robert Reich's Facebook presence:

"The official reason given by the Administration for delaying, by one year, Obamacare's mandate that employers with more than 50 full-time workers provide insurance coverage or face fines is employers need more time to implement it. The unofficial reason is the Republicans' incessant efforts to bulldoze the law—fighting it through the courts, refusing to appropriate enough funds to implement it, holding ongoing votes in the House to repeal it, and organizing Republican-led states to undermine it. The GOP's gleeful reaction to the announced delay confirms it will make repeal a campaign issue for the third straight election cycle, which probably contributed to the White House decision to postpone the employer mandate until after the midterms. 'The fact remains that Obamacare needs to be repealed,' said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, on hearing the news.

"Technically, postponement won't affect other major provisions of the law (although it may be difficult to subsidize workers who don't get employer-based insurance if employers don't report on the coverage they provide), but it's a bad omen. The longer the act is delayed, the more time Republicans have to demonize it before average Americans receive its benefits. The GOP raged against Social Security in 1935 and made war on Medicare in 1965, but in each case Americans soon realized how important they were to their economic security."

Just between you, the Postal Service and a lamppost Permalink to this item

If you haven't had enough surprises about metadata yet, here comes one more: the U.S. Postal Service photographs the exterior of every piece of paper mail that it processes—about 160 billion pieces last year—in its "Mail Isolation Control and Tracking" program.

That's more than 5,000 images per second. And if anyone in law enforcement has a notion to tap into the database, it's easy-peasy:

"You don't have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form."

Just in time for the 4th Permalink to this item

The current cover photo from her FB page Is there a more beautiful symbol for our country than the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor? Nothing springs to mind the way she does, with the added thought of Emma Lazarus' poem giving a thrill.

The climb up inside was one of the highlights of the one and only time I've been to New York, and I'm happy for the many people lucky enough to experience that tomorrow. (If you don't have your booking yet, sorry: they're full up into the middle of next week.)

It was a gift, remember, from our friends in France, back when we were friends with the French. She looks back from whence she came, standing as a beacon to those who would follow. (She's keeping up with the times, too: the NPS FAQ tells us she has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a Flikr photostream.)

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. ...

This is war Permalink to this item

The RSC is apoplectic, as usual. Let me boil down the introduction for you:

President Obama War
assault bullying
radical regulations
shut down
radical regulations
rewarding special interest groups
shut down fossil fuel production
radical agenda
job-killing regulations
liberal tax, regulate, and spend agenda

But wait, there's more!

The Supreme Court! You thought the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was something recent, but overturning it was a decision "to reverse thousands of years of tradition." The blasted

strong judicial activism
unelected judges
commandeer the will of millions of voters

don't you know. The punchline of "a new level of uncertainty" isn't quite as alarming as war assault bullying radical job-killing liberal radical regulations killing bullying assault Obama, but still.

And one last thing from Steve Scalise and his House Republican Study Committee, the heartfelt closing:

"God Bless"

2.July 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Don't call us, we won't call you Permalink to this item

Just as I suppose most homeowners don't do, I didn't think about maintenance on the A/C unit until it was time to fire it up a couple days ago. When we first got the thing, I could see the open-to-the-sky design of the condenser/cooling unit had an obvious flaw: stuff would fall into it. We have a yard full of "stuff," including a dozen mature trees, several of which like to drop things throughout the year. I asked the installers if there was a cover accessory and they said not that they knew about, but ah sure, that might be a good idea.

First year, we were on the "one year free maintenance" thing, and they dilligently came out early season and took care of all that. I didn't watch, but now wish I had. Given years—decades, in fact—of maintenance and trouble-free operation of our last unit, I didn't feel motivated to pay money year over year for the professional deal.

The Amana SSX16 Distinctions® unit is functionally straightforward: heat exchanger coils on four sides and a top-mounted fan to pull in through them and exhaust it up. No user access that's obvious, no hint of how to maintain in any of the literature that came with it, or on the Amana website. I understand that the fins on the heat exchanger coils are delicate. I'll be careful, I promise.

But after satisfying myself that their website was going to be no help unless I wanted a glossy brochure to share with a friend, I used the "contact us" to send a note about what I was looking for, "information of how to clean out leaves and debris from the unit."

I didn't expect much, looked one more time for any sort of obvious means for maintenance access without major disassembly, turned off the power to it and gave the thing a quick rinse with the hose, figuring it had to at least provide for liquid drainage. That left a sodden pile of leaves in the bottom instead of just a pile of leaves. Then it was time to turn it on and use it for three days is it now? And more to come. It worked fine, it's working fine, but the debris nags at me.

The auto-response acknowledgement to my form submit came from a third-party that apparently handles their website, and can't be bothered to make that look professional and properly branded. It was quick, but wholly uninformative.

This evening, the longer form response came in, from Michelle somebody with what looks like a good email address @goodmanmfg.com (which bought the Amana brand name, and started putting it on their own equipment in lieu of an actual upgrade), but that annoying footer boilerplate:

"Please do not reply to this message. Replies to this message are routed to an unmonitored mailbox. If you have questions or desire additional assistance, call"

blah blah blah at our convenience, not yours. Above that, the useful part of the answer was that

"The leaves and debris can only be removed from the top of the unit. Goodman recommends that any maintenance on your condensing unit be done by a licensed HVAC professional."

Who, guess what, even if I can look them up with your help, are really, really busy right now, and might get back to me in a couple weeks or a month or two if I tell them my unit is working fine but seems a little messy.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 06-Aug-2013 12:20:15 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/201307.html