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unraveling

30.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Russ Fulcher's signature issue Permalink to this item

It's not easy to tease apart fundamental ideology from most favored tactic, but when it comes for Russ Fulcher's right-lurching bid to take the title of Governor away from two-termer C.L. "Butch" Otter, we might as well take him at his word that running against Obamacare is top of his list. We don't have to care whether his antipathy is based on the Affordable Care Act's particulars, or Otter's having helped Idaho to get its own healthcare insurance exchange started, or both.

Moss on cedar fence

We do very much have to care if his Where the Candidates Stand diatribe is actually persuasive to more than the most extreme citizens of the state. Fulcher diverges from fact to fantasy in imagining that Idaho is "the only Republican-controlled state in the country to implement the president's health care law," as if the law were magically unimplemented anywhere Republicans get to say so.

Otter and his fellow travelers from far-right to near-right have agreed so far that dragging their feet on Medicaid reform and expansion is the right thing to do, from last year, to this, keeping the legislative session smoothest and near-shortest (leaving as much time as possible for primary campaigning) by pushing it off to "study," maybe next year, and never mind how many tens of thousands of people will be left without coverage. (The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated it would be 54,780 in Idaho, back in October.)

Fulcher would promise more of the same next year, no solutions to the problem of unaffordable health care for the most vulnerable people in our state. Incredibly, he offers this suggestion:

"[L]et's expand charity care in Idaho. Idaho has some 13 charity care clinics that provide health care services for free. Staffed with volunteers who work tirelessly, these clinics are saving taxpayers money and taking pressure off county budgets by helping people to get more regular care. Canyon County Community Clinic, for example, saved Canyon County's hospitals $630,000 last year through preventive care of diabetes patients. Better care at less cost. This is a winning combination."

That's right; let's have more healthcare professionals work for free—and tirelessly!—so that the rest of us can save money.

Oh, and less regulation will help: "Idaho should eliminate many of its insurance restrictions." We "can lead the nation in health care choice, competition, and security" by waving the Tea Party magic wand.

"The federal government brings nothing but rules, red tape, and costs. They create uncertainty for Idahoans, making our people wonder if they'll keep their insurance, and, if they do, what it will cost."

Commenter Jeremiah Lynch pointed out three of those damned federal rules:

29.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

My success story is a bit checkered Permalink to this item

The steady flow of reminders and/or warnings about the March 31 deadline that never applied to me are still coming in, for a couple more days, presumably. (Will they give up on April 1? Or has there been an extension and/or waiver that can keep it going?)

The first one this morning was from "The HealthCare.gov Team," and repeated the standard statements that don't apply to me, including

"Remember, if you don’t sign up by March 31st, you can't get covered until next year."

leaving me to wonder what virtue there is in the whole cycle of "open" and then closing enrollment. Deadlines provoke action, I understand that well enough. But forcing all the account creation, setup, and renewal activity into just PART of the year makes everthing more likely to crash and burn. You can hire support agents for short-term work... and then lay them off, and ensure that next year's crop will be inexperienced for the high-volume, high-stress push at the next annual go.

While I could keep expanding my collection of irrelevant emails, I thought what the heck, let's see if I can turn things off. Clicking upstream to "manage my subscription preferences," I'm dumped to the healthcare.gov login and on login, am reminded I have an "application" but haven't "enrolled." No hint of subscriber preferences there, or under "My Profile." Let's start by REMOVEing the application, for which I have no further use. Big splashy warnings, but OK, it did that.

Looking, looking, looking try "contact us" again, which has no email and no chat but oh, "manage subscriber preferences," there's what I want. New site, new form, provide my email address again (so, uh, anybody can change my preferences?!) and what do I have? I'm subscribed to 8 "topics," listed as

I'll keep the "For Account Holders," but flush the rest. Then it wants me to help them help me by having me answer "questions" of which there is only one on their minds: which state am I in? Healthcare.gov (among many other goverment entities) surely knows that, but govdelivery.com did not, huh.

Now for the other channel, Organizing for Action, a.k.a. my.barackobama.com which, really, shouldn't be having this conversation with me at all, but helpfully encourages (or annoyingly nags, depending on your POV) and provides a link to healthcare.gov. Let's try its update path, and say "no mas!" Subscription update offers to be quiet if I already have insurance, and say "yes" and it says

THANKS!
Congrats on enrolling thorugh the health care marketplace.
Click here to share your success story.

I can give them my first and last name and email and ZIP and a link to a video or photo (recommended) or type my story here (minimum of 20 words required). I had more to say though, and didn't care to fill in another form, or read the Terms of Submission, so here.

28.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not the civil war I was expecting Permalink to this item

Richard A. Viguerie pioneered political direct mail, according to himself, and the footer he keeps appending to his press releases coming out of ConservativeHQ.com. It's a claim to fame, but fame is fleeting, and there isn't a lot of talk about "direct mail" these days, even though we still get some.

(Today's was from "Club for Growth Action" and was not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee, but you don't have to be a nuclear engineer to figure out that (a) they really don't like Representative Mike Simpson, and (b) they are bat-shit crazy, but maybe crazy like a bat out of hell to associate the word "Liberal" with the candidate they hope to defeat in the May primary. But I digress.)

Orache after rain

Anyway, Viguerie also likes to quote The Nation having once called him "one of the creators of the modern conservative movement" and the Washington Times having called him one of the "conservatives of the century." Which century? He doesn't say. Which Times? The one its founder, Sun Myung Moon promised would become "the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world." Not that Viguerie imagines himself godlike. Probably just an angel.

ANYway, here he is, firing for effect:

"Republican Congressional leaders, less than three hundred miles from Fort Sumter where the Confederates fired on the federal government and launched a horrific four-year American Civil War, are meeting to declare a civil war against conservatives who are the base of the Republican Party."

Presumably Viguerie would like anybody-but-Simpson and whoever it is the Club for Growth and Tea Party types would like, to advance "the core values" of "limited-government, fidelity to the constitution, lower taxes, balanced budget, significantly reducing the size, scope and reach of the federal government."

He would not like "candidates receiving support from the Ruling Class, Crony Capitalists such as Karl Rove, John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell," or those named individuals.

Combining castigation with celebration, he takes some pleasure in the weekend meeting at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida and the planning strategizing to raise money and defeat the likes of whom he likes, as

"proof positive that the Republican Establishment thinks the Tea Party is alive, strong, and a major threat to their existence."

Down with the establishment, baby!

And if you happen to be a member of the establishment headed across the Georgia-Florida line for the weekend, let me recommend Sara for America's Top Ten Things to Do on Amelia Island While Planning to Crush & Beat the Snot out of Conservatives.

25.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What's my deadline? Permalink to this item

Pretty much all the news about the new health care law, the rollout of the health care insurance exchanges, the requirements put upon (or waivers granted) on employers and individuals have been based on the assumption of calendar year insurance policies. For "historical reasons," my insurance fiscal year has been running May 1 to April 30, and most of the date-related news hasn't applied to my case.

It's been good to be some months back from the bleeding edge; when Healthcare.gov was being deemed a "disaster" by its critics, I was free to consider it merely "unfortunately not ready for prime-time." I did get in and exercise the "application" front-end of the process, which worked about as well as it could, given that it requires predicting what for me is rather unpredictable, future income.

Then while "you can keep your insurance" was sorted out, and ultimately revised at least for a while, I was able to wait and see... that actually, I could keep my insurance, even though it "may not be" compliant with the Affordable Care Act as the letter my insurance company sent me in January said. There was a long list of particulars, and no specifics about whether or how it fell short, but when it came down to the overview chart of what was and wasn't covered, with what deductibles, co-pays and "co-insurance," my old, non-compliant policy looked as good or better than the alternative Regence compared it to.

And the premium was way cheaper. It's up "only" 15% for my new year, but as compared to up 100%-ish for an ACA policy.

Even though the March 31 deadline wasn't my deadline, Healthcare.gov was sending "last minute" reminders, and I was encouraged to (1) call the feds and get confirmation that it didn't apply to me, and (2) call Regence to sort through my options before deciding whether I wanted to shop further.

So what do you know? I like my insurance, and I get to keep my insurance. At least until December 31, and who knows, maybe until April 30, 2014.

23.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Play money Permalink to this item

Call me old-fashioned, but not real old-fashioned. I'm ok with Federal Reserve Notes, but don't feel the need for gold (or silver) backed currency. So the whole Bitcoin business is entertaining, but not something that has any financial bearing on my monetary exchanges. I didn't suppose the recent troubles spelled the end of it, even as they certainly will encourage many people to keep staying away.

Mt. Gox blew up... and then a while later found a quarter in another pair of pants. Or just under a quarter:

"In its statement from its chief executive, Mark Karpeles, the company said that after it filed for bankruptcy, it began researching the wallets that were used before June 2011. That, the company said, is when it discovered the coins, which represent about 24 percent of the coins that were missing when the site failed.

"Last month, Mt. Gox said it had lost 750,000 of its Bitcoin customers’ holdings and more than 100,000 of its own coins — essentially its entire stock of Bitcoin, worth more than $450 million. The found coins are worth about $116 million based on today’s rate of $578, according to the online Bitcoin index CoinDesk."

Maybe they just overestimated their losses.

And here's a fun fact I did not know: "At its peak, Mt. Gox handled about 80 percent of all Bitcoin transactions," before it began losing market share to "more sophisticated foreign exchanges like BTC-e, based in Bulgaria, and Bitstamp, in Slovenia, last year." I imagine Bulgaria and Slovenia are nice places, but I don't think they carry as much full faith and credit as the home of the greenbacks. At least not where I live.

21.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tools for radicals Permalink to this item

Apparently some folks were upset by the idea that Microsoft would dig through a hotmail user's account to look for evidence of criminal activity, because... email is supposed to be super-secret, or something. It can't be confusing a hotmail user with a "customer," because if you're getting your service for free, you're not quite that, are you?

Assuming the Seattle P-I piece covers the facts in general outline, I'm not seeing cause for indignation. Mr. K. divulges company trade secrets to Mr. B., and then Mr. B. hopes to get a company insider to authenticate the stolen bits, but Ms. M reports the breach to higher-ups instead.

Mr. B.'s use of hotmail (with an insufficient attempt at concealing his identity) combined careless, chutzpah and stupid in some measure, violates the Terms of Service a few ways to Sunday, and, yeah, got Mr. K. caught. Mr. B. makes a pretty good case for conspiracy, too:

“I would leak enterprise today probably,” Kibkalo told the blogger during an Aug. 2, 2012 exchange, according to charging papers.

“Hmm,” the blogger replied. “Are you sure you want to do that? Lol.”

Told the leak would be “pretty illegal,” Kibkalo is alleged to have responded “I know :)”

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mixed messages Permalink to this item

Ad via MileagePlus caught my eye, "LifeLock" identity protection. Also catching my eye was the alt text under their image that didn't load:

"LifeLock(R) Relenylessly Protecting Your Identity"

Where, um, our business is attention to defail.

Other than that, sounds like an attractive service for at least everyone who's been hacked already. Several pages more, and I see they're looking for $22.50/month for the "Ultimate" or $9 for the "Lame-o" service. (No, they didn't actually call it that... just plain LifeLock®.) 10% off and some Award Miles for the United promo code, with a dense block of tiny gray print behind two asterisks, because it's comprehensive, don't you know.

The alternate service from the malware community could be named "Free to Be... You and Me" which is of course taken, but not like that would stop them, right?

19.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The money pit Permalink to this item

All I know about the DBSI bankruptcy is what I've read in the papers, and I'm not sure I followed all that, but the feature blaring on Sunday's front page was a heck of a read. Never mind the small supporting businesses—and the city of Boise—who got sucked into the vortex of more than a thousand people doing business with the company, not getting paid, and now facing demands for their trouble. With 22,000 claims looking for $102 billion—an average closer to $5 million than 4—and a company with a tiny fraction of that in real estate assets, there is going to be a lot of disappointment.

Sorting out the company's finances has been difficult, federal bankruptcy Judge Peter J. Walsh said in court documents. Company funds were commingled among hundreds of DBSI entities, creating a "hopeless tangle," he said.

"The ledgers maintained by the various DBSI entities reflect transactions of staggering complexity," Walsh wrote in one court opinion. "Yet, those ledgers do not provide a reliable guide because the actual movement of funds was frequently quite different than what was recorded."

Hopeless tangle of staggering complexity with ledgers that don't actually follow the money... there may even be some lawyers who won't get paid out of this.

I have no idea where what started as a sort of family real estate investment went south, but the "guaranteed returns of 6% annually for shopping centers and 7% for office buildings" is one of the red flags. Life and real estate don't have that kind of guarantee, and years before the bubble burst, things weren't adding up. The one sentence in the "Early Years" section that caught my eye for its impenetrability was this:

"The company made money from the sale of investments, from management fees and from profits generated after investors recouped their investments."

Selling investments doesn't "make" money; it's an exchange of assets. Investors pony up cash in exchange for something, and the company has the liability to go with the cash.

How the 89 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering play out will be a challenge for the courts, unraveling that hopeless tangle.

17.Mar.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gen Mobile, meet malware Permalink to this item

Boise River slough, March, 2014

Mihajlo Prerad, "International Sales Professional" has an interesting post on LinkedIn, with very nice infographics, starting with the classic London Subway Map theme (and a gratuitious river Thames?) charting 10 years of mobile malware, from the "first worm affecting Symbian Series 60 phones" (wha?) to a fake banking app crossing the "Android debugging bridge" from an infected PC.

"Android is the most targeted OS (which is not any news, as Android is holding more than 70% of the market share) ... [and] is responsible for almost 99% of all mobile malware, as published by both Cisco and Kaspersky Labs."

To the victor belong the, um, spoils.

Turning on my first Android device the other day, I was struck by the start-up wiring to gmail, and thence Google, the same sort of way Apple o/s devices tie you to Steve Jobs' mother ship. The marketing and intelligence dossier those corporate juggernauts collect on their customers are more benign, we hope. The less benign things are diagrammed (in the Sophos Mobile Security Threat Report) under headings of "surveillance, impersonation, data theft, financial and botnet activity," which I guess are the usual suspects. This possibly arresting fact: "82% of the apps track you."

Maybe the tracking has a purpose useful to you, for getting directions, are finding out where the nearest sushi restaurant is. But even if what's tracked is "just" metadata, it's amply personal. A modest study with voluntary, crowdsourced data from 546 participants over several months provides some cautionary tales; check out the "Pattern Results" just before the conclusion.

Beyond hand-wringing, what to do? The short list starts with using a password or PIN, and putting a "Mobile Security" app at the top of your shopping list.

Multinational Permalink to this item

Leading with "Navy Seals" is an attention-grabbing headline, news from the BBC in Africa that they boarded the rogue Libya oil tanker "Morning Glory" and took control, with no one being hurt. So that seems good. It's the first I've heard of there being a rogue oil tanker, and if anyone has sorted out the rival factions in post-Gaddafi Libya, I didn't see that story, either. The Libyan government National Oil company owned the oil, the vessel "was said to have been operated by an Egyptian company" and had been flying a North Korean flag before the trouble started. Those colors ran: "officials in Pyongyang said it had been deregistered because of the incident."

"The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says the US move is likely to act as a deterrent to any further attempts to illicitly buy oil from the rebel-controlled ports."

Oh here we go: Guide to key Libyan militias and other armed groups. Eight "state-affiliated" bodies, and seven "key militias." Shorter:

"Libya continues to suffer from a chronic absence of security and law and order, with almost daily assassinations, bombings and kidnappings, in addition to a plethora of common crimes."

16.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All in the family Permalink to this item

Following up on the Consumers Union-Trader Joe's-antibiotics in livestock story, some pushback from a veterinian with 33 years' experience working on Idaho dairies in last Thursday's letters. Opening with "shame," and an accusation of "grandiose false statements," Carl Woodburn proceeds to redefine the problem away:

"There are no 'industrial farms,' just large family ones."

Idaho may be famous for potatoes, but it's been more dairy state since 1997. The number of dairies continues to drop while the number of milk cows go up, making the "large family farms" ever-larger. A study by Dr. Don Holley and John Church covered roughly the same period as Woodburn's career, during which annual milk production in Idaho has increased by well over 500%. We're now #3, behind California and Wisconsin, and more than half a million dairy cows call Idaho home.

CU's campaign is not about the dairy industry though; it's about livestock raised for direct human consumption. And contrary to the good doctor's peremptory claim, "sub-therapeutic" use of antibiotics has been a routine part of the livestock industry for a long time. Woodburn doesn't know how routine any more than we do: the large families behind the industry don't publicize their use, and we're left to infer what we can from other sources. One such inference is that "15-17 million pounds of antibiotics [are] used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year."

Ides.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's not just those people Permalink to this item

It's everyone. Paul Ryan checked his transcript (on moralizing gadfly William Bennett's radio show, no less) and declared "it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole."

There's a valid point in there somewhere, but the wide scope of his hand-waving is yes, somewhat distracting. Calling for "integrat[ing] people into our communities" is also an interesting idea coming from someone who represents southeastern Wisconsin and works in Washington D.C.

As justification for continued promotion of the supposed panacea of cutting taxes and government, it's also self-serving and disingenuous. But the road to walking back his inarticulativity goes through the Congressional Black Caucus, so there's a step toward integration right there.

After that, it might be time to hit the left coast beach and catch up the new version of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen: the California surfer dude who's been lighting up Fox News for having the temerity of selecting tasty seafood with his food stamps. Arthur Delaney and Zach Carter deconstruct. The beach may be a bit crowded though, because FN's Eric Bolling assures us that the dude “is representative of literally millions of Americans.”

Update: Timothy Egan, on Paul Ryan's Amnesia:

"Ryan boasts of the Gaelic half of his ancestry, on his father’s side. “I come from Irish peasants who came over during the potato famine,” he said last year during a forum on immigration.

"BUT with a head still stuffed with college-boy mush from Ayn Rand, he apparently never did any reading about the times that prompted his ancestors to sail away from the suffering sod. Centuries of British rule that attempted to strip the Irish of their language, their religion and their land had produced a wretched peasant class, subsisting on potatoes. When blight wiped out the potatoes, at least a million Irish died — one in eight people."

12.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Beef: what's for dinner? Permalink to this item

Trader Joe's came to town, which has a lot of people excited, and Consumers Union used the occasion to promoting the idea that cattle should "just say no to drugs," with full-page ads in the Idaho Statesman, aimed at the general public, mostly, and Trader Joe's, for the free ride. In yesterday's paper, the rebuttal from "Tree Top Ranches featured cow butts, and three inch-high letters inviting the CU to BUTT OUT! Catchy. Also catchy is the top line pointing at some cows as DRUG USERS "according to Consumers Union."

Top portion of the Tree Top Ranches ad

My takeaway is that this Tree Top Ranches I never heard of before today has some money to burn, McClatchy must be well-pleased to host the "discussion," and that this weird marketing campaign needs a better ad director. You don't want to reinforce the idea you're arguing against, and saying CU called cows "drug users" does just that. Don't blame the cows of course, it's not like they're recreational users, or have any say in the matter.

What I noticed down below the "Welcome to Idaho, Trader Joe's!" with the sort of positive message "applaud[ing] Trader Joe's for being an industry leader" and "giving us options." We can buy not just "much higher priced natural & organic beef," but also, some of that "traditional" kind.

Referring to the "tradition" of raising cattle on antibiotics, really?

The DRUG USERS and the BUTT OUT and the handsome photo of three cow rear ends, the restful green ink at the bottom, and the plain paper bag with Trader Joe's logo lead to a strange call to action: they want me to call Trader Joe's (at the 800 number shown) to thank them for giving Idaho choices.

Not much about who the "we" in the ad is. A ranch doesn't need web marketing that much, but we understand from Kentucky Derby dot com that at least part of Larry and Marianne Williams' business is raising thoroughbred horses, and that they're "longtime supporters of Boise State University."

They've bought a web ad on the side of the Feb. 25 Idaho Statesman story prompted by the full-page ad from Consumers Union, with a link to their full-page ad (as a PDF, which I have to say is more vivid on my monitor than the ink-on-newsprint version).

If you're happy with your "choice" to take whatever the ag industry serves up and want to call Trader Joe's, well, you can have a gander at the Williams' ad. Or call 800 221-2063 to tell Trader Joe's whatever you like. If you can believe @GetJoeOffDrugs you could be the millionth caller, one way or the other.

If you'd like to learn more about the issue before you jump on Tree Top's bandwagon and make that call, the Consumers Union is more forthcoming about their campaign to curb the major public health crisis we're inviting by the industrial use of antibiotics, feeding 80% of all antibiotics sold in the US to livestock. Following CU's link to the Food and Drug Administration site, I see that the program for phasing out certain antibiotic use in farm animals is a voluntary plan. That's the "fastest, most efficient way to make these changes." If they do actually get volunteers.

9.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Donna and Kim and Lawerence and Mitch Permalink to this item

Cynthia Sewell has a nice feature in today's Idaho Statesman with a curious inside look into the state employment of the wives of two candidates for Idaho's Secretary of State. It seems Mrs. Toryanski and Mrs. Denney crossed paths at the Idaho Commission on Aging, and when Denney left in a reorganization at the end of 2010, she left behind evidence that she'd been moonlighting in her office. The computer forensics expert Toryanski hired to investigate didn't pan out because the ICOA had wiped the computer's HD in the process of updating the o/s, whoops, in spite of the Department of Administration and other governments being advised by the ISP "over the course of many years to hold out the hard drives of employees that had left state employ for at least one year," just in case.

But "non-forensic analysis" apparently sufficed to turn up invoices accounting for Denney's "time worked for MyStateUSA from October 2003 through April 2006" and "timesheet accounts for daily hours worked" during January 2008, all while she had a job with the state. Sewell says the investigator

concluded that Denney was working for My State USA while working for the aging commission: “Donna Denney’s Internet history, emails, and document attachments show she conducted My State USA business during work hours for the Commission on Aging.”

He said Denney had accessed her My State USA email account from her state–owned computer, and he found more than 200 emails sent from Denney’s state account to My State USA founder Claudia Bitner, as well as 150 emails Bitner sent to Denney’s state account.

Not that there's, um, anything criminally wrong with that, since there was no policy against moonlighting, and we don't have a law against "theft of time" just yet. (The legislature is still in session though!) And ok, the invoice from “Denney Consulting and Contracting” in Midvale is not criminal, even if that sole proprietorship doesn't have to register with the state.

It sure is some sloppy desk cleaning, though.

Sewell gave the Denneys' attorney (and former Lt. Governor) David Leroy the last word, just a little innuendo to say goodbye, rebutting Mitch Toryanski's speculation that the discussion of conflicts of interest “will likely increase public interest in the secretary of state’s duty to oversee and enforce document recording laws and campaign finance disclosure laws.”

Leroy suggested rephrasing the question: “Will the Idaho Statesman allow itself to be drawn into a series of articles two months before a primary wherein it makes or repeats disproved claims about a prominent candidate’s family member instead of headlining the timing, source and objectives of those who advance ‘unfounded’ attacks?”

It doesn't seem that "disproved" means what Leroy pretends to think it means. Mrs. Denney left the factual evidence of her work for another company, using state computer equipment there in the state's office and on the state's computer when she left.

While the doings of Mrs. Denney don't necessarily have to do with Mr. Denney, the fellow who's running for Secretary of State, it's one more sketchy page in Lawerence's dossier. The Republicans in the House gave him a go and then decided he was not what they wanted for Speaker. It's not clear why the people of Idaho should see him qualified to be their next Secretary of State, especially given that "Idaho has a tradition of electing secretaries of state with reputations of integrity, evenhandedness and nonpartisanship," as Sewell put it.

Claudia Bitner's business in what, it's not made exactly clear, was founded in 1999 as Idaho Internet Associates, Inc., then MyState USA, Inc. in 2007 (with 50,000,000 shares of common voting stock authorized, dressed for success), then whoops, a month later make it MyStateUSA, Inc. and just last month make it "AlertSense, Inc." with offices in D.C., New York, Alabama, New Jersey, Idaho and Washington, and its "CEO and COB" with a D.C. address. Business seems to be picking up nicely.

8.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Victims Permalink to this item

Rachel Held Evans, on the recent attempts to legislate in favor of some who imagine themselves persecuted: Walking the second mile: Jesus, Discrimination and "Religious Freedom." The title and the small image of Carl Heinrich Bloch's painting of the Sermon on the Mount took me back to the most remarkable experience of a painting I've ever had, in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. We had of course been to the Hermitage and been overwhelmed by the collection of European art there, but our afternoon in the Russian Museum was more memorable for the chance to discover the richness in less well-known art from east of Europe, and for one painting, in particular.

Fragment of photo of Polenov's painting

Time may stand still for its portrait to be painted, a moment as if in amber, dust slowly layering atop it for subsequent eternity. But sitting across the crowded gallery from Vasily Polenov's masterpiece, "Christ and the Adulteress," my spirit flew across time and space and I sat there in the shade of the stone wall and cypress, avoiding the heat of the day, experiencing the mob rushing toward us, the demand for punishment, the young woman facing death, and I was part of the strangely unmoved circle around the young man with the small stick, on that day, the still afternoon shattered by blood-thirstiness, these two stories meeting as a crashing wave against unmoving rock, transfixed by this man who was turning away the evil of men's hearts—if only for a moment, but here as I witnessed that moment—with a clever word, this impossible threshold for judging another.

The painting was auctioned "for a fortune" I'm sad to see, 12 years after that afternoon I was in it. Wikipaintings has as good a version as can be rendered in pixels perhaps, 2.7Mpx, but even at that a dim fascsimile of 50+ square feet of meticulous painting.

A further parallel to be drawn from it changing hands for £4M, in these years following the many successful efforts to turn evangelical believers into a political force by creating a sense of "perpetual victimhood," part of a group that has "become known for crying “persecution!” upon being wished “Happy Holidays” by a store clerk." The deep irony is that this sense of "persecution" is being fostered by the basest commercial interests. Evans' rebuttal, with her emphasis:

"As Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death.

"So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people."

6.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All aboard Permalink to this item

Union Pacific excursion train and live steam in Boise, 2005

Growing up steeped in model railroading, I never had much time for Lionel "toys" because they seemed too big, too clunky, and that ridiculous third rail that didn't exist in the real world of trains I could see for myself, just down at the end of the street. Or maybe it was that we didn't have all the pieces to put something together that would run. But either kind is a fantasy, and perhaps a strong enough dash of verisimilitude is enough to provide a springboard for the imagination.

I'd read about Neil Young and Lionel Trains somewhere along the line, but without the real-live (or fake-live, I guess) benefit of this bit of creative filmmaking from 2006: It's a Fake. That would be "Clyde Coil" with the memorable "Dang!" The script's as corny as Kansas in August, but never mind that. The miniature camera technology and audio editing are a world of fun. It's a delightful train ride of fantasy and the fakeness doesn't hurt it a bit.

Thanks to Walthers Trains on Facebook for this (via CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision).

"He's taking the Fifth, Elijah" Permalink to this item

That was "off camera" and Elijah had had his microphone cut off, but glory hallelujah, it's not so easy as that to stop someone from having his say in the internet age. Media Matters picks it up where the grandstanding chairman of the House Oversight Committee tried to leave it off, when his attempt to make more than the facts supported of the IRS "scandal" found itself up a blind alley and down a dry well.

CUMMINGS: "He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox. He refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this [inaudible] or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation."

It's not about oversight, or news, or investigation. Obviously.

Gamification Permalink to this item

It probably wasn't the first time I'd heard that word, but a friend showing me a language app on his iPhone that he was enthused about applied it to explain, and I understood perfectly. Learning can be fun. Maybe that explains Twitter too, a bit of a game to punch out 140 characters or less with your thumbs on a handy. I'm not completely averse to computer games, but maybe I'm getting enough of those trying to make C# and javascript and html and CSS and SQL do my bidding. The word bounced out of today's NYT item on how to electrify your traffic by Travoltifying.

“It is the gamification of content,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. “Take the same dynamics that lead games and social sharing to be addictive and use them in a way to connect to content.”

Or learning, I suppose. Or (and most importantly for the latest business models) advertising. It could be sometime silly but strangely compelling, such as an epic name-botch in the middle of a celebrity fest (that also broke Twitter and raised the hopes of pizza deliverers throughout the land), or it could be something useful.

ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs app allows users to find out if their doctor has taken money from pharmaceutical companies. It has generated seven million views since it was first posted in 2010.

5.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yes, we are projecting weakness Permalink to this item

Far be it from me to sort out the way forward on the other side of the world, but there are some interesting reads in the Washington Post just now. A gaggle of US ambassadors to Ukraine advise restraint:

"The Ukrainians should leave an opening for Putin to back down.

"First, they should continue to exercise restraint in the face of Russian aggression: Don’t shoot first. ..."

And a bunch more good ideas, none of which involve military hardware or pounding a shoe on a podium.

Dana Milibank opines on Operation Oxymoron, the Republican twist and spin from their assessment of Obama as "dictator" to namby-pamby appeaser.

"In theory, it is possible for Obama to rule domestic politics with an iron fist and yet play the 98-pound weakling in foreign affairs. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense that one person would vacillate between those two extremes. A better explanation is Obama’s critics are so convinced that he is wrong about everything that they haven’t paused to consider the consistency of their accusations."

George Will, Charles Krauthammer, John McCain, William Kristol and Lindsay Graham should have a parade. I think I strained something rolling my eyes at Will's opinion, such that I didn't even notice he blamed Obamacare for the invitation to Vlad to impale the Crimea. Thank goodness for the comment section, 1,364 and counting.

I say let's start by taking Robert Gates' advice, relayed by David Ignatius, to "cool it," starting with every Republican Senator with failed past or future presidential ambitions. You lost. Obama and Kerry "won," and it's in our best interests that they succeed. Which god almighty, ought to go without saying, but apparently does not. Ignatius gives Gates the last word:

“It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice — one American voice — seems to have become a quaint thing of the past. I regret that enormously.”

Another golden oldie Permalink to this item

Cleaning up last year's Sent Items for archiving, I came across the photo I'd offered up for the "Share your story" part of the Boise 150 Sesquicentennial project, to go with the story Jeanette submitted, for possible inclusion in their book. She didn't make that cut, but I looked to see that yes, her story was in the collection, sans the photograph we'd offered to go with. Also sans any paragraph breaks, which are you kidding me? That was certainly not the way she composed it, and leaves it rather unreadable. I see there are other stories that are well-formatted, and have photos included, so huh.

History should be nicely formatted if nothing else, I say, so I made it so: Waiting to be Seduced by the Don by Jeanette Ross, from February 1999.

You got that right Permalink to this item

The NYT juxtaposed a "Quotation of the Day" from John Kerry and Vladimir Putin in "Today's Headlines" email, and I can't help but think of the line from the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'": what a long strange trip's it been.

"It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve."

JOHN KERRY, secretary of state, on Russia's actions in Crimea, a region in Ukraine.

It is, on the other hand, kind of historical.

4.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The red herring in Arizona Permalink to this item

The Wikipedia entry for Arizona's SB 1062 this year has a useful background synopsis of the evolution of so-called "religious freedom" legislation on the federal and state level. The apparent motivation of keeping teh gay away, and the ensuing political fallout have made a lot of news as the state legislature debated it, passed it, had three members declare they'd made a mistake, and then the governor vetoed it.

Lunaria cotyledons

What else was in there that had some, but probably not enough coverage was the attempted, remarkable (at least), and outrageous (I would say) expansion of personhood. The text of the bill that would have been Arizona law had the Governor not rejected it, where "Person" is currently declared to include "a religious assembly or institition," that legal fiction would have been expanded to include

ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY.

The existing law is about the "exercise of religion," defined as "the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."

We can only infer others' motivations and beliefs, or perhaps take their word for what those might be. Thus we would set our system of jurisprudence on a foundation of quicksand. And who shall speak for the motivation and beliefs of institutions, corporations and the like, these creatures who inhabit our brave new world?

For the corporation known as Hobby Lobby, its founder David Green appears to be the motivating force wishing to dictate to its employees what sort of health care he'll deign to support, a question that is now before the Supreme Court of the United States, in a contest between the Affordable Care Act and the so-called Religious Freedom "Restoration" Act. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. have provided an amicus brief in the case, noting that Green "essentially maintains his corporation has a soul and rights of conscience that trump the rights of conscience of his employees."

“RFRA is being invoked in this case as a license for employers to influence their female employees’ contraception choices. ...

“If Hobby Lobby can deploy RFRA to block coverage of women’s reproductive health, the next believer will argue against vaccinations, and the next against screenings for children or domestic violence screening and counseling. There is no limit to the variety of religious believers in the United States, and good reason to know that the vulnerable will pay the price. ...

“RFRA lets religious citizens rewrite any federal law they don’t like, to their benefit.”

Proponents of religion trumping law had considerable success in states after the federal RFRA was ruled inapplicable to state laws in 1997, but I have yet to see a report about what organizations might be behind the appearance of this legislation in 16 different states this year. ALEC is the most usual suspect for coordinated, bad state legislation, but they don't often fail as spectacularly at changing state laws as is happening in these cases. The misguided legislation was quashed by one or the other house of even the reddest of state legislatures, apart from Arizona's.

Timothy Egan supposes that "These new religious liberty laws grow out of the sulfurous talk radio wing that dominates the Republican Party. They get fevered over 'wars on Christianity' and then propose legislative remedies to nonexistent problems." He celebrates the "favor" Arizona did us all, by "showing who’s left on the antigay side of a culture war that is over."

Can the men and women in the black robes finish the job and establish the principle that religious and non-religious people should have the same rights and responsibilities under the law? (Thanks again to Paul Rolig for his succinct and compelling statement before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee last month.)

3.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lessons unlearned Permalink to this item

Library-borrowed books have a feature owned books don't: a deadline. Sometimes that works for me, sometimes not so much. After a generous 4-week loan, augmented with an equally generous 4-week renewal, here it is the last day and I'm trying to get through Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, and bubbling over with its interesting insights. One of them struck a chord with how strange I found Russ Fulcher's parochial takeaway from his decades of traveling the world on business (in yesterday's post):

"As it turns out, being around people and ideas unlike oneself is one of the better ways to cultivate this sense of open-mindedness and wide categories. Psychologists Charlan Nemeth and Julianne Kwan discovered that bilinguists are more creative than monolinguists—perhaps because they have to get used to the proposition that things can be viewed in several different ways. Even forty-five minutes of exposure to a different culture can boost creativity: When a group of American students was shown a slideshow about China as opposed to one about the United States, their scores on several creativity tests went up. ..."

It makes me wonder still more about Fulcher's world tour. The news in November when he announced his candidacy (leading with "shouts of 'Amen!'" no less) says he was a marketing executive for Micron and Preco.

Electronic components and "electronic industrial-safety products" don't require a great depth of cross-cultural understanding, and the laborious part of travel makes one glad to be home, and celebrating our "divinely inspired" system, "where the people are supposed to be the pinnacle of governance."

After a month's travel around Idaho to weigh a run against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Fulcher said: "We are in danger of losing that uniqueness, that specialness. Most of the people of Idaho aren't feeling like they're the pinnacle of governance right now."

Interesting pitch. "Elect me" and I will lead you all to the pinnacle. Where no government will help you afford healthcare, and our educational standards will be all our own. His inspiring Tea Party success stories are Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Idaho's own Raúl Labrador, his fellow travelers members of such upstanding groups as Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project, Ada County Militia, Oath Keepers, Idaho Open Carry, the John Birch Society.

2.March.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can I get an amen Permalink to this item

Russ Fulcher, on his run for Governor (and not letting his job in the state Senate get too much in his way), talking to a fringe group that he seems to think is most closely aligned with his own way of thinking was captured in a video posted on Daniel Howard Johnson's Facebook page, shared with the public.

Fulcher starts by celebrating "friends like this," seeming to say that he can't really be himself in most situations. He's "a farm kid" who spent 24 years traveling around the world from which he learned... "just how special we have it here." (I didn't travel the world for anywhere near 24 hours, and I like where I live, but what I learned is that we're not the only ones with good ideas.)

"This health care system that's been invited into this state is the wrong path," Fulcher said. "That's right," from the crowd, and applause. Idahoans need to control their education, too. It's a conspiracy theory!

"Another annoyance that's hanging out there," Fulcher said, to talk about his non-negotiables: our freedom of religion, our economic freedom, and our right to bear arms. Mainly it's D.C., but "there's some of that goin on right here in this state."

Guns and Ammo magazine says Idaho is the "32nd most friendly state in the nation towards gun ownership," Fulcher said. "Folks, we need to drive that number up." [applause]

He's looking for "wise counsel," especially from people who think most exactly the way he does, but he was on a schedule, and was going to have one of his staff collect Q&A after he ducked out.

"If this effort is not blessed, I don't even want the title."

The TITLE, you say? As if we were electing the Pope of Conservatism? We're talking about a JOB in PUBLIC SERVICE.

As he wound up to his conclusion, somebody in the crowd interrupted, which was strange, to declare that "The man you see before you is the same man everywhere he goes," which is even stranger, given the way this little presentation started. Pastor somebody?

"This isn't just a speech, this is the man that he is."

Fulcher wrapped it up by telling the group:

"Don't . You . Back . Down. You're standing on righteous ground."

"Sovereignty is not something you ask for, it's something you have a right to, and you take."

[Voice in the crowd: "You got that right."]

"Sovereignty means we claim the blessings we were rightfully granted, by God."

1.Mar.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Self under construction Permalink to this item

Unfortunately, I had enough command of the English language to dodge whatever requirements my alma mater imposed upon its children, and never enjoyed (or endured) the likes of John Rember's Comp as Philosophy class. The challenge was to demonstrate proficiency by writing an essay, I forget how long it was, and show that really, I didn't need to take English 103 and 104 now, did I? I don't remember what it was about, and I hope I didn't save it, but I vaguely recall a certain peevishness at the task. I took English in high school, after all. There were more interesting things to study, I was sure.

With some determination, I might find 8,000 words I'd emitted in columns for The Argonaut and consider my unguided search for authenticity as a 20-something, along with the cavernous space between how much I thought I knew and, well, what I think I know now, I guess. I'm the measure of all things, not because I'm an authority, but just because that's the way it works for all of us. There were a few letters pro and con, but no one staying up late or working over the weekend to put red ink on my work, let alone discuss the next assignment.

In the more mundane realm of engineering, I learned the truth of what Rember quotes from Joan Didion, "that she never knows what she thinks about anything until she starts putting it down on paper." I could think I had something understood from cause to effect, defect to fix to acceptable quality, but the more interesting and complicated problems didn't work that way. It wasn't until I had to write a detailed memo or report and marshall facts and an argument that the lacunae and flaws in my comprehension would become apparent. On occasion you can get lucky and stumble onto an answer that is close enough to right that it works, and move on. Most of the time you have to ask the right question and plod through the hard work of discernment before finding what matters.

Rember's capsule trajectory of modern life is a bit harsh, fired for effect, and leaving his readers to recognize that between the "enviable two-week vacations for 40 years" and "end[ing] up demented and dying in a good nursing home" there is the possibility freedom from the oppression of work may leave time for some lucid moments to bubble to the surface. (Or even in spite of a too-busy schedule? Some people do their best work under pressure, I've heard.)

Anyway. New month, a new season a-budding, and another fine essay to recommend in the Boise Weekly, especially those last four paragraphs ...

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007