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unraveling

30.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We were warned about this Permalink to this item

Hurricane Harvey is a sign for the times, an atmospheric lens for the present and our future. There is the temptation in any extreme event to search for an extreme explanation. Most of us have moved beyond the "God punishing our iniquity" explanation, but not all. It helps when a Democrat is in the White House. Also, God has some weird regional preferences, amplified by Her minions here on earth. (While we're all fixated on the Gulf Coast, 40+ million in south Asia have serious problems of their own.)

There was a piece on the radio yesterday with an interview of a woman who'd been flooded out of her home in the middle of the night. She talked about lessons learned, including that she'd always always have a "go bag" ready in the future. Life and death, right here and now focuses the attention for we survivors of evolution's contests. Life and death a month, year, decade from now get a little more sketchy in our minds.

Dartmouth Flood Observatory map of Harvey flooding

George Monbiot wants to know Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey not being asked?

"It reflects a deeply ingrained and scarcely conscious self-censorship. Reporters and editors ignore the subject because they have an instinct for avoiding trouble. To talk about climate breakdown ... is to question not only Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy—but the entire political and economic system....

"We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities is exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air.

"Before it reached the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey had been demoted from a tropical storm to a tropical wave. But as it reached the Gulf, where temperatures this month have been far above average, it was upgraded first to a tropical depression, then to a category one hurricane. It might have been expected to weaken as it approached the coast, as hurricanes churn the sea, bringing cooler waters to the surface. But the water it brought up from 100 metres and more was also unusually warm. By the time it reached land, Harvey had intensified to a category four hurricane."

Monbiot notes the "connection [that] could scarcely be more apparent" of having the storm rip through oil fields, "devastat[ing] a place in which climate breakdown is generated, and in which the policies that prevent it from being addressed are formulated." It's that slow-motion catastrophe feeling, like when you have a chemical plant that needs refrigeration to keep from blowing up, and six feet of water and no power means you can't provide it. The company expects chemicals on site to catch fire or explode within the next six days.

Never mind eighteen months' advance notice, if you don't have a specific date on your calendar, who knows, maybe you've got nothing to worry about.

Update: Vox explainer of "500-year" floods. Houston's having its third in the past three years.

What else is new? Permalink to this item

Inimitable Lee Steen stick figures

The current administration has nominated a vocal climate change denier with no scientific training to be Undersecretary for research, education, and economics at the Department of Agriculture. As the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog notes, the chief scientist "job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education." The Agricultural Research Service has more than a hundred facilities, and more than a thousand scientists on staff.

Determining responses to climate change is almost certainly the top priority of the ARS.

Sam Clovis has a Ph.D. in public administration, so there's that. Zero graduate work in science. Published almost no academic work. (He's done some work on "national security and terrorism." And he's heard of sunspots and volcanoes.)

He's applied his academic training to... being a conservative talk radio host in Iowa. And trying for the Senate in 2014. And being a co-chairman of the Trump campaign who recruited Carter Page. (Russia connection, check.)

Here are nine questions the Senate needs to ask Clovis, starting with "Are we missing something?" and ending with "What would you do to ensure scientific integrity at the USDA?"

29.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Almost in bipartisan agreement Permalink to this item

Just over a month ago seems like ancient history, but the opportunity of agreeing with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (and Richard Viguerie) about something was appealing. The teaser to this item swimming in the deep waters of my inbox caught my eye, with the punchline that asset forfeiture is wrong. +1 for that.

Thomas called it "policing for profit," and questions its constitutionality, which is worth noting, even if it doesn't do anything to address the problem. (Maybe someday.) This, from Viguerie:

"Asset forfeiture positions police as part of lawbreaking, thieving government instead of friends to the security of our communities. It is unfair to hoist on our police the cross-ideological disdain for asset forfeiture."

Amen, I think. ("Cross-ideological disdain" is... odd.) The AG "would be wise to reconsider and walk back his recent support for this government theft."

Aug. 2017 photo

The bizarre wind-up to that simple point in Viguerie's mini-screed does nothing to help his argument. Who is he trying to persuade, about what? The "horribly corrupt leftist attorneys general we had under President Obama" are over now, and "an even worse expected choice under a President Hillary" didn't happen. It's too late to complain about Jeff Sessions' abundance of caution in the Russia probe, his supposed "trying to stay beyond reproach." (Also, the "Star Chamberesque" Russia probe, for which "Robert Mueller and his expanding team of Democrat donors have virtually unchecked power." If only!)

Jeff Sessions is not a General. The claim that "American police are under literal assault from radical forces of leftwing [sic] anarchy seeking to disrupt the security of American communities" is a load of horse manure.

While we're talking about things that the AG should reconsider, please add lifting limits on the transfer of some surplus military hardware to the list. Grenade launchers, bayonets and large-caliber weapons are not "lifesaving gear," nor is the militarization of police forces a "superficial concern."

Neither is the "active presence" of white supremacists and other domestic terrorists in U.S. law enforcement agencies. Just in case you needed another reason to oppose the militarization of the police.

28.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Doubters Permalink to this item

Speaking of our Secretary of State, here he was on Fox News Sunday, standing up for "the American people's values." He said he doesn't think anyone doubts them.

An unforgettable moment. pic.twitter.com/KNu18g2FyP

— Margarita Noriega (@margarita) August 27, 2017

I just spoke with someone from Canada this weekend, and word is, there is some significant doubt. Mostly because what Tillerson said right there: "The president speaks for himself."

I may already be a winner Permalink to this item

Off the blog for a little while, and now slogging through vacation catch-up, I went to try to tidy spam with some convenient keywords. "From:Thank You" took out 10% of the 600-some. "Gift" is also good for decimation. Then "government" seemed promising.

Mr. Rex Wayne Tillerson was near the top, whaa? Never mind the return address of info @ giga.ocn.ne.jp and the red banner to Be careful with this message, this could be be my lucky day.
 

From Desk Of Mr. Rex Wayne Tillerson
Honorable USA Secretary of State and
Chairman Refund Payment Committee
Federal Executive Council Washington DC USA

Good Day,

This letter is written in order to change your Life from today. Please note that this letter came to you as a result of information received from our monitoring network regarding so much payments which you sent through Western Union and Money Gram to Europe, Asia and Africa and some other part of the World without receiving any payment to your name, further investigation reveals that you have lost hope towards receiving your payment after being deceived so many times.

Following the on going re-branding of USA policies, the Federal Government of USA have directed our committee to compensate/refund the sum of $6,500,000 to you through payment by ATM CARD being one of the most convenient means of receiving payment World Wide, Bank to Bank Transfer or CASH Delivery to your Country. We wish to inform you that the members of Refund Payment Committee are honorable men of Great Repute and integrity who have served the Government of USA in different capacities,

we also wish to inform you that the Committee members were appointed by our respected President Donald Trump to pay 250 million Dollars to the listed beneficiaries that have lost their money to the scammer and have not yet receive their total sum.

In order for you to receive your payment this week, you are advice to reply this email to with ANSWERS to the Questions below.

Your Full Name
Your Contact Address
Your Direct telephone. Fax Number ( if any)
Your AGE and what you do for a living
How Many Months Or Years in which You Have Been Expecting your Payment
The Place you sent Money Last whether Nigeria or London etc
The Last Amount of Money You sent indicating What Month and Year

23.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Trump: Sad! Permalink to this item

It was a lovely couple of days there when our concerns went full-on primal: Where are we? What time is it? When does the eclipse start? What's for breakfast? Will there be a traffic jam?

Now we're back to the grind of daily tantrums from the Divider-in-Chief. There are no eclipse glasses to keep us from being blinded by irony (or, on the other side, fully blind to irony).

Seven months in, with no legislative accomplishment and ample failures (that's the good news), his administration the shambling mother of all bombs, the barking man who caught the car is campaigning for his re-election, apparently because he has no concept whatsoever of how to do management or leadership. The shrinking black hole of his supportive base celebrates the spectacle.

What was true last October—nothing Trump could say or do that would alienate the basest of his supporters—is equally true today. Monmouth University just found that "Among those who currently approve of the president’s job performance, most (61%) say they cannot see Trump doing anything that would make them disapprove of him." (And a similar majority—57%—of those who disapprove of him cannot imagine Trump doing anything "other than resigning" that would change their minds, either.)

One of the remarkable documents of the moment is the Conservative HQ staff's thought for the day: President Trump’s Arizona Speech Drives Left Nuts.

Yay.

ICYMI, "Left" now refers to everyone outside the echoing epistemic bubble that Hannity, Trump, Bannon-Breitbart and Conservative HQ share.

"But what exactly was it that drove the national media so crazy that only Sean Hannity of Fox had anything positive to say about the speech?

"The short version is that Trump was Trump last night."

There you go. What you see is what you get. There are no depths to plumb. There is no crazy like a fox, there is just crazy. He told us his plan for leadership up front: "I alone can fix it." So obviously raving lunacy from an inexperienced outsider with scant knowledge of current events, let alone history, an incurious engine of greed with his serial failures fobbed off upon his most credulous dupes, it could not be taken seriously, other than to wonder, what could he mean?

Screenshot from NYT video of Trump at AZ rally

He meant he is incapable of working with others. He thrives on holding audience for a parade of sycophants, the cheering adulation of mobs who have no need of facts or basic decency.

And he needs a monument. The toppling of losing Civil War generals cast in bronze is something he can understand. It's something that could happen to him, that is all that matters. (Believe me.) The Great Wall of Trump is the monument he covets more than anything. Paid for by someone else, like all of the things with his name on them. It doesn't matter that it will be ineffective—you'll be able to see it from space.

You in the back seat can jolly well shut up, or he will drive this car right off the road and into a ditch to show you. He alone is At The Wheel.

"...believe me, if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall."

There is no contradiction too colossal for the man. The Great Negotiator, a humbug who would make the Wizard of Oz blush, is now selling himself as a "problem solver." Better cleaning, Brighter Colors, and Whiter Whites.

Unlike demon Media, about whom, in his easy, little hand-waving dismissal, Trump told the Arizona clan, "I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that."

There is just him. All praise be his. The great and powerful Odd, shooting flames of insult and and smoke of contumely.

Whooosh.

22.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The cost of stupidity is still going up Permalink to this item

And yet, after millions in damages, Oregon standoff defendants agree to pay back a measly $78,000, after "very involved negotiations by both sides."

Neither of those two "sides" included the Bundy boys; they managed to get off scott-free for their Malheur muck-up, even as they're still in jail and awaiting justice down in Nevada for the Bunkerville brouhaha.

Thirteen of the Oregon defendants are facing bills from $3,000 to $10,000, including the Bundy first lieutenants Jon Ritzheimer, Jason Patrick and Ryan Payne. It's enough to arrest their attention, if not begin to actually provide restitution for all the damage in their wake. An object lesson in taking care in the company you keep.

Speaking of justice in Nevada (or the lack thereof), two of the bit players have been acquitted of all charges, while two others—including Idaho resident Eric Parker, infamous for his wanna-be sniper posehave been acquitted of "most" charges, and the jury deadlocked on others.

Maybe that "appear[ing] to choke back tears as he tapped the table in front of him with the end of a water bottle, before collecting papers in a folder and clutching a Bible, which he has pored over throughout the trial" really won over the jury.

As the Oathkeepers tell it, Parker was "ripped" from the witness stand and not allowed to "fight for his very life," so there's that.

We want to hear from you, not very much Permalink to this item

After today's swamp creature fundraising luncheon in Boise, a fresh Team Ryan email hit my inbox at 4pm, subject Have a question for Paul Ryan?

From Team Ryan's webform, 'taking questions'. Short ones.

Oh yes I do! More than one, actually, so I started filling in the boxes of the "Ask Paul" form, before I got javascript cut-off in the middle of my third sentence.

There's a 200 character limit for my question. As compared to the email trying to get me to send one in, which had 900 words. Even a letter to the newspaper gives you 200 words. The promise that they'll select three questions, whoopee, and "Keep an eye out to see if your question was picked!"

(They're not going to pick mine, I'm sure. "I had a longer question, but seeing that your form allows only 200 characters, I guess I'll boil it down. When are you going to be done campaigning and DO SOME WORK FOR THE PEOPLE?")

Now that we have that out of the way, some questions of more than 200 characters.

You've said "you have a plan" for historic tax reform. Do you plan to share that with the general public and engage them in a meaningful way? How about the Democrats in the House? Your GOP-go-it-along strategy so far has been a complete disaster. The 7 years of "Repeal & Replace" that recently thudded into a bucket of nothingness is Exhibit A. You of all people should be ashamed to even broach the topic, but there it is in your pitch, talk about how it's "collapsing."

First of all, I don't feel like your assessment is trustworthy. You're the guy who's had his thumb on the scale for more than half a decase, and you're telling us we're overweight? Now, with no viable plan after all this time, you're holding up what we do have to call it a dead horse and beat it some more?

Mr. Speaker, please. Even for you, this is lame.

And telling us about "over 300 bills" the House has passed sounds like you want some sort of A for effort even though ALL YOUR WORK THIS TERM IS INCOMPLETE. You passed Obamacare sabotage, AND IT FAILED IN THE SENATE. How many more of those 300 bills are empty b.s. passed for political talking points, that have not been signed into law?

Ok, I gave one more shot for the 3-question jackpot, with a more specific, less than 200 character question:

You keep talking about Obamacare failing. To the extent that that's true, you played a major roll in the failure. What is your plan going forward?

Political capital Permalink to this item

The Speaker of the House's "Team" says he "has a plan to re-work [sic] our tax code so that it works for you."

Our tax system hasn't changed for 31 years. Not only is it out-of-date, but it's onerous, confusing, and way too expensive. Worst of all, it's not set up to help you succeed.

This has to change.

Friend, our tax system hasn't changed since 1986! If you're ready for a better way, will you take a stand today?

Together, we will get this done.

I took the jump, expecting there to be a fundraising pitch pony in there, but no, they just want your name, email and ZIPcode (with which, naturally, you can bet your bottom dollar the joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Ryan for Congress, Inc., Prosperity Action, Inc., and the NRCC will be very regularly asking you to send money) to affirm 5 proposals.

Lower rates "for everyone (everyone!)." (Ah, even the half or so of lower income earners who are already at $0 federal income tax?).

Simplify everything. Close loopholes. "Modernize, modernize, modernize." And finally, "end the corruption at the IRS."

As vacuous thumping goes, it's not half-bad, although the "modernize" repetition says "pig in a poke, pig in a poke, pig in a poke" to me. (He could have repeated "simplify" thrice to good effect). And actually, "corruption at the IRS" is not a problem that there's much evidence for. There is evidence against it, in fact: no one there has leaked Donald J. Trump's tax returns. Yet.

And, the proof is always in the legislative pudding, something Mr. Ryan has not shown a strong aptitude for delivering other than in half-baked forms.

It could be because instead of publishing said plan, and enlisting, I don't know, bipartisan engagement (at least) and support for something that yes, certainly, is overdue, he's using his recess time for the usual inside-job fundraising. It's arguably way higher on the "corruption" concern list than anything inside the IRS.

If this is Tuesday, it must be Boise he's stumping to, lunch and private photo-ops for big-ticket donors, at a Dick Cheney-esque undisclosed location. Four figures for the rubber chicken, $5k for a photo op and twice that for two seats at the "roundtable discussion."

Not exactly everyone (everyone!) is going to be in on the discussion of reform.

21.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Syzygy Permalink to this item

Safe to say there is nothing like it in the whole world. Drove up into the hills on Sunday afternoon, expecting... not too much trouble, but some, probably. There was none. Boise to Horseshoe Bend, to Banks, to Crouch, just your ordinary Sunday afternoon in summer. More traffic coming south, returning from mountain weekend to the city.

Overnight with a jolly bunch of friends, an almost perfect clear morning (just a bit of high haze / smoke) and lined up with plenty of space between the ponderosa for 45.9° altitude, 126.1° azimuth and 11:26:43.3 for two minutes and six point nine seconds of glasses-off totality.

There was lots of conversation and coffee and then mimosas and more than an hour away, someone said "it's happening!" So soon? First contact was 10:11:12.8 MDT and my first look through our $1 ISO certified eclipse glasses, the nip out of the upper right limb made me laugh out loud at the celestial magic. IT'S HAPPENING!

That hour-long anticipation has a pace to it, lots of cameras and filters and telescopes to adjust, and re-adjust, and still time for a hearty late breakfast. I took a few pictures, but kept to my plan of letting lots of better-prepared photogs spend their time on that, while I just enjoyed the totality of the experience. And the experience of totality!

Before

C3 to C4, the outgoing partial eclipse, is the same hour and 20 minutes as the incoming, but it's as different as night and day. Like watching the credits after the movie, one of our friends noted. Without a sound track to keep us in our seats, we packed up and drove out, up and over Alder Creek summit and to Placerville before it was completely done. (The town park there looked like it had been a fun place to be.) Eight cars in the same hour on Harris Creek Road is a big spike in traffic, I guess. Back to our desert home, and just one brief moment of "traffic," kind of a line-up for the last hill down highway 55 to Eagle, but not enough to ever slow down, let alone stop.

After

TimeAndDate.com's map of the 2020 total eclipse

If you missed it, well... the good news is that there's a solar eclipse about every 18 months. The bad news is, you don't live this close to anything coming in quite a while. The menu, as timed and dated and mapped on timeanddate.com, is wildly varied. South America in winter 2019? Dec. 14, 2020 in Chile or Argentina looks interesting. No idea what their weather is like down there, but one side or the other of the Andes should be good.

The last time a total eclipse happened where I lived, it was right where I lived, in Moscow, Idaho, on February 26, 1979, nipping the Pacific Northwest and Montana before heading up over Hudson Bay and Greenland. I watched it literally from my backyard, under a solid overcast, wet sky, 8 o'clock in the morning. My view of the corona was limited to a memorable dream the night before.

38 years later, my dream came true, up there in the clear blue summer sky.

Back home, we tried to watch Nova's Eclipse Over America, but the broadcast was a bit garbled. Thrown off by that presidential address? Too tight a schedule to patch in the day-of footage? Interesting science to augment the experience, and the online copy looks good.

And today, midday... there's a much heavier smoke haze in the air. Boy did we get lucky yesterday.

18.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Eclipsapocalypse Permalink to this item

Got my glasses

Heard tales... and warnings. All the rental cars in town are apparently spoken for. Some eastern Idaho farmer had to run off some yayhoos who thought they'd camp out in a planted field. And at the gas stations... well, there wasn't a line at midday, and they had enough gas to top off our tanks, but the price had been run up 15 or 20 cents in the last week or so.

I heard from a friend who spent a couple of days up in the mountains around Stanley, that there are lots and lots of "viewing areas" designated, with lots and lots of Portapotties lined up for those in need.

Which explains why the host for the group of 30 or 40 we'll be joining couldn't find one to rent. We'll just have to make other arrangements as best we can.

Run-off Permalink to this item

Can't comment on every damn thing the Conservative HQ team comes up with, but the recent subject lines flitting between Inbox and trash are something, even without the "message from one of our advertisers" about the collapse of the Dollar, #1 Drink for Alzheimer's, Turmeric as natural remedy of the century and The $20 Bitcoin Investment Jackpot Could Generate Massive Fortunes by July 28th. That last one went out on July 27th, so pay attention next time if you want a jackpot. Lots of flogging of Newt Gingrich's pathetic paean to Lord Tweetrum.

Two days ago, "Mr. President, Steve Bannon Is Your Last Best Link With Your Base" teased as if it were from Viguerie himself, but no, the byline is CHQ Staff. Punchline in the blurb:

"Call the White House today at 202-456-1111 or contact President Trump through Twitter at @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS and tell him Steve Bannon's continued service is essential to keep the winning Trump coalition together."

I've tried that "contact through Twitter" some, and I don't think it works too well. It's a noisy channel.

This morning, same "personal" tease and staff byline, under the title Viguerie Launches Campaign To Support Steve Bannon

Which did not work out so well. Starts to feel like Viguerie is politically impotent or something.

Later in the day, they went full-on IMMEDIATE RELEASE with the headlining question, Personnel is Policy: Does Bannon's Departure Signal the End of Trump's Commitment to Govern as a Conservative?

The good news is that we have a scapegoat?

My item headline came from a stray hyphen left in the keening quotation of Viguerie in his own house organ:

"It seems that the West Wing is now being run by the liberal Democrats," said Mr. Viguerie. "Gary Cohen, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, General John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and the Obama holdovers at the NSC, have all survived and thrived, while the conservatives like Steve Bannon, Derek Harvey, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Rich Higgins, and even the establishment Republicans like Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, have been run-off."

West Wing run by liberal Democrats, whaaaa? Blame it on bad personnel choice all you want, but the GOP totally owns this.

16.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ideally Permalink to this item

Dear Diary,

You won't believe what happened yesterday. Oh. My. God.

For just a moment, the decent people of the nation seemed united in disgust and horror at the spectacle they had wrought, but it says here that "by prime time, TV's usual divides had returned." The redoubtable Tucker Carlson brought up Plato's slaves.

If you need an exemplar of white privilege beating the crap out of an army of straw men, check that out.

Liberals. Fanatics on the left. Needless to say there is literally no limit. Let's be honest. If we're going to judge the past by the standards of the present we had better be prepared for the consequences of that. And if you buy this steaming load of reductio ad absurdum, you'd better be prepared for some absurdity.

Meanwhile, Baltimore cleaned house last night.

15.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

JK! Permalink to this item

"And today, we are like a third-world country. We are literally like a third-world country." – Donald J. Trump

Apparently, the president was not happy about having to delete that tweet, or to read that fauxpology off the TelePrompTer. He's back baby! It's both sides! Excuse me! I get to talk now, off script.

Stephen Mnuchin and Elaine Chao standing there, hmm, endorsing the unbelievable words out of this guy's mouth? More of a deer in the headlights feel, they thought the questions would be about infrastructure, right?

Dear Leader does not do irony.

Al Drago, New York Times photo

"The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement but you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. It is a very, very important process to me. It is a very important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to my statement, I brought it. I brought it. ... Here is the thing. When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts."

He does do some dark comedy. Meanwhile, off to the side, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly captured by Al Drago's photo for the NYT makes it look like he is reconsidering what he's gotten himself into.

Is there a question about infrastructure? Anybody? Bueller?

Oh, David Duke's got more to say, if he can keep from drooling all over himself.

Only fake news & libtards call this man a "racist" - the Jewish man and Asian lady by his side don't seem to agree with (((fake news))) 👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/nRlEQcc947

— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) August 15, 2017

Detweet Permalink to this item

Trying to scale back on obsessing over our Tweeter-in-Chief, but ok, today's meta-Twitter-news has a twist. Not the retweet of somebody's goofy cartoon of "the Trump train" smashing senseless boards and a CNN logo-Minotaur (caption: "Nothing can stop the #TrumpTrain!!"), but the detweet.

The original barreled down the track warmed up by tiny fingers punching "the #Fake News Media will never be satisifed...truly bad people!" after his two-days late condemnation read from a TelePrompTer was measured unsatisfying by most everyone.

Did it occur to him that the parallel between a cartoon train smashing CNN-man and a domestic terrorist killing a young woman with his car was too much this time? The very faintest wisp of empathic recognition?

Or did John Kelly see what he did and say GODDAMN IT, GIMME THAT THING and delete it himself?

"A White House official said early Tuesday that the tweet of the train was posted inadvertently and was deleted as soon as it was noticed."

History may or may not record which anonymized third person did the noticing and deleting.

Money, money Permalink to this item

Silver coins were still circulating when I was a kid. 1964 was that last magical year they were minted, but that came and went without anyone around me marking the occasion. What mattered was what you could trade coins and bills for, which is still pretty much the deal, even though fewer of our trades involve actual cash. Just bits floating by in moneyspace.

You can still buy a "1964" Silver Dollar, issued 50 years later, but going by the US Mint website, if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it. They mention a $10 surcharge for a worthy cause, at least. 90% of its 26.730 nominal grams are silver, which, at today's price of $17.11 an ounce (Troy ounce?) would make its silver nominally worth... less than they're charging. It's a special coin, after all. It's worth a dollar at least, it says so, right there.

The magic of money comes to mind while reading that the price of Bitcoin is surging after some sort of software update agreement. Software. And that image of a "mining operation in China" from Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times, a dingy rack of computers spinning electricity into gold, somehow.

Surging, you say? "The price of a Bitcoin has risen nearly 50 percent since the beginning of the month."

First light of the PC I built in 2004

As measured in... dollars, of course. Which don't have nearly the intrigue, warring internal factions with a history of animosity, aficionados, or "core developers," "a few dozens programmers who maintain the basic Bitcoin software, generally on a volunteer basis."

The excitement is about "scaling," spinning off "services" from the base layer of the limited-by-fiat original for which "rules of the network dictate that only 21 million will ever be created," rather like the limited stock of gold in Fort Knox, or wherever.

There are other "virtual currencies" competing for mindshare. One called "Ethereum" mentioned there, "has more programmable features than Bitcoin."

"Investors are buying Ethereum and Bitcoin to invest in so-called initial coin offerings, a new method of fund-raising in which entrepreneurs create and sell their own virtual currencies."

Try your luck!

14.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just a couple days slow Permalink to this item

“Racism is evil,” Mr. Trump said [today]. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

When Merck CEO Ken Frazier resigned from the president's American Manufacturing Council this morning, on the other hand, Trump found the temerity to counterattack within the hour.

Right and wrong Permalink to this item

Two pieces in the Conservative HQ daily screed caught my eye this morning: Misusing Robert E. Lee, and The Most Important Terrorism Trial Of Our Time.

The first one is by CHQ editor, George Rasley, and he makes a pretty good argument for honoring Robert E. Lee's place in American history. The email teaser was his conclusion:

Erasing Robert E. Lee from history – or celebrating him as a symbol of “white nationalism” – is a grave error; not only does it distort history to suit the purposes of elements in society that Lee abhorred, it misuses one of the greatest symbols of the social compact that reunited the country after four years of brother against brother bloodshed and hatred.

No doubt there are others with less sanguine takes, but if it's accurate history that Lee "became a voice of moderation and patient compliance" and wrote for publication that "all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace" and vowed to do "all in my power to encourage our people to set manfully to work to restore the country, to rebuild their homes and churches, to educate their children, and to remain with their states, their friends and countrymen," it seems a decent argument.

Certainly in the aftermath of the war, when continuing guerilla war, sabotage and what-not were possibilities, it would have made a difference.

150 years on, a new wave of ignorant bigotry seems to threaten the resurgence of what Lee said he wanted to avoid. "White nationalists" rallying around a statute of Lee and cooking up domestic terrorism are not advancing Lee's (or Rasley's) argument, but rather its antithesis. (The Confederate battle flag would be a clue. Also David Duke. And the swastikas.)

More certainly on the wrong side of history, the "CHQ Staff" declares their peremptory judgement that torture artisans Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell are "among the heroes who prevented another 9/11."

They trot out the opinion of inevitable "friends," this time from the Gatestone Institute you never heard of, currently chaired by one of the last fellows to enjoy a recess appointment to something, former Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. It looks like Giulio Meotti's piece extolling Jessen's and Mitchell's "heroism" that the CHQ leveraged into its own staff editorial. The potpourri of unsupported claims that torture worked a treat in the War on Terror, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, is followed by the equally inevitable bogeymen:

"The reason the lawsuit against Jessen and Mitchell is going to trial is that Judge Quackenbush is catering to the Far Left and its political agenda, not the law and certainly nor the national security interests of the United States."

They skip over "the law" so easily, and slide from there to "the witch hunt of a Western media and judicial system." If only they could deliver this with a talking head on Fox News, the president could run with it and drive them some more ad views.

Update: Adam Serwer's piece for The Atlantic covered the myth of the kindly General Lee two months ago.

"Lee had beaten or ordered his own slaves to be beaten for the crime of wanting to be free, he fought for the preservation of slavery, his army kidnapped free blacks at gunpoint and made them unfree—but all of this, he insisted, had occurred only because of the great Christian love the South held for blacks. Here we truly understand Frederick Douglass’s admonition that "between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference."...

"Lee died in 1870, as Democrats and ex-Confederates were commencing a wave of terrorist violence that would ultimately reimpose their domination over the Southern states. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866; there is no evidence Lee ever spoke up against it. On the contrary, he darkly intimated in his interview with the Herald that the South might be moved to violence again if peace did not proceed on its terms. That was prescient."

10.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just in case Permalink to this item

Thanks to a friend's share on Facebook, took a gander at the Be Informed resources offered by the Department of Homeland Security. Top of the stack is the system for Emergency Alerts that I remember experiencing recently, complete with the "unique sound and vibration, both repeated twice." Says there, they come in three flavors: imminent threat, AMBER, and presidential.

How long do you suppose it's going to be before President Tweetoh learns that he has a bigger megaphone at his disposal?

From p.51 of Planning Guidance for Reponse to a Nuclear Detonation, first edition, Jan. 16, 2009

But anyway, you might like to Be Informed about one or more of those 27 kinds of emergencies, arranged in alphabetical order. And Plan Ahead. The Topic du Jour is Nuclear Blast.

Taking shelter during a nuclear blast is absolutely necessary. "Remember that any protection, however temporary, is better than none at all, and the more shielding, distance and time you can take advantage of, the better."

Nice to have a basement. Or a sub-basement! And bricks are good. Better than sticks. Definitely better than straw.

And those eclipse glasses could come in handy, if you can get them on in time.

Shampoo yes, conditioner no:

"Wash your hair with shampoo or soap and water. Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair, keeping it from rinsing out easily."

Investigation lit up Permalink to this item

Our president's "maybe that wasn't tough enough," counter-bluster to North Korea is not the only furious fire in town. While the head man is off on his "working vacation," Robert Mueller and his team are spinning their grindstone, and interesting sparks are shooting off of it.

On top of July's FBI-executed search warrant, now there's subpoenas of Paul Manafort's bank records in the news. "A history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia," "with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate" has to be a fascinating, complicated study.

It seems former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's old investigation wasn't retired when he was. Real estate, laundries, late filings to comply with the foreign-agent registration act, stuff like that. Story says Manafort is "cooperating with congressional requests for information about the campaign" but a spokesman declared last month that Manafort was not a "cooperating witness." Yet. Still, "cooperating." (What exactly are the alternatives to cooperating when the FBI barges in shouting "SEARCH WARRANT"?)

"As a practical matter, the blitz of recent subpoenas to global banks poses a challenge to Manafort’s ability to continue his day-to-day business activities as a consultant and investor, said one of the people familiar with the matter."

One would think.

9.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Miss Assess Permalink to this item

James Risch talking to Wolf Blitzer (from Boise, Idaho, it says, who knew? He's keeping a low profile during his August recess):

"Well I don't know that he's threatening war..."

Um, whut?

What part of the plagiarized Harry S. Truman threat made after the detonation of a nuclear bomb over Hiroshima and just before a similar bomb detonated over Nagasaki was somehow ambiguous, Senator?

"...a person who says what's on his mind..."

You say that like it's a good thing.

"...he's very clear on what he's thinking..."

Poll: Do you trust most of what you hear from the WH? 73% NO

Minute to minute. That's actually the scary part. Most people have some sort of cognitive filter between the REM state randomness and what they actually put out in the world.

"Obviously we have a Secretary of State... we have a really good Secretary of State..."

As opposed to, you know.

"...this is a Very Serious Situation..."

No shit, Sherlock. Ah, but the president is "very dedicated" to protecting the country, "he has a passion for it, he means it."

"...you have a despot over there, like Saddam Hussein..."

Uh, sure, let's talk about Saddam Hussein, as you and any other half-sentient life form who followed the last 3 or 4 decades of world history would know was never any meaningful threat to this country and who was an ally of convenience in maintaining the balance of power in the Middle East, who we turned into a bogeyman for our political purposes, and then overthrew, creating, hello, utter chaos and devastation in the region which continues to this day.

"...believe their own baloney..."

Whoops, I lost focus. Who's believing what baloney just now?

WB: Given an unstable, unpredictable regime in Pyongyang, is it smart for the president to be issuing a red line warning like this?

Also, given an unstable, unpredictable regime at the Bedminster G.C.

JR: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to sit here and criticize the president. He is the president of the United States. He has said what's on his mind.

CNN teased the interview as "explosive," but my god, this is like the gal reading the nightly propaganda for the DPRK, without the production values.

And the stupid, that could burn. We're "facing a situation that could be just as extreme as, uh, what the United States was facing at the time President Truman did that."

Well that was August, anyway. 1945. After half a decade of World War.

When it suits him, Jim Risch can be as tight-lipped as a clam, but asked to comment on sur-@realDonaldTrump retweeting what used to be classified information touted by Fox ∧ Friends, another statement of the blindingly obvious:

"Those of us that deal with classified information every day really are not authorized to discuss it, comment on it, confirm or deny it or anything else. There's only one person who can do that, and that's the president of the United States. ... By simply uttering it, he does declassify it."

Yes, exactly.

"It's the job of the president to use classified information in the most appropriate manner he deems..."

What do you think of the job the president is doing, Senator? Is it appropriate? Blitzer pressed.

"I don't have to make that decision," Risch weaseled away from the tough question.

8.8.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Standing by for armageddon Permalink to this item

A self-absorbed man, promoted three stations beyond his mental capacity, his tiny hands tucked around his back has now promised fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen if North Korea blusters another threat.

Forget which wag pointed out that we now have the opposite of T.R.: a man who speaks loudly, and carries a small stick. Delivering his pronouncements to reporters, from one of his golf clubs.

The effable alliteration will be featured in days to come, I'm "frankly" sure.

Except for the fact that we do have an arsenal comprising fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen. 72 years ago Sunday, and tomorrow, we gave the world the prequel, over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

4.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No sympathy for the devil Permalink to this item

Shkreli

The Schadenfreude is running fast and thick for "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, convicted on three (of eight) counts in federal district court. 20 years in prison could adjust your outlook.

Contrary to his earlier prediction, he was not "so innocent" and none of the judge, jury and prosecutors are poised to apologize to him afterward.

And none of the counts had to do with his price up on Darprim, from $13.50 to $750 per pill, but karma works in mysterious ways. In this case, defrauding his hedge fund investors was enough, even if they weren't all that sympathetic as victims—and not even all that victimized?

"Jared Kushner" chipped in a good word for him, at least:

He seemed like a really good guy. Hopefully he’ll be able to straighten his life out.

— Jared Kushner (@jaredkushnr) August 4, 2017

Before the trial was quite done and dusted, this Dealbook piece, colorfully prepped the wrap-up:

"To the closing arguments in the trial of his client, Martin Shkreli, the lawyer Benjamin Brafman brought a tale about a wild dog and a wagon, a metaphor about himself as a lifeguard, a Texas accent to mimic an investor, a poster that asked in all caps, “WHERE ARE THESE WITNESSES?” and a bag of Ruffles as a prop.

"The government brought a PowerPoint presentation. ..."

And took four hours to summarize their 33 binders of evidence.

3.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Splodey heads gonna splode Permalink to this item

Did you hear the one about the latest "real news" network? Facebook broadcast hosted by POTUS d-i-l you never heard of, Lara Trump? (That'd be Eric's wife.) You can believe it's true, because Snopes is covering it.

“That is quite an incredible fact.”

"...her first story concerned the president donating his second-quarter salary to the Department of Education.

"But not only did she not specify the amount of the donation ($100,000), she—unlike other outlets—failed to mention that her father-in-law has proposed cutting $9.2 billion in cuts to the same department."

Lord Tweetoh giveth, and Lord Tweetoh taketh away. Lord Tweetoh cannot negotiate space rent with the Secret Service, but says here taxpayers are dropping $130,000 a month for security at his "home" in NY, which he's been too busy golfing to visit much lately. So every month, we're losing ground to his quarterly salary donations. Even at $0, seems like he's being overpaid, and expenses are running wild. Are we going to run this like a business, or not? When does the Congress tell him "you're fired!"?

But nonsense from an alt-news network stood up by yet another Trump relative isn't quite as gob-smacking as the officially unending campaign:

"We contacted the White House press office seeking more information, but were referred to Michael Glassner—the executive director of the president’s 2020 campaign committee—for “campaign-related questions.” It is unclear what the connection is between the show and Trump’s re-election plans."

Re-election. Can you imagine the spluttering indignation from the GOP talking heads if the first year of a Democratic candidate was all about re-election? They would need better health insurance.

1.Aug.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No WH Chaos! Permalink to this item

Half a year into the Fyre Festival presidency, our Commander in Tweet thus declared order had been restored. And indeed, one could imagine 4-star Marine John Kelly making it so, giving the Mooch a swift kick out the back door and bringing some military discipline to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This isn't a military coup, is it? It's back on the rails, albeit with this disturbing parallel:

"Mr. Kelly, the first former general to occupy the gatekeeper’s post since Alexander Haig played that role for President Richard M. Nixon during Watergate..."

Good old in-control Al Haig. Watching that chestnut moment, I was struck by how... normal it seems, in retrospecti, even if General Haig muffed the order of succession. He wasn't saying he took over, just that things were ok. Under control.

Eastern Washington backroads

If only that feeling could suffuse the present day, what with North Korea launching missiles like the 4th of July, the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our capitulation to Russia and Assad in Syria, and China stealing our lunch money.

She's not quite as striking as that gal with the pink kimono in the DPRK, but I guess Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is now acting Communications Director?

“General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him,” Ms. Sanders told reporters later. But she added that Mr. Trump would decide how that would work.

"Decide" is an interesting choice of word. Do you think? Determine, seems likely, with that anti-Midas touch of his.

Everyone who comes in contact with Donald J. Trump is soiled, sooner or later. Mostly sooner.

Sarah Ellison's take on The Enablers in the August issue of Vanity Fair is an interesting read just now, after one of the six white guys got voted off the island, and another gave that gasp-inducing thumbs-down on the supposedly signature sabotage effort of Repeal & Replace or Just Repeal. On Paul "The Opportunist" Ryan:

"The bargain Ryan has made is clear—it’s the one spelled out by Grover Norquist back in 2012, when Norquist defended the choice of Mitt Romney by saying he’d also have endorsed a monkey, a plate of lasagna, or a potted plant. All Norquist wanted was “a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen” to sign legislation. Ryan wants to gut the safety net for the poor and cut taxes for the wealthy, and believes that with Trump he can do that. He said recently that he had dreamed of cutting Medicaid since his keg-drinking days."

Ellison chose "the Cynic" for McConnell, but that seems too sweet. I'd go with Saboteur, but then maybe that's not specific enough. Self-interested Hack?

Priebus, the apparatchik "Stooge" from Kenosha, is no more. His torch of "assuag[ing] differences, to keep as many people on board as he can, and to allow Trump to continue to be viable" will have to be carried by larger men. Requiat in pacem.

We expected Lindsay "The Instutionalist" Graham to stand up on his hind legs before the Maverick, so there is still the possibility of surprise in all this while we wait to see if the show is renewed for the fall season.

The most important man in the set is of course the Vice President, a.k.a. "The Accomplice," biding his time, absorbing the blows, dismissing one lie after another as inconsequential, his "personal agenda [of] a vaulting ambition somewhat masked by a placid half-smile and a demeanor of practiced sincerity." He has the best practiced sincerity. Also, he's been tweeting up a saber-rattling storm on his Eastern European tour, "strongly condemn[ing] Russia's occupation of Georgia's soil," for example, with someone artfully branding "VICE PRESIDENT PENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA" with quotes and bold-face and photos and hashtags. (Hint: find a picture with him looking Right At The Camera next time, like his profile pic, not that semi-squinting side-eye.)

This merry-go-round is a bit too spinny all at once. VF's Hive has its Farewell to Reince, Sessions hanging on for dear life, Trump going multi-armed Vishnu death panel on the Affordable Care Act, "trying to both implode and explode Obamacare simultaneously," and in the August print issue, a retrospective on swamp devil Roy Cohn and another on our very Goldman White House.

But it's Michael Lewis' explanation of Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House that is the most arrestingly chaotic item in the trend list. Lewis describes a Deep State of deep incompetence, driven by willfully ignorant ideology.

From the "Whoops" fork in his presidential ambitions, Eagle Scout Rick Perry is now in charge of the agency he could not name.

"Since Perry was confirmed, his role has been ceremonial and bizarre. He pops up in distant lands [and the Jamboree!] and tweets in praise of this or that D.O.E. program while his masters inside the White House create budgets to eliminate those very programs. His sporadic public communications have had in them something of the shell-shocked grandmother trying to preside over a pleasant family Thanksgiving dinner while pretending that her blind-drunk husband isn’t standing naked on the dining-room table waving the carving knife over his head."

It gets worse. Like all of Lewis' work, it's thoughtful, readable, meticulously researched, and worth your attention. Especially for those of us in, around, downwind or downstream of the Hanford Reach, and those of us who use electricity, and science, and enjoy comfortable lives assembled through competent engineering, and project management.

There are alternatives being explored.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007