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New Year's Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

A striking quote pulled from Austin Bay's essay, "The Millennium War," by John Brown:

"Twenty-first century Islamist imperialists aim for global domination, with themselves as the sole interpreters and enforcers of what they deem God's laws."

My reaction to it is, that may be so, but they are a lot farther away from realizing such an aim than we Christian imperialists. I would rather expect that from the heart of the Islamic world, it appears that twenty-first century Christian imperialists aim for global domination, with themselves as the sole interpreters and enforcers of law. Does it make it more palatable if only some of them have a theocratic bent, and the others are just after material gain?

I just "upgraded" to Microsoft Office2003 in the hopes that a certain Visual Basic program stuffed into an Access database would be able to do its job under the newer version, when it couldn't under the old. (It still couldn't.) I'm struck by a number of things about the process and result. The setup program did a nice job of cleanly uninstalling the old version (as near as I can tell), and migrating my data and preferences.

The new-found attention to security takes form in a ton of warning dialogs when I open some of my existing files -- it's not just Macros to worry about any more. There are now things like "unblocked unsafe expressions" I should worry about, with three, count 'em, three warning dialogs to get through before I can open the database. I guess the EULA disclaimer that they're not responsible for any problems I have whatsoever isn't enough any more; if I have a security problem at this point, it's my own fault, right?

I was faced with re-installing some of Excel's "add-ins" to have existing spreadsheets work the same as they used to, thanks to the Microsoft "solution" to software bloat: break the application into chunks and don't load them all.

There was a lot of attention paid to eye-candy, the artful shadowing of buttons and scrollbars and icons. Whoopie. I now have an "unread mail" folder in Outlook that can nag me with not just 100+ unread items in my inbox (newsletter overload), but 400+ unread items altogether (pre-sorted newsletter overload).

But what causes me to write is the most annoying "feature" of all: Outlook can now do spelling and typing correction for me on the fly. I do make typing mistakes, but I'm used to fixing my own work. I'm finding that when I Capitalize (or decapitalize, or camelCase or whatEVER), I mostly do exactly what I want and to have Outlook's genie running a word behind me and changing things is remarkably annoying. (Having whined sufficiently, I just went into the "Autocorrect options" and fixed the ones that were bugging me the most. I might even get to like some of what it offers, who knows?)

"People don't understand that time is hydraulic." --Norman Nie

Looking for a more durable reference than the NYT story for the reported study results regarding time spent on the Internet and elsewhere, I found this gem for "Norman Nie" and hydraulic (not suitable for underage or working viewers, I suppose).

New Year's Eve Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

With the death toll rising past 100,000 -- as if everyone in Boise were swept away -- and 4 times that and more injured, bereaved, homeless or stricken in some way, it beggars the imagination for cataclysm. It seems that something should be said, but I don't know what.

This Washington state governor's election was a heck of a deal. 123 votes' difference on the third count, and they say that gives it to Gregoire. Rossi wants another election. The Seattle P-I's editorial board says that's preposterous.

The chiefs of Oracle had 4 words for the chiefs of PeopleSoft: We won. You're fired. (Or is that five?)

Remember when Microsoft was going to be your trusted, omnipresent guide through the world of online commerce? Yeah, I never thought so either.

Time to go snowboarding, after Bogus finally got some snow to refresh the early December dump that got them open for daytime skiing. The report said 5" of powder, and in spite of a holiday crowd there were plenty of nice turns to be had. The usual spots were mostly not covered well enough yet, but the less-traveled spots were lovely.

29.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Today's lesson is in telephone etiquette. If you have CallerID and someone whom you don't know has their number recorded on your machine, when you return the call, it is not acceptable to start the conversation with "Who's this?"

[ring] "Hello?"

"Ah, who's this?"

"No, you called me, you tell me who you are."

"Actually, I think you called me."

"See ya." [click]

In the "how low can you go?" category, this just in, from a trusted source: "Tsunami aid phishing messages have started."

27.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I found myself telling earthquake stories last night, what it was like to be at the top of a high-rise in downtown L.A. on October 1, 1987 (the magnitude 5.8 Whittier Narrows quake) and on the Stanford campus on October 17, 1989 (the magnitude 7.1 Loma Prieta quake). It isn't easy to convey the sensations and emotions, but I remember oh-so-clearly that after the Loma Prieta experience, my curiosity about being in a big earthquake was fully satisfied.

At least one of the aftershocks of yesterday's gigantic 8.9 magnitude quake were bigger than Loma Prieta. Hard to imagine. The power of a tsunami is also beyond my experience or imagining.

"Well, you know what I knew - that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol." -- Lt. Gen. William Boykin (who also made Bob Herbert's latest column)

Naomi Klein: "So let's be absolutely clear: The United States, having broken Iraq, is not in the process of fixing it. It is merely continuing to break the country and its people by other means, using not only F-16s and Bradleys, but now the less flashy weaponry of WTO and IMF conditions, followed by elections designed to transfer as little power to Iraqis as possible."

Cute headline for the Murky News' article on the management team for the Lenovo-IBM deal: PC maker outsourcing management to New York. Chinese outsourcing to the US has that "man bites dog" novelty appeal.

Christmas Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jeanette's nativity scene, under the tree The late 90s and early 00s provided plenty of opportunities to buy high and sell low, and I availed myself of more than I'd care to admit. Lucent Technologies was one such chance, and long after I'd stopped fretting about the loss, notice of a class action lawsuit came.

I suppose I should know exactly what the lawsuit was about, but other than that it had something to do with manipulation of the stock price, what I looked for in the fine print was how much could I get? Was it worth my time to fill out the paperwork? A quick calculation showed that indeed it was, and according to their estimate of the wrongdoing, my claim would be in 4 figures. Yeah, that's worth a half hour of digging through old records, form-filling and a stamp or two!

That was a while ago, and I'd forgotten about it until another such class action suit's paperwork came in the mail this month. Whatever happened to that Lucent settlement, I wondered, but didn't go quite as far as looking through the files or searching headlines. Then on Christmas Eve, mail from the Lucent Technologies Securities Litigation Settlement Fund. Woo hoo! Would it be a jolly Christmas indeed, with a windfall pile of cash to take on a last minute shopping spree? Or just more paperwork and legalese?

No, it was a check! For how much? Well... it was four figures, alright, but there was a decimal point in the middle. $79.67. "Please be advised that over 680,000 Proofs of Claim were submitted, representing total recognized claims of approximately $15.4 billion. The total value (including cash, and securities) of the Net Settlement Fund expected to become available for distribution to authorized claimants is approximately $500 million... Accordingly, each authorized claimant is expected to be paid a total of approximately 3% of his, her or its recognized claim." (Said claim was that "members of the Class were misled into purchasing Lucent common stock at artificially inflated prices.")

Oh well, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Green Bay Packers logo Santa came early to our house, delivering a game-winning field goal for the NFC North Champion Green Bay Packers. Woo hoo!

James Carroll reminds us that politics and religion have been together at the crossroads for a very long time. Our current amalgam of pagan symbolism, ebullient consumerism and religious self-promotion is connected to the history of a prophetic challenge to imperial power, and not just shepherds distracted from the flocks at night by a chorus of angels.

"In modern times, religion and politics began to be understood as occupying separate spheres, and the nativity story became spiritualized and sentimentalized, losing its political edge altogether. "Peace" replaced resistance as the main motif. The baby Jesus was universalized, removed from his decidedly Jewish context, and the narrative's explicit critiques of imperial dominance and of wealth were blunted."

When we were in D.C., we bused down to the Kennedy Center for several of their free afternoon concerts on the Millennium Stage. Now I see you can get those concerts free on the web, too. (Unfortunately, the sound recordings seem to be pretty uneven.)

Along with all those other toys and goodies, there's another Presidential election in the bag. What do you suppose history will make of GWB's two "just barely" finishes? Maybe not that much the way he's fashioned them into "mandates"— the Shock and Awe will drown out the irregularities. Winner takes all.

I know you all have had enough jaw flapping about Nov. 2nd, but for posterity, has a "Best of 2004" collection of election irregularities.

New rules for managing our National Forests: local foresters get "more flexibility to respond to threats," and the ability to make faster decisions. The public gets "relaxed" provisions for environmental reviews and wildlife protection, and fewer opportunities for public participation in decision-making. And industry... well, expect to see more opportunities for logging, mining and oil and gas development. Duh.

"The new rules give economic activity equal priority with preserving the ecological health of the forests in making management decisions and in potentially liberalizing caps on how much timber can be taken from a forest."

In some top-secret media manual it was decreed that "man on the street" snippets are required elements of every sort of production. Folks just like you get their 15 seconds of fame and you can either feel validated if they spout your opinion, incensed if they oppose your point of view and/or superior if they do a bad job of either one, which they're likely to do, since they got surprised by somebody with a microphone, video camera and notepad.

Every so often the woman on the street does a better job than the media, though, turning the tables. Such is the case with Cindy Sheehan's response to Time Magazine's choice for "Man of the Year" for 2004. "I hope that competence is finally rewarded and incompetence is appropriately punished."

A new (to me) referent to connect to one of the proliferating stock indices: Frank Russell, eponymized in the Russell 2000 index, is the man behind a major astroturf proponent of privatizing Social Security. Josh Marshall's still-timely article from 3 years ago spotlights the Coalition for American Financial Security (CAFS).

Just as with the war in Iraq, the currently touted "crisis" in Social Security has been a long time in the works, with a made-for-TV marketing rollout to move Congress along in the direction the Bush team already knows they want to go.

Marshall goes way deeper into the political maneuvers on this issue than anyone I've read to date, toting up the members of the Democratic Fainthearted Faction ("the thirteen Democrats who look most likely to go wobbly when President Bush comes a'courting, asking for votes to phase out Social Security") and the Republican Conscience Caucus ("those Republicans who might not quite be ready to sign on") who will determine the balance of what we eventually get. "I know this all gets complicated. But bear with me since Social Security really is an important program."

23.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

JR's house--and flag--on a hill Cold, clear, dry and bright. As the temperature's popping up toward melting, the dewpoint is diving into single digits.

A long time ago, I taught Tynan Smith in Sunday School. Now he's front page news for pegging the meter on the PSAT and SAT. Nice job!

Idaho's potato king, J.R. Simplot is just like everyone else in one respect: he can't take it with him. So, he's giving it to the state, for a governor's mansion. "It" being a 7,000+ square foot mansion plop on top of 36 acres of foothill. His gigantic flag is one of Boise's landmarks, and he's stipulated that it must continue to fly; so go figure why our local birdcage liner decided to dig out a "file photo" that was either pre-flag or Photoshopped. My photos of the house have it waving wide and free.

22.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Richard Perle still supports Rummy. (Oh, and GWB too.) Perle imagines that Rumsfeld was preparing our military for the new war order, but... but what? "He was in the process when the war came..." When the war came? As if it was some inclement weather that caught us by surprise?!

Listen to this and see how Richard Perle's mind works: " is the worst kind of second-guessing to suggest that because things didn't happen exactly as we thought they would, somehow, someone is responsible for that failure." So... no one is responsible? The "shit happens" school of political leadership -- nice.

Thomas Barnett may be a one-trick pony, but his trick is still hot. He's nothing if not voluble, and if you don't believe me, just ask him.

"I can always tell the left-handed compliment regarding PNM. It usually begins with, 'Say Tom, let me congratulate you yet again on your latest brush with fame.'

"What the person really means is, 'I can't believe you're still milking that! How come you get so much attention?'

"The answer is, of course, you gotta feed the beast. That's why the articles matter. That's why all those profiles matter. That's why all the TV and radio appearances matter. That's why all the speeches matter. That's why the million and a half words in the blog matter. That's why always saying yes matters."

I went to see if there was anything new in the latest stint on C-SAPN (as he so aptly mistyped it), followed the instructions to enable rtsp: for Real Player and got pause after giving pause when I saw that the segment was 2½ hours' worth. Sorry, don't have that kind of free time for more of the same (even though I couldn't resist looking in on some of it).

"What do we want Globalization IV to be about?" We can defend our country for $100 billion; the other third of a trillion we spend on the DOD is a "transaction with the rest of the world." We sell security in exchange for their willingness to sell us cheap goods on credit. But "they're going to want to buy success," not the sort of results they've been getting lately, I suspect.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our li'l Christmas tree Our start-of-winter weather is chilly, under a lifting inversion. I'm hoping for something above freezing for noontime tennis. Forecast for "patchy fog" right through Christmas, maybe some snow showers in the mountains, but we're behind and getting behinder in our water year. Again.

As seen on TV (and the NY Times): a site to help your Festivus celebration along.

New FBI Files Describe Abuse of Iraq Inmates, and while there aren't any terrible new allegations, there's increasing evidence that this is more than just a few bad apples acting without orders from anyone up the chain. The FBI investigators were particularly irked by the DOD torturers saying they were FBI agents. "The issue of military interrogators' impersonating FBI agents was especially troubling to bureau officials,... not least because they seem to have been unsuccessful in persuading the military to stop the practice."

Damn, yet another of the NSAIDs with heart risks. I took a lot more than 200mg naproxen a day for a lot more than 10 days when I had my frozen shoulder a couple years back, "under doctor's supervision" for what good that does. I had a prescription for it, but bought it over the counter, because it was cheaper that way, even with a prescription benefit on my employer health plan. The good news is that meant I was "only" taking 440mg at a time instead of the prescribed 500mg.

20.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The jolly battle between science and pseudo-scientific religiosity continues over here, and the Brits just shake their heads in wonder. Arthur C. Clarke put it this way: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." So few of us really understand our advanced technology (and even those who do have limited specialties) that we are all surrounded by magic. With no other way to distinguish between grades of magic, we all fall back to "faith" and "values" in some form or another.

"It's another theory. Darwinism has never been proved, it's just a theory." Theories are apparently sufficiently advanced technology for the Dover, Pennsylvania school board that they, too, are indistinguishable from magic. And their god's magic is preferable to that of some pointy-headed scientist.

19.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Maureen Dowd flips the Christmas classic into A Not So Wonderful Life: "Clarence, who can fly now, takes Rummy's hand and they soar over the icy Potomac to the Pentagon. Beneath the glass on the desk of the defense secretary is a list of members of Congress and their phone numbers...."

"There are a lot of people who lie and get away with it, and that's just a fact." -- Donald Rumsfeld

We're deep into the list-making of Rumsfeld's critics, we trust the retrospectives can't be far behind. We can't redo the whole story, but what if he'd at least had the decency to bow out after Abu Ghraib? Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Arizona Republic called for his resignation back then, now they're saying let's hold off a bit.

Finally getting around to watching Robert Greenwood's film Uncovered. As Rumsfeld so succinctly noted, a lot of people have gotten away with a lot of lies. That's just a fact. We're paying for it in lives, in the loss of our security and our position in the world, in the health of our economy, in our future. We're going to be paying for those lies for a long, long time.

18.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Think for a moment about who all might not like the sound of Smart Growth... developers, of course, bankers, investers, property owners who want to sell out. And 61% of Oregonians, incredibly, who voted for Measure 37, "designed to compensate property owners for virtually any state or local government regulation that has restricted the use of their property or reduced its fair market value." So much for the strongest planning laws in the country.

"What's clear is that Oregon is now headed into a maelstrom of legal maneuvers, a lawyers' field day of claims against cash-short local governments obliged to either lift regulations for owners with qualifying property or be liable for court suits."

Memory Glasses, photo from Ananova Ok, no more excuses for forgetting anything: just replay the recording of everything you've ever seen. (But where's the beer can holder?)

The Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications said the Iraqi insurgents hate our policies, not our freedoms. Helen Thomas notes that "Arabs were not yearning to be liberated except from the authoritarian regimes that the United States is supporting."

"The reality is that the Iraqis hate the conquest and occupation of their country, just as any people with pride in the world would."

Do you suppose they saw the poll results showing that 44% of Americans "believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans"? The more religious you are, the more Republican you are, the more attention you pay to TV news, the more likely you are to support faith-based apportionment of rights.

The forgoing just a couple of the tidbits exposed by John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for today, now available as a weblog (with months of archives) rather than simply more than you can handle coming into your inbox.

And in case you still aren't getting enough blog-news opportunities, you can try the magazine-style trio from Future Brief, "Science and Technology," "Society and Politics" and "Conflict and Security." I've followed Jeff Harrow's technology tidbits for a while, and they've been publishing some of his stuff, such as this article, The Genetic Revolution Is Already Here!

Too much of a good thing is not so good: report from The Christian Science Monitor that Computers can be a drag on learning: "It seems if you overuse computers and trade them for other [types of] teaching, it actually harms the student."

Howard Dean is still on the campaign trail, it seems, with a reminder to the next generation: "If you want to live in a democracy you have to work for it."

On ideology: "...Right-wing politics always ends up where it belongs—in the trash can of history. Any politics ends up in the trash can of history if it's based on ideology instead of facts."

And moral values: "It's not OK to mislead the American people and send over a thousand brave American soldiers to die in a foreign land... because you so badly wanted the result that you were willing to say anything to get that result. I don't think lying is a moral value.... I stand up for the moral values of the Democratic Party, not the moral values of segregationism, nationalism and homophobia."

We know he wants to be DNC Chairman, but the campaign-in-waiting is going to want more than that, I'm sure.

Ohio's having a special session for Campaign Finance Reform... to quadruple special interest contribution limits? Yeah, that ought to reform Ohio campaign finances.

17.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Paul Krugman is extending off-break appearances during his "book leave," no doubt because of the importance he sees in this issue of Social Security. Today's column Buying Into Failure describes possibly instructive experience from other countries that have tried privatizing their public pension funds. "Possibly," because why should we care about any other countries, right? But Chile and Britain suggest that privatizing is likely to increase costs (manyfold), and leave many retirees in poverty.

If you're tired of PK, the Century Foundation has a Social Security Network project, and they detail Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security is a Bad Idea

Somewhere in the 295 pages (oh, but they're small pages, only 6.02x9.01") of the FASB's Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 123 they might get to the point, I don't know. But the news tells me that they've finally said corporations have to account for granting stock options as an expense. If you read it and figure out how, let me know.

Their news release says the "cost will be measured based on the fair value of the equity or liability instruments issued" starting the middle of next year, but not how "fair value" will be determined.

Hi, I'm from Triad, and I'm here to help. We're going to tune up your ballot counting computers. Right before the recount. What county was that again? And what are the numbers supposed to be? You might want to write those down (use some kind of code) to make sure you get the "right" answer, and save yourself some work. Ohio's adventure continues.

15.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I heard more about the Sami Omar al-Hussayen case today, from the attorney who defended him, at Boise's City Club forum: David Nevin, on "The Rule of Law in Times of Terror." There were a lot of amazing and distressing things in the story Nevin told about the case. They kept the guy in jail for almost a year and a half, mostly in solitary confinement, and if he violated any laws (he probably didn't), the best they could do were niggling immigration paperwork issues.

They eavesdropped on 10,000 phone calls and looked through 20,000 emails, confiscated hard drives with 600 GB of data from him and others, enough to equal 200 Washington Monuments when printed out. And... there was nothing even close to a compelling case. They did have some compelling news footage, though, thanks to the FBI arranging to have a Spokane TV station on the spot when the arrest was made and search warrant served, at 4:00 in the morning. The satellite truck had parked in Pullman, Washington, 8 miles away so as not to blow the FBI's cover, came on over when the coast was clear.

Very disturbing violation of our fundamental principles here, and the timing suggests a chilling motive: the big splashy arrest came a month before the launch of the war in Iraq. See? They're all around us, infiltrated even a sleepy little town in North Idaho, they have. We'd better go get them before they get us!

We read that Mr. Gonzales reportedly "spent hours grilling Mr. Kerik," in "sessions (that) were aggressive and designed to make Mr. Kerik uncomfortable enough to reveal possible embarrassing events in his record" but somehow Bernie "apparently withheld some pertinent facts." Alberto just can't seem to dial in the proper nuance of torture.

Turns out it wasn't just the alien nanny, but also a shady deal to score an apartment for an affair with his book publisher. The apartment was in the Ground Zero neighborhood, so maybe he was gathering background information? Deep background information.

The headline is "Missteps Cited in Kerik Vetting by White House," and everybody's looking for the guy whose job it was to check him out. (The role of Bush's "personal enthusiasm" for Kerik is left as a colorful gloss on the story, although it makes me think about Bush's personal enthusiasm for his buddy Vladimir P.) The all-purpose excuse for why they nominated first and only then put him under the hot lights is that they got into the habit back in late 2000, when the extended election contest left "little time for investigating nominees."

You remember 2000, don't you? Just 4 short years ago.

Maybe they'll be finding time to do a little investigative work up front now.

12.12.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mark Danner, handicapping the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, in an interview in Mother Jones: "Osama bin Laden, had he gone to Madison Avenue and asked for an advertising image for jihad—even the best firm couldnít have come up with anything better than those images. One of the interesting things about the invasion and the occupation—and indeed, the U.S. efforts in the Middle East since 9/11—is the complete incompetence of so-called public diplomacy. The American belief that all you have to do is communicate better is singularly unfounded in this case. Itís not only that people have been incompetent and the efforts have been a disaster; itís also that the underlying case is difficult to make. The United States is occupying Iraq and waging a fairly brutal occupation."

Danner's been reporting on the war, and was "one of the first reporters to arrive on the scene of the bombing of the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad in October 2003." He's got a book book out on the subject: Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War On Terror.

Bush's nominee to replace John Aschcroft has a lot to answer for in this matter, but it's far from clear that he'll be made to do so: "I think there are very few people in the administration who are as important in all of these decisions as Gonzalez. One of the big questions will be when he comes before the Senate, to what degree these matters are raised and whether the Democrats take the opportunity to take these questions before the American people."

"What exactly would constitute our having lost this battle and making changes in the way we live and our attitudes towards human rights and civil liberties that would actually constitute a kind of defeat? Itís hard to think of something more obvious than American troops and American intelligence officers torturing prisoners. And doing it not only as an act of desperation in the field, but doing it as a matter of policy which has been developed at the highest level of the administration."

Michael Ignatieff, with unasked for advice for believers in Democratic Providentialism: "The democratic faith requires respect for the judiciary, deference to constitutional separation of powers, decent respect for the opinions of mankind, not to mention democratically ratified treaty law like the Geneva Conventions and, last but not least, the humility that goes with knowing that you serve the people, not a providential design that only you and other true believers can understand."

11.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We've been hearing about our poor performance in the PR war. If we want to win some hearts and minds, maybe publishing the writing of Iran's first woman judge, Nobel laureate, and defender of women's and children's rights, Shirin Ebadi could help. Just as soon as we figure out what is and is not "aiding the enemy."

Cringely's take on the IBM-Lenovo deal: "IBM got rid of a headache and in doing so, gained unique access to what will shortly be the world's largest IT market. This deal is all about China, not the U.S."

"Look for this partnership to expand inside China to cover much more than just personal computers as IBM tries to become the number one or two player in every segment of Chinese IT."

The latest report on opium production in Afghanistan includes an interesting array of facts. Production area is up more than 50,000 hectares, a 64% increase. Average yield is off 31%, though, so net production is only up one-sixth. 10% of the country's population is estimated to be involved in the industry, and income is down: the average farm price of fresh opium is down from $283 to $92/kg, even as the export value for the country is up, to $2.8 billion.

One of our (purely decorative) poppies Through the '90s, the farm price was fairly flat, from mid-$20s, to $40 per kilo. It jumped by a factor of ten in 2001 (peaking at $700/kg just before 9/11) when the Taliban imposed a ban. As production resumed the price came down, but it's still more than double where it used to be.

The NY Times reports today on a US military assessment that production is likely to continue to increase, "expanding the dangerous influence of drug lords at all levels of the government of President Hamid Karzai." The double-irony forecast is that "Taliban fighters and other militants will cement their ties to drug traffickers." And this: "Mr. Karzai called on his countrymen to declare a holy war against the fast-growing opium trade."

Afghanistan's Finance Minister, Ashraf Gani, weighs in on the Op-Ed page: Where Democracy's Greatest Enemy Is a Flower. His prescription is pretty much a complete overhaul: training, equipping and deploying national police, border police and counter-narcotics officers; stimulating economic growth to rebuild the country's infrastructure and reduce the influence of the drug economy; linking farm households to domestic and international markets to provide them viable economic alternatives; and to reform their judicial system, financial institutions and provincial governments.

David Brooks tries his hand at an Op-Ed column about economics. Critics of what's coming for Social Security reform are obsessed with their "belief that the Bushite corporate cabal is going to do to domestic programs what the Bushite neocon cabal did in the realm of foreign affairs. It's the belief in malevolent and shadowy forces that will grab everything for their own greedy ends."

It's even worse than liberalism, it's "conspiracyism."

He has the practical view, on which he assures us Teddy Roosevelt and Alexander Hamilton would back him up. "Corruption is the price we pay for economic freedom, and the benefits of that freedom vastly outweigh the costs."

Nevermind those concerns (little things like "he became rich working for companies that do business with the department he will oversee") about Bernard Kerik's suitability for head of Homeland Security. He's history. My first reaction to the "bad nanny" charge was that it seems—just as it seemed in the past—to be a minor violation, but then the Homeland Security Dept. supervises and enforces immigration law. And this is a bit unseemly: "the housekeeper, who had worked for the Kerik family for about a year, left for her home country two weeks ago." Now we don't have to bother with all those other Kerik investigations,

There are some among us who are not willing to give up so easily. "Let us pray for the best."

Fear not for Bernie's soft landing: "Kerik will return to Giuliani Partners," where no doubt the $millions will keep coming his way.

10.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wangari Maathai: "When I want to celebrate, I always plant a tree." 30 million trees later, she's celebrating receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. "The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space."

"It is not my own prize, but a recognition for the entire country. And Iím told the whole of Africa is celebrating."

News from the Palouse, Doug Wilson is still doing his pastoring thing, working a franchise arrangement with the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. His flavor of religion is not quite as nauseating as the Aryan Nations, but he seems to be bucking for a close second. Southern Slavery: As It Was, gee, not so bad after all. "Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care."

Sidney Blumenthal is ever-so-slightly less than sanguine about Bush's pick for new Homeland Security czar, Bernard Kerik. "In line with other second-term cabinet appointments - Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state - Kerik will be an enforcer, a loyalist and an incompetent."

It's party time and payback time, all rolled into one. You can sign up to be an "underwriter" for a $quarter million, or a mere "sponsor" for only $100,000, and then boogie down with George, Dick, Jenna and mini-Bar. "You or your corporation will be recognized on all printed materials."

Elisabeth Bumiller reports "organizers say that the inaugural celebration at the end of the January will not be marked by any noticeable restraint and will cost more than any other in history." All that without checks from now-bankrupt Enron or Kenny Boy; they combined for $200,000 last go 'round.

Krugman's got another column on Social Security, taking a break from his break. His description of the big plan sounds like the biggest pyramid scheme in history:

"How, then, can privatizers claim that they could secure the future of Social Security without raising taxes or reducing the incomes of future retirees? By assuming that workers would invest most of their accounts in stocks, that these investments would make a lot of money and that, in effect, the government, not the workers, would reap most of those gains, because as personal accounts grew, the government could cut benefits."

The short-term beneficiaries are the banks, brokerage firms and current investors who will see their fees, commissions and existing portfolios jump with the new money rushing in. And money doesn't getting any newer than this: we're borrowing from the future, mortgaging the grandkids, betting on the come, investing on margin like never before.

That's definitely worth a $250,000 ticket to the ball, eh?

"If Mr. Bush were to say in plain English that his plan to solve our fiscal problems is to borrow trillions, put the money into stocks and hope for the best, everyone would denounce that plan as the height of irresponsibility. The fact that this plan has an elaborate disguise, one that would add considerably to its costs, makes it worse.

"And maybe the fact that serious financial experts, the sort qualified to be Treasury secretary, understand all this is the reason why John Snow has just been reappointed."

9.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If you're looking for reasons not to go find out if the item you want is marked down to be an "Everyday Low Price" loss-leader, or just a regular deal you could get somewhere else, here's a ton of 'em for not shopping at Wal-Mart.

And if you're wondering about your aptitude to work there, consider this: "When Barbara Ehrenreich took the test at the Minneapolis Wal-Mart, she was told that she had given a wrong answer when she agreed 'strongly' with the proposition that 'rules have to be followed to the letter at all times.' The only acceptable answer for Wal-Mart was 'very strongly.' Similarly, the only correct answer to the proposition 'there is room in every corporation for a non-conformist' was: 'totally disagree.'"

You get to participate through your federal government, too. Wal-Mart's workers are underpaid to the point where they place demands on social services, running an estimated $2.5 billion annual welfare bill. The limited power of the National Labor Relations Act allows the company to violate legal and ethical standards with virtual impunity; just a minor cost of doing business, and keeping Wal-Mart union-free.

WSJ tech guy Walt Mossberg gushes over OS X and the G5 iMac, pities us poor Windows people. We don't need that, we feel sorry enough for ourselves as it is.

"In terms of ease of use, Apple has opened a greater lead over Microsoft than at any time since the late 1980s, when the Mac was pioneering the graphical user interface and Microsoft users were stuck with crude, early versions of Windows."

8.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Big, soaking rain down here today, temperature in the high 30s. That makes for a major snowfall up higher, footasnow at Bogus and still snowing. How nice that opening day is tomorrow. :-) Only problem is that it's forecast to be warm, maybe up past 50°F. We'll see what we can get at the opening bell, and hope that the rocks and stumps are covered well enough.

If you went out to the new tri-corp. site to fetch your credit report, perhaps you ran into the "you must type this address in your browser" page, triggered by having a wrong Referer. It seemed a bit pointless, but not until I stumbled into William Vambenepe's corporate blog did I see the logical fallacy: "If it works (because the link is a fake), then I have no reason to suspect anything fishy and I'm in trouble. If it doesn't work (because the link is real) then I'll see that I have to enter the URL by hand and I will be out of trouble but I wasn't in trouble to start with since the link was correct."

James K. Galbraith is imagining a variety of paths to economic apocalypse, even though he thinks it isn't quite imminent. Bringing back the gold standard (or at least "global fixed exchange rates") is part of his prescription, 30 years on from the "disastrous failure" of floating exchange rates.

The rumored IBM-Lenovo PC deal is now officially in the works, and having done some corporate-to-corporate business with Big Blue, I find it astounding to contemplate the negotiations and legal harangue that must surround it all. In The NY Times' report about the "bridge" between two cultures, there's this: "...IBM will continue to handle technical support, financing and warranty coverage globally for its former personal computer division. Those tend to be steady and profitable cash-generating businesses, even as the PC business itself has been only intermittently profitable..."

How like them to keep the good parts and sell the bad, but I still have some questions. I can imagine financing being a profitable business, but technical support? And warranty coverage? How do you make money providing warranty coverage?

Then this understatement for the Chinese company's prospects: "it is not clear that a business that was struggling under IBM will thrive under Lenovo." No kidding. Michael Dell, likely the biggest winner in the mêlée, puts it this way: "When was the last time you saw a successful merger or acquisition in the computer industry? It hasn't happened, at least not in a long, long time." And, "We like to acquire our competitors one customer at a time." (Lots) more news and analysis.

The new bipartisanship: the intelligence overhaul bill, nominally carrying the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission forward and supported by the President, was kept off the floor of the House until leaders could be assured it would pass with a majority of Republicans, rather than just a majority. They managed to get it approved 336 to 75 on December 7, for a symbolic kicker. The chairman of the House intelligence committee promises us "a more aggressive, a more vibrant and a more organized intelligence community." More vibrant.

When it comes to keeping your cabinet post, it helps to be a bigger bully than everyone around you, apparently. The LA Times whinges that "Rumsfeld should have resigned months ago, when he pledged to take full responsibility—a meaningless gesture, apparently—for the Abu Ghraib prison scandals. We've since learned that prisoner abuses encouraged by the administration's disdain for international law were more widespread, reaching from Guantanamo to Afghanistan."

Oh, and that "disastrous lack of judgment in the conduct of Iraqi operations," too. Where's Donald Trump when you need him?

We'd rather see Kofi Annan fired, apparently, as the Oil-for-Food skimming scandal ripens. But wait, says John Ruggie for The International Herald Tribune: "The United States and Britain, along with the other members of the UN Security Council, designed and oversaw the oil-for-food program," had plenty of people reviewing the deals and did nothing to stop 36,000 of them.

I'm guessing our friendships with Halliburton, Ingersoll-Rand and General Electric are more important to the administration than any support for the Annans or the UN.

7.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Prepaid Legal Services, Inc., has been a sleepy investment of ours for a while. It seemed like a good business concept, even though running into sales booths at craft fairs can be a bit disconcerting. I didn't see my copy of their letter to shareholders until I looked up their headlines, after noticing this morning that PPD had lit up yesterday (and has been ramping up for a month and a half).

A $.50 dividend is nice, as is knowing that my "thanks but no thanks" response to their offer to repurchase our shares (for something like $26) a couple months ago was the right move. Ya gotta like this from your company's boss: "Our focus is to maximize the value of each share outstanding." And this, "in that same vein," "we no longer grant options."

Chairman and CEO Harold Stonecipher also urges his shareholder readers to become members themselves, but hearing about all that "excess cash" being generated by the business makes me wonder how good a deal that is. I suppose it could be a good deal for both sides, in the way that insurance is? At any rate, they've got a lot of customers, and by his report, a lot of happy ones.

Fig. 2-17 from the huge OECD PISA 2003 report Education takes money, to be sure, but more money doesn't necessarily produce better results. The latest Programme for International Student Assessment results gave the USA no better than a C-minus overall.

"The main focus in PISA 2003 was on mathematics, but the survey also looked at student performance in problem-solving, science and reading and at students' approaches to learning and attitudes to school." Finland got the top grade: "Finland already led in the PISA 2000 reading assessment, and in PISA 2003 it maintained its high level of reading literacy while further improving its performance in mathematics and science."

The whole report is available online, 471 pages (!) of fascinating information and graphs about educational means and ends, and the variation among nations, cultures and economic status.

6.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The most interesting tidbit for me in the Pew Internet & American Life Project's latest report, on Artists, Musicians and the Internet is that a sizeable proportion of the general public (15%) think that "Recording a movie or TV show on a VHS tape to watch in your own home at a later time" should be illegal.

It's not a good sign when Dick Cheney's duck hunting buddy is making up history as he goes along. Antonin Scalia saying "I am not a nut" has a certain resonance with Tricky Dick's famous lie, "I am not a crook."

Molly Ivins: Torture in Our Names.

"Our country, the one you and I are responsible for, has imprisoned these 'illegal combatants' for three years now. What the hell else do we expect to get out of them? We don't even release their names or say what they're charged with—whether they're Taliban, al-Qaida or just some farmers who happened to get in the way.

"If this hasn't been established in three years, when will it be? How long are they to be subjected to 'humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions'?

"In the name of Jesus Christ Almighty, why are people representing our government, paid by us, writing filth on the Korans of helpless prisoners? Is this American? Is it Christian? What are our moral values? Where are the clergymen on this?"

5.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Matt Taibbi sniffs out PNAC operatives deep in the bowels of the Democrat party.

"...this unelected bund of corporate pawns is once again going to end up writing the party platform and arranging things to make sure that no anti-war candidate is allowed to compete for votes in the primaries. It will push one of its own—probably Harold Ickes, or (Donna) Brazile—in next year's election for the chairman of the Democratic Party. And when that person wins, the tens of millions of Democrats who opposed the war will have to get used to people like Will Marshall referring to them as 'we' in front of roomfuls of reporters..."

4.Dec.4 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Friedman: Fly Me to the Moon. "George W. Bush's opportunity to be both Nixon to China and J.F.K. to the moon - in one move" of depriving despots of their oil money. I bet he doesn't.

Shoot, I haven't come close to mastering the 7 habits of highly effective people (but at least I don't have the 7 habits of highly ineffective people—as far as I know, anyway) and now there's an 8th one. I may have a start on it, anyway...

Having tolerance as an essential virtue does not mean anything goes. Intolerance of intolerance is a core of tolerance; a paradox that must be resolved by underlying moral values. Europe, for one, is reaching its limit with Islamism.

Some of the tidbits in this story about the dollar's fall testing the nerve of Asian bankers are amazing. The Japanese Finance Ministry manages a portfolio of US government securities worth a $720 billion. (They like the idea of a strong[er] dollar very, very much.) The US borrowed $620 billion from abroad this year. The Chinese diversifying out of T-bills and into real estate has helped prolong our real estate boom. (They're looking for higher yield, don't you know.) Toyota loses $195 million in annual profit for each 1¥ drop in the $. Western bankers need to keep the Chinese currency traders happy, but those guys are not allowed to accept "gifts."

"So fee-hungry bankers fly regularly to Beijing from Hong Kong - some making the trip practically every week - to take traders out for lavish evenings. For some, one banker said, this duty can become wearisome. The Chinese traders enjoy bowling, he said, but they also have a reputation for wanting to attend Mandarin romantic operas, an acquired taste at best."

The buzz about IBM's sale of its PC business to Lenovo is all over the news this week. Personal computing has been so intertwined with my life over the past 2 decades (plus) that I can't help but be fascinated. This factoid cited by the president of Sun Microsystems jumped out at me, talking about how the "post-PC" era is four years on: last year a billion wireless handsets were sold, compared with 100 million personal computers.

Those handsets are arguably more personal computers than things that sit in the home, office or briefcase. I feel a bit out of sorts as a non-adopter (so far) of wireless handsets. We've got a cordless phone at home, but that's as far as we've gone. And having just assembled a hot-rod PC on my own for the first time—taking advantage of the open specification that IBM brought to the industry, btw—makes me feel like some sort of throwback, left in the dust by a younger generation I don't quite understand.

One of my former cow-orkers sends out an occasional "thought for the day." Yesterday's, from Paul Valery, was a humdinger:

"The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us."

3.Dec.04 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coming soon: the Lenovo PC (formerly known as the Legend PC, formerly known as the IBM PC). I rather doubt there's any factual basis for this statement in the article: "If I.B.M.'s personal computer business ends up being sold to Lenovo, it would continue the migration of high-technology manufacturing to China and Taiwan." As if IBM's PCs have any "high-technology manufacturing" content from the US right now? Their sub, Sanmina-SCI, is "based in San Jose, Calif.," but I imagine not building much in that high-priced neighborhood.

Maureen Dowd complains that it's still A Man's World, on TV, at least. "Even if I felt like raising a ruckus about Boys Nation, who would care? Feminism lasted for a nanosecond, but the backlash has lasted 30 years. We are in the era of vamping, self-doubting Desperate Housewives, not strong, cutting Murphy Brown. It's the season of prim 'stay in the background' Laura Bush, not assertive 'two for the price of one' Hillary. Where would you even lodge a feminist protest these days?"

Sheesh, third day into the new month and I haven't had anything to say? Too busy, I guess. Yesterday was car errands, buying a set of wheels and new snow tires for the kid's 18th birthday. May she use them in good health! The sticker shock was pretty formidable, I have to say. When I got home from that 2½ hour ordeal, I expected to go pick up the Prius after its 5th and final "free" maintenance session, with a Toyota service campaign kicker. There was a 5-hour thing involving resealing the high-voltage battery. Jeanette said they'd called and had "broke a part while putting it back together... they had to order a replacement" and our car won't be ready until Tuesday. :-( They had Enterprise bring over a loaner; the sort-of lookalike Echo, not nearly as satisfying to drive.

Map and table of when free credit reports will be available Did you hear about the free credit report legislation? The western states get to go first. I went out to get mine with mixed success. After going through the joint site front-end, and then all of Equifax's fill-in forms, it said it couldn't do it on line for some unexplained reason, but I could print out this here PDF and mail it to them if I liked. Transunion's web app worked a little better, but it wanted me to give the particulars of my street address, which included our apartment number... in California, where they think we still live. Experian asked for the last 4 digits of my SSN (after I'd already given the full number), then errored out right there.

So, 1 out of 3, but free for the trying. Our credit looks good, not a big surprise. Tried following the "click here" to correct our address with TransUnion, that gave a login page that didn't like the user name and password I'd just supplied. And there are a couple of entries that have "Estimated date that this item will be removed" a year or two ago.

On a related note, the Frontline video, Secret History of the Credit Card is now online.

Apply the Google principle to the news and you get... (no, not Google News) the top 25 emailed stories of the day.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Thursday, 06-Jan-2005 14:02:28 MST