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30.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One by one the boundaries of late adoption are traversed. I finally signed up for an eBay account yesterday, prompted by the suggestion that it could be a good place to get a new battery for my aging notebook computer. I signed on to PayPal as well to get the money moving. There seems to be a lot of overhead for this sub-$50 transaction, but it's all going smoothly enough... I went for the $5 higher "buy it now" price, rather than play at a 2 or 3-day auction. I've got notices from everybody (8 emails so far?), welcomes, including "Welcome to the joys of Bonded Shopping" from buySAFE (and an invitation to send a note to the seller to thank them for using it).

And well less than 24 hours later, a ship notice and DHL tracking number. Nice.

Not quite so modern-sounding but still a part of it all, we also tried out the 24-hour emergency animal care business model yesterday, after being surprised by Sami's tender flank turning into a draining abcess. The bill for reassurance, a course of anti-biotics, way more pain medication than she or we need and a very nice haircut in the affected area was... $133. We declined the $5-600 surgical option to have a drainage tube inserted and so-on, had to sign a waiver about all that. Holy cow. It was just like the human medical care system in a lot of ways, most of the hours spent waiting in an exam room. We finally got fed up and asked for the bill... Part of the delay was that they were filling individual syringes with doses of the pain medication. Either they trusted us to dose out the antibiotics on our own, or we rushed them before they could get all those filled up.

The vet who handled her and gave that effective shave was clearly capable, had a wonderful manner to put her at ease and spent about 10 minutes of quality time with her and us before passing our case onto the technician pushing computer buttons to generate the surgery proposal. Then a quick 1-minute rundown of abcess care after he found out we'd said no, thanks.

The net effect was a depressing foreshadowing of how much of the ends of our lives we'll be spending in similar over-capitalized facilities, in little exam rooms, with extraneous equipment fans for accompaniment.

29.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The updated Republican lexicon: "rebuked," "admonished," "admonished," "admonished," "indicted," "scandal," "crony," "incompetent," "blunder," "spendthrift," "scandal," "grand jury," "obstruction," "lying to investigators," "ethical lapse," "hubris," "debt." Time to put the Hammer down, good buddy. (And why is Cheshire Rove still working in the White House?)

One little ray of sunshine for them is that their man got an easy ride into the Chief Justice swivel chair, with the consolation to the left that we won't have to say "Chief Justice Scalia" or Thomas. Twenty or so years from now, we'll know if today's fair-haired boy was a good idea or not.

28.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Here's news: "The indictment of Mr. DeLay, while not entirely unexpected, still reverberated through the Capitol." The ex parte Majority Leader has to step down at least temporarily, thanks to the revised and then unrevised Republican rules, while maintaining his innocence and again accusing that dastardly Democrat D.A. Ronnie Earle of a "purely political investigation." We shall see.

Those big hurricanes have spun off some strange vortices. Could we have imagined our compassionate conservative president adding "conserver" to his résumé this fall? "We can all pitch in by being better conservers of energy," he told us, in-between his countless chauffeur-piloted Air Force One expeditions to the Gulf Coast for compassionate photo ops.

Maybe that's going to change, as someone told the teleprompter "it darn sure makes sense for federal employees to curtail nonessential travel." It also said damn the environment, we need more gas, so we can suspend EPA rules some more and hey, isn't it time we started drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the coast of California?

Custom neon sign hung on the UP souvenir car's ladder David Corn informs that Kenneth Tomlinson is out of the Chair at the CPB, with Cheryl Halpern now lead dog. Vice-lead is Gay Hart Gaines, "an interior decorator by training," who's been good for "at least half a million dollars to GOP causes since 1998" with her husband. "Notably, Gaines was a charter member and chairman of GOPAC," Newt Gingrich's fund-raising nexus that provided the 1990 memo, Language: A Key Mechanism of Control. If you wonder where the thesaurus for us vs. them came from, this could be a clue:

Us are "caring," "freedom," "liberty," "moral," prosperity," and "strength. Them are "betray," "bizarre," "cheat," "corrupt," "destroy," "disgrace," "greedy," "incompetent," "intolerant," "radical," "shallow," "steal," "sick," and yes, "unionized traitors."

It apparently came as a surprise to Karen Hughes that it's possible to be happy under a repressive regime. (Hey, she could've asked me!) Much of happiness, like beauty, comes from within, although external forces do come into play. Over here we've got democracy and middle class wealth unequalled in the history of the world but we're feeling the malaise from $3, $4, maybe $5-a-gallon gasoline. "Consumer confidence" took its biggest hit in 15 years in August, from north of 100 to south of 87. Perhaps some Europeans could give lessons about happiness under these conditions? Start in the Netherlands, where gas is now $6.48/gal.

Maybe the Saudi women are happy because their drivers are only paying $.91 a gallon? Or maybe she made a mistake by talking to the "privileged elite," always more likely to be happy. It's not like a repressive regime doesn't benefit someone after all, and the someones benefited by the Saudi elite includes plenty of US elites. Such as Ms. Hughes, taking her jet-powered joy ride to the Arabian peninsula.

Peter Valdes-Dapena on CNN's Money site tells us "not to buy the hype" about hybrids even as people are lining up to do so: "The average Prius goes unsold for only about 20 hours after it hits a Toyota dealer's lot" these days. After deprecating the hybrid Honda Accord and Ford Escape, he notes that "the Prius could be an exception," but he can't be sure because there isn't a non-hybrid Prius he can use for a simple-minded comparison.

My guess is Mr. Valdes-Dapena hasn't actually driven a Prius for an extended period and so can't comment on the sense of luxury beyond "making a social statement." It's satisfying to operate really well-engineered machinery. It's quiet and efficient. It sits still when stopped in traffic, and doesn't stink up the air.

Just in time for (another) Christmas: the unending battle over the next DVD format. Microsoft and Intel announced they're choosing sides, going with HD-DVD over Blu-ray, Toshiba (et al.) over Sony (et al., including HP and Dell). Yawn. This is almost as exciting as the fight over Instant Messaging networks. Wake me when it's over, wouldja?

Two days later, Toshiba announced the delay of its US launch of HD DVD player. "Around February or March" sort of misses the holiday buying season.

26.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We signed up for TimesSelect, chipping in $40 for a year of elite opinion, and occasional impressive features. We didn't decide to get it as part of a Sunday subscription because past experience has shown that there's just no way we can read 40 Sunday papers in a year, much less 52. While reading Krugman today, I started wondering how substantially his and the other op-ed writers' circulation just got trimmed. I'm guessing 80% or more of the web-only readers will miss them but move on to some other free content rather than pay for web views.

I lose out on blogging material because none (?) of my readers signed up (or did you?). Now I can't invite you to play Find the Brownie or Two Degrees of Jack Abramoff because you can't read the rules for the games. Well, maybe I can explain:

"The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections." Krugman quotes Time magazine estimating that it's not a difficult game: "Bush has gone further than most presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of."

For Two Degrees, "the goal isn't to find important political players who were chummy with Mr. Abramoff - that's too easy. Instead, you have to find people linked by employment. One degree of Jack Abramoff is someone who actually worked for the lobbyist. Two degrees is a powerful Washington figure who hired someone who formerly worked for Mr. Abramoff, or who had one of his own former employees go to work for Mr. Abramoff."

Grover Norquist is a one-degree man. Karl Rove—exactly why hasn't he been fired yet?!—and Tom DeLay are two-degree men.

Speaking of liberal media, is this what the local detractors would like to see happen in this country?

"China on Sunday imposed more restrictions intended to limit the news and other information available to Internet users, and it sharply restricted the scope of content permitted on Web sites. The rules are part of a broader effort to roll back what the Communist Party views as a threatening trend toward liberalization in the news media...."

They're making a go at squelching bloggers, too: "The rules also state that private individuals or groups must register as 'news organizations' before they can operate e-mail distribution lists that spread news or commentary. Few individuals or private organizations are likely to be allowed to register as news organizations, meaning they can no longer legally distribute information by e-mail."

China says: "The foremost responsibility of news sites on the Internet is to serve the people, serve socialism, guide public opinion in the right direction, and uphold the interests of the country and the public good."

Bucky Badger It seems that the Badgers are making up for the hapless Pack's dismal 0-3 start. Having never actually turned out for a game at Camp Randall, I can only imagine what being one of the 83,069 would have been like. Raucous fun, I bet.

24.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The UP 3985 'Challenger', parked at the Boise depot The steam train's a comin'! It appears to be on schedule, ticking off the section names I've never heard of along the Snake river: Cobb, Wix, Feltham, Wood... When it gets to Nampa for a 15-min. whistle stop, we should have most of an hour to get lined up down by the depot.

Not exactly a photogenic day with gray overcast and light mist, but we'll do what we can.

It didn't disappoint! The savvy foamers gathered along the tracks by Alpine Ave. and chatted happily until the appointed hour came and went and then in the far distance we could see the smoke above the buildings and trees, hear the low, mournful whistle... about 15 minutes late out of Nampa, we had about a mile stretch to see it come, anticipate the thrill. I'm a little sorry I had my face glued to the camcorder, but it was still a gratifying thrill to have the big engine roll past.

It's pulling a beautifully painted train of streamlined passenger cars, all but one of which was closed off to the general public. The open one was the souvenir shop...

My favorite part of the display was seeing all the 5-year-old kids in total awe of this great machinery.

23.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Even better, Rita petering: eased to Category 3, but that's still a Big Deal. Winds may still reach tropical storm-force as far as 200 miles from the center.

Excerpt of NYT graphic, Rita's forecast path Start of a new season up here, it's still just "hurricane season" on the gulf. Stories of "100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas" made me think about our Prius' hybrid technology: it doesn't idle while stuck in traffic jams, and would need only the same 2+ gallons as usual to go through a hundred mile jam. Seems so obvious after the fact...

As for disaster planning... being able to drive just 45 miles in 12 hours signals some work left to do. Having a bus explode definitely compounded the trouble, and grief...

The sort-of good news is that Rita seems to be bearing N, and may not hit Galveston, Houston or its ship channel head-on, sliding between Lake Charles, Louisiana and Galveston. New Orleans is likely to get 3 to 5" more rain that they don't need or want. The bad news is that a straighter jetstream then Katrina saw will leave Rita hanging out over east Texas and Arkansas for days.

Gee, maybe drowning government in a bathtub is not such a good idea, huh?

21.Sept.2005 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hurricane Rita's forecasted track, as of Wednesday 4pm CDT Now Rita's gone Cat 5, it could be the biggest storm in history. After Katrina, we presume no one needs to be notified that this is not a drill.

Heard about this new thing on the radio yesterday, then saw a slashdot item about it on my Google home page. Good thing, I missed the 'o' in the domain name, and I probably wouldn't have remembered anyway: It's about "social bookmarks," sharing information about what information is about. The next step in the evolution of search? Mebbe, but guessing combinations of contained words is having a pretty good run these days.

If popularity of tagging is a measure of quality, then their most popular "of all time" should be the crème de la crème, but I don't quite see it yet. Coming soon?

It did turn up Scott Berkun's essay, Why software sucks (And what to do about it), which I enjoyed, starting with this: "Whenever you hear someone say 'This sucks' they are doing several things simultaneously: expressing frustration, experiencing shock, using criticism to mask feelings of helplessness in a cruel universe, and, most importantly, communicating the gap between their expectations and reality."

"We're frustrated most in life by things that come close to our deepest needs, but don't deliver."

On Microsoft's next big thing (they hope), currently at pre-Beta 1: "Office 12.0 is revealing radical interface changes and user paradigm shifts that recall the overly ambitious Microsoft Office 97 update of the past."

Just think of the training opportunities, millions of office workers drooling for a radical interface change! The main thing I remember about Office97 was that it was hideously broken for old file formats, in what was either stunning incompetence or a baldly unethical goad to make customers buy a new, unneeded product.

Looking back to the goaded migration to Office2000, I see that one of the top 10 problems more than 5 years ago was "ActiveSync on Windows CE devices no longer works with Outlook 2000." Funny (not ha ha) that I just overcame that same bug with Outlook2003, WinXP and a new Windows Mobile 2003 SE device: some process had stuffed a 1996-vintage Mapi32.dll on my system and I had to eliminate it with the oh-so-elegantly-named "fixmapi.exe" program. MS has knowledgebase articles for an array of versions that are creatively broken for inter-app communication.

As our teenaged niece came to realize early on, excessive vulgarity is not attractive, nor clever, but more often a signal of dullness. It's not about to go away however, as this engaging piece in the NYT describes with some nice turns of phrase:

"(N)either biblical commandment nor the most zealous Victorian censor can elide from the human mind its hand-wringing over the unruly human body, its chronic, embarrassing demands and its sad decay. Discomfort over body functions never sleeps, Dr. Burridge said, and the need for an ever-fresh selection of euphemisms about dirty subjects has long served as an impressive engine of linguistic invention."

20.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I picked up one of the 10th anniversary copies, and now I see that the Opera browser is ad-free and free for everyone, suggesting that neither "free" software laden with advertising or a non-free browser is a viable business strategy. While Opera software was trying to make one or both work, Firefox seems to have taken over the mindshare of "speed, security and unmatched usability," and it will be difficult to gain that back. Just what is the business model, anyway?

"Analysts said Opera has reached a threshold of popularity that allows it to unshackle the browser from fees and ad support and recoup the revenues through paid search, marketing relationships and other avenues."

Doesn't sound like something I'd invest in, but YMMV. This Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox's opinions don't sound worth a plugged nickel if you ask me. They'll make money on "volume"? Opera is the Cadillac of browsers? (Do they give Cadillacs away now?)

19.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Boise depot, at sunrise Gave the weekend over to sporting, for two events in the 10th anniversary Eagle Tennis Tournament. As usual, the Eagle Tennis Association did a great job of organizing and running the thing, feeding us on Saturday and Sunday, handing out t-shirts and a little schwag from one of the sponsors along with the valuable prizes for the winners. As with last year's tournament, we had weather Friday night and were rolling and squeegeeing and waiting Saturday morning, but got back on schedule by Sunday morning. I played 14 sets and 2 10-point tie-breakers in 6 matches in the two days. The singles final on Sunday afternoon went 3 hours before I finally outlasted Scott Hogan for the trophy. I suppose I'll have to move up again, play 4.0 and get my butt kicked next year... but I get a warm afterglow to go with the sore muscles for the last couple days of this summer.

Coming to Boise next weekend: the Pacific Northwest Heritage Tour 2005, 314 tons of live steam! The schedule makes it look like you could go to LaGrande, see it arrive on Friday, stay overnight, watch it leave and then race it to Boise for the 4pm arrival on Saturday. Were you so inclined.

They now show the layover in Meridian rather than Boise, but without connecting the arrival at "Old Depot" here to the layover in "Meridian - Downtown," hmmm. Need to stay connected to use their real-time tracking page to see what becomes of "subject to change."

With midly ironic timing, Frank Rich's last column before the Times Select paywall curtain closes starts with Katrina opening the curtain on the humbugged GWB, exposing his and his administration's "rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of 'compassionate conservatism,' the lack of concern for the 'underprivileged' his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action."

Speaking of rampant cronyism, remember all that government bashing of the EPA and Superfund? You don't hear much of that any more because the PR campaign successfully provided cover for completion of the corporate liability dismissal acts:

"When Superfund became law in 1986, the oil and chemical industries persuaded Congress to include two liability loopholes. First, petroleum is exempted from the definition of hazardous waste. Second, 'acts of God' constitute an affirmative defense for toxic spills. In exchange, the industry agreed to the imposition of 'polluter pays' fees to provide a steady and reliable source of money to pay for toxic cleanups–especially in cases where liability could not be imposed....

"While the loopholes were drafted as permanent, the polluter pays provision required reauthorization by Congress.

"And thatís where the chemical companies went to work–launching a multi-year PR campaign to smear Superfund and undercut support for polluter pays. In 1995, their efforts paid off; Congress failed to reauthorize the fees. As a result, the Superfund is now officially bankrupt. The Oil Spill Liability fund is expected to be bankrupt by 2009, although costs to clean Katrina oil spills may advance this date. And in case you hadnít heard, Exxon/Mobil just reported record-breaking profits on the order of $8 billion earnings last quarter...."

Prescience is not a big help when no one's listening or acting on your advice, and there was plenty of advice about the Mississippi delta that went unheeded. Still, Chris Mooney's title from a May 2005 article has an eerie echo: Thinking Big About Hurricanes; It's time to get serious about saving New Orleans.

"A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion. In the wake of such a tragedy, some may even question the wisdom of trying to rebuild the city at all...."

16.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Missouri-Mississippi watershed What do most of West Virginia, some of western Virginia and almost all of Montana have in common? They drain through New Orleans, as this map from National Geographic Magazine shows. Those of us in the NW portion justifiably think of it as the Missouri-Mississippi watershed. The map accompanied a 2004 article forecasting Katrina's destruction with eerie precision.

"The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours–coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast.

The leader of the free world needs permission to go to the toilet?! Who knew?

15.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The resistance of the auto industry to hybrid gas/electric technology would make an interesting case study. The engineering that's gone into the Toyota Prius is outstanding, but even that company brought it to market ever-so-carefully. Perhaps that was just what was needed to keep it from being a marketing flop, but now that they've proven the value of their work, and world events have created more incentive than ever, we read that "Europe's auto executives remain privately skeptical, even dismissive, about the merits of hybrid technology." They wanted Diesel to win, it seems (and did have some pretty good contenders with that). Yes, for driving across the country, a diesel engine can be more effienct. But just as those luxury SUVs mostly never get off the road, much less have the highway to themselves, we don't put most of our miles on driving coast-to-coast.

So we get reluctant execs commanding bags on the side, so they can check the box on the spec sheet, use the buzzword in ads, and imagine they're "meeting demand" in some fashion.

Sign in the Denver Art Museum, 'Keep Pencils Safe' If price has been holding you back from buying a video camera and software editing suite, how does $80 sound? You probably need to add some storage, but SD cards are cheap, and Mattel's Vidster sounds like an interesting exercise in user interface design if nothing else. 1.3Mpx stills, just 6 to 8 minutes of action on the supplied SD card, but a cheap 256MB card would get you about an hour. Four AA batteries. If they'd made it waterproof, I'd be on my way to the store right now. Maybe.

"(P)roducts like the Vidster have generated a cult following among adults, who have created Web sites and even film festivals that feature kitschy footage from devices like the Fisher Price PXL 2000...."

The comments section is fun too, from savvy parents to sneering 14-year-olds to eager 8-year-olds. "And yes, I intentinally misspell Anonymous." Cranium sez: "This thing is horrible. You might think I had my expectations set too high, but trust me-it's bad.... Would a ten year old turn their nose up at it? Would an 8 year old find it acceptable? Let me put it this way: I think my one year old actually said 'yuck.' Not suitable for anyone, at any age."

And while you're out stocking up on gadgetry, pick up an iPod Nano why don't you? "(N)o other flash player on the market offers anything close to the Nano's concept or capacity." It's a bit more spendy though, $250.

Excerpt of the wonderful photo accompanying the NYT story Gee, why can't we be more like the penguins? The ideal example of monogamy, steadfast faith, and a compelling argument for Intelligent Design. Or something. Don't mind that guy next to you with the flashlight taking notes: he's just writing down what God speaks to him as He speaks.

One of the things He's saying is that the idea of birds who can't fly but who swim beautifully somehow appealed to Him, and behold the glorious Penguin. Living on, under and around ice was just a bonus.

Some Republicans do care about the environment, of course. Theodore Roosevelt was one. Theodore Roosevelt IV is another, and a lifetime member of REP America. They're happy to take on the ORV lobby, among other things. Responding to this administration's January, 2003 stealth attack on roadless lands:

"Under an administrative rule announced on a day when few would pay attention, any 19th century burro trail or wagon track could be routinely approved as a highway right-of-way on public lands. The rule... could result in thousands of roads being punched into the national parks and wilderness areas that define America....

"The impacts of bulldozing scattershot roads into protected lands would be immense. Roads mangle watersheds, eroding soil, wrecking fisheries, and damaging streams. Roads are invasion routes for me-first miscreants who poach wildlife, steal natural resources and archaeological artifacts, and dump trash in the back country. Roads strip wild lands of their primitive character, permanently breaking our generation's connection with the young America that Lewis and Clark and other early explorers traveled....

"Like rats carrying fleas, off-road vehicles bring weeds, plant disease, and other pest organisms into wild forests. Inevitably, outlaw riders leave legal roads and tear across open country, ruining wetlands, meadows, and other high-quality wildlife habitat...."

14.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If you're trendy, Firefox is already old news (albeit an essential tool), and Flock is the new wave. Web 2.0 is no longer read-only. (And somebody already snarfed WriteTheWeb.)

Somebody used one of my favorite words for a Firefox me-too, which suddenly seems over before it started. Unless you run the GNOME desktop, I suppose.

Todd Purdum has to dig deep to make the story of John Roberts' confirmation hearing interesting. Describing softballs lobbed up from the friendly side and blooped out of the park (oh wait, he said he wasn't going to bat, didn't he?) and all the pitches dodged from the "bad" guys. "At times, Judge Roberts's responses were so bland as to tremble on the precipice of platitude..."

The main thing is not to give the opposition a reason they can use to justify voting against you, and whether or not he's capable of doing the job on the Supreme Court, I'm confident that Roberts can handle the Judiciary Committee well enough.

Here's why POTUS and VPOTUS like to control their photo ops: FU Cheney: See Movie, Buy Shirt.

13.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"This century should be the century of compassion." The Dalai Lama is in our fair state, and it's a better place for it. I've only been seeing and hearing snippets of news coverage, but Jeanette got to go as a bus coordinator and chaperone on "kids' day" yesterday, along with our niece. They were both glowing from the experience, and I got a "Compassion" bracelet out of it. (The rubber bracelet phenomenon now goes just about anywhere you want it to.)

Blaine County Chief Deputy Sheriff Gene Ramsey was just trying to keep visitors in line, noted "It's about peace and healing. This isn't a Grateful Dead concert or something." Guess he never went to one of those, eh?

As the Statesman editorial board noted, "it's an honor to have him in Idaho." Lest we forget, he also has a message about freeing the people of Tibet, from Communist China's oppression.

12.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's not a new story, since the previous 7 meetings have had the same result, but this most recent meeting between Andre Agassi and Roger Federer was compelling nonetheless. Maybe all the more. Uncharacteristically, I taped the match and watched it live, and let the Green Bay Packers go on their own (which they didn't, giving the Detroit Lions a nice bouquet for their opener).

Winning the 2nd set with two service breaks, up a break in the 3rd set, the impossible seemed possible for a moment. Federer leveled the third set; Agassi saved 4 break points at 5-all. Then with the first point in the tie-breaker settled by a deft drop shot, it seemed possible... and Federer snatched it away, 7 straight points for tie-breaker and set, and nearly ran off with the final set 6-love. We just don't know who can beat this guy, or how. One answer is Rafael Nadal, on clay. This year, anyway.

NerdTV is on the wire, finally, with a fine interview of Andy Hertzfeld for its premier episode. It's not compelling video (watch for Bob edging into the picture briefly at about 0:43), but it has the potential of being as interesting as Fresh Air. For nerds, at least.

(As someone who lines up speakers for a semi-monthly event these days, I'm especially impressed with him having his next dozen episodes lined up.)

Q: Who would you most like to have dinner with tonight?
A: Ah, I don't know, my wife, I guess; that's who I'm going to have dinner with.

The party is almost over at The NY Times: TimesSelect erects a paywall in front of their "most influential columnists" a week from today, The prospect of "seamless access" to the "vast archive of articles reaching back 25 years and eventually back to the paper's founding in 1851" is enticing, and I suppose 100 articles a month is more than we'd try to read. $50/year, or free for home subscribers.

In the meantime, they polled 5 clever contributors for 25 questions for John Roberts.

"Do you intend to revert to (the tradition of basic black), and retire that Gilbert and Sullivan chief justice costume William Rehnquist designed?"

10.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard is now in charge, and while Bush buddy-of-a-buddy Michael Brown hasn't been fired per se, he's been "relieved of command." Of what command he had shown, at least. In a classic example of the ignorance that goes along with incompetence, Brown doesn't know why he was removed. As for the charges of padding his résumeé... whether it was his doing or some White House flak's, it barely amounted to makeup on a pig.

They laughed at Noah when he built the Ark (I suppose), and the neighbors probably thought Pam Stegner was a bit over the top, at least before Katrina. How long can you make 600 pounds of rice and beans, 18,000 dried eggs and 16 tons of winter wheat stretch for a family of 5, I wonder?

Answers to some of those questions you had about hurricane names: the name list repeats every 6 years, but they retire the ones of the nastiest storms. This is the last storm we'll name Katrina.

Corn Cob Bob may come back to life, fueled by an $.83/gallon differential in government dis/incentives for E85: 40 cents tax on gas, versus 43 cents subsidy for the 85% ethanol brew. And at the pump... it comes out maybe 30 cents cheaper and somewhat lower mileage. That'll work for some folks in the distribution process, and make your exhaust smell better, if you like french fries.

The web is great for some stuff, but not quite a cure-all. The handing out of the $2k debit cards reportedly shifted to an internet-based signup. That ought to cut out the abuse and fraud, eh?

9.9.2005 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Daily Show continues to provide the best news going... "This is inarguably—inarguably—a failure of leadership at the top of the federal government." Oh wait, that's commentary, isn't it? Ok, the best commentary on the news.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
–George W. Bush
Ted Koppel, incredulous that Michael Brown hadn't heard about the people at the Superdome and the Convention Center for three days, "Don't you guys watch television, don't you listen to the radio?" Michael Brown: "We learned about it factually today..."

Jon Stewart: "When people don't want to play 'the blame game'... they're to blame." That's from the "Meet the F**kers" segment. This stuff writes itself, just add mugging to cover the dramatic pauses.

Speaking of the News, Think Progress has a timeline of events before and after Katrina spun ashore. The governors or Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency on Friday Aug. 26, and Saturday Aug. 27, respectively. Sunday morning newspapers said "Forecasters Fear Levees Wonít Hold Katrina" and the mayor of New Orleans ordered an evacuation at 9:30am...

Our National Weather Service knows full well what happens in a cat 4 or 5 hurricane: "...At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail, leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed...." The NHC director warned Bush, Brown, and Chertoff Sunday afternoon that the levees could fail.

Oh and here's a surprise: none of the political hacks put in charge of FEMA had any previous experience in disaster management. Their qualifications included things like "decid(ing) where the president will stand on stage and which loyal supporters will be permitted into the audience - and how many firefighters will be diverted from rescue duty to surround the president as he patrols the New Orleans airport trying to look busy. Mr. Morris was a press handler with the Bush presidential campaign. Previously, he worked for the company that produced Bush campaign commercials." ( NYT editorial)

Irony seems too weak a word for this lack of pertinent experience leading to a public relations disaster. Next up will be the scandals resulting from FEMA-looters who collect more than their share of the $2,000 bills they want to give away as fast as they can, and (as Krugman forecasts), "an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services."

7.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Marketplace feature on former President Bush and his wife visiting refugees in Houston was interesting: a few of Barbara's comments looked ugly in print, but listening to the segment, it didn't sound so risable. The Marketplace web page also has a link to the raw tape of her visit, which provides more complete context. She seems to be a much nicer (and more compassionate) person than her son, really.

"Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house—he's lost his entire house—there's going to be a fantastic house," Bush said in Mobile. "And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." I have no doubt that Trent Lott is going to land on his feet.

Then there's the man who would be President: "Even now, with bedraggled rescuers pulling decomposed bodies from the muck of New Orleans, Bill Frist, the moral cretin who runs the U.S. Senate, wanted its first order of business this week to be the permanent repeal of the estate tax, until the public outcry persuaded him to change course. The Republicans profess belief in trickle-down, but what they've given us is the Flood."

As cited by Harold Meyerson, in The 'Stuff Happens' Presidency.

The reality-based environment came ashore in America's Gulf Coast while the Bush Administration and its many friends in the energy business were still marking global warming for "further study." However those carefully cooked (or cocked-up) studies come out, more than 100 million other people may be needing to move to higher ground in the next few decades.

Bill McKibben suggests that Katrina marks Year One in the new calendar.

Apart from rebuilding mansions for the rich and powerful, mistakes provide the opportunity for learning, and catastrophic mistakes provide the opportunity for profound learning. Anne Applebaum kicks off the planning for next time.

Yet another task which outsources just fine: tutoring. Will India bring the King's English to American shores at last?

This (Flash) timeline is the first "live" clock I've seen on the web that's actually interesting. (And it's not just a widget on a page for something else, it's the whole page.) It even knows what timezone I'm in, nice. More fun clocks here.

6.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jordan Flaherty provides Notes from Inside New Orleans, and the deep ugliness underlying a greater tragedy than needed to be. "Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race."

Radio discussion this morning about the international aid flowing in to help, as our own aid seems profoundly broken. We can't take care of our own, this richest nation on earth? I've been trying to withhold judgement on the incompetence of our leadership, but the facts speak loudly. We thought we could fix other people's countries and there was this huge hole back where we live...

Having experienced "benign positional vertigo," which seemed not at all benign at the time, "dizziness" in a headline gets my attention. This NY Times story about the condition has a terrible headline: "Symptom: Dizziness. Cause: Often Baffling." As it describes in a quarter to a third or more of the cases, the cause is well understood, and can be treated rather easily. The manipulation known as the Epley maneuvers is 80% effective on the first try.

When it happened to me and I sought help at a medical clinic, I had the misfortune to be treated by a doctor who didn't know the facts, but eventually got over it. I was one of the many people who first had symptoms induced by rolling over in bed, and discovered just how unpleasant it can be to have mixed signals coming from the vestibular system to the brain.

Needless to say, the information and the treatment are tremendously comforting when it happens. Good things to know about for yourself and the people you care about.

5.Sept.5 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, I spoke too soon on that "no one's blaming God" thing. I suppose it was inevitable: if you believe in God as an actor in daily events, you have to come up with explanations for the big stuff. Here are two takes bordering on the absurd: God was merciful in that it could have been a lot worse, and God was cleaning the den of iniquity.

Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans thinks he knows the mind of God, and can channel to us: "New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

The good news is that the UN is going to help us out, and stands "ready to provide emergency staff and a wide variety of relief supplies as and when necessary." There goes the tinfoil hat brigade vote for the Republican team.

The New Orleans Time-Picayune is a story for more than its 2-year-old feature describing everything that would happen this year: "The paper, which normally has a circulation of 270,000, had to report the biggest story in its history with no electricity, no phone access and no place to work." Reported by Lisa Guernsey in The NY Times.

Today's headline on 7th DAY OF HELL.

Made my first dip into the world of PDAs over the weekend, and I'm sorry to say that all the magic of turn it on, plug and play and so on didn't quite happen. ActiveSync (or is that ActiveSink?) doesn't want to get Contacts, Tasks, and Inbox stuff out of Outlook2003, keeps telling me I should reboot my desktop. I tell you what I'd like to re-boot... Solitaire works, though.

Couldn't wait for the funeral dept.: Bush nominates Roberts to be Chief Justice. Better him than Scalia or Thomas, I suppose.

3.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jeanette's reviewing some of her notes and quotes from Weston LaBarre, an amazing writer who's suprisingly poorly represented on the web. "He's hard to read," she observes as she tosses off yet another amazing quote that she saved 20 years ago.

Impotence in the believer demands omnipotence in the savior.
–Weston LaBarre
"Groups at best merely compound the mixed goodness and badness of constituent men; but as mobs they elict the repressed evil in individuals. Goodness is far oftener the possession of clear-headed individuals in cool secular and commonsense non-mob contexts, than of those whose judgment is chronically warped by habits of assiduously believing self-deceptive nonsense about themselves, and who are unduly complacent in their conviction of automatic godliness through membership in the group." –from the introduction to The Ghost Dance

One of those Labor Day weekend traditions is to go on a road trip, eh? We thought about it, more for a shopping safari than anything else, but the combination of default miserliness, inertia and a vague sense of helping by not consuming said "no" to that. I'd rather like to make our current two tanks of gas last as long as possible...

Not everyone is so easily dissuaded, and reports of shortages mix with the indignation over "price gouging." Funny how that works. High prices ought to provide for a reduction in demand so that the "invisible hand" can keep our tanks full, but cars are so integrated into our lives that demand is fairly inelastic.

We're not paying anything near what most of the rest of the world pays, of course. We have further to go, and much bigger vehicles to go in. For a while, anyway.

Two interesting perspectives on the economics of disaster in today's NYT: John Tierney, on flood insurance and the editorial board wondering if this could be the end of "the national tax-cut party."

2.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gasoline hitting the $3 mark Here's a radical idea: slow down and save gas. You do know that driving 55mph is more efficient than driving 65 or 70, don't you? With gas hitting $3 a gallon, are you willing to conserve by driving slower? Parking that huge SUV and taking the smaller car? Driving less?

Cold comfort in "I told you so," but Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana did just that back in June in response to proposed cuts to flood and hurricane protection for the Gulf coast. "These projects are literally life-and-death projects to the people of south Louisiana."

"We don't take natural disasters seriously until they happen," notes the author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. David Usborne writes about the role that lost wetlands—1,900 square miles of them—played in the disaster.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune might be selling some back issues of their 5-part series, Washing away, when they were revisiting the near-miss from hurricane Georges. (This graphic of the levee system, is one of many fascinating pieces of their special.)

The NO T-P didn't see fit to put dates on their articles, graphics or webpages, but referrers show it to be from June 2003. One of the more telling points is this: "The Army Corps of Engineers says the chance of New Orleans-area levees being topped is remote, but admits the estimate is based on 40-year-old calculations." In the storm aftermath coverage, I saw an interview with a Corps officer in which he was asked if building for a Category 3 storm was the right decision or not. He said yes it was, because you have to consider the cost/benefit tradeoff, and it would have been just too expensive to build stronger protection. This is after the protection has utterly failed, mind you. Humanity's strength is supposed to be in learning from our mistakes, but sometimes you have to wonder. Would the protection have cost more than the $10.5 billion Congress has just authorized for emergency funding?

Another error in hindsight: One city official said (in December 2000) of the flooding and subsidence, "We are below sea level and we do get floods sometimes, but it's not a real serious problem. You can still purchase flood insurance."

1.Sept.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Terry Tempest Williams reminds us in her Season of Remembrance of Edward Abbey's words: "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."

The NYT editorial board slammed Bush's speech yesterday so hard that I looked it up and watched for myself. His presentation style doesn't rub me the right way, but I saw nothing about it that was "one of the worst speeches of his life," or "casual to the point of carelessness." Did we see the same speech?!

The questions they raise are important ones (more about those to come, I'm sure), but they really shot themselves in the foot by criticizing his style when his response to the crisis so far has been reasonable, at least.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 12-Oct-2005 11:09:31 MDT