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Last.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fighting intelligence Permalink to this item

Cedros Design District sign in Solana Beach, CA Jeanette reminds me that churchmen argued against the use of ether for anesthesia during surgery when it first came into use, on the grounds that pain was a part of God's plan. That brilliant insight lives on in the Family Research Council's argument that vaccinating girls against human pappillomavirus and thereby eliminating thousands of deaths from cervical cancer each year is a bad idea: what's the incentive to avoid permarital sex once you're vaccinated?

William Falk rounds up a year-end review of stories just under the radar.

Nobody's laughing... Permalink to this item

at what Clarence Thomas has to say (in part because he has almost nothing to say). Scalia's a zillion times funnier. Ginsburg's barely 5% as funny as Scalia, but she's still a zillion times funnier than Thomas too.

The strange part about the story is that until October 2004, Justices were not named in the transcripts.

And the measurement is less than perfect, depending on court reporters and lacking nuanced distinctions. The law prof who toted up the titters, Jay Wexler, notes the transcripts don't differentiate between "the genuine laughter brought about by truly funny or clever humor and the anxious kind of laughter that arises when one feels nervous or uncomfortable or just plain scared for the nation's future."

Copy a lyric, go to jail Permalink to this item

Speaking of customer-friendly marketing associations, how 'bout them Music Publishers' Association?

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can "throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective".

Professional whinging Permalink to this item

Oh fine, aggregating the precious minutiae of personal blogs into a big whine and cheese party: "a mix of anti-consumerism, dirt on customer-service sins, and tips on how to be a better consumer by finding deals." The NYT says it's "all with the same snarky tone that characterizes Gawker properties like Wonkette and Defamer."

Snarky is very "it" right now.

The Gelf Magazine interview with Joel Johnson is entertaining enough (if somewhat raunchy), and includes mention of "test blogging," hmmm.

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

Message from outer space Permalink to this item

We had some leakage from heavy rain and wind out of the east last night. The cat got wet in her favorite window well, and our least favorite window well got filled up above the window sill. Jeanette bailed and cleared rugs and stuff out of the way of the puddle, sopped it up. Another window well looked to be getting more water than it should, and upon further inspection, I found a leak in the gutter.

A hole, punctured through the bottom and a stream flowing out of it. It looked as if someone had taken an awl and punched through the hefty sheet metal, but of course no one has done that. A bird with a very hard beak and bizarrely evil intent? No, that couldn't be it either.

While I was describing it to a friend, the answer came to me: it had to have been a meteorite, or at least something small (about an 1/8" in diameter), hard, and moving very fast. It wouldn't have to have been from outer space, but that seems the most likely explanation, as unlikely as it is.

Acceleration due to gravity Permalink to this item

Early winter cloud formation off the central California coast Opening day for me at Bogus yesterday, they re-opened while we were in San Diego and got 5" overnight with the temperature in the mid-20s at 8:30 when I checked the snow report. I'm late! But not too late to make a lot of tracks and find my gear and skills are still fully functional. Today looks even better: 5 more inches, mid-20s at sunrise with steady rain down here. "Cloudy & snowing...just like it's supposed to!"

That nickel Permalink to this item

First T-Mobile bill came in, with no particular surprises. $35 activation fee, which I expected. The 5 cent charge for one text message, which I knew was coming, thanks to the web preview. It's for the "Welcome to T-Mobile!" text message the company sent me, apparently in an effort to combine their marketing and "customer care," and setting your expectations to get charged coming and going, now and forever. It's not quite worth the trouble to complain about, but I am going to remember it, as a blot on their record.

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

Overseeing Louisiana Permalink to this item

Back from Christmas in San Diego, riding trains, planes and an aircraft carrier, some good family time and lovely, lovely southern California weather. We took the 992 bus from the airport and the Coaster up to Solana Beach, rode along with another guy arriving for a holiday visit. He'd flown from Louisiana where he's a project manager for a company "with one of those no-bid contracts you read about," spending authority for a half billion dollars.

Not much oversight of it by his account. "FEMA is scary." And they're having a hell of a time getting anything done, because the various parish bureaucrats are too busy trying to ensure a cut, or their importance, or something. A big, experienced engineering firm with a ton of money should be able to make things happen, but that's not the way it's playing out.

Jeanette on the boardwalk at the top of the Quail Botanical Garden The job is to provide temporary housing, travel trailers and mobile homes, and this story from the Times-Picayune from 2½ weeks ago gives a hint at the kinds of trouble they're having getting it done.

San Diego attractions Permalink to this item

San Diego's commuter train is a wonderful ride between the city and Oceanside on up the coast. We didn't get to go the whole way, but we did get 2 round trips over the course of 6 days: one for basic transportation and the other for a site-seeing outing to see the Midway. That's the new star attraction of the waterfront museums, and we had no trouble spending 4 hours on board. Granted, some of that was spent ogling Stars and Strips and Abacadabra on their way out for a little tourist sail, and having a sunny lunch on the flight deck.

We made our first visit to Quail Botanical Gardens, too: highly recommended for the plant lover, with a great selection of cacti and other succulents, bamboo, and so on.

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

Sign up for the drugs, wouldja? Permalink to this item

The big print at the top says a million have signed up for the new Medicare drug benefit, but the bigger number is in the smaller print just below: "10.6 million had been enrolled automatically by the federal government or by health maintenance organizations." That's out of 42 million Medicare beneficiaries, so a bit over 25% of the total.

Daniel N. Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a research and consulting company, estimates that 17 million Medicare beneficiaries will receive drug coverage only if they voluntarily sign up, which would mean we're 1/17th of the way to covering everyone on Medicare, I guess.

"The stability of the new program depends on robust enrollment among higher-income seniors, who tend to be relatively healthy," Mr. Mendelson said. Medicare, like any health insurer, needs large numbers of relatively healthy subscribers who will pay premiums without generating high costs.

That's the fundamental flaw in every market-based insurance scheme. If people who (probably) don't need the protection don't help fund the people who do, it falls apart.

Patriot-ism extended 5 weeks Permalink to this item

With most lawmakers having already left Washington for their holiday vacations, just one senator, John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, was on hand for the Senate vote. He presided over a four-minute session wearing two hats, those of senator and presiding officer. (NYT)

Quorum? I guess if there's no one else to raise the question, one Senator is enough, and he can do anything he pleases. They say the rules of that body are arcane, but this seems well over the top.

Cut and run Permalink to this item

Rick Santorum was all for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution," and even managed to get an amendment to that effect for the No Child Left Behind bill passed in the Senate. But he was shocked, shocked to learn that religion had motivated some (ex-)board members to adopt the policy. "Santorum said his statements are not contradictory, nor has his position changed." Fascinating.

It's enough to make you want to set up a site to shine a light on the facts about his extreme positions, failed policies and hypocritical statements.

Here's the big question: does "academic freedom" extend to introducing nonsense in the classroom? At what grade level would that be appropriate pedagogy? And how far into pseudoscience should "understand(ing) the full range of scientific views that exist" extend?

22.Dec.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Breakthrough of the year Permalink to this item

The bits go 'round and 'round and come out... here. The journal Science assesses Evolution in Action as this year's most notable development. The big E beat out Planetary probes, Plant development, Violent neutron stars, Genetics of brain disease, Earth's differentiation , Potassium channels, Climate change, Systems biology and the $12 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

Each year, researchers worldwide discover enough extraordinary findings tied to evolutionary thinking to fill a book many times as thick as all of Darwin's works put together. This year's volume might start with a proposed rearrangement of the microbes at the base of the tree of life and end with the discovery of 190-million-year-old dinosaur embryos.

Amid this outpouring of results, 2005 stands out as a banner year for uncovering the intricacies of how evolution actually proceeds....

By comparison, Judge Jones' ruling is more of a strange footnote stating the obvious, but a landmark for the flat-earther holdouts all the same. Finally tracked down the document itself, Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., a 139 page PDF.

The document quotes the statement the (old) school board voted to have read to 9th graders, and it includes this important definition: "A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations." It continues, "Intelligent Design is an explanation..."

To those carefully parsing the statement (which I don't suppose would include 9th graders hearing someone read it, once), this would be instructive. ID is not a theory. It's an explanation, and an arguably weak and uninstructive one (unless of course you're after instruction to give it all up to an omnipotent deity). It's not well-tested (or in any sense tested), nor does it unify any observations.

The "reference" book that's mentioned in the statement might get the students' attention. I can imagine the all-important question that would have been raised: "is that required?"

No, thank you.

Shopping for groceries Permalink to this item

What do the CVS drugstore chain, SuperValu supermarkets, Cerberus Capital Management, Kimco Realty, and Boise's own 66-year-old grocery chain Albertson's Inc. have in common? They're muddled in negotiations that must be pouring money into the investment bankers' pockets, the only sure winners in the deal.

I am a Shameless Narc Permalink to this item

If there's something surprising about this story, it would be if anyone didn't realize the police have been infiltrating all manner of groups for a long time. The ubiquity and convenience of videocameras makes for a new angle: it's getting easier to watch the watchers.

The police response to exposure is charming. They're involved "not to investigate political activities but to keep order and protect free speech." Activists aren't so sanguine.

Ryan Kuonen, 32, who took part in a "ride of silence" in memory of a dead cyclist, said that two undercover officers - one with a camera - subverted the event. "They were just in your face," she said. "It made what was a really solemn event into something that seemed wrong. It made you feel like you were a criminal. It was grotesque."

Shipping Rates, take 2 Permalink to this item

After the fact, we compared what we paid at the UPS Store with what the Post Office would have charged for Priority Mail ("we'll try for 2 days, but we won't guarantee it," close enough to plain old Parcel Post rates that you're encouraged to pay the extra amount). UPS is tacking on a "fuel surcharge" and a "rural surcharge" for insufficiently urban addresses. 11.1 lbs to Spokane would have been $2 cheaper via Priority Mail. 6.24 lbs to Moscow, ID would have been $5 cheaper. UPS used to be cheaper than the P.O., didn't it? Now that they're spending so much on advertising, what Brown can do for you is charge more, apparently.

With the scale and credit card machine in the always-open lobby, the P.O. has a better (and closer, from our house) user interface, too.

CMS = Content Management System Permalink to this item

A software category for maintaining lots of information, typically for a website. It's of interest to me, and I've heard of or experienced maybe a dozen different variants over the years. The CMS Matrix lists 496 (!) of them at the moment, with the means to compare them 10 at a time, based on 142 features. OpenSourceCMS has them sorted by category (Wiki, portals, groupware, forums, e-Learning, image galleries, "Lite")... Oh, OK, I've seen a lot more than a dozen, haven't I?

Terrorist bombing of mosque Permalink to this item

No one hurt this time, so not surprising if you didn't hear about it on the news, but this one wasn't in Iraq, it was in Cincinnati. Are they with us or against us?

The enemy of my enemy is my fiend Permalink to this item

After shredding the Constitution (we looked into getting the law changed and our buddies in Congress said it wasn't likely "without compromising the program," so we decided we'd just ignore it) comes the "with us or agin us" distraction to make you forget about the little man behind the curtain. Who leaked that information?! They're the people we should be prosecuting!

Glenn Kessler did some fact checking, and reports that the President's glaring example of the damage of a leak is actually an urban myth. Which makes it far better substantiated than some of the claims we've heard emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the last 5 years. Debunking does not drive out the oft-repeated false claim however, if experience is our guide.

It's not enough to have every hack in the Justice Department nuancing loopholes in the laws the White House is breaking, the conservative pundits are pitching in too. (Just one itty bitty point to make: branding our conflict "War on Terror" and actually waging war on other countries is not the same as Declaring War.)

Opinions differ: 87% of the 79,240 responses on MSNBC's not a scientifically valid survey say "yes, between the secret spying, the deceptions leading to war and more, there is plenty to justify putting him on trial."

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Counting Coups Permalink to this item

I heard the news last night that Dark Cheney was cutting short his overseas trip in case he was needed to break a tie in the Senate. Then this morning, we see he was needed, for the budget bill that had 6 Republican Senators defecting from the party line. These guys are good at counting votes, are they not? Were there others who wanted to defect but were kept in check by Dr. Frist, so that Cheney could decide the issue?

There's that 60 votes to break a filibuster problem though, and just past noon, the on-again, off-again ANWR drilling was off, based on the threat of a filibuster, a completely intolerable prospect half a week from Christmas.

End of News; Beginning New Permalink to this item

Robin Sloan, Matt Thompson and Minus Kelvin (aka The Museum of Media History?) have a dystopic film at 11, describing the Evolving Personal Information Construct and how it did away with the MSM in 2014. I liked the little snippet describing what we here in the New Media are up to: "connecting, filtering, redirecting."

Thanks to John Brown for the link. (He's got a piece on today too: "Bushprop Strikes (Out) Again.")

Above the Law? Permalink to this item

You have to hand it to the legal team inhabiting the bowels of the current administration. Congress' free pass for "all necessary and appropriate force" has been morphed into "we can break the law as we see fit." Should anyone complain, why, just consider that we've saved you all from terrorist attack! Then when the inevitable comes to pass (or were they claiming their program is perfect?), we'll just need to redouble our efforts and stop bothering the Justice Department with all that whingeing.

So what if FISA warrant applications are at an all-time high, and we're not even counting the NSA's wholesale spying that is so broad no one knows how to even write a warrant application for it? And that flap about habeus corpus? PuhLEASE. This is Wartime, and we need to be able to imprison people indefinitely and without access to lawyers when we say we do. Or render them off to Timbuktu (figuratively speaking, no offense intended) for extra persuasion.

Jennifer Granick: "I think that 2006 will be a time when we look back on this surveillance with a clearer eye -- one that takes in these violations, the lack of due process at Guantánamo and the government's sanctioning of torture as illegal acts. In that light, recent administration speeches are less justifications of government policy than they are admissions of guilt."

Congress, the ball is in your court. Right after your Christmas break and when you finish with the budget.

Timely Turn Permalink to this item

I see that the solstice is right on time (locally) today: 11:35 MST. (Doesn't appear the sun is going to make an appearance, though: low clouds and rain, not quite warm enough to melt away the ice and slush.)

Oh, this is ugly. It's raining and inverted?! 40°F at Bogus.

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

Intelligent Design == Creationism != Science Permalink to this item

Judge John E. Jones III gave a mighty whack to the deposted Intelligent Design boosters in Dover, after the voters had already sent them all packing off the school board. Haven't tracked down my personal copy of the 139-page (!) ruling, but the news stories are clear enough, from the Beeb, Usa Toady, and WaPo.

"He accused them of 'breathtaking inanity,' of lying under oath and of trying to introduce religion into schools through the back door."

"Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom," Judge Jones wrote.

"The judge also noted that 150 references to creationism and creationists in Of Pandas and People, a book the board policy recommended to Dover students, were replaced by references to ID after a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to teach creationism, which holds that God created life. That's 'compelling evidence,' Jones said, that ID is 'creationism re-labeled.'"

It shouldn't be a big surprise, but the people who didn't like the decision are about as lame in the howls of protest as the argument of personal incredulity is as a "theory." "A real overreach by an activist judge who thinks he can stop the spread of a scientific idea through government-imposed censorship," one of the Discovery Institute guys says.

I haven't seen the cost to Dover toted up anywhere, but I bet it's an impressive fraction of their school board's budget. The battle for their version of Truth knows no bounds for these twits, especially when they can spend other people's money. They're on a mission from God.

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

Customer service Permalink to this item

We packed and shipped a bunch of Christmas packages today, some went to the Post Office, where I used the automated dispenser to get Priority Mail postage under the helpful supervision of an employee in the lobby. Jeanette took our two heaviest packages to a nearby UPS Store, the retail interface apparently having been removed from the warehouse anteroom down in Garden City where it used to be, and from the temporary rented space they'd get for the holiday rush. Retail shipping is a new business category, I guess.

She came home and noted that the lighter of the two packages cost more to ship than the heavier one. It was "odd-shaped," nowhere near a size limit, but several times longer than wide and tall. By way of explaining the additional charge, the clerk said "they charge more for anything they can."

My way or the highway Permalink to this item

Reading yesterday's NYT editorial this morning, with the memory of Bush's TV address last night still fresh in mind. "We have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them."

But he seems so sincere reading from a teleprompter, doesn't he? He's the President after all, and we so want to trust him and have him be a good leader. Maybe that's what he wants too, but I find it somewhere between patronizing and creepy that he finds it necessary to simplify the world down to a black and white choice between, as he put it last night, "Victory" and "Defeat."

His former legal abuse expert John Yoo's world view appears to be at least as circumscribed. Serious times call for serious measures, and Yoo is willing to push the law as far as its letters allow, and then some. As is Mr. Bush. The editorial board's call to action is on the mark:

"Mr. Bush said he would not retract his secret directive or halt the illegal spying, so Congress should find a way to force him to do it. Perhaps the Congressional leaders who were told about the program could get the ball rolling."

Finally, new weather Permalink to this item

The inversion lifted and brought light snow overnight, more snow today and the promise of some above-freezing weather later in the week. It's some white holiday season, even if it won't stick around all the way for Christmas.

That was a cold couple of weeks, or was it three?

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

As Seen on TV Permalink to this item

The Idaho Lottery's 'Holiday Countdown' game The legalized gambling run by state lotteries are some of the worst odds going, but it's for a good cause, right? The Idaho Lottery has a front page warning on their website: "Don't be taken by Lottery frauds and scams." (Talk about your truth in advertising!)

Is it a coincidence that the same percentage of Idahoans believe in the lottery as in anti-scientific creation stories?

The good news is that there's no anti-Christmas bias at the Lottery Commission: they've even crafted an Advent calendar game, although they really should have named it "Scratch for Baby Jesus" instead of "Holiday Countdown," don't you think?

Two denials (or is three?) Permalink to this item

The Iranian nutjob Holocaust denier is getting most of the press, but in an ironic juxtaposition, we have Turkey's case against Orhan Pamuk (before it was suspended) for bringing up the officially taboo subject of the Armenian massacre after World War I. Pankaj Mishra wants us to take note that it's not just religion at the root of this sort of trouble, but also the excesses of secular nationalism: " all nation-states, Turkey has its own sacred nationalist myths and will protect them as fiercely as, if not more than, any society claming the sanction of religion."

Now Iran's interior minister is batting cleanup, explaining that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "did not mean to raise this matter" of historical fact. He was just trying to encourage countries that weren't in his neighborhood from making amends for their guilt to the Jewish community.

I'm sure that will clarify the situation help a bunch.

Senate just says no(t yet) Permalink to this item

The Senate's not ready to end debate on renewing the USA Patriot Act, and it feels positively surreal to be on the same side of such an important issue as Idaho's Senator Larry Craig. I've been keeping a low profile, expecting that if I were to voice my opinion to him it would give him a reason to change his position.

Finding out that Bush secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without warrants probably had a lot to do with this latest Congressional rebuke for the big man at the top.

58 is sounding very, very young these days Permalink to this item

First Leo McGarry had a heart attack and had to give up his job as President Josiah Bartlett's Chief of Staff. It was a bit more real than we realized: John Spencer died of a heart attack today, just short of his 59th birthday.

The exclamation points keep coming Permalink to this item

The news is out: the coach of the mighty local football team is good enough to be hired away by a better school. He'll get almost a million bucks a year at the University of Colorado. Everybody back home (who isn't holding onto Hawkins' coattails) moves up a notch, I guess: the Offensive coordinator gets the new top slot, for a 5 year x $500,000 contract. How's that for the market telling us what's important? The head coach of the Boise State Broncos is worth more to us than a President or a pair of Senators.

Hawkins has been hogging the front page all week (which I wouldn't have noticed except that some of the space was supposed to be mine for once), and the trailer on the latest story alerts us to "complete coverage" on Saturday. Yawn.

Solar-powered nighttime fun Permalink to this item

It doesn't outshine the big name resorts in the Rocky Mountains, but our local ski hill has a lot to recommend it. If you live in or near Boise, proximity is of course the #1 feature. It's half an hour to an hour away, depending on the driving conditions, and not much gas to get there. It's a 501(c)(3) non-profit, owned by the community. It's had a good selection of night skiing for many years, and now they've added nighttime Nordic trails, with 5km of trail lit with solar-powered lights. Neat trick.

Cleaner power proposal Permalink to this item

The plans to build a new gas-fired peaking power plant within Boise limits just hit my radar this week, with notice that there would be an important hearing January 9th. Now we read that the Idaho Conservation League has persuaded Mountain View Power to set a better standard for emissions than they'd intially planned, with an ultra-dry, low NOX burner producing only half the permitted emissions of the Bennett Mountain plant the company recently completed in Mountain Home.

The Statesman story also notes the company is holding a public information meeting this Monday, 8pm, at Ice World's meeting room, 7072 Eisenman Road.

Doors, Act II Permalink to this item

Michael Deeds' interview with Ray Manzarek is entertaining. Ex-Doors drummer John Densmore is going to need some publicity of his own to convince me that he's the righteous one and Manzarek's the jerk. If you're out there having fun in a rock-and-roll band at 66, you've got to be doing something right.

"If you haven't done your hallucinogenics and haven't opened the doors of perception, and you're over 35, I don't know what to suggest. There's a place for everything. And we did ours in our 20s, and now it's a glass of wine. Inebriation comes very, very easily once the doors of perception are open and you certainly don't need any OxyContin. Ice and OxyContin. Are we taking some weird drugs in America? What has it degenerated into? I don't hear anything about hallucinogenics. I don't hear anybody talk about peyote."

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

Maybe if it weren't so close to recess Permalink to this item

The prognosis was "terminal," but 27-year-old Tirhas Habtegiris was still conscious, and hoping to see her mother before she died. She was poor, and black. Too poor to pay for continuing care at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas. So, they gave her 10 days to find somewhere else to go, then pulled the plug.

We know Tom DeLay is busy right now, but how about Dr. Frist? And the Bush boys?

Explaining it to your children Permalink to this item

In This Modern World, yes, we kill people. The little glimpse of George Bush via Tucker Carlson that's part of the story is at least as disturbing as the death penalty itself.

Just a goddamned piece of paper Permalink to this item

that he took an oath to uphold and defend. And now the Congress doesn't seem to be following orders either. Damn.

A friend in high places Permalink to this item

I thought about going to hear the arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court last week, but had a busy day and the end of that nagging cold, so I skipped it. Whether or not they see their shadows in that sort of session, they typically go back down into their burrow for another 6 weeks before rendering a verdict anyway.

But here virtue is rewarded: after going through everyone one of those blogroll links down the left side, updating a few that needed it, trimming a few that have gone moribund, I see that my favorite Spokesman-Review reporter was there and blogged it.

Like most things that make it to a high court, the point of law is a fine one: was the moving of the movie promotion stone monument a legislative action by the city, or an administrative one? The public could rile up a referendum in the former case, but would have to settle for throwing the administrative bums out in the latter (and post-election 2005, the only City Council tossing had little or nothing to do with this controversy).

Vigils for a moral budget Permalink to this item

4 of the UUs in Boise's vigil for a moral budget, Julie Fanselow photograph No police presence (let alone a hundred+ arrests) at the corner of 8th and Bannock last night, as a small circle gathered for a low-key witness to the idea of morality in the Federal budget. Congress is busy trying to finish what's supposed to be done by October 1st, so they can go home for a long winter's nap. The endless parade of tax cutting for the wealthy hasn't let up, but the Republicans have found some will to do something on the spending side: cut Medicaid benefits, get a quarter million people off food stamps, and get those damn protestors away from the entrance to our office building!

Ring in the holidays Permalink to this item

Handbells often seem to have that dog-walking-on-its-hindlegs quality to me: cute, but not compelling. I'm sure they're fun to ring, at least. The Carol Ringers are good enough to change my mind about the whole enterprise, though. You can enjoy their Kennedy Center Millennium Stage performance from the comfort of your computer.

Roundup at the X Corral Permalink to this item

You can't get there from here (without a subscription), but Times Select has a great collection of letters from readers regarding the Skirmish over Christmas. (I'm thinking there needs to be some actual wounded before we can call it a "war.") The sentiment was primarily in agreement that O'Reilly's a gasbag who takes himself too seriously and Gibson is flogging his book, but there was at least one True Believer: "thanks to Fox News and the Internet the liberal stranglehold on news and viewpoints has been broken."

Key phrases include: nuthouse; simply, historically, wrong; piety is insincere; orgy of consumerism; nutbars; a parody of himself... "Ah, nothing says Christian and Christ-like to me more than alienating people of other faiths at Christmas time."

"Perhaps this is a good time to remind all those stalwart Christians that the Christmas tree was, and still is, a pagan symbol of the Winter Solstice."

Bill O., letting out some hot air But the number one response was Jon Stewart's simple juxtaposition of quotations from Mr. Bill himself:

"I don't believe most people who aren't Christians are offended by the words 'Merry Christmas,' I think those people are nuts. I think you're crazy if you're offended by the words 'Merry Christmas'."

And then in response to Philip Nulman's observation that "'Seasons' Greetings' and 'Happy Holidays' does not offend Christians," O'Reilly said "Yes it does. It absolutely does."

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

The new Puritans Permalink to this item

Brazilian dancer meets the Puritans The particulars vary (as noted), but as we bring the historical scene into focus, it seems to me that the Religious Right is tapping into the cultural vein of the New England colonies, and the desire to have a shining city on a hill with moral behavior enforced by local authority. (It was the city rather than than "the state" back then.) Nathaniel Ward speaks for our latter-day Falwells and Robertsons, railing against the atheists and heretics who have no place in the ordered New World:

"Poly-piety is the greatest impiety in the world... To authorize an untruth by a toleration of State is to build a sconce against the walls of heaven, to batter God out of His chair."

The link to the extended excerpt of Murray Rothbard's book about the Puritans has more food for thought. (But 4 volumes of Conceived in Liberty? Will unintended humor from Amazon reviewers affect your decision to pursue? "I can say unequivically that there is more historical value in this book than in all of my elementary (1-12) years of education." Exploding myths "will surly open your eyes.")

A Special Low Art Permalink to this item

Slate reports on the latest video screed from the RNC, doctoring images and using troops as props, while accusing the Democrats of giving comfort to our enemies. Bush: "an important debate." Bush's party's hacks: "Our Soldiers Are Watching And Our Enemies Are Too." "Not Authorized by any Candidate or Candidate Committee." No individual would scrape this low, it takes to do it. finds SecDef Rumsfeld waving that white flag right along with Senator Boxer, starting the pullout after this week's election.

Among the many things I missed on Monday Permalink to this item

was editorial cartoonists, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Black Ink Monday captured their outrage, graphically.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow Permalink to this item

If you live in Iraq, that is. The ballots are going to be more complicated than California's, with dozens of political groups vying for what power is to be had. At the end of the story about the Sunnis reluctantly starting to take part in the electoral process, there's a strong indication that they're catching on. One official, Zuhair Damen summed it up: "Democracy is better than nothing. It's not very good, but it's better than nothing."

Real and fantasy worlds Permalink to this item

If you don't hang out in MMORPGs (which you then might not recognize as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), reading about paying real money for fantasy goods (or even better, qualities, such as power) may seem bizarre, but consider the ephemeral goods that United Airlines is trying to sell me in their latest email: "Give the gift of Economy Plus Access."

Economy Plus offers, and I quote, "Up to five extra inches of legroom," "Seating section in the front of economy," and "And, only United has it!" All that! And if I pony up the three hundred bucks for a one-year membership, they'll put 5,000 more frequent flier miles in my own account.

The bubbly excitement of the offer devolves into tedium even in an email. If I let them send me HTML it would probably be fine print; set in Courier 10 pt. it far outweighs the excitement (so to speak) of the intial offer. "The Mileage Plus Program, including accruals, awards and bonus miles offers, is subject to change without notice.... Offer, taxes and fees are subject to change without notice. Other restrictions may apply."

It's a little sad and embarrassing, really, more so than a sales pitch for a Belt of the Great Turtle or a Robe of Primordial Waters, I'm thinking.

Kenny Boy's make-believe Permalink to this item

He has some contact with reality, at least: "Others will be viewed more objective, more credible than I will be" when giving testimony in his coming trial. Sounds like he's going for the "few bad apples" defense ("less than a handful," in fact). It was the "despicable and criminal" CFO of Enron, Andrew Fastow who's to blame. Fastow is slated to be be the star witness after pleading his way to a shorter sentence.

Truth is the great rock.
–Ken Lay

It promises to be a good show, at least. Rather than keep quiet until the trial starts (and after it starts), Lay's lawyer figured "We got an opportunity to talk in a rather dignified setting, a place with some gravitas. Of course, until you put the ax to the wood you don't know what you're going to get."

The reality of the whole thing is still an open question, apparently. The New York Times' report says "Mr. Lay also appealed to former Enron employees to 'prove that Enron was a real company.'" Their enthusiasm for that effort may depend on how well they remember being urged to buy more Enron stock by Lay "when he knew the company was hurtling toward insolvency."

Add this to the famous quotation file: "The problem is, it is always slower reversing a mania than starting one." To Lay, it was "a mania" that undid his glorious empire of energy trading, but the jury may find that mania was Enron's stock in trade.

The Washington Post provided that last quote, and a more generous estimate of the crowd at the Houston Forum: "a sold-out audience of more than 500 people," versus half that many reported by Simon Romero. (Maybe Romero counted after the disgruntled left early.)

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

Christmas battleground Permalink to this item

I find the current flap over naming the season somewhere in the broad nexus between absurdity, annoyance and incredulity. I have plenty of positive childhood associations with Christmas even as I've matured into a preference for two particular milestones: the solstice (or "hump day"), and Epiphany. The latter, while nominally having to do with the Christ mythology, has a lower-case sense that we all get to experience many times in our lives, and is deserving of Upper Case treatment in the annual calendar. (Plus, after the exhaustion of the "holidays," and cleaning up the mess and leftovers, by January 6th we all need a pick-me-up.)

Mirabile dictu, I find myself in the same sector as Cal Thomas on this issue. That has to be a first. "Jesus... said His kingdom is not of this world. Why, then, are so many who claim to speak for Him demanding that this earthly kingdom celebrate Him and His Kingdom?"

For a deeper mystery, I find that my ignorance of history has kept even more interesting juxtapositions from sight. This 2002 sermon, built on Stephen Nissenbaum's 1996 book, The Battle for Christmas tells me it was Universalists and Unitarians that brought Christmas out into the public square (figuratively speaking) after the Puritans had chased it into hiding (for cause: it was a nexus of drunken revelry, and causing trouble in industrializing cities).

I say, raise a glass, give a gift, find a way to do something thoughtful, and see if you can't keep that spirit going for more than just a shopping season. What you call it is your business.

Bush Confident, of course Permalink to this item

Pretty much the man's stock in trade, regardless of his situation. His swagger as a partying Air Guardsman is well-remembered, and I imagine he was confident of his abilities when he ran the Texas Rangers into the turf. The guy's got "Mission Accomplished" written all over him. Anyway, today's confidence is in his ability to reach an agreement with John McCain over our being "sure we're in a position to be able to interrogate without torture." (Funny, I don't remember that ever being at issue.)

The part of David Sanger's and Eric Schmitt's reporting that got me was that "for Mr. Cheney, this is also part of a broader struggle with Congress to reassert presidential prerogatives."


This from an administration setting new depths of secrecy, control and manipulation. An administration with tentacles so tightly wrapped around Congress that it hasn't needed to use a veto. An administration that has asserted a "doctrine" of preventative war.

Their position on torture is so perverse however, they are way past the point when they need to declare victory and change the subject. Bush is confident that can be done, I'm sure. And equally confident that when a legitimate policy that can stand the light of day is violated down the road, there will be many points of plausible deniability between the few bad apples that do it and the men at the top.

15 minutes, starting right... now. Permalink to this item

Darin Oswald's photo of me at my station, Statesman's copyright Of the 15 or so neighborhood bloggers rounded up for a little local color in the Statesman, I somehow managed to get the photo and the lede, with my face above the fold on the front page. There was a little space left after the main story: BSU football coach Dan Hawkins was interviewed by another university! (This is actually a two or three-banger in B-town. !!!) Oh, and Boise is going to close 4 elementary schools and raise $100 million to remodel and rebuild some others.

"This is a media world where a couple of dozen readers means you're pretty successful," so I've hit the big time for a day or two, at least.

The story comes with a longer list of local sites than the people they fit into the story. You can't tell the political color by the blogscape, though: 8-to-3 left-to-right doesn't exactly match the tilt around here, even in a "liberal" corner of the state. The good news is that the 2 flaming of 3 right-wing blogs they list don't reflect the mainstream either. (But then 2 of the top 3 bloggers mentioned being UUs isn't quite aligned with reality.)

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

Missed that deadline Permalink to this item

Studying up on the esoterica of coordinate projection systems, where the flat earth society of surveyors runs up against the oblate spheroid upon which we reside, I found the (undated) original proposal for the Idaho Transverse Mercator projection, which contains this amusing item in its list of "desirable features":

"Measurements should be in meters. The U.S. is 'inching' towards use of SI (International System); federal law mandates conversion by 1996."

Regrets Permalink to this item

Yesterday's "To the Best of our Knowledge" had a segment about Leon Fleisher, and his new recording of piano music, "Two Hands." That's in contraposition to the single hand he had to work with for 35 years in the middle of his life.

"I defy you to name a potential therapy that I hadn't tried," he said in the interview. It was botox that finally solved his disabling dystonia, and the story of having lost something for that long—and then getting it back—is tremendously moving, especially accompanied by his own musical expression.

"Was it 'a' day that you could move your fingers again?"

"Yeah. The day they shot me up with botox (laughing)."

"It was right away then." "You could sit down at the piano right then..."

"Yeah, there was a lousy old upright they sat me at, and I started playing."

A touch of celebrity Permalink to this item

At the tennis tournament this past weekend (indoor tennis, of course!), I talked with a friend who'd been one of the linesman for the recent exhibition here with Agassi, Graf, Blake, the Bryan Brothers, and Viktoria Azarenka. He said that afterwards he got to shake Andre's hand, but didn't get his autograph. Naturally, I stuck out my right hand and shook the hand that shook the hand.

Last night, I had a dream that Agassi stopped by the house. I met him out in the front yard, as he was looking around the various plants that still had some flower parts, and asked what this one and that one was. Then we walked into the house, and I saw he'd taped a note on the door when he showed up before I was home. That's cool I thought, I'll have his autograph! We sat down and started to chat before dinner, and I waited too long into the afternoon to get the punchline right. Whatever it was, the joke woke me up and I never did find out what prompted him to look me up. Maybe he read my blog! :-)

Image is everything Permalink to this item

Coming someday soon to a cellphone near you: a camera with a sensor that uses almost two orders of magnitude less power per pixel, while recording a hundred times greater dynamic range. The University of Rochester's press release is heavy on geeky details, but the "big picture" results these guys came up with are clearly enough going to be huge. Or rather, tiny.

The "Focal Plane Image Compression" innovation is very clever: changing the positioning of the sensor elements from a uniform grid to a non-uniform arrangement that matches the needs of the compression algorithm, and reduces the computation load by a factor of five.

11.Dec.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The HP Way that can be named is not the true HP Way Permalink to this item

Michael Malone remembers the HP Way, fondly, as do many of us. It was demonstrably a way to build a great corporation, but whether it or anything else could be a way to maintain one remains an open question.

The lingering garage fetish suggests that some people still haven't figured out what made the magic. Malone thinks it was a unique blend of trust, caring and not looking back. The only thing I know for sure is that the nostalgia won't run out as long as we keeping looking for magic instead of admitting the power of integrity, honesty, dilligent preparation and hard work. Chance favors the prepared mind.

Supporting obscenity Permalink to this item

From the brief descriptions I've read, and my one experience of the genre many, many years ago, the differences between the video games Doom and Grand Theft Auto are more of degree than kind. Both create immersive audio-visual environments and reward twitchy mayhem as they leave ethical considerations (to say nothing of style or taste) to other venues. They are adolescent enterprises, obsessed with the shape, form and internal fluids of monsters, external and internal.

Gretchen Morgenson's column, Nice Funds, Naughty Video (subscription required) in the NYT Business section today reminded me of the brief controversy about GTA's pornographic content that made the news last summer. Pornography gets attention; we worry more about sex than violence for our children for some reason.

The article describes how you might be participating in Grand Theft Auto more than you knew: Oppenheimer Funds has a 26% stake in the company that made it, Take-Two Interactive Software, through ownership in its mutual funds. Fidelity funds own 15% of the $1.4 billion (market cap.) company. She suggests plenty of reasons for concern beyond an excessively large ownership in a questionable enterprise, from accounting for software development as a capital expense, to falling sales and the reliance on their one big hit. (The latest version of GTA "accounted for 37.3 percent of the company's sales" in the quarter ended in July.)

And what do you do for an encore after you've made millions from a game that features rewards for "killing prostitutes and shooting up police stations"? Doesn't seem like the sort of thing you'd want to invest your 401(k) in to me.

Death of an American City Permalink to this item

With some momentous occasions arising on his watch, George W. Bush and his team have proven their mettle at responding to crisis. My personal sense is that they are better at grandstanding than at actual effective response, but your mileage may vary. In today's New York Times, the editorial board raises the issue of the ultimate response to the devesation of hurricane Katrina, and whether we are going to let New Orleans die. In the heat of the moment, Bush declared "we'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better." If it doesn't happen, he'll certainly be able to point a finger at Congress, and with the blame spread among 535 members, no one will ever pin it down. But the buck stops, as ever, at the top.

For one-third of the tax cuts the House of Representatives passed last week, for one-tenth of what we've spent on wars in the Middle East, do we have the will to rebuild New Orleans where it stands?

"If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities."

"We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies."

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

"Political hubris on a national scale" Permalink to this item

It could be a larger scale, but how could it be less, and claim to hubris after all? The NYT editorial board, on the Tom DeLay problem: "Mr. DeLay's brazenness was clear long before his Texas indictment, as he ignored the normal post-census redistricting schedule and bulldozed the gerrymandering through the Statehouse. His money-raising machine, dubbed DeLay Inc. by his court of donors and lobbyists in Washington, funneled funds through Austin in ways that Mr. DeLay insists will eventually be judged legal. Regardless of what happens in court, the operation was a political scandal."

UU Sermons for shut-ins Permalink to this item

How much broader is that musty category of "shut-ins" now that there is web surfing? At any rate, if you're looking to listen, here are links to more sermons than you'll ever need, probably. Great collection of information from RSS feeds.

More stoopid phone tricks Permalink to this item

I did my damndest to turn off all the noisemaking on this thing, but there appears to be one that can't be overridden: the 4-chime "my battery is running very low" announcement that is on a 15 min.? or less cycle. Of course it woke me up last night, from two rooms away, in my briefcase.

If the battery gets low enough, all the chimes and alerts get reset to their default "on."

Next phone I buy will have "mute all" one or at most 2 clicks away from the get-go.

9.Dec.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Time for Q&A, Mr. President Permalink to this item

While watching snippets of Bush's speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, and noting that the backdrop wasn't all that stagey for once, I thought about how we don't get much in the way of press conferences from #43. He and his speechwriters have a lot they want to tell us, but not so many questions they want to be asked, or face answering.

Arianna Huffington notes that Bush snubbed the Council tradition of a post-speech question and answer session. She doles a helping of blame for the "failure in Iraq" on "the entire foreign policy establishment -- which didnít ask the hard questions that needed to be asked before the war, and which is now allowing the president to continue to wage his PR war without questions.

"This willingness to be silenced is a black mark on the Council and begs the question: If this isnít the time to demand answers from the president, when will it be?"

Art, Truth & Politics Permalink to this item

Is truth, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? Or does Truth wait for us to find him, lurking in the park, perhaps visiting church on Sunday? People who claim to have Truth, and vend it for the salvation of others have always struck me as presumptious. That could be a lesson, of course: sometimes when I'm thinking how smart I am and think I know it all, I should remember: we are all seekers.

Harold Pintar is a playwright, now 75 years old and the recipient of The Nobel Prize in Literature. He had some things on his mind, and turned them loose in his lecture.

"Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost."

Life, art, truth, are intertwined.

"Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed."

Even as a dry transcript, his speech is far more than literary. It was delivered as a philippic, with particulars. It's a chance to see ourselves as others see us. Take a look.

How the ACLU Didn't Steal Christmas Permalink to this item

Executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Fran Quigley, explains "a well-organized attempt by extremist groups to demonize the ACLU, crush religious diversity and make a few bucks in the process." First, you manufacture a controversy...

Outer Limits of Outsourcing Permalink to this item

Tired of the repetitive drudgery of the early rounds of electronic games? Want to fast-forward to the good stuff? Not a problem: just get some Chinese to play for you. (Don't miss the audio slide show, "Gold Farmers" on the NYT site.)

"For 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, my colleagues and I are killing monsters," said a 23-year-old gamer who works here in this makeshift factory and goes by the online code name Wandering. "I make about $250 a month, which is pretty good compared with the other jobs I've had. And I can play games all day."

One of the entrepeneurs who has 20 full-time gamers working for him says: "It's unimaginable how big this is. They say that in some of these popular games, 40 or 50 percent of the players are actually Chinese farmers."

Some fun.

8.Dec.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

F minus for Kansas try Permalink to this item

Turning that old Air Force recruiting slogan on its head, states aim low when it comes to setting standards for science education, trying to make sure no child will trip over the bar and get Left Behind. If a failing grade is contemptible, the Foundation's authors found Kansas' standard for teaching evolution beneath contempt, with a view so open-minded your brains could fall out: redefining science to admit supernatural explanations.

Idaho got 23.7 points out of a possible 69, for 34% and a rock-solid F, thanks to "portentous but content-shallow statements about science that are repeated grade to grade, year to year."

Kansans apparently take their mythology pretty seriously, too. Witness the recent beating of a Kansas University religious studies professor.

Mountain of Ice Permalink to this item

I watched most of this rebroadcast of a 2003 Nova this week, interrupted by a long phone call (and no one-button Tivo to save it for me). I looked up the companion website half-hoping they might have the video to watch. They don't, just brief trailer or two, but they do have some nice slides and well-written text. Krakauer's page in particular attracted me, with its short musings on exploring terra incognita, humility, taking risks, adventure, light, color, snow, ice streams.

An inverse relationship Permalink to this item

When gas prices go down, George Bush's popularity goes up. The former edged back below $2, and Bush's approval rating has climbed out of the 30-something cellar. When asked why we think the way we do, we don't typically say "well gas is cheap again, so he's ok." I could be drawing a ridiculous inference from a correlation, but the rule of thumb is that all politics are local, and you can't get much more regularly local than the reach for your wallet to refill the beast.

Running out of steam Permalink to this item

David Brooks is a pretty reliable conservative tool, but every once in a while he surprises me with a clear-thinking assessment that's broader than his biases. Today's column is an example. He laments the dissipation of energy in the conservative movement. "Fifty years after the founding of the modern right, conservatives hold just about every important government job, yet the conservative agenda has stalled. Federal spending has surged. Social Security reform is dead. And when voters are asked which party they trust on key issues, they decisively reject conservative ideas."

He attributes this to their success: "most of the issues that propelled conservatives to power have been addressed." We've defeated the Soviet Union, reduced crime, reformed welfare, cut taxes, deregulated the economy and reintroduced traditional social values, or at least made those issues "less salient." With the conservatism "semi-absorbed" into the Republican party (such that we can no longer tell the ideologues from the "corporate hacks," as he puts it), and the media filled with their messages, "conservatives can be just as insular as liberals, retreating to their own media sources to be told how right they are."

The good news for the "sleazeballs" who have been attracted to the winning side is that "no matter how serious the conservative crisis is, liberals remain surpassingly effective at making themselves unelectable." (Not counting just under half the House and Senate, of course.)

The bad news for the country as a whole is the list of pressing and unsolved "second generation" issues; those things government might have been doing instead of obsessing about cutting taxes for the wealthy, unfettering corporate greed, taking control of all branches of government, etc.: social stratification, wage inequality, dislocations from globalization, a "ridiculous" health care system and "unfinished" welfare reform. Oh yes, and one more: "Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this)."

Cold, Off-book Permalink to this item

Last few days' Boise temp. and dewpt. graph from the NWS Clear, sunny, midwest-cold, and apparently not inverted? I haven't been outside for a couple of days, nursing a cold that has my attention span fragmented like a kaleidoscope. Good for web-surfing and a little blogging, but not a whole lot else. The dewpoint bottomed below 0°F last night, the air temperature slipping into single digits.

Restore the Roadless Rule Permalink to this item

I'm not usually very big on online petitions, but this one from EarthJustice strikes me as worthy. I don't know if there's any chance of moving the Bush administration to reinstate the 2001 Roadless Rule, but at least it's a chance to put yourself on record for it. Part of the petition text:

"The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was the product of a massive public involvement process that included more than 600 public meetings and generated more than 1.6 million comments from the American people. More than 95 percent of those comments supported a strong nationwide policy protecting all National Forest Roadless Areas.

"More Americans supported the Roadless Area Conservation Rule of 2001 than any other federal rule in U.S. history. And more Americans opposed the Bush administration's rescission of that rule than any other rule revision in history...."

Mark Rey, still from E&E TV Said rescission was done by USDA Under Secretary Mark Rey (a former Craig staffer and timber industry lobbyist, and one of Outside's top 20 counter-enviros), in May of this year. News coverage from May includes this useful piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"...The action, which ended a 4-year-old ban imposed at the very end of the Clinton administration, was immediately pilloried by environmental groups...

"The new rule gives state governors 18 months to identify areas that should remain roadless and petition the secretary of agriculture to develop management regulations for those "unroaded" national forest areas in their states. The agriculture secretary is free to ignore or amend a governor's petition and implement a management plan that may or may not allow development of the area...."

Rey defended this year's action in May, noting that the 2001 rule faced "extraordinary" court challenges and had already been "enjoined nationwide by a federal district court decision." In his lovely and soporific baritone, he forecasted that "when (opposing groups) actually confront the substance as opposed to the symbols, are going to be in a greater level of agreement than they could have possibly imagined."

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

Odd bedfellows Permalink to this item

Forgive me for being a little suspicious, but finding myself on the same side of an issue as Larry Craig makes me think I might be missing something. He's apparently opposed to transferring public lands to mining companies as the Pombo/Gibbons rider attached to the budget bill would do, by ending the 1994 moratorium on converting mining claims on public land to private ownership. "Mining law and its reform should be used for producing the metals and minerals for our industrial base and that alone," he told the Statesman.

He did offer that he supports much of the Pombo/Gibbons provision, belittling the opposition as having "rhetoric that is more than 10 years old." As if a valid position goes stale after a while?

Who's right, and who gets their way could matter a lot: the Statesman notes that "32 million acres of national forest and range land are available for mineral development in Idaho."

What to do with a spare $450 million Permalink to this item

Invest in some far-out potential answers to the Grand Challenges in Global Health. Mosquito olfacticides, cassavas without cyanide, better bananas, figuring out why some sex workers have HIV immunity, stuff like that.

Torture is not one of our values Permalink to this item

Knowing who's doing the negotiating for the Administration—Stephen Hadley—doesn't give me confidence in the result, but what's getting to the media makes it sound like a decent compromise is possible.

"We ought to make it clear that the policy of the United States is, we're going to follow not only international law but we're going to pursue our own values, and torture is not one of our values." –House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md).

Perhaps the force of world opinion can make a difference, if we can take Dr. Rice at her latest word: "As a matter of US policy, the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to US personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States."

What would it take? Not much. Permalink to this item

Deep in the fascinating slashdot thread about the new chatty worm on AIM, ianscot observes: "Really we're fortunate that virus/trojan writers tend to be just as lazy and marginally competent as the people they dupe. A couple of simple phrases, the suggestion of someone loving the recipient... It's the bare sinews of human nature they're touching on, and not subtle at all. A really resourceful virus author could do far more damage, but the kiddies seem to be content to prey on their peers."

And further in, a correction to the quote from the original article, what the virus "says" when challenged: lol no its not its a virus.

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

Ban Torture or Protect Torturers? Permalink to this item

That's the title of the piece by Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith in The Nation, describing the move to pull the teeth of the McCain amendment by accompanying it with Lindsey Graham's repeal of habeus corpus. The defense appropriation bill that both amendments are in is headed for rework by the Senate-House conference committee.

"Only nine of the more than 500 Guantánamo captives have even been charged with crimes, and their trials are being prolonged year after year. This is exactly the situation habeas corpus is designed to remedy. And without it, the captives can rot in prison forever and possibly be subject to torture and inhumane treatment that the courts are unable even to learn about."

The Administration has made it clear where it stands: threatening veto of the defense appropriation bill if it has the McCain amendment in it, and using Cheney to pressure McCain directly to give up his crazy notion that torture should be illegal for all Americans to undertake.

Talking points for the SoS tour Permalink to this item

The latest installation of Dick Cheney, Confidential (RealAudio) is a hoot. Shop around on the Le Show page for the whole show, playlists and what not.

Modern Sausage-making Permalink to this item

Terry Gross had a good interview last week with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, the authors of the new book Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. They argue that the Republicans have defined the law of gravity that's supposed to keep politics aligned with the broad and moderate center of the populace.

The red/blue sparse/dense electoral map favors Republicans these days: Democrats are getting more votes for the Senate, but fewer seats. On the House side, effectiveness in redistricting (otherwise known as gerrymandering) and fund-raising tilt the balance. What better example could you find than VPOTUS going to Texas for a secret fundraiser for deposed Majority Whip Tom DeLay's legal defense fund?

And for all those MoveOn haters in the audience, the authors' assessment is that "Republican activists are much more cohesive and conservative than Democratic activists are cohesive and liberal." They argue that Republican activists have moved farther to the right then they were in the days of Barry Goldwater.

The best we can hope for in many instances is some "theatrical opposition," along the way: spare votes doled out to moderates so they can vote "against" the leadership, after the result of the vote is already determined. George Bush has yet to veto a single bill during his time in office.

A more fair tax system Permalink to this item

Dean Baker floats a trial balloon on let's bring back the "Reagan" tax reform:

"The '86 tax reform treated all types of income—wage income, capital gains, dividends and rents—the same way. This meant that a person who earned $70,000 from working would pay the exact same tax as someone who got $70,000 in dividend checks or who made $70,000 in profit on stocks. Taxing all income the same way meant that there was no money to be made by gaming the system—for example, by disguising wage income as capital gains income. Reagan proudly boasted when he signed the bill that people would now make money by working and investing, not gaming the tax code...."

Sounds mighty quaint, doesn't it? Imagine taxing capital gains and dividends the same as wages and the deferred games you hope to get out of your 401(k) someday! Unfortunately, his idea for bringing the system closer to equity is going nowhere, just like Steve Forbes' "flat tax" presidential campaign. Everyone's for a simpler tax code and fairness, right after they make sure they get their breaks.

Whatever the House and Senate do in the sharp scrutiny of debate the first time around, the Republicans running the conference committee will patch it up just the way Frist and the boys want it for the final up-or-down vote and rubber stamp from the President.

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

DeLay 1 for 2 Permalink to this item

Map of E. Texas districts in the 109th Congress His lawyers got the conspiracy charge dropped, arguing successfully that Texas didn't mean for "conspiracy" to apply to election finance law. From that, they went on to say see "just how baseless and politically motivated the charges were!" Except the judge didn't buy the argument to get the money laundering thrown out: they tried to argue that since the money changed hands as checks, rather than cash, they weren't "funds" and so didn't come under the law. That didn't fly.

Tom still has friends at the top: Dick Cheney popped out of his bunker long enough to come to Austin for a secret fundraiser. But not as many friends in Austin: he figures some folks are still lit up about the way district 25 was gerrymandered (that's Austin in the little blurp at the top of it) and he'd better try to get a change of venue before the case goes to trial.

Holiday cheer for local Dems Permalink to this item

We missed the JFK dinner, but my informant tells me a good time was had by all, and contrary to the Statesman report, they were plenty upbeat even before Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer started talking.

4.Dec.05 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Rewriting history, again Permalink to this item

Adam Cohen has a few Christmas stories I hadn't heard before in "Commercialize Christmas, or Else." The one about the Puritans hating it, and the lamentation over the "worldly festivity, shooting and swearing." You gotta love the father of Christmas Under Siege selling "The O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament" though.

A calendar for the ages Permalink to this item

Mr. August, as a cowboy in a big white SUV The GOP Store has just the thing for holiday gift giving: 12 months of George and Laura and flags and troops and George-as-cowboy for only $25. There's only one of Dick and he's really too small to be menacing, and that unpleasantness will be over after you turn the page to February.

Limbo in jeopardy Permalink to this item

It's a touchy subject I suppose, but if limbo is done away with, what happens to the current residents? Will the just (or innocent) but unbaptized get into heaven after all? Is Original Sin not really a sin after all? The mind boggles as the constructs unravel.

Black secrets and accountability Permalink to this item

As Scott McClellan put it, "When it comes to human rights, there is no greater leader than the United States of America, and we show that by holding people accountable when they break the law or violate human rights."

Alleged CIA flight routes, excerpt of El Pais image One important (and of course imperfect) instrument of accountability is the media, and the people in government who put ethics ahead of legal proscriptions to divulge secrets that so-called superiors don't wish revealed. That's why we're talking about CIA "black sites" these days.

Everything happens in a political context, however. For us to make good on the promise of leadership and accountability that McClellan cites, we may well need to have more checks and balances than a Republican House, Senate, Executive and Supreme Court can provide. A Democrat majority in the House, for example, could bring Articles of Impeachment.

At a minimum, we can do better than what Condi Rice has planned, "just shut up," or "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." As for McClellan's credibility on statements of fact, as opposed to statements of principle, that political capital is long since overdrawn.

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

Lessons in compliance Permalink to this item

A grandmother, with a son in the Army serving in Iraq, riding the bus to work, thought it was wrong that federal police wanted to see everyone's identification in order for them to ride through the Federal Center in Lakewood.

Federal prosecutors are considering whether they'll press charges, and the ACLU has already stepped up to defend her. I have to wonder if she is considering whether she'll press charges.

The official spokesman from the department that oversees the police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explains how this important inspection process is a component of their security: "The identification is one means of making sure that, whoever comes on base, that you know that they are who they say they are." Or that they've taken the trouble to have a fake ID made.

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

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain Permalink to this item

"The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect" was the unanimous conclusion of six lawyers and two analysts in the Department of Justice who looked at the "special" Republican redistricting of Texas that brought Tom DeLay 5 more foot soldiers from that state. Voting Rights Act? What, that's not a law or something is it?

Friday's story in The Washington Post includes this refresher: "Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas and other states with a history of discriminatory elections are required to submit changes in their voting systems or election maps for approval by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division."

Never mind that the Division said it stunk; there was a handy political appointee principal deputy assistant attorney general to give it the OK. More of Tom DeLay's good work for the Republican cause.

Our current AG, Bush's Texas buddy Alberto Gonzales, assures us that there was nothing political about the decision whatsoever. That's a relief.

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

A proper start for the month, under a mantle of white. Bogus announced they're opening tomorrow (even before the last storm came in; good forecasting, or dogged determination). They've already announced "good" conditions, but then "good" is the most pejorative adjective they work with, other than "technical."

The snow report notes dryly, "Looking for more snow with cold temperatures." Especially at 37°F we are looking for that. Seems a little soft. (It's in the mid-40s and breezy down here, by midafternoon.)

This won't help the credibility problem Permalink to this item

Since the GAO put the kibosh on the domestic propaganda program (it's illegal at home), it seems the effort has gone off-shore. We're paying for a "multi-million dollar covert campaign" and a gaggle of Iraqi "journalists" get "several hundred dollars a month" out of it, for running nice stories about us. Hmm, might be a problem with the skimming going on in the distribution network, too?

We're still winners, darn it! Permalink to this item

The Pack has cleaned up in Campbell's Chunky Click for Cans once again. They may be 2-9 out on the field, but in Chunkyworld, the Green Bay Packers are undefeated. Campbell's had to make a new category ("Most Improved Clicks") to give someone else a chance at winning something.

Maine just said no Permalink to this item

to the moronic idea of abstinence-only "sex education."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 05-Jan-2006 13:30:48 MST