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31.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How Do Old Fogies Send the Old Year Out? Permalink to this item

With a rerun of the 2005 Cream reunion, of course, watching other old fogies rockin' out and laughing about how we've come to this. I'm So Glad!

My Favorite Feature of the Year Permalink to this item

Here's an innovative innovation award: David Pogue's Pogies, highlighting specific product features rather than whole products. Winning whole products win, after all, everyone wants one and then the knockoffs flood in, the price drops to the point that everyone can have one, and the shine wears off and then we're all back to grumbling about all the broken crannies and bad customer support and so on.

I bring this up, because while I don't have the energy for a full-blown, canonical end-of-the-year list of something or other, there is a specific product feature in Google's gmail that delights me every time I use it. If you use email (of course you do), you've had occasion to want to add something to a message that you've already sent. You dig it out of your "Sent items" folder and "reply"... what, to yourself?

No, of course not. You want to "reply" to the person you sent the original message to. That's what gmail's "Reply" link does when you try to reply to your own message. Naturally.

And after you've started that reply to a message that went to several people (or a huge distribution list, whatever) and you realize you want to "reply to all" rather than just one person, the "reply to all" link expands your distribution list without interrupting your message composition. Just like you wanted.

(If you use Outlook, you should be able to enjoy this feature in a couple years or so.)

29.Dec.2007 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Arms up and out, spread your legs and hold still Permalink to this item

We knew (or at least suspected) that the silly hoops we're jumping through at the airport weren't doing much of anything useful, but it's still easier to jump through a few hoops (and give away some pocket appliances and harmless bottles of assorted liquids) than it is to raise a stink. Unless perhaps you're a professional stinker and willing to have your travel adventure no longer involve commercial airliners. Possibly forever.

The spectacle of security follies was not demanded as much as manufactured, in service of George Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. That worked so well that none of the so-called "front runners" this time around have anything to say on the subject. (Ron Paul did, 3 years ago; is he front-running yet?)

Could be a Three-Decade Hangover Permalink to this item

When I was reading this psychiatrist's Op-Ed considering the long-term effects of binge drinking as we might infer from the work out of the University of North Carolina, I was wondering what potential of my own I might have forgone by youthful indiscretions, but then how could we ever know? We just do the best we can with what we have (left).

I'm not in charge of any large (or small) nations however, so any impediment in my ability to relearn, or think flexibly, or find an underwater platform that's being moved around, or deal with ambiguity needn't concern anyone outside a rather small circle of family and friends.

"The one piece of good news is that exercise has been shown to stimulate the regrowth and development of normal neural tissue in former alcohol-drinking mice. In fact, this neurogenesis was greater in the exercising former drinking mice than that induced by exercise in the control group that had never been exposed to alcohol."

No more begrudging George W. his daily workout, then.

Is This a Great Business or What? Permalink to this item

If you need an explanation for why Comcast Corp. is tanking, or an argument for the estate tax, look no further than the latest salary agreement with its 87-year old founder. God bless him, but paying his $1.8 million salary to his beneficiaries for 5 years after he dies? Please.

Good Thing (or not) Permalink to this item

Now that we have the web, we have the benefit of hyperlinks to the original to enrich our commentary. Hence, for David Brook's year-end essay awards (not sure why they're "Sydney"), we can divert into the interesting give-and-take between Jonathan Haidt and "the Reality Club" of David Sloan Wilson, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, and Marc Hauser, discussing Haidt's Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion.

A flicker, poking in the snow on our oak tree PZ Myers' complaint of Haidt's artificial equation of "religion" with "morality" points to the center of the misdirected criticism of the so-called New Atheists. Rejecting gods does not imply rejection of moral systems. There now, is that so hard to grasp?

And oh by the way, it's nonsense to defend "religion" as probably adaptive because it's ubiquitous, as Sam Harris points out in such rollicking good style:

What would Haidt have us think about these venerable traditions of pious ignorance and senseless butchery? Is there some wisdom in these cults of human sacrifice that we should now honor? Must we take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Or might we want to eat that baby instead? Indeed, many of these societies regularly terminated their rituals of sacred murder with a cannibal feast. Is my own revulsion at these practices a sign that I view these distant cultures with the blinkered gaze of a colonialist? Shall we just reserve judgment until more of the facts are in? When does scientific detachment become perverse? When might it be suicidal?

Haidt gets the last word and paraphrases Rodney King. Can't we all just "re-invent and re-invigorate the Enlightenment"? In order to convince religionists that there's a brighter future in this new brand, "we must also examine ourselves examining religion, and we must lay bare our own motives and biases. People are extraordinarily good at reasoning their way to any conclusion they want to reach, so long as there is some ambiguity in the evidence."

His suggestion that we have a problem with "those who write about religion while angry about religion" getting carried away reminds me of that Conservative laugh line, "why do liberals hate George Bush so much?" (And while we're checking, have you stopped beating your wife?)

Is religion really a good thing, "a complex of co-evolved genes and cultural innovations for binding people together and imbuing them with a sense of community and collective purpose, immune to the sense of pointlessness and isolation" that troubled Haidt's adolescence? Or is it "the only mode of discourse that encourages grown men and women to pretend to know things they manifestly do not (and cannot) know," as Sam Harris puts it? (Or is it two click two click two mints in one?).

"If ever there were an attitude at odds with science, this is it."

Personally, I've chosen a semi-organized religion that doesn't require checking your brain at the door, in spite of the tendency of some of its practitioners to keep talking about "faith" and the like as they try to build the brand.

27.Dec.2007 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Condemned to Repeat Permalink to this item

There's a scene in Charlie Wilson's War where Joanne Herring introduces General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who had declared himself President of Pakistan, just as their current leader, Musharraf, was later to do. The Congressmen is hoping she'll be discreet, and let's just say I'm more discreet than she was, so I won't spoil it for you. If you go see the movie, let's just say you'll find it striking in juxtaposition to today's events.

Zia came to power by deposing then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was subsequently accused of conspiracy to murder a political opponent, found guilty, and executed. There is no hint in today's news of the assassination of Bhutto's daughter, Benazir that Musharraf had any involvement, but Bhutto's supporters will have ample suspicion.

Violence and terrorism will breed more of the same, we can at least be certain of that.

Cleaning Out the Riff-Raff Permalink to this item

You better watch out
You better not cry!
You better not pout,
I'm tellin' you why
Tee-Ess-Ay is going to SPOT you.

(With sincere apologies to the memory of J. Fred Coots)

Just because you exhibit "involuntary physical and physiological reactions in response to a fear of being discovered" does not automatically mean you have "terrorist or criminal intent," of course. Your behavior might have a "non-threatening origin," but you won't mind if we have you step over here for a little handwanding, limited pat down and physical inspection of your carry-on baggage, will you?

We don't know what percentage of airline passengers have reason to display "a brief flash of fear" in response to a uniform, but the report is that about 1% of a sample of 70,000 were found worthy of arrest, "on a variety of charges, including possession of drugs, weapons violations and outstanding warrants."

Now, let's say you take a random sample of the more than a million people passing through our airports on any given day. You might find that 99 out of a hundred are "clean" and 1% are arrestable. (The Sea-Tac team is doing better than average: their 11 arrests out of the 600 people "referred for secondary inspection" in the last year is closer to 2% than 1.)

With the U.S. incarceration rate not so far from 1%, maybe you wouldn't even need to go to an airport to round up 1 out of 100 people that can be locked up. You can't be too careful, eh?

Boxing Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

No Thanks to Us! Permalink to this item

Says here, shoppers spent more than expected (but not a lot more) this "holiday" season. We didn't do Black Friday, Black Monday, Christmas Eve, or anything in between, really. We kept buying groceries. And went out to see Charlie Wilson's War with our favorite niece last night.

But generally, Ha, bumbug!

Now That the Budget is Done... Permalink to this item

Rep. Robert Wexler: "It is time for the House Judiciary Committee to hold impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney." And he's set up a handy website where you can sign on to urge inquiry into the manipulation of intelligence, the use of torture, the exposure of covert agents, and the obstruction of federal investigation. Not to mention the secret corporate dealings.

Christmas Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's Hot, but Up-and-Coming, or Stolen? Permalink to this item

Boise foothills hoarfrost, January, 2004 I first knew "Fon" as a bit of trivia: back when "telephone company" took a definite article, you could find that company in its "Fon Book." (I just checked; you can't do it anymore. Which Fon company would it be, after all? I guess it could work in the formerly known as Yellow Pages, though.) Now there really is a Fon company, and it's on Wired's latest list of Top 10 Startups Worth Watching for next year.

It's based on two increasingly popular business propositions: (1) share some of which you have more than enough of; and (2) free. Your home internet connection's not "free," but if you've gone broadband, you have more of it than you can use, most of the time. As do many others. So, you share some of yours, they share some of theirs, and presto!: free WiFi around the world.

As long as no one checks the fine print in the Terms of Service? Might want to check that before you dive into Fon's IPO, should they have one. That's not your bandwidth anymore than it's your software. You're renting a license to use it, almost always.

Merry Christmas to Idaho Permalink to this item

As an odd adjunct to the gift-giving mood (which didn't strike me all that hard this year), it occurred to me that after we settled up with the IRS for that mistake in our 2006 taxes, the State probably had a share coming. If you have to ask, you know the answer...

So I spent a little time today finishing ("This time, for sure," as Rocky the Squirrel used to say) last year's taxes, and wrote a nice check to brighten the Tax Commission's holidays.

And just in time to get going on 2007's tax returns!

24.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something to Ponder this Long Eve Permalink to this item

Dennis Overbye's follow-up to Paul Davies' "faith statement" about science, "Laws of Nature, Source Unknown," makes a good case not only that Davies was misunderstood, but that he's not nearly as capable of making himself understood as Overbye is. My own response to Davies was not vitriolic, but it was fairly dismissive. (I've read a book or two of Davies' as well; maybe he just needed more space than an Op-Ed allows?)

The description of Davies' clarification illuminates the subject, if not what any of it has to do with theology. Davies complains that "the traditional of transcendent laws is just 17th-century monotheism without God," except for the minor point that laws reflect detectable reality, and God remains a jumbag of crazy notions, created in man's image.

This reminds me of listening to Christmas music on the radio today, interspersed with Gospel reading (and on NPR, imagine that), Luke's wild tale learned by repetition, holding so many connections to my own past, but having no connection whatever to reality. There are some great metaphors in there, but some confused ones as well. We have an innate affection for our offspring, so hear hear for the baby in the manger, and to all a good night.

Winter Permanent URL to this day's entry

Growing Out of Shades of Gray Permalink to this item

Ok, this explains a lot. The Bloggingheads question was Is Bush a Grown-up? with a Pro/Con format, and I was having trouble imagining what the "pro" argument was going to be. Turns out, it's black and white thinking. All that multi-culturalism, and nuance, that's adolescent thinking. Growing up means never having to doubt yourself.

20.Dec.2007 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of 'Shooters' Permalink to this item

We're now in a shooting war at the Mexican border. They're shooting rocks we're returning fire with tear gas canisters.

So much for that "good fences make good neighbors" idea.

Joker in Chief Permalink to this item

Mr. Bush tries his hand at standup in today's press conference. "We took an inventory of the silverware," he started out. We're ending this year "on a high note," he tells us, if only wishing would make it so.

And then launches into lambasting Congress, as if all their failings had nothing to do with his vetoes, and his party's obstruction in the Senate. Congress "stopped a tax increase" without raising taxes. (Sort of like lowering taxes, why didn't he use that magic incantation?) We're still spending our way toward oblivion, but "we have been reducing the deficit." We're sinking, but not so fast as we were before.

The weirdest parts of his speech are when the unexpected word pops out that reveals the landscape of his mind. The multi-national military effort in Afghanistan? "Shooters" working for freedom. And you wonder why it's not working as well as we'd like.

Then there are the recitations:

"That's why in my State of the Union address a couple of years ago, I talked about the perils of isolationism and protectionism. And, the fundamental question facing whoever sits in the Oval Office is, will you use the influence of the United States to advance the freedom agenda, to help others realize the blessings of liberty and yield peace?"

None of that is a joke, but as one of the few sentences that come tripping off his tongue, we wonder how it is that that is so well-memorized when the rest of what he says is so confused. (Is it set to music?) And how "shooters" will bring the blessings to all, that's funny-queer rather than funny-ha-ha.

Opening Day Permalink to this item

66 years to the day after their first opening day, Bogus Basin handed out free lift tickets today to celebrate their anniversary. The combination of pent-up demand from the late start and the best deal in town for skiing and riding led to a big crowd, even on this weekday. The crowd started at the bottom of Bogus Basin Road, with slow queue inching through the 3-way Stop sign, cruised up the warm and wet part of the road and then bogged down seriously on the snow floor that was iced over and slicked up.

It takes the right vehicle, the right tires, and the right operator to get up the tricky spots on a day like this, and some of the folks on the road lacked multiple prerequisites. One such vehicle was a full-sized van, with a canoe on the roof rack. Yes, a canoe. Headed up to a ski area. Except he was headed down the hill when we crossed paths, and people on my side of the road were inching around somebody spinning their tires on the ice, hoping to keep it rolling and escape the mess.

Canoe-guy wanted his side of the road, damn it, and as each uphill car got by the spinner, he'd snug that full-sized van in a little tighter to try to claim his passage. I was the last one to get by in front of him, and almost didn't. The bollox made us all stop-and-go, and when I needed to go, I was now a spinner. I managed to jigger myself sideways enough to get a little less slope, and get to rolling again, and as I passed him, he had his window down, talking on his cell phone, insisting to someone that "they need to close the road!" even though he was close to taking care of that himself. I managed to hit the slopes not long after the 10am opening, but I heard later that people behind me were delayed past 11.

With the backside not yet open, the front side was jam-packed, with fog and low visibility hiding people on the slope, but not down in the lift line. The groomed runs weren't groomed that well, after more new snow overnight, and all the tracks. And the snow off-trail was "bottomless" with most of a foot of new over the thin base. Too bad most of the front side is not steep enough to keep you going through that depth.

I'd drained my share of fun out of there by about noon, and after clearing the late arrivals' contest for the perfect parking spot, it was smooth sailing back down, the icy spots now safely slushed and sanded by all the traffic.

Quite the jolly celebration for our community enterprise, though.

19.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A Lot Hiding in the Bushes Permalink to this item

All Presidents have had their confidences, but George W. (and Dick) seems to want everything to be secret by default, and only have a few staged performances with hand-picked audiences be public.

D.C. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth decided that the visitor logs of the White House were a bridge too far. Not to worry if you're one of those secret visitors, though; appeals could keep this tied up through the end of the current administration.

Funny how the Bush/Cheney White House is so concerned with its privacy, and so unconcerned with violating every one else's.

Pity the Defenseless Westerner Permalink to this item

Photo from Bogus Basin Rd., Dec. 2003 I've hiked about from time to time, camped in out-of-the-way places, including National Forests, Parks, and Wilderness. It's been a while since I've been in bear or cougar country, and by far the most frightening night-time incident involved Homo sapiens rather than less dangerous wild animals. I learned to be a little more careful on weekends.

Since I haven't had to be concerned about where (or how) I can and can't pack a firearm, I haven't paid much attention to the issue.

Here come 47 Senators, including both of Idaho's and Montana's, leading a gun-ho charge to repeal federal gun restrictions in national parks and wildlife refuges. Crapo's spokesperson hopes that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, former Boise mayor, Idaho Senator, and governor, will be "amenable" to the proposal, "being a fellow westerner and understanding the lifestyle."

But what really caught my eye was the lament of the NRA spokesperson, Ashley Varner:

"When you have law-abiding citizens who are not allowed to carry firearms for personal protection when they are out hiking, when they are out camping deep in the national forests... that really leaves the law-abiding citizens defenseless."

Perhaps if they would pack more for wits, they wouldn't be in such a precarious position.

In another initiative, Craig and Crapo have each put a hold on the nominee for head of the ATF, not for any reported fault of Michael Sullivan that I saw, but rather just because they don't like the idea of regulating firearms very much. (Or is it the alcohol, tobacco and explosives regulations the BATFE looks after that they don't like?)

Our Next President's Character Permalink to this item

The intellectual argument for Obama is made quite persuasively by David Brooks, even with the odd note of his closing comparison of the presidency to a bacterium. ("A thousand fluid crises" is more like germ warfare than a single single cell if you want to follow the battle metaphor. Bacteria aren't rugged individualists.)

When the last Clinton's character was found flawed, the Republican message was "character matters." After being sold that slogan, we found how deeply it does matter through the more grevious negative example of George W. Bush. A man who is willing to casually preside over 152 executions turns out to be willing to casually preside over an unnecessary war and the death of hundreds of thousands, spending the earnings of unborn generations to fund the early inheritance of his family and friends.

We got a call from Obama's campaign in our state last night, were we planning on supporting him in Idaho's February caucus? I wasn't sure, myself, but I'm getting that way. Last time I around, I was drawn to the fervor of Kucinich's supporters, but ended up standing for Edwards. If I felt my voice in Idaho could sort things out for the Party, I might be more motivated to decide now; as it is, by the time Idaho's caucus rolls around, the "we're first" states' voters will have deeply carved the landscape.

It won't be with the analytical approach Brooks takes, but it may well be on the foundational character issues he describes. I still remember Obama's speech to the 2004 convention, and how it made me feel.

17.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Head is Spinning Permalink to this item

There's so much I'm not keeping up with, as this Iowa campaign pot pourri makes clear. Lieberman backing McCain, that's nice. Who does Zell Miller like? Romney and Thompson firing for effect at Pastor Mike, with Fred saying that "Liberal is the only word that comes to mind" on Face the Nation. Truly shocking. Not that Thompson's vocabulary is limited, we expect that when he's off script. And Romney summoning tears on command, that's a trick.

15.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ethanol's fer drinkin', ain'it? Permalink to this item

Around the Corn Belt (and just a few other states), "as of yesterday," according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, there were 1,413 gas stations that were also serving up ersatz gas. E85 is cheaper by the gallon, but maybe not cheaper fuel, as the little calculator in the sidebar of this NYT Business piece shows. If you can put a $3/gallon tiger in your tank, that corny stuff will need to be $2.25 or less to make it a good deal. Assuming you have one of the 6 million "flex-fuel" vehicles running around out there.

Away from the computer Permalink to this item

After their fall Took a break yesterday, rode my bike on a chilly errand, cleaned some of the leaves out of the gutters and then raked the major dump from the oak into a great big pile, where the afternoon sun was slanting into it, and I laid down in them and smelled home a thousand miles away and covered myself up and felt the warmth of the ends of their lives and looked up through the almost bare branches to the clear, blue sky, and time stood still

Voices of a Liberal Faith Permalink to this item

My favorite voice in this artfully produced video, on YouTube is our moderator, Gini Courter's:

"I think what I want folks in our congregations to know is, if there's a candidate for the great American Faith, it is us. Take a look at who signed the Declaration of Independence and you see our names there. Three of the first six Presidents were Unitarian...."

14.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jim Risch Desperate... Permalink to this item

I said, reading Betsy's blog report of LaRocco's latest poll. "For?" Jeanette asked. "Your money!" I said.

He won't be getting any of that, of course, as we're backing his competition even though we're not from New York or Hollywood. I do wonder how well the "running scared" schtick will sell to Republican contributors, much less to our state's voters.

Well, When You Put it That Way Permalink to this item

Ron Paul's answer to questions about some of the whack-jobs that are sending him money; should he accept contributions from white supremacists, for example?

"I got their money away from them, so it's a plus! 'Cause I want to spend it for what I consider a very positive thing."

Running Down Our Local Blogs Permalink to this item

It's not just because I get mentioned there, I'm enjoying Serephin's periodic pot pourri for a quick look at what's going on in my neighborhood.

He (? I should know, but I'm guessing) also found a nice lyric to go along with a sweet holiday picture of Larry Craig, and some proposed legislation for our Fusilli Billie. Let's hear it for the Pastafarians.

Stupid Error Messages Greatest Hits Permalink to this item

I normally don't try to entertain you with tales from the code side of my life, because most of what my readers find interesting (I imagine) is not geek-interesting. And when Things Go Wrong, other than a certain dose of commiseration, the only genuine interest from the geek side is for Things Going Wrong Like They Went For Me, Too, in the hopes that there might some useful left-over incantations to share.

I was a couple days into what turned out to be a four day nightmare this week when I discovered Commiseration Central, in the MSDN Forum for .NET Framework Setup, and the Holy Grail of his problem matches my problem, at least sort of. After that thrill wore off, and I browsed the Forum, I realized that a lot of people were having the same sort of problem as me, with attempted installation of the supposedly ready for "manufacturing" bits of the latest Visual Studio and .NET Framework.

MikeW116's post has 1,685 views and 17 replies, some from actual Microsoft employees (or at least holders of MS email addresses) who appear to be personally helpful. Imagine that! My specific tale of woe is just over a day old, has a scant 20 views, and is still waiting for its first reply.

In my delusional state, I imagined one of those nice Microsofties would be stepping right up to help me out, but I guess it doesn't work like that. They may have ample instances of totally hosed machines and comprehensive logs (5MB .cab file, anyone?) to wade through before my number comes up, if it ever does.

Anyway, you're wondering what all this gibberish is, and why you should be interested by now... but since you use computers, you've seen your share of idiotic error messages, any one of which could have been the ultimate inspiration for the helicopter joke.

I saw my share of cuss-inducing messages this week, but the prize-winner was this one:

You have been denied access to this machine.

There is no question that Microsoft can deny me access to the utility of this machine, but here I was, typing away at its keyboard, 23 reboots from Tuesday, this machine that I assembled with my bare hands out of boxes of parts three years ago.

It must be pure stubbornness to prove them wrong that keeps me going.

12.12.2007 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Feithless Understanding Permalink to this item

That Douglas Feith thinks it's a "profound point" that our current President dubbed himself The Decider, assuming extra-Constitutional war powers that the Congress did not give (but is too bound up in short-term partisanship to challenge) says a lot about his psychological problems and the damage his role in this administration has wrought.

It's profound that a lawyer within spitting distance of the Oval Office is content with a dictatorship rather than a representative democracy.

But if the goal is to distribute blame, George W. Bush has to take a triple helping if all his enablers are going to point the finger anywhere but at themselves.

Maureen Dowd: "It defies reason, but there are still some who think the chuckleheads who orchestrated the Iraq misadventure have wisdom to impart."

The chuckleheads do provide an instructive example of just how bad things can get, in a group all at sea with no moral compass. Can we learn our lessons from them?

9.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Huckabee Rising Permalink to this item

Frank Rich: "What the Beltway calls unthinkable today keeps turning out to be front-page news tomorrow." I was surprised by the Huckabee headlines today too, but it stands to reason with the negative biographies of the previous front-runners and rising stars. Newsweek's latest poll shows an even wider preference for Huckabee over Romney in Iowa: 39 to 17% versus 32 to 20% in the Mason-Dixon poll. (This in spite of Romney outspending Huckabee 20 to 1.)

But what bodes ill for our collective future is the polarization of the electorate after seven years of uniter-not-a-divider George Bush. (Not to mention the eight years prior, with a president as villified by the right as Bush is by the left.) There was no overlap between the top three issues for Republicans and Democrats in the the Mason-Dixon poll done for McClatchy and MSNBC. (There seems to be an embargo on posting the full poll results online; it's getting talked about, but there is a curious absence of results as complete as what's in print this morning from online outlets. The Kansas City Star has some of it, but not the issues part. Similarly, the Idaho Statesman has chunky pieces online, but not a single full presentation beyond their storytelling.)

"Most important issues" for Democrats were "Health care" and "the economy and jobs" tied for first, and Iraq a close third. For Republicans, "national security or terrorism" is the clear leader, with "moral and family issues" 2nd, and "immigration," 3rd.

"The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o'clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia..."

Huckabee's cited weaknesses are that he's not as extreme as many conservatives might like: "his stand on immigration isn't as hard-line as others and because he raised taxes in Arkansas."

The politics of fear and self-righteous "morality" worked so well for Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and so badly for the country as a whole. Whether it was brilliant strategy, marketing or manipulation, Bush's 2004 win has delayed the day of reckoning for the GOP to understand that trying hard at more of the same is not going to convert failure to success. What plays in Iowa and South Carolina to Republican evangelicals is not going to carry the day this time around.

8.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

From a Distance Permalink to this item

Late hollyhocks I don't know if I can be appalled at the arguably appalling God Effect when I find it so unsurprising. It is surprising how easy it is to measure, though.

This is why the church-going need to keep going regularly. And why police stations should be made as common as corner Walgreens, with attention-getting façades.

One of the two authors has the original paper published in Psychological Science available: God Is Watching You Priming God Concepts Increases Prosocial Behavior in an Anonymous Economic Game.

Searching for Mr. Right Permalink to this item

Gail Collins finds a lot to like with the Republican candidates, except for one or two things...

"...Romney had his attention fixed on the approximately 35,000 Iowa religious conservatives who will tip the balance in the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus.

"Can I pause here briefly to point out that in New York there are approximately 35,000 people living on some blocks? If my block got to decide the first presidential caucus, I guarantee you we would be as serious about our special role as the folks in Iowa are. And right now Mitt Romney would be evoking the large number of founding fathers who were agnostics...."

Ten Kilowatt Blimp Permalink to this item

The New York Times Magazine comes out with its seventh annual collection of the year in ideas tomorrow, from Airborne Wind Turbines to Zygotic Social Networking. The first of the 70 is a good one: a tethered, helium-filled " Magenn Air Rotor System" that delivers 10kW, anywhere in the world, from 1,000 feet aloft, where "there is steady wind anywhere in the world."

The idea blurb says the Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS) "received its U.S. patent" in October, but I couldn't find it. You'd think the company would have a press release or something...

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

What Magic Can Rudy Bring? Permalink to this item

It won't be the magic that comes from learning the lessons of history, if his latest ad is any guide. Maybe Republican voters like the massage of magical thinking that all the Gipper had to do was raise his hand in that golden hour and the Iranian terrorists backed down, but that's not quite the way it happened.

The deeper you dig, the worse it gets when it comes to Giuliani's exaggerations.

I'll stick with Hope and Charity Permalink to this item

I don't know which faith, if any, David Brooks is coming from, but without taking Romney's "any old religion will do" speech personally, he provides a fine analysis of its strengths and shortcomings.

It was also pointed out to me that Romney need not care a whit about the likes of me in his effort to get the Republican nomination. True enough, and perhaps I'm expecting too much from him. He pretty well showed us his moral compass with his castigation of Obama for telling a truth too unvarnished before high school students.

His plan is to act like nothing's wrong, tell people what they want to hear, and if the truth is unseemly, whether it's about youthful indiscretions, or Biblical beliefs, just don't speak it.

If, as Brooks writes, the "prominent feature" of the landscape of religious life is now "the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless," Romney knows which side he's on, who's contributing to his campaign, and who he can safely ignore. A common enough political calculation, to be sure, but I find Romney a bit too calculating for my taste.

The NYT editorial board describes Romney's mission succinctly, and decries the fact that he had to undertake it: "He was trying to persuade Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party, who do want to impose their faith on the Oval Office, that he is sufficiently Christian for them to support his bid for the Republican nomination."

Ah well, this isn't a government examination, even if it was delivered at the George H.W. Bush Library, and the time will come for Romney to dance with them what brung 'im soon enough. Try Christopher Hitches for a less patient response to the defense against having to speak of one's faith.

6.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An atheist response to Mitt Romney Permalink to this item

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us," Mitt Romney said today, in his well-prepared address on the subject, noting that those people "are at odds with the nation's founders." (On Monday however, he got his back up when Robert Siegel tried to ask him about his beliefs about the Bible, which he hedged in the YouTube debate, and hedged again in the NPR interview. "I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people's beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates," he said in genteel indignation.)

He "will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law," which seems appropriate for an elected official, but gosh, doesn't that put God in second place? Tricky business.

Furthermore, Romney insists that while he can countenance any number of sects (mentioning "the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims" specifically, excepting such commitment made by proponents of "radical violent Islam" and "radical Islamists," of course), some sort of religiosity is apparently essential.

"We are a nation 'Under God'," he said, "and in God, we do indeed trust." Those "intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion [sic] of secularism" be damned.

But "the great moral inheritance we hold in common" does not depend on anyone's imagined Deities be they singular, triune, or multiplied by exaltation, as the doctrines of his faith hold true. We hold our moral inheritance in common. Pretending that morality implies religion does not add power, but instead provides a convenient scapegoat, such as the one George Bush says told him to go to war. The violations of our moral inheritance that the Bush/Cheney administration have made can not be excused by an egotistical notion that our nation is special in God's eyes, they cannot be wiped away by calls to the Deity at the end of our speeches and in the middle of our baseball games.

Our great moral inheritance, held in common, is our responsibility, and ours alone.

5.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Al Franken's More Serious Than This Guy Permalink to this item

An hour with Fred Thompson (and Charlie Rose) was way more than I could handle last night. The guy just drives me straight up the wall with his homespun manner and contentless blather. He doesn't have positions so much as he has an pandering argument set to touch on all the right buzzwords without actually stating an actual position.

This man is so not Presidential. Who let him into this race, anyway? It sounds like he's got early onset Alzheimers in fact, one of the few things that make him qualified to try to follow in Ronald Reagan's footsteps.

I'm not so shallow as to dwell on appearances, but at some point I got to thinking about a resemblance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and then it got really hard to stay tuned.

"We knew that strategy was important, but we know now that that particular strategy in that particular place was flawed, for a long time."

They're Dangerous When Cornered Permalink to this item

Especially after the latest round of This is Your Life Larry Craig in the Idaho Statesman (complete with NSFW audio files of the interviews with the growing group of accusers), it's not hard to imagine him spending his time alone on his boat, nursing a variety of grudges for the waning months of his Congressional career. Trying to change the subject from whether he should keep his job, to what he's actually supposed to be doing, he's tried his hand at withering criticism of Democratic efforts to do something about climate change. He's also got time to read minds, discovering that Senator Boxer "(intends) to revert the United States to a developing country." Her bill is "meaningless," and he has 45 amendments to fix it right up.

I don't imagine he's going to stick around NewWest long enough to respond to the comments his diatribe is collecting (some of which are rather Not Nice), any more than he's going to give a moment's consideration to Larry LaRocco's rebuttal. Listening has never been his strong suit.

4.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

16 Permalink to this item

Valleywag's currently top-of-Google "Mysteries" blog entry helpfully provides links to all the agency websites to answer the question everyone's asking since the news broke that our collection of spy agencies now suppose that Iran stopped working to get nukes about 4 years ago, at least. Since the more numerous than you realized agencies are "hiding in plain site," "once you know where to look, it's so obvious you'll have to pretend you knew it all along."

Military intelligence (no sniggering out there, veterans) comprises Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine and Navy Intelligence. And Dick Cheney's pet, the Defense Intelligence Agency.

That's half a dozen.

Maybe we need the Left and Right Intelligence Agency to go along with the Central Intelligence Agency?

We'll stipulate the D.E.A., the F.B.I and the N.S.A as obvious. And the Department of Homeland Security, of course.

But we did not know about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office before today. In the "who knew?" department, tack on the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Treasury, but they stand to reason, for our most energetic weaponry department, and the always intriguing world of finance.

And lastly, the Department of State, even though we're all supposed to pretend that they're wink, wink, nudge, nudge, diplomats, right?

Marriage is Green. Polygamy Greener. Permalink to this item

The "resource inefficiency" of divorced households amounts to 73 billion kWh in2005, reports the L.A. Times, out of an article in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

Only three choices?! Permalink to this item

The rings of Saturn, and Titan If you want a really difficult task, try to pick your three favorite images (color, black & white, video) from the entrants in the Cassini Favorite Image Contest 2007. Or, just enjoy a trip to the outer solar system with 75 of the most stunning images from the Cassini mission.

It's a win-win proposition at this point.

3.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Science Education Endangered in Texas Permalink to this item

It's all the working of natural selection, I guess. They're looking to raise 'em a crop of True Believers in the Lone Star State, and forwarding a message about the National Center for Science Education is a hangitermination offense. It seems to get you fired in about an hour, in fact. 27 years as a science teacher, and 9 years as the Director of Science at the Texas Education Agency? That and five bucks will get you a good cup of coffee just about anywhere.

I have to say, the current letter of the standards down there sounds tougher than my high school; we never had to "identify evidence of change in species using... DNA sequences" back then, although we did have DNA, at least.

Maybe after the Grace Bible Church Sunday School teacher who heads the State Board of Education gets done with the standards, they won't have any need of double helices. Intelligent Design was good enough for George W. Bush after all, weren'it?

Will They Allow Signing Statements? Permalink to this item

WaPo reports that Virginia voters wanting to vote in the state's GOP presidential primary in February will have to sign a loyalty oath, affirming that "I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for President."

(Thanks to Eye on Boise for the link. And "Wes" in the comments, for the even better suggestion of tattoos.)

The Case That Wouldn't Die Permalink to this item

It went all the way up to the Idaho Supreme Court, and they kicked it back to the Legislature before going sphynx-like on us. Now the School Districts are suing the SCOTSOI justices personally for their malfeasance, in Federal Court.

Better to Lie About It Permalink to this item

That's Mitt Romney's advice, couched in the lovely political euphemism of "discretion," to Barack Obama, after Obama admitted to that related euphemism, youthful indiscretion, in terms too explicit for Mitt's on-the-path-to-perfection ears.

This is the "Just Say No" and Abstinence-only school, working so well, and would work better if we would only try harder at it.

"It's just not a good idea for people running for President of the United States who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people to talk about their personal failings while they were kids because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, 'well, I can do that too and become President of the United States,' " Romney said. "I think that was a huge error by Barack Obama... it is just the wrong way for people who want to be the leader of the free world."

Yeah, God forbid we should pay too close attention to, say, George Bush's first 40 years, and be confronted with the fact that if you're born into the right family, you can "do that too" and still get appointed President of the United States.

And can I see a show of hands of folks out there in the free world, who have had enough of the idiotic conceit that the President of the United States of America is their "leader"?

They weren't kidding with that "Beacon" thing Permalink to this item

Driving down Bogus Basin Rd., 4 years ago Facebook is just one of many time sinks I have yet to fall into, although I came close to the drop-off when a good friend invited me to see what he looked like over there. I didn't get around to it, and after reading the latest about their tracking users online, I have another reason to be glad I didn't. From the research note, by "a research engineer with CA's PestPatrol Spyware Research team":

"Facebook is collecting information about user actions on affiliate sites regardless of whether or not the user chose to opt out, and regardless of whether or not the user is logged into Facebook at that time. The evidence... directly contradicts both public statements made by Facebook, and direct email correspondence from their privacy department, demonstrating that Beacon is a serious threat to user privacy."

No to Hugo, for Now Permalink to this item

Hugo Chávez' narrow defeat in his attempt to have the people elect him as permanent dictator is a good sign for democracy, I think. It's sobering to see how easy it is to bring something of such import to one-time vote, where half plus one of the voters can determine the fate of a country, for a time, at least.

In Venezuela, 63% of the voters endorsed Chávez last year, but this time around, 51% (of the 56% not abstaining) didn't care for the idea of expanding his "socialist revolution" toward yet another in a long line of South American dictatorships.

Sometimes it doesn't even take a majority to change a government system, as in our 2000 presidential election. And in 2004... well, that goes to show how wrong you can be, and how powerful the drums of war can be. I think our lack of direct experience with dictatorships up until now left us vulnerable to the abuse we're suffering.

That I'm on the same side as the Bush administration in cheering this result in Venezuela, well, that's just creepy.

2.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This is a Defining Issue Permalink to this item

Slogging my way through the Republican YouTube debate, and we get to Question #22, "Is waterboarding torture?"

I agree with John McCain: it's a basic qualification for leadership (if not citizenship) to be able to have this clear in your mind. Leaving behind the nightmare of Dick Cheney's near-presidency, we need to draw a bright line saying we do not torture, and do so with out the mealy-mouthed equivocation that the handsome Mitt Romney serves up, pretending that we need some sort of secret tactics to defend ourselves.

I don't know what the Republican plan is to come with a whole candidate for next year's election, but if they don't choose McCain, some of the alternates may be needing a morality graft, whether or not they believe every word in The Bible is true.

Math Illiteracy Up a Tetch Permalink to this item

I should say something beyond "these are interesting" in regard to the Op-Ed pieces from the NYT's dynamic duo, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, chronicaling the re-rise of Barack Obama, but I got stuck on the quote from Andrew Sullivan that if Obama were to be elected, it would signal that "America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm."

I learned logarithms back when they were in tables and on a slide rule, so they're not exotic creatures from my point of view. But Sullivan's? Is he saying "a lot," in the same way that "quantum leap" is misused by writers who wouldn't know a q.l. if it kicked them in the butt? Notch, logarithm, quantum leap, is that how the sequence goes?

Perhaps he figures since he doesn't know what exactly that rhythym thing is about, his readers won't either, and they will thereby be deeply impressed. It has something to do with rocket science, doesn't it? Those rockets can get really big, too.

And the War is Going Really Well, Too Permalink to this item

Through the porch windows, ice and sun on the Palouse Reading that Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent makes me think of two things. First, as stated by Libby Spencer (and quoted in The Opinionator that found the story for me), "Of course those Republicans [the "30percenters who still think Bush is a great president"] think their mental health is fine. They’ve somehow managed to learn to live with a level of cognitive dissonance that would make most people’s head explode."

Second, the classic study with the succinct conclusion captured in the title: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

The Gallup Poll results show that "party identification appears to have an independent effect on mental health" [sic; the topic is of course self-reported mental health, whatever that is, and correlations to it] even after controlling for those general characteristics of being male, having a higher income, having higher education levels, and being white that makes it more likely that you'll report excellent mental health.

(I would rate my own mental health as "excellent," by the way, and thank you for asking.)

The significantly correlated variables found in the poll, in order of importance, were: income, church attendance, education, being Republican, and gender.

The Opinionator comments were interesting: #19 with the new lyric "If You're Crazy and Don't Know It," and the view from our northerly neighbor in #24: "People who once liked the US, now associate its image with torture. But autism has become more than a Republican hallmark, it has become a talent. Maybe if Republicans were more depressed, they would be healthier mentally, for at this moment they have a form of psychological disease that features unconscious irresponsibility."

Vote No in Venezuela Permalink to this item

Not that I or any of my readers are registered, but retired Army chief Raúl Isaías Baduel's Op-Ed is a pretty good short course on the implications of today's plebiscite on abolishing presidential term limits and expanding presidential powers.

"How is it that we, the people of Venezuela, have reached such a bizarre crossroads that we now ask ourselves if it is democratic to establish the indefinite re-election of the president, to declare that we are a socialist nation and to thwart civic participation?"

Both Ends Against the Middle Permalink to this item

I've only seen Ben Stein in action once or twice, but I vaguely recall that he's a funny guy. Billed as "a lawyer, writer, actor and economist" for an "Everybody's Business" column in The New York Times, I can imagine a dead-pan comic delivery of what he writes, even though it's a long way from humor.

His "big point" is that Goldman Sachs' recent swimming success in "forecasting" the sub-prime/mortgage debacle currently playing out may be more a matter of helping make it happen, for their own benefit.

"The point to bear in mind, as Mr. Sloan brilliantly makes clear [in his Oct. 16 article in Fortune], is that as Goldman was peddling [Collateralized Mortgage Obligations], it was also shorting the junk on a titanic scale through index sales—showing, at least to me, how horrible a product it believed it was selling.

"The Goldman Sachs spokesman said that the company routinely shorts the securities it underwrites and said that this is disclosed. He noted candidly that Goldman is much more short in this sector than usual."

If you've been hearing about the "sub-prime mortgage crisis" without understanding it beyond a general feeling of doom and gloom, Sloan's piece in Fortune provides a pretty good explanation of our story so far, by examining one CMO in detail:

"...average loan-to-value of the issue's borrowers was 99.29%... no-documentation or low-documentation... buy a house with essentially none of your own money at risk...

"As a second-mortgage holder, GSAMP couldn't foreclose on deadbeats unless the first-mortgage holder also foreclosed. That's because to foreclose on a second mortgage, you have to repay the first mortgage in full, and there was no money set aside to do that. So if a borrower decided to keep on paying the first mortgage but not the second, the holder of the second would get bagged...."

1.Dec.07 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Whose Water is that in Our River? Permalink to this item

Rocky Barker's piece on the simmering conflict over winter streamflows in the Boise river ran in today's paper, with no mention of the Idaho Environmental Forum discussion he and I both attended this week, and which I blogged Tuesday.

Barker's content to leave the numbers to the Adjudication Court next week, paints the conflict with a broad brush. Probably a smart move to stay out of the middle of the fight.

End of a Montana Daredevil Permalink to this item

Tim Woodward had a nice first-person retrospective snippet about the day Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel launched himself into the Snake River canyon near Twin Falls in today's collection of remembrances. Quite the story; I wish they'd given him the space to tell more of it.

Knievel's passing gives occasion to tell the one story I know about him, told by Jeanette's brother-in-law, Frank McGee, who was working as an appraiser in Los Angeles County, and thus spending time at the Courthouse. Knievel was visiting the Courthouse to be arraigned for attacking a TV executive with a baseball bat, and shattering the guy's left arm and wrist, during the mid-70's "downturn" of his career.

McGee and Knievel grew up in Montana in the 50s, one from Great Falls and one from Butte, and were acquainted from the popular post-game recreation of locals: beating the crap out of the visiting players and anyone else who came on the team bus, before the bus left town.

As their paths crossed in the corridor, many years after high school, and Knievel with a sheriff's deputy on each arm, they recognized each other, and Frank called out a friendly Montana salutation: "Bobby, you old son-of-a-bitch, how's your battin' average?" The deputies' eyes went wide and their grips tightened, but Knievel just grinned with pleasure at the professional acknowledgment.

Amendment 6 - Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses

Ratified December 15, 1791.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

The George Bush, 2007 version of justice: Witness Names to Be Withheld From Detainee.

Military prosecutors, secret court, secret orders, secret deliberations about how secret we must be to protect ourselves against a dire threat. Prosecutors say "they fear terrorist retaliation against witnesses," but we have needed to protect witnesses in the past. Is this weakness, fear of weakness, or just feigned weakness?

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, a senior official in the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, said that the commission system was open to scrutiny from news organizations and human rights groups and that the order was necessary to protect the lives of witnesses.

"The system is designed to be open," General Hartmann said. [Without irony?!] "But there are certain things that simply must be protected."

On trial is a young man who has been imprisoned (we call it "detained" now) for not quite a third of his life at Guantánamo. Before his 16th birthday, he became a "trained Al Qaeda operative," one prosecutor tells us, apparently endowing him with such superpowers that the United States of America must shoot itself in the foot, at least, to avoid his possible retribution.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 01-Jan-2008 14:05:31 MST