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

Last minute neighborhood blog rundown Permalink to this item

Because I've been too busy to think my own thoughts, I guess. (And besides, this is going to roll into obscurity in a week or less.)

Jill Kuraitis, on Idaho Gov should get out more.

Wild Bill, also on NewWest, makes his New Year's predictions, for Blues, Greens, wolves, and reviews last year's predictions. ("Wrong, but 2009 could be the year.")

Sharon Fisher (ok, last one), on Mike Moyle not getting public transit. How long will the urban areas in Idaho bankroll the rural without meaningful representation?

Sisyphus, on 43rd State Blues: yet another category where Idaho scrapes bottom, Medicaid. The explanatory ideology is in the state's Republican Party platform: "We believe health and welfare programs should be administered with a minimum of bureaucracy and a goal of helping all recipients return to a self-sustaining and productive life." (Right up until they die, quickly, and without incurring any medical expenses.)

Left Side of the Moon: "The Bariastas, & The Christian." Working in the new economy, without a net. Or benefits. Or job security.

TUBOB: if you go out in the woods today, keep your skis on, he says. I had my own thrashing adventure on Christmas Day, but didn't come close enough to any tree wells to fear for my life. We haven't had near as much snow as they did up north, and now most of it has melted away down in town. The temperature got up into the mid-50s last Friday!

Randy Stapilus, on Ridenbaugh Press, handicapping our Governor's slow choice for Lieutenant Governor. I guess the list is more interesting for the people on it. What's taking so long, Butch?

Mike Rodriquez, All the Pages Are My Days: isn't she beautiful? Get ready for a year full of 40-year anniversary lunar moments.

30.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Should we pay representatives to stay home from the Legislature? Permalink to this item

Steven Thayn is still tilting at the windmill of pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and I think public education in general. His Reader's View in today's Statesman certainly shows an antipathy to learned writing.

I usally try to overlook the occasional gaffe, out of self-protection if nothing else. Spelling flames considered harmful and all, and plenty of my own mistakes sneak by. A little attention to the first sentence could save embarrassment, though.

"I have suggested strengthening the public education system by rewarding parents that bring their children to school ready to learn," Thayn writes. We say "parents who bring their children to school," Steven. And sentence number two, with the claim that "those children who do best in school generally have supportive, involved parents, while those children most likely to struggle have parents who are less involved and less supportive," does not contain a "fact," let alone a "simple" one.

Speaking against the "orthodox approach" of pre-kindergarten, Thayn writes "the problem with this approach is myriad," and lists six particular problems, plural (as one would expect from a myriad).

He has his reasons, and lists them, then winds up with the request that "I simply ask that you consider this proposal and not discard it solely because it is innovative."

Fair enough. We shan't discard it solely because it is innovative, nor even because its main proponent is a poor spokesman who seems to be channeling someone else's "common knowledge" masquerading as considered argument.

28.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Power of Civil Prayer Permalink to this item

A lot of people are wondering what the hell Barack Obama was thinking when he invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration, but not because they don't think we should be praying at a governmental ceremony. The arguments are about who should be praying for (or at?) us.

Sun coming through ice and spruce My minister weighed in with a generous assessment that puts Warren's role in the larger context, "one of many in the inauguration who embody the diversity—and sometimes divisions—that characterize our country." And besides, it's only the invocation; the benediction, "the most important prayer of all," will be given by an outspoken, and long-time civil rights advocate, the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.

Rev. Greene guesses that "a liberal voice will ring clear from the inaugural service taken as a whole," which will not necessarily win her friends and influence people in this state, where the L-word is still imagined to be an epithet.

"At the same time, by inviting Rick Warren to participate, our president-elect has given us hope that deep and abiding social problems can be addressed by people of good will. In this season of peace and returning light, Obama's large-spirited invitation inspires us to believe in building bridges, in finding common ground for the greater good."

May it be so.

Frank Rich is not so sanguine about the particular choice for opening act, and didn't get the memo about the benediction trumping the invocation, seeing Obama's choice as "anointing [Warren] as the inaugural's de facto pope" (ever so slightly over the top). Rich writes that

"much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.”"

Warren says he "fully supports equal rights for everybody in America," but he's opposed to "the redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage." His make-believe history ("for 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture, and every single religion... [as] a man, and a woman") is just as make-believe as his notion of equal rights, which excludes the possibility of gay marriage as the equivalent of incest, pedophilia, and polygamy.

So let us hope that Rev. Greene is correct and that where we're coming from with the invocation is not as important as where we're headed, with the benediction. Let us hope that Rev. Lowery's message will urge us to err on the side of inclusion and find that "unequivocal support for GLBT rights" must include support for the right to marry.

In the long run, the power of the prayer-speeches that will be delivered at Obama's inauguration will not be raining down from heaven, but rising from within, in the mighty river of justice that we create for one another.

27.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Be nice to an atheist day Permalink to this item

A quirky discussion in our church's informal email list bounced from whether Jesus was born in December or June, or whether he was born at all (or just escaped from other mystery religions of the time) to agnosticism, and atheism. One friend with extra time on his hands down south where it's not snowing forwarded links to some interesting articles.

Larry Beinhart opines that atheism may be the best way to understand God. I don't think the argument is quite as tidy as he seems to paint it, and this:

"Here's the great paradox, and the most interesting question: If God doesn't exist, belief is delusional. Delusion is, by definition, dysfunctional."

well, is delusion by definition dysfunctional? The world provides ample reason for pessimism, but it sure seems like optimists are generally healthier people. You have to be realistic about the laws of physics and stuff to keep from getting run over, but there's a broad range of things that don't impinge on us in a life-or-death way, and it's not at all clear that delusion about such things is dysfunctional. (I'm writing as an engineer, and a realist, so go figure.)

Greta Christina provides some nice tips for how to get on an atheist's good side, even if the motivation of self-interest (they're "a growing movement"?) is as suspect as Pascal's wager. She does do a nice job of running down the myths and misunderstandings, including the fact that atheists don't generally speak for one another, and that the concept of "fundamentalist atheist" is a simple contradiction in terms. (She also points us to Sam Harris' 10 myths (and truths) about atheism, worth reading.)

If you're one of those anti-atheists out there, it may comfort you to imagine that we're dogmatic just like you, and just have the wrong dogma, but that doesn't make it a sensible argument, much less a useful avenue of discourse.

And then there's that big-ass elephant in the room: for political purposes, there pretty much is a political test for most elected offices in this country. Outspoken atheists need not bother applying. Liddy Dole tried to paint her opponent as palling around with atheists, expecting to have it work as well as Sarah Palin's attempt to defeat Obama with the help of guilt by association. (Neither try worked; if only it were because voters recognized and rejected the argument as illegitimate on its face!)

Dole's opponent, Senator-elect Kay Hagan, didn't say "what's your point?" She said "The North Carolina I was raised in would NEVER condone this kind of personal slander," and rolled out all the evidence that she was an honest-to-God Christian.

Religions of every stripe have a common theme of being nice to one another. Just because it's honored in the breach doesn't mean that's OK by God, or by your fellow men and women. If you're a good whatever, show us how good you are by extending your tolerance to disbelief as well as belief.

Take our financial talent - Please! Permalink to this item

This NYT video's teaser caught my eye:
Reverse Brain Drain
Chinese Financial Firms Recruit Finance Talent

Christmas Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Celebrating the return of the light Permalink to this item

Olivia Judson's blog on the, The Wild Side, is one of their features I always leap to when it's updated. Yesterday's entry offers a celebration of the Ten Days of Newton for the famous scientist who shares his birthday with the current holiday. Sort of.

In the comments, Martin Richard reminds us of Alexander Pope's memorable verse:

"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light."

Meanwhile, we read that the Pope is "rehabilitating" Galileo, which is a bit high on the presumption scale. John Paul II admitted 16 years ago that his church "had erred in condemning Galileo 359 years ago for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun," blaming, memorably, "tragic mutual incomprehension." So what's to rehabilitate?

Well, the Church (which, in their defense, had nothing to do with writing that poor headline). The story is that Pope Benedict XVI “paid tribute to the Italian astronomer and physicist Sunday, saying he and other scientists had helped the faithful better understand and "contemplate with gratitude the Lord's works."”


23.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho pops 1.5 mil Permalink to this item

The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimate put our state's population over 1,500,000 for the first time. Let's see, if we were a county... that would put as #21 on the list.

The World According to Cheney Permalink to this item

From the NYT editorial board:

"(I)t must be exhausting to rewrite history as much as Mr. Cheney has done in a series of exit interviews where he has made those comments. It seems as if everything went just great in the Bush years."

22.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy Holidays Permalink to this item

Leaves and ice in our gutter Looks like we're pretty well set for the traditional white Christmas here in town, which hasn't been a sure thing in our 25 year Boise history. A lovely half a foot of powder in the mountains overnight, and more trouble for commuters down here. But since my commute is across the hall, I can make it even without snow slippers.

And speaking of traditional, I enjoyed Doug Van Curen's letter to the editor that ran yesterday (on the solstice, nice touch), This time of year highlights the diversity of America.

"There once was a young virgin who gave birth to a son, the son of God, a man who would begin a ministry at about age 30, heal the sick, raise the dead, and even walk on water. After his crucifixion, he was three days in the grave before being resurrected to once again walk among men, then ascending to heaven. His birth would be celebrated on Dec. 25 each year. And so it was written - in stone, on the walls of the Temple at Luxor in 1500 BC. This is the story of Horus, son of the God Osiris and the virgin Isis."

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's got nowhere to go but up, Dick Permalink to this item

Outgoing (hooray!) and incoming Vice-presidents dualed on the Sunday talk shows today. On ABC's This Week, Joe "Mr. Nice Guy" Biden cheerfully euphemized his way through the minefield:

"I think the recommendations, the advice that [Cheney] has given to President Bush—and maybe advice the president already had decided on before he got it, I'm not making that judgment—has been not healthy for our foreign policy, not healthy for our national security, and it has not been consistent with our Constitution, in my view."

The Voice of America picked up Cheney's response:

"Biden said his approach to the vice-presidency will be more restrained. Cheney said he has every right to do so.

"'If he wants to diminish the office of vice president, that is obviously his call,' said Cheney. 'I think that President-Elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president. And apparently, from the way they are talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time.'"

Given the "consequences" of Cheney's time as Vice-president, it's quite something to hear him sneering about his successor "diminishing" the office.

Do we at least get a nice thank-you card? Permalink to this item

I don't think you could do this even in the heyday of Liar's Loans: accept $tens of billions of bailout money with no strings attached, no need for saying what you plan to do with it, and no accounting of what you actually do with it. I mean, seriously.

You don't get that kind of treatment unless you're "too big to fail." If shrink-wrapping pallet-loads of cash and pushing them out the back of cargo planes really worked to "build confidence," we would have had our troops home from Iraq 3 years ago. But instead, we're trying the same "winning" strategy to see if we can mission accomplished the economy back home.

Frank Rich and TPM Muckraker call our attention to page 25 of the Government Accountability Office's report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, subtitled "Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure Integrity, Accountability, and Transparency."

"The standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments....

"With the exception of two [of the eight large] institutions [that initially received funds], [their] officials noted that money is fungible and that they did not intend to track or report CPP capital separately."

20.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What I learned from the Year in Ideas Permalink to this item

Excerpt from the Ben Fry's graphic The New York Times Magazine's Year in Ideas, at least:

Miles per gallon are confusing, and conceal the information that gallons per mile would illuminate. It's more important to get low mpg vehicles to medium mpg, than it is to get medium up to high. The benefit from going from 16 to 20mpg, for example, is well bigger than going from 34 to 50mpg. Going from 18 to 28mpg is huge.

"From 1968 to 1995... the proportion of American 6-year-olds enrolled in first grade (or higher) dropped from 96.5% to 91%. From 1995 to 2005, the proportion of 6-year-olds in first grade (or higher) proceeded to plummet to 84.5%. One in six American children now has a delayed entry into school." [My emphasis.]

"The moon's surface is dark and fairly nonreflective." (Just imagine if it were shiny!)

"It's been long known [but not by me] that kangaroos don't produce methane." The microfauna in kangaroos' stomachs don't excrete CH4, so neither do the 'roos.

The weather outside is frightful Permalink to this item

Thinner snow on Paradise Ridge, Nov. 2007 Not so much here in the Treasure Valley banana belt (a balmy 29°F at our house as we approach midday, and where we don't yet have as much snow as I'd like), but up north, oh my. As I got the family update from Carol, I was thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a foot or two at the front door and on up to Paradise Ridge, but then she said the wind was finally dying down, and it had warmed up to 0°F.

That ain't fun. That's keep your chestnuts by the open fire kind of weather.

And more coming: "the respite was likely to be short-lived as meteorologists predicted below-zero temperatures and a weekend storm that could bring another dose of heavy snow to cities from Moscow to Coeur d'Alene."

That's CORE da LANE in the local vernacular, in case you were wondering, where they had a record 33" of snow dumped in 2 days.

"(O)fficials in Coeur d'Alene encouraged residents to 'adopt a fire hydrant,' hoping citizens would grab a shovel and clear out snow encasing the hydrants."

Pro-active civil rights violation Permalink to this item

Some good old-fashioned family values for you, sponsors of California's Prop. 8 aren't content with having won 52% of November's ballot, they want the state Supreme Court to undo the 18,000 marriages between their last decision and the initiative's passing.

And yes, it's Grand Inquisitor Ken Starr out in front, holding his briefs in California's face.

Calling all red-state evacuees Permalink to this item

IDP communications director Julie Fanselow's featured on HuffPo's political news and opinion this morning: Red-State Expats: Please Send Money Home.

"I thought about the neighborhoods in San Francisco and how they fall silent at the holidays as many city dwellers briefly return to their parents' homes in Provo, Pocatello or Paducah. I thought about similar scenes that will unfold over the next two weeks in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle, as young urbanites visit their hometowns, and then leave utterly thankful that they have found more progressive places to live."

19.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Zeb Bell: Chickenhawk Permalink to this item

I've been keeping my thoughts about one of southern Idaho's radio bigots to myself; I do appreciate the efforts of the MountaingGoat Report and The Political Game to diligently track the spew, but it's not the sort of thing I have the stomach for. The poison needs purging, no doubt about it, but I avoid exposure to toxins as a general rule.

If his antisocial behavior has a persistent audience—and advertisers willing to endorse it—I don't know that giving him more publicity will solve any problems. It could make things worse.

If it can make things better, today's post regarding Bell's low opinion of the Geneva Conventions might signal the way.

Zeb didn't come up with an original idea there: the legal madness that put self-preservation ahead of morality (to say nothing of history, and the law) left a black stain on the start of this new millennium that will be attracting lizard-brains for years to come.

Jerry Brown: Supreme Court should invalidate Prop 8 Permalink to this item

The voters had their say last month, but voters shouldn't have the power to "extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification," says California's Attorney General.

He'll get to face off against Ken Starr, arguing to enforce the will of 52% of California's most recent voters over the minority, including those 18,000 same sex couples who got married in the state between June and November.

18.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Shoe-bee doo wop Permalink to this item

So the guy apologises (as the Beeb spells it), but his brother doesn't believe it was uncoerced, and we don't either, do we?

"This information is absolutely not true. This is a lie. Muntader is my brother and I know him very well. He does not apologise," Udai al-Zaidi said. "But if it happened, I tell you it happened under pressure."

A brother would know that kind of thing.

But so what. Here's the important part: the shoes were destroyed by US and Iraqi security agents when they were checked for explosives.

Destroyed the shoes?! Those were investment property. He had an offer for $10 million for heaven's sake. He paid for the investment, big time, and they just take away his property and destroy it?

They're starting to get the idea of "freedom of expression," now they need to get the hang of capitalism, return on investment, that sort of thing.

17.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

True confessions Permalink to this item

Michael Tomlin unloads his in his IBR BizBlog: he's not spending. Probably not the only one in what could be a dismal holiday season for retailers, ahead of a dismal season for everyone.

My confession is that me and the Missus haven't changed a blessed thing about our lifestyle. Frugal is as frugal does; I guess we've been living as if we were in a recession for some decades now. But cheerfully. Life is too short to stay dour, isn't it? We can't cut out the premium television channels and a cellphone, because we didn't get them to begin with. I assume by "six year old child-sized car," he's talking about something really, really old? Our "young" car is 7; the luxurious 2nd vehicle turned 13 in July.

Good beer is non-negotiable, however. And I just went to the store today and bought—you won't believe this—bananas! With snow and ice on the ground!

Gee, who was the last head guy? Permalink to this item

It's not clear how the NYT editorial board feels about Obama's choice of Ken Salazar. Their editorial seems relieved to have somebody—anybody—new in charge, given the recent history at Interior,

"a department riddled with incompetence and corruption, captive to industries it is supposed to regulate and far more interested in exploiting public resources than conserving them."

The Interior Department is "a soft target," where "meddling has become standard operating procedure," the "widespread corruption in the Minerals Management Service" reaching legendary proportions.

"(T)he department's failings go beyond that to its coziness with the industries it is sworn to regulate, its reckless assault on the country’s natural resources and its abuse of science."

I guess it could be worse than not even being mentioned in the editorial: the current SecInt could be at the center of the scandals instead of just irrelevant. But with the Republican administration about to close up shop, and having already topped out on the home political ladder, what's Dirk Kempthorne going to try next?

40 years of mousing around Permalink to this item

Let's hear it for the man who invented the mouse. We're still after his "big-picture" vision of "a world where universal collaborative computing would augment human thinking, raising the collective IQ and solving important problems" but we do have Google. And a maze of twisty phone menus with voice recognition. And that whizzy gestural interface on the iPhone.

When Taylor suggested connecting several research centers together in a network, some declined, saying it was foolish to share expensive computing time. Not Engelbart. "Doug, almost standing alone, said, 'This is a great idea,' " making SRI one of the founding nodes in 1969 of what would become the Internet."

$40 a barrel Permalink to this item

Excerpt of the DOE price history for regular In case you've been trying out for Rip Van Winkle, let me be the first to tell you that gas is cheeeeeeap again. Let the Hummers roll! Except that the memory of $4+ gas is still too fresh (oh, and did I mention nobody has any credit for a car loan?) to make those SUVs with the 4 and 5-digit profit for the automakers fly off the dealers' lots right at the moment.

At least until we see low, low gas prices sustained for another half a year, or so? 18 months would certainly be enough, wouldn't it?

But I'm so old that I remember when the idea of oil at $40 a barrel was flat-out shocking. I mean shocking expensive, not shocking cheap. Take your pick of handy graphs offered by WTRG Economics to revisit the price shocks of the 1970s, when we first crossed the threshold, and when $70/bbl. oil helped Ronald Reagan win election over Jimmy Carter.

Looks like they've stepped away from graphing for half a year, and missed a lot of fun. A hundred and $40! And now back down below $40 again, and gas is under a buck and a half. That seems absurdly low, but you see how short my memory is: just a decade ago, gas was under $1 a gallon. (Not sure if the DOE's price history is corrected for inflation, or not. You'd think they'd say...)

15.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Didn't we already know this? Permalink to this item

I guess it's useful to have the suspicions confirmed, that Interior Department officials interfered with scientific work to get the "results" that the Bush administration preferred.

Charlie Savage's report about the report from the inspector general of the Interior Department notes drily that "the report suggested that at least some of those decisions might need to be revisited under the Obama administration."

You think? I think pretty much anything involving scientific claims that came out of a federal agency in the last 8 years will need to be revisited.

Pacific NW: 18-4 for Obama Permalink to this item

Seven electors from Oregon, eleven from Washington and four from Idaho relived their college days and cast the real ballots for President today. The closer you are to an ocean, the more likely you are to vote for Obama.

As far as we know (until the truth comes out, on January 6, otherwise known as the feast of the Epiphany), the margin across the country was not quite as wide as our region, but 365-173 for Obama over McCain.

Shoe redux Permalink to this item

The first glimpses of the shoe-thrower got attention from every which way, but Michael Ware's report on CNN provides better coverage of the whole context. (The accent so thick you need a knife to cut it is just icing on the newscake. "...we've seen the scenes, and we keep seeing them, and we're gunna keep seeing them.")

Number one, it was Bush's first (and last, we'd expect) foray out of the protective military base bubble in Iraq. Number two, he actually did a pretty good job of turning the incident into something positive.

"So what if a guy threw a shoe at me?" [no-big-deal shrug...] "I consider it an important step in uh, uh, the road toward an Iraq that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself. But let me talk about the guy th'owin' the shoe. Uh, it is one way to gain attention. Uh, it's like [shrug] goin' to a political rally and having people yell at you." [This must be from what he's seen on TV, since he pretty much has avoided unvetted crowds, at least in this country.] "It's like driving down the street and have people not gesturing with all five fingers."

Ok, that was funny, and we do shuck off the "bird" pretty lightly over here. But Ware instructs us that "in this culture, throwing a shoe at someone is all but the ultimate insult, and generally, it's reserved only for the most hated. And we saw that in the days after the invasion when Saddam statue was pulled down and Iraqis hopped on and started slapping the statue with their shoes."

We imagine that Muntadar Zaidi is not enjoying the rule of law during his detention; his protest will have come at a pretty serious cost, with quite a bit more bodily harm delivered on him than he threatened to administer to our President. And that was just getting him out of the room where the press conference was held.

Can we take crowds rallying in Sadr City to express their difference of opinion with the ruling regimes as a hopeful sign, too? If those differences can be settled by airing more symbols rather than killing more people, we would indeed be getting somewhere.

14.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

High Finance Permalink to this item

Another must-read about the end of Wall Street's boom in the denouement of sub-prime lending and the "innovation" in derivatives; the cover story for the December '08 issue of, The End, by Michael Lewis.

Lewis' 1989 book, Liar's Poker was required reading for one of the business classes I took at Stanford in 1990, and I remember how alien and incredible and separated from reality his description of the world of bond trading was.

The 1980s were a wimpy little warm-up act.

"He called Standard & Poor's and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S&P couldn't say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. 'They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,' Eisman says."

You may have already seen the stick-figure Subprime Primer that's been circulating for probably a year now (if not, here it is in Google Docs), which was helpfully explanatory. Lewis brings it up to date with a look at the last couple months' unhingeing.

Oh here's another booming business Permalink to this item

Now that Republicanism turned sour for so many folks waiting for something to trickle down, the New, New Thing seems to be evangelical churches.

"Part of the evangelicals' new excitement is rooted in a communal belief that the big Christian revivals of the 19th century, known as the second and third Great Awakenings, were touched off by economic panics....

"A study last year (Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States) [found that] during each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

"The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September, when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist's lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big."

We're Number One Permalink to this item

Excerpt of the NYT graph of data The caption says "Largest Corporate Bankruptices Since 1980," but I don't imagine anything before then could top the latest whoppers. Think PG&E, Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom and UAL, all rolled into one.

That's the smaller of the two bigger-than-ever sitting over the "now" end of the timeline, Washington Mutual. Almost twice its size is Lehman Brothers, at just under $700 billion.

As we contemplate what sending a message to the markets bought us, (such as "demand for corporate debt utterly evaporat(ing)") and what "too big to fail" is all about, we can wonder how much it would have cost to go ahead and save Lehmen the way we (hope we've) saved Fannie, and Freddie, and A.I.G., and Citi and on and on. Maybe it was just a question of when, rather then whether.

The only thing we know for sure is that one industry is booming like never before: bankruptcy lawyers.

Couple of wildcatters Permalink to this item

I've been having cheery thoughts of home all morning and into the afternoon, enjoying our first good snowfall of the season. (That crazy sport back in October didn't count, really.) There was scraping, and shoveling, and singing Christmas songs at church, then more scraping and shoveling.

Just now a couple of kids were walking down the street, carrying shovels on their shoulders, looking for work. I remember the look and feel of various neighbors' driveways on the block where I grew up, from burnishing them with my own labor after a wintry Wisconsin dump. (It's decidely lighter work in Boise.)

Farewell to the Liberator Permalink to this item

Excerpt of Saul Loeb photo Not the warmest of good-byes over there in Iraq for a suprise visit by our outgoing President, one "reporter" with some attitude gave him the old soft shoe, and then the other one, to boot.

A gaggle of bodyguards (and maybe a few of the journalists for good measure) wrestled the guy to the ground and returned the shoe greeting, with interest.

You'd think they'd all be happier by now, half a decade after their liberation.

Mr. Bush was there to celebrate the security agreement that will succeed the U.N. Security Council resolutions that supposedly authorized us to start a war, calling the agreements "a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqis realize the blessings of a free society." The fellow donating his shoes to the cause was just getting a headstart on those blessings.

The agreement includes a commitment for the U.S. to withdraw all its forces by the end of 2011. Unless we change our mind. Which we might do, because "three years is a very long time" as General Ray Odierno reminded us.

12.12.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bleak house Permalink to this item

At the start of the year, the rest of the nation's trouble seemed as distant as... well, the rest of the nation. Idaho's employment was near the top of the pack, and of course the Republicans are in charge of everything, so what could go wrong?

As we batten the hatches for the first big winter storm of the season, it looks like another problem we're going to have is running out of descriptive phrases for how bad things are. By Christmas?

Eye on Boise reports on the the presentation from our state economist, Mike "Mr. Sunshine" Ferguson: We're "leading in terms of the decline in economic activity." "Hardest-hit," "worst experience," "brutal," "pain."

First world has-been Permalink to this item

Balloon Juice connects the dots to a bailout plan for Detroit that the GOP can support. "Very doable," "Just tell Congress we will give KBR no-bid contracts to fix Detroit," and there's no doubt, "we will be greeted as liberators."

I just happened to have looked through Sean Hemmerle's photoessay of the remains of Detroit before seeing the link from Sisyphus, made an interesting juxtaposition.

10.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our tradition of separation Permalink to this item

Traipsing through Boston's cyberspace, I find a recent post by Marry in Massachusetts with a tip to last night's Daily Show, and Jon Stewart's interview with Mike Huckabee. Marry's point is that we should all learn from Jon's approach, by which he means being smart and reasonable and calm (as opposed to being really, really funny and getting your own TV show so you can have home turf advantage when political candidates come calling to flaunt their latest book).

The only trouble is that reason doesn't work. Otherwise, we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we? It's not reasonable to imagine that one or another Holy Book provides a definitive source for our laws, nor to argue that "the definition" for anything was carved in stone by God and handed over to a founding father.

Stewart said that Huckabee "is, I think, an empathetic person." He does come across that way, doesn't he? The pudgy cheeks and dimply smile and affability all add to the persona, but dimples don't equal empathy. Huckabee's religion seems non-negotiable, which is fine for him, and fine for a career in preaching and ministering. But it's not fine for him to want to impose it on the rest of us, and it's a flat-out disqualification for political office.

That Moral Universe again Permalink to this item

Through a serendipitous path, I was reminded that it was Rev. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, who famously said "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," speaking about slavery in the 19th century. The arc was still bending when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted him, during the Civil Rights movement, slightly more than 100 years afterward. And as Mark Floegel described, bending doesn't mean arriving on any date certain. Floegel asks, "how does a terrorist gain entry to the U.S., much less [to] government contracts for weapons to be used in the so-called 'war on terror'?"

Sifting through the ashes Permalink to this item

Joseph Stiglitz' piece in the Jan. 2009 Vanity Fair, Capitalist Fools, lines up the 5 big mistakes over the last 4 administrations that he thinks are responsible for our present mess.

What jumped out at me were two things in #2 (Tearing Down the Walls): having repealed the Glass-Steagall Act that kept commerical banking ("supposed to manage other people's money very conservatively") and investment banking ("traditionally managed rich people's money—people who can take bigger risks in order to get bigger returns") separate in 1999, we then had the SEC decision to "allow big investment banks to increase their debt-to-capital ratio (from 12:1 to 30:1, or higher) so that they could buy more mortgage-backed securities, inflating the housing bubble in the process."

The last decision was made "at a meeting attended by virtually no one and largely overlooked at the time," but it seems like a Very Big Deal in retrospect. Wheeling and dealing with no skin in the game is a recipe for disaster. Eh?

Don't take it from me, take it from history. And a Nobel Prize-winning economist Columbia University professor.

Not "stuck" anymore! Permalink to this item

From the NYT coverage of Blagojevich One of Rod Blagojevich's frustrations about his current job is that he was "stuck" in it. And "struggling" financially. Being Governor of Illinois is probably a lot of damn work for a measly $177,412 a year, and he was looking to upgrade. More like $250,000 or $300,000 seemed like it could help him make ends meet, and exercising his extraordinary power to appoint someone to the U.S. Senate—Barack Obama's old seat, no less!—seemed like just the ticket.

It was a ticket alright, to free room and board for a while.

You can't fault the guy for inadequate creativity, though. He had at least half a dozen schemes in mind for how he'd take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Staying in touch Permalink to this item

I remember the thrill of having my first letter to an editor published a newspaper. It was probably in The Milwaukee Journal, and I don't remember the subject any more. I was a teenager, with an opinion about something, and I just thought it so wonderful that I could type it out, send it in, and someone agree that it should be put into ink on newsprint for the world to see.

As we near the end of the age of newsprint, perhaps, there are myriad ways to get "in print," but somehow having to clear (even a low bar) of editorial approval makes it feel more important. The immediacy is like never before, though. Earlier this week, I read Natalie Angier's NYT "Basics" article, Primal, Acute and Easily Duped: Our Sense of Touch, and stumbled upon an error in the 2nd paragraph, a mistranslation of the micron (a.k.a micrometer) as a unit of length. I double-checked my numbers, and fired off an email, via the hyperlink on the byline.

I had a reply from her within two hours, just after midnight (my time) on the dateline of the article, thanking me, including a pleasant little joke, and notice that "we've fixed the figure on the website." In professional style, they note the correction as a footnote, so there I am in the newspaper, sort of. In print, if not newsprint.

Oh, the story's interesting, too. It's about me, and you, and all of us humans (at least), and our complex feelings, the suite of sensory perception we crudely lump together as "touch." I'm reminded of the fascinating 1993 post in an internal company newsgroup, taking a tangent off someone's statement that "an empiricist would argue that there are 5 senses."

The particular empiricist responded that there are at least thirteen "well-recognized human modalities of sensation," "each of (which) has, at least to some extent, a different neural pathway that may cause the information to be used differently. For example, items 10, 11, and 12 are not represented in the cerebral cortex at all, but are represented in the cerebellar cortex."

Here, then, are your 13 senses and their receptors. Enjoy!

  1. Color vision, transduced by cones
  2. Monochromic vision, transduced by rods
  3. Audition, transduced by hair cells
  4. Angular acceleration and linear acceleration, transduced by hair cells (not hearing) and carried over different pathways
  5. Taste, comprising 4 different receptors
  6. Olfaction, with an unknown number of receptors
  7. Nociception (pain) transduced by naked small fibers
  8. Light touch receptors, often associated with hair
  9. Deep pressure transduced by Pacinian corpuscles
  10. Joint position transduced by special receptors in joint capsule
  11. Muscle stretch transduced by specialized muscle fibers
  12. Tendon stretch transduced by Golgi tendon organ
  13. Temperature transduced by the end bulbs of Rufini.

9.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Larry Craig: the final chapter Permalink to this item

The Minnesota Court of Appeals said some nice things about Larry Craig today: he's "accurate, voluntary and intelligent." Oh wait, that was his guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in an airport toilet stall they were talking about, not him. Him, well, he's lost his appeal.

Boy, howdy.

For some reason many in the neighborhood can't fathom, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce has chosen to fête our outgoing Senator at a "Congressional Forum" next Tuesday. $30 for members, $40 for non-members. I don't have plans to attend.

That should be about the end of it. The SCOM isn't likely to entertain an appeal of an "unpublished" opinion, Craig doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, or the money to keep funding lawyers (or donors to keep funding them for him, I'd assume). His political career is done.

Time to enjoy a quiet retirement, I'd say. Maybe some missionary work in Central America or Africa.

Just one of life's little ironies that this report should bump up against the one about the arc of the moral universe from two days ago. Things just keep stacking up. Some day in the future, this will seem quaint, I'm sure.

7.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Arcing through the moral universe Permalink to this item

Fog and ripe grass on the Palouse One of the finest progressive voices in my neighborhood is Rabbi Dan Fink's, of the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation. In yesterday's Statesman, his column explained why it's only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal, an idea that is certain to lather up our some of the locals.

Through some odd serendipity, the "Faith" layout of the back page of the Life section featured something in a more traditional vein above Fink's essay, a 6 month service project done by teenagers at seven LDS stakes in Boise and Mountain Home, sewing 300 quilts which are to go to the Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Center, and from there... somewhere humanitarian, the story and sidebar didn't get specific.

The two "family" stories make for quite an interesting contrast: Dan Fink's grandfather being kidnapped by the Klan in Indiana, and refusing to be intimidated, and Mormon teenage girls and young women learning a domestic art and doing something nice in the process.

"The quilts were magnificent," said the aunt of one the youngest girls. "If he had been black, I suspect he would have been lynched on the spot," Fink wrote.

"Rabbi Joseph Fink denounced the Klansmen as cowards, afraid to show their faces. He returned home unbowed—and for the rest of his life, my grandfather refused to grant fear and intimidation the final word.

"I thought of this incident on election night, when Indiana cast its vote for the man who will soon be our nation's first African-American president. For Democrats and Republicans alike, this was, as Sen. John McCain noted in his gracious concession speech, a proud moment to be an American.

Fink is confident that the same determination his grandfather had, the same refusal to be "cowed or coerced," this time "by the fear-mongering of the anti-gay lobby," is to be found in the generation that will forever mark the awakening of their political awareness by the election of Barack Obama as President.

"Only 25 years ago, the notion that same-sex marriage would even be on the ballot would have been at least as unthinkable as the possibility of an African-American being elected to the presidency.

"I take great comfort in my faith, which reassures me that, with time, the outcome on this issue is inevitable. Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, partners and friends will gain the right to marry in California and here in Idaho."

If he's right, and I think he is, it will happen in spite of the suffocating blanket of those who think it's their job to impose rectitude on others in defense of their own, and who think society's improvement is about returning to an imaginary past rather than moving forward to a better future.

6.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Real Bill Ayers Permalink to this item

In yesterday's NYT Op-Ed

"The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other's behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we've been unable to rise above it."

His response to the narrative invented to demonize Barack Obama was, in retrospect, brilliant: refuse to play the role thrust upon him.

Well, how would we know? Permalink to this item

Today's WaPo headline is Lawyers of Indicted Blackwater Guards Slam Government, and the report is the defendants' P.R. side of the story. The indictment handed down by a Federal Grand Jury "was sealed, and the exact charges are not known."

One of the lawyers derided the "effort by bureaucrats in Washington to second guess split second decisions made by honorable men during a firefight in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world."

We'll have to see how the trial jury is persuaded as to the honor of the five 20-somethings, assuming the Court is found to have jurisdiction over them. And if not... well, I guess we should be glad the guns for hire are on our side, sort of.

"An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the guards fired without provocation, and the U.S. military and the FBI found the guards were the only ones who opened fire that day. Blackwater, which is not a target in the investigation, has consistently said the men were fired upon...."

A year ago, Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince, was all "welcoming" to the idea of more oversight.

"We absolutely want more oversight. We welcome the accountability. We want a good name for this industry," he said. "I'm glad the FBI's investigating [the Sept. 16, 2007 incident]. I'm glad they can be a neutral party. And if there's further investigation or prosecution even needed, if someone really did wrong and meant badly, I'm all supportive."

At the moment, Blackwater's not on trial, though: its employees are, and their lawyers don't seem to share Prince's cooperative attitude.

5.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Why is Bryan Fischer still here? Permalink to this item

Turning to Leviticus for inspiration, the Pastor of None explains how simple spirituality can be:

"One benefit of a nation's robust spiritual life, says God, is that 'I will remove harmful beasts from the land.' On the other hand, he warns that if a nation turns away from God and his view of man's authority over the created order, 'I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall ... destroy your livestock.' (Citations: Leviticus 26:6, 22.)

If Mr. Fischer were a true conservative, he would have paid more attention to Genesis. 9:8-9, to be exact.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living Creature on the earth."

Neighborhood blog rundown Permalink to this item

MountainGoat Report: Steven Thayn the Education Wolf. (Maybe 9 years of parochial school immunized me, but kindergarten and 3 years of public high school didn't exactly instill "unquestioning obedience, acceptance of authority, herd mentality, and dependency," or "foster social, psychological, emotional and intellectual dysfunction" or "perpetual adolescence" in me. Maybe things have changed? Apparently the Bogeyman is alive and well, at any rate.)

Eye on Boise: Idaho unemployment jumps again from 5.3 to 5.8% in one month, a 15-year high; our share of November's astounding 533,000 jobs lost across the country.

the unequivocal notion: how to tell a Republican caucus from a Democratic caucus in Idaho. If you're a member of the public, and you're at a caucus, it's Democratic.

Red State Rebels: Media justice gathering set Saturday.

NewWest: Boise's first-ever road cycling guide.

4.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of mortgage meltdown Permalink to this item

This could have something to do with Norm Semanko having a hard time focusing on his press releases: it seems he and Svetlana stopped making their house payments a few months ago. The story he gave Dan Popkey was that he had to make tuition payments for his daughter.

That's sweet, huh? And pretty stupid. But is it more stupid than... signing the paper for an 8.63% interest rate? On a $450,000 loan? For a Junior McMansion that's worth about as much as the loan? (Note to any California readers: here in Idaho, half a million bucks still buys you a whommer house, not just a remodeled garage: 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, 3300 square feet, 3-car garage, and so on.)

But anyway, between the house payments, and the taxes, and insurance and everything, it would be like paying $4,000 a month rent. If you were paying.

"...and cessation of our corporate aircraft operations." Permalink to this item

That was the last item in GM chief Rick Wagoner's offered concessions to Congress, hoping it would tip the balance in favor of the $12 billion in loans and a $6 billion line of credit he was asking for his company.

This time, the Big Three headmen did a road trip to D.C. rather than each flying in a corporate jet, although they still haven't figured out how to carpool.

That's a long day's drive across the Northeast at a time of year when things could get dicey... not how I'd want my Big Corp's CEO to spend his or her time. Fly commercial for heaven's sake, stand in line, take off your shoes and bow to the TSA like the rest of us have to do.

Point and counterpoint in NewWest Permalink to this item

Just after the election, Idaho GOP chair Norm Semanko chipped up with a guest opinion, glowing about how our state "buck(ed) the national swoon over Barack Obama," by giving big margins to McCain and Palin (oops, I forgot the obligatory "Idaho native" we're supposed to put in front of Sarah). Huzzah, Idaho's 4 electoral votes go to the losers.

There weren't many coattails flying in this corner of the wild west, with the Republicans gaining a legislative seat, for a whopping 74% of the state House seats, and 80% of our Senate. Risch trounced LaRocco for the Senate Seat being vacated by Larry "wide stance" Craig, and that pesky Democrat who won the ID-01 seat in the big House? Blame it on Norm's buddy, the hapless one-term Bill Sali "being heavily outspent by national Democrats and their liberal out-of-state allies."

Semanko's little piece seems like it must have been rushed, winding up with this fairly nonsensical conclusion:

"Change was the clarion call of this year's elections. Leading the way, Idaho's GOP was up to the challenge and all of Idaho will be the better for it."

The "conservative" party led the way to answering the clarion call of change by maintaining their domination of state politics. Ok. How are things in the outside world? That's where Keith Roark comes in:

"Mr. Semanko took pains to assure everyone that his party is alive and well. The nation is bogged down in two costly wars, our economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression and our standing with other nations reached its lowest point during the Bush years. But here in Idaho, Mr. Semanko tells us, the GOP—the party that got us where we are today—is alive and well. That's not necessarily good news, Norm, but the future is not as dismal as your words suggest."

3.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Definitive statement Permalink to this item

Late November on the Palouse, Eid Rd. Seems like an oxymoron in the age when blogging has become Post-postmodernism, but has a wonderful "last word" quality about it, for matters such as the truth about Obama's birth certificate.

" staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as "supporting documents" to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the U.S.A. just as he has always said."

This is old news, August fer sakes, although Clarence Thomas' notion (see next item) to have another look at a sort-of related case brings it back to our attention this week.

Long-term elections Permalink to this item

Still can't match up to the 2000 election (although we hear that Clarence Thomas wants another look at this year's, via Leo Donofrio's suit against New Jersey's Secretary of State), but here it is December and we're still talking.

Saxby Chamblis, whose 2002 smear campaign against Max Cleland was deemed "reprehensible" by John McCain himself had to stand for a run-off in Georgia, because an even more conservative third party candidate kept him short of a majority in the first round. We're still waiting to hear whether Al Franken can get Minnesota to recount him into office, but we at least know that Democrats and their some-time fellow travellers will not have the glorious 60-seat, cloture inducing majority in the Senate. 58, or 59, tops.

(We're also left wondering how anyone starring in a cringe-inducing ad capped by a granddaughter grope could get elected to the Senate, but apparently that's not a disqualification in "Big Daddy" country.)

(H/t to Sisyphus for posting before The Daily Showran with it.)

In a bleak year for the party of George W. Bush and Richard B. "Dick" Cheney, this is a "great victory" in the words of Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He writes (rather blindly) to thank me for my "generous support," in "send(ing) a strong message to Washington, D.C., that unchecked power will not be accepted."

That is indeed the message that voters sent to Washington D.C., finally. Whether the Democrats can make any headway in cleaning up after the last 8 years of "unchecked power" and keep from getting all the blame two years hence will be the next chapter, but I'm sure Mike Duncan will be providing play-by-play commentary as he beats the bushes for every last hundred dollar bill in the days to come.

1.Dec.2008 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scary rearview mirror Permalink to this item

Seems like it was close to a year ago that we were having the discussion about whether or not we were in a recession. Incumbents and their parties argued no, no. Challengers said yes. Now "economists say" yeah, for about a year.

A year! Wow. That makes things seem much worse, doesn't it?

But is it news?

The Garden Path Permalink to this item

Bill Moyers' interview with Michael Pollan is a worthwhile study as we consider an opportunity to reconsider the role of the Department of Agriculture in providing for the general welfare.

"High fructose corn syrup contributes mightily, as do all sugars, to type 2 diabetes. And we are subsidizing cheap sweeteners in our farm bill by subsidizing corn. And so you, you see, you have a war going on between the public health goals of the government and the agricultural policies. And only someone in the White House can force that realignment of those goals."

We're all relieved you're getting out of the House Permalink to this item

Maybe it's just the pieces that caught Kate Phillips' attention in George W. Bush's first exit interview, with Charles Gibson, but it seemed like Bizarro World to me.

He was "unprepared for war"? So... was Dick Cheney prepared? Don Rumsfeld? Or did the whole lot of them stumble into starting the war in Iraq based on cocked-up intelligence and a notion that world domination was God's will?

All the do-over possibilities for war are "yes," he'd do it again, but if the intelligence had been accurate, and we'd known there weren't WMD?

"That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate."

Here's the deal: if your principles are wrong, keeping them uncompromised is not a good thing.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 01-Jan-2009 13:40:33 MST