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30.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Voting for pollution Permalink to this item

There's nothing "conservative" about the ruling party in Idaho. Ever since the white people moved in and pushed the indigenous people out of their way, job #1 has been resource extraction, and the devil take the hindmost. The overweighted Republican party is a sometimes-uncomfortable amalgam of business interests and the religious right that would prefer a theocracy but will settle for dictating morality whenever they can. But business comes first.

In the current, stress-filled economy the wagons are being circled, in a rather bizarre way. What's more fundamentally conservative than self-preservation? Staying alive starts with clean air, clean water, and healthy food. Astoundingly, 7 out of 8 of the Republicans on the Senate Health and Welfare committee voted this week to sell out the most basic interest of the citizens of the state. They voted to give mining companies a permanent exemption from state rules and standards protecting our groundwater from phosphate, mercury, lead and other contamination.

Then they voted to reject the state Department of Environmental Quality's findings regarding regulation of septic systems. The upside is the economic benefit to a few landowners and developers; the downside is more fecal contamination in our lakes, streams and groundwater.

That leaves the citizens of the state on the short end of a 7-3 vote, Republican Charles Coiner and Democrats Les Bock and Nicole LeFavour constituting the minority voting for conservative interests.

29.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's unanimous. Ouch. Permalink to this item

This much comedy from Springfield, you couldn't be blamed for thinking it was the Simpsons. But this is a particular town, and we won't have Mr. Blagojevich to kick around anymore, thanks to a 59-to-zero vote by the Illinois State Senate.

On the other hand, his taste for the limelight may be unabated, and that hair of his just won't quit; he may be looking to a new career in standup.

He's still got a date with Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago, looking to answer some of those legal questions the ex-Governor thought the Senate didn't cover well enough. I'm guessing Rod's appearance won't be "optional" for that trial.

28.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ethics? We don't need no steenkin' ethics Permalink to this item

Our newly appointed Lt. Governor Brad Little "never even thought about it" being a problem having his lobbyist buddies falling all over themselves to send donations his way.

Holy cow.

The other thing that's interesting in this story (ably amplified by the unequivocal notion and Sisyphus at 43rd Blues) is setting the bar so that it's only contributions during the Legislative session that are being questioned, a little. In the off-season, let the good times roll!

Heads they win, tails we lose Permalink to this item

Now that you've woken up from your 16-month nap, I've got some bad news for you: the dismal economic performance of the Bush administration went from bad to terrible, and the most comforting prognostication is that "it's not as bad as the Great Depression." Yet.

You'd never know it from the size of Wall Street bonuses this year: barely a hitch in their gitalong, as $18+ billion is flowing, in spite of bailouts, bankruptcies, busted bubbles, and Joe the Schlub Taxpayer seeing his investment and retirement accounts down 10, 20, 30% and more.

There is one sign of hard times for the hoi polloi, though: no goodie bags at Davos? Say it ain't so!

Chief Butthead Permalink to this item

That seems to be John Cornyn's designated role in the new Congress, starting with his useless insult to our new Secretary of State, delaying her confirmation until after the inauguration. His name popped up twice more today, getting in the way of Eric Holder's confirmation for Attorney General, and in a mass email from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Cornyn now chairs.

The L.A. Times deemed Cornyn's demand outrageous that Holder agree up front to not pursue any of our intelligence personnel acting "in good faith, based on what their understanding of what the law was."

(This would be "the law" as imaginatively rewritten by lickspittle assistants David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, carrying water for Richard B. "Dick" Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on the march to the dark side. And Cornyn is saying he wants the new Attorney General to agree ahead of time to give credit for effort.)

Apparently Cornyn didn't get the memo that with a new administration, and a new Congress, voters are actually expecting something useful to happen, rather than just another 2 years of the all-obstruction, all the time schtick.

The NRSC fundraising email is forgettable, wanting me to watch their new TV ad, and forward this email to my "friends, family and neighbors" to convince "fellow conservatives" that the Committee is "fighting the liberal status quo in Washington." And send money, of course. Same ol' same ol'.

UPDATE: Reader John McGimpsey points out that "ALL of the Secretary confirmations were delayed until after the inauguration. They have to be. The Senate can only confirm nominations of the President. Obama wasn't President until the inauguration. Seven of the confirmations occurred Tuesday afternoon. Instead, Cornyn delayed confirmation until the next day."

27.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not sure why that took so long Permalink to this item

I just saw the expression "shrinking pains" in an interesting, eclectic newsletter I get about manufacturing technology (something that used to get a lot of my attention).

It was the first time I'd seen the words juxtaposed, but there was no confusion about the meaning. It's a perfect phrase to describe the last two years of the time I spent at Big Corp (and even more apt for those souls left behind for the 5+ years since. Five years?! I had to check my subtraction, but yes, it has been.

The morning I flew to Dallas, I dreamt I'd accepted a job and was going back to work at my old company. Contrary to the most recent report I'd heard in my waking life, rather than shrinking the cubicals down to less than half the size they were in my heyday, they'd done away with cube walls entirely, and the interior space was small, spare, anonymous desks and chairs, no dividers higher than 4', a noisy mob of people yakking. Between the time one desk was pointed out as "mine" and me actually sitting down, someone else sat down. I went for a walk, wandering around the perimeter aisle and wondering if I'd made a crazy mistake. How could I work here with all this noise, no space, no privacy, no quiet? By the time I'd returned to my starting point, the desks had been cleared away, the chairs set up theater-style for a film that was to be shown... 1984 would have been a good fit. I woke up, didn't get back to sleep.)

From Jim Pinto's newsletter, "Quit Your Job - Become an Entrepeneur":

“If you're out of a job, count yourself lucky to get an early signal that CHANGE has come. Being out of work destroys your self-respect and makes you cynical. Instead of just looking for work and finally accepting some stupid low-paid job to make ends meet - think of something different.

“Why wait? Why not just use this opportunity to be your own boss, start your own company? Become a self-motivated entrepreneur.... Make your move.”

22.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I'll fly away Permalink to this item

Out of the inversion, over the vast cloud deck above the Rockies, out to the sunny Great Plains, high and dry. It's 50-something in Denver, versus going on two weeks hovering around freezing in Boise, the bubble of stagnant cold air partly precipitated to a skiff of crystals this morning.

It's nice to see the sun! I got to enjoy sitting in it for an extra 20 minutes, since we came in way ahead of schedule and had to wait for our assigned gate to be free. "Early" is a relative thing when you're making connections.

I wondered how the fuel consumption of our 737-500 taxiing a mile or so (it seemed) and idling for half an hour compares to our household's, where I look after keeping the storm door latched, and the thermostat on the cheap side of comfortable.

The TSA in Boise (and elsewhere, I suppose) has adopted the symbology of ski runs for their security slalom. Families and those needing assistance look for the gentle, round, green circle; "casual travelers" go blue square and the expert travellers seek the thrill of the black diamond, their special items ready and out when called for, proper small containers of liquids pre-bagged, no big belt buckles to set off the metal detector.

But we were merged together this morning, families, the casual, the expert, not crowded enough to be skill-segmented, funneling through a single line with security double-staffed and cheerful for light work.

Inside concourse B, I bade farewell to a couple friends headed for a different part of Texas than me, connected from gate B23 to B22, and noticed with pleasure that there are sparrows inside Denver's airport too, finding and filling a civilized niche and enjoying the irony (I'm sure) of their flying inside. Have they had to give up the outdoor life, and if so, do they occasionally regret the choice? Or do they maintain their private route around security, a sparrow-sized portal somewhere they remember in the backs of their minds?

Sunday Times Permalink to this item

We bought a Sunday NY Times this week, $5.73 invested in perhaps the last such inaugural souvenir that will be on offer, who knows? 4 days later I've done little more than glance at a couple sections, our Local daily subscription underread as well in favor of livelier media, and this getting ready to travel.

I did catch up with the NYT columnists though, enjoyed the last two of five views of this historic moment on the plane ride. You of couse down't need newsprint to enjoy Frank Rich's White Like Me, Maureen Dowd's Exit the Boy King, Gail Collins' Woodstock without the Mud, Steven Pinker's Oaf of Office, or Tom Friedman's Radical in the White House.

"Walking back from the inauguration, I saw an African-American street vendor wearing a home-stenciled T-shirt that pretty well captured the moment—and then some. It said: “Mission Accomplished.”

"But we cannot let this be the last mold we break, let alone the last big mission we accomplish. Now that we have overcome biography, we need to write some new history—one that will reboot, revive and reinvigorate America. That, for me, was the essence of Obama's inaugural speech and I hope we—and he—are really up to it."

(This post originally rendered with the low-power medium of ink, paper, and cursive, the increasingly quaint manual skill for which is following newspapers into oblivion.)

21.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tears of Joy Permalink to this item

You'll have to look this one up on your own, but all I can say is the credits (a.k.a. "Your Moment of Zen") for The Daily Show on Jan. 19, 2009. Take the time to watch the left-hand video bites, and then go back and watch the credits on the right-hand side.

Do-over Permalink to this item

"Just in case," the Chief Justice and the President? made another run at Article II, Section 1, Clause 8.

That settles that.

Inauguration Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

#44 Permalink to this item

You were all too busy watching, or live blogging, or both, or following all the other live blogging or maybe just being there. Here I come with the "historical perspective," having watched the ceremony 10 hours past live.

2 million (or so) people on the Mall.

Sign in the crowd: WOW.

Bar and Poppy wearing their Royal Purple. Poppy, that clever old guy, had a BIG fur hat hidden underneath his coat, and looked mighty cozy up there on the main platform after the grand entrance.

Fanfares for the former Presidents as they come out.

Clinton & Clinton, news of Republican John Cornyn giving the Missus a last-minute slap in the face, refusing to go along with confirming her as Secretary of State by acclamation. Yet another classless act from Texas.

Emcee Diane Feinstein's succinct introduction, and introduction of the controversial Rev. Rick Warren to a weak smattering of applause. His invocation, to our heavenly father, for this peaceful transfer of power (for the 43rd time, actually.)

"As we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aimes, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ."

Especially when we differ.

The Queen of Soul steps up with a hat befitting her station, and sings the perfect song for the occasion, My Country 'Tis of Thee, let freedom ring.

I love the look of those random people caught on the camera. "Look ma, I'm on the Jumbotron!"

Perlman, McGill, Ma, Montero... with John Williams' not-too-complicated Air and Simple Gifts. It's a gift to be simple, as well as to be complex, and to have a quartet of really fine musicians to play a little ditty for your swearing in.

Jim Lehrer points out that 12 noon having come and gone, Barack Obama is actually already President.

"Everyone, please stand." (At my church, we like to say "please rise in body or spirit.")

Barack Hussein Obama!

Did the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States actually botch his recitation of the oath of office from the Constitution?! That's embarrassing. (Obama had studied it a bit, and halfway through the phrase with the word missing he realized something was wrong.)

Oh well, light up them cannons! We've got a new President! And let's hear a speech.

Sounds like some things are going to change (including, which now has a blog).

"We will restore science to its rightful place...

(T)hose of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account—to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day—because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government....

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedient's sake. And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more."

And we can acknowledge "non-believers" in our nation! Thank you!

Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

For the Rev. Lowery's benediction, as he recited James Weldon Johnson's poetry, I heard his brother's music in my mind, and felt the memory of singing it with gusto, bringing thrills up and down my neck.

Something I didn't feel for Rev. Warren's recitation of Our Father.

"We pray not only for our nation, but for the community of nations....

"Help us make choices on the side of love, not hate; on inclusion, not exclusion."


Let's sing that other national anthem! And exeunt!

Watching the ceremonial departure of the ex's, commentator chit-chat:

Jim Lehrer: "A reminder there that Vice-President Cheney strained a muscle in his back. He was actually lifting some boxes. They were packing... ah..."

Mark Shields: "Secrets."

And finally, at the signing ceremony, we see that Obama is left-handed! Who knew?

Whoa. Permalink to this item

It's still 30°F down here, and 40 to 50°F up there, but the sun punched through the gray layer for a little while this afternoon.

A little more cheerful-looking at least. Somebody send Wall St. the message, would they?

Dick-endsian Permalink to this item

From the more hoarfrosty episode in '00-'01 How long has it been since the sun poked through this tristate inversion layer and shed a little light on Boise? More than a week, I'm thinking. Just a few miles away, and 3,000 feet higher, it's in the mid-40s, sunny, beautiful. I wish I were there. But if I were, I'd eventually have to come back down, and I know from experience that it's even more unpleasant to have to come back in after you've seen a better world.

While Jeanette was out telling stories to schoolkids in Meridian, I stayed home and worked, figuring we'd watch some of the day's festivities together, from recordings. About lunchtime, I went out to run an errand, and at our bank, the inexplicable wall-mounted TV had Fox "News" on, showing the Bushes departing from Andrews AFB on not-Air Force One.

There was Richard B. "Bad Back" Cheney, in a wheelchair, black trenchcoat and fedora, and the image of Dr. Strangelove on the tarmac will forever mark the end of this administration in my memory. (It's no surprise that Tom Brokaw said what millions of us were thinking.)

It's almost as if the great Republican scriptwriters of this woe-begotten administration were putting a final stamp on era that will seem stranger than fiction to historians to come.

Martin Luther King Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Maybe even better than being there? Permalink to this item

Nah, we'd love to be standing in crowds too far from the stage to see anything without binoculars, and seeing part of what's happening on a Jumbotron. Does it count as being part of history if you're in a crowd of ten, a hundred, several hundred thousand? Maybe not, but it counts as an experience, to be sure.

"Indeed, for some incessant communicators—the members of Generation Twitter—experiences seem complete only if they are shared via mobile device."
James Katz

A.K. Minnick is there with her kids and Idaho's newest Representative to Congress, sharing some of the events with the folks back home. Serephin is relaying Inaugurtweets from yesterday and today, some watched the train roll by, and so on.

The folks running the cellphone networks are hoping people don't go as nuts sending text and pictures as you know they are going to.

The power of prayer (continued) Permalink to this item

Ice on the Boise R., Jan. 2008 Not everyone could hear Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer yesterday. "Problems with the sound system" sounds like a metaphor for our times, doesn't it? There were only "tens of thousands" within possible earshot anyway. But we are all connected, and the Right Reverend's prayer is one that bears some repetition, loudly and often enough that the chant of "We can't hear, We can't hear" will eventually be quelled. (The sound is bright and clear on the video posted on Sarah Pulliam's blog.)

From my perspective, the form of address (and the nominal recipient) are poetic metaphor, perhaps needed to help focus the mind, but not ultimately relevant for the message. Robinson speaks to us, not to a Supreme Being who we at turns affirm, deny, and fight over. We are speaking to each other, that we may hear the possibility of good within us.

"We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand — that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace."

17.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let's sing it together Permalink to this item

"Are you inspired to become your country's keeper and recommit yourself to being an active, involved and thoughtful citizen—a Born Again American? Become one of the first million voices to declare that commitment by signing our Pledge. Then make our video yours and share it with the world."

I used my formal signature, and was a little embarrassed to have it be too long and overwrote someone else's. Sorry about that! They shrink as they scroll down the document, going in "blog order," unlike the original framers' did.

"No one's above the law" Permalink to this item

All I saw of Eric Holder's confirmation hearing was the excerpt shown on the Newshour, but reflecting on that with the help of Scott Shane's news analysis, I'm reminded of the difference between it and how I felt watching Alberto Gonzales testifying to Congress, sprinkling the occasional carefully circumscribed "answer" between affirmations that he couldn't recall, or say, much of anything about anything.

Maybe after Holder is affirmed, and comes back for his next testimony, Holder will be that way too; I certainly hope not. Confronted with a direct question, he gave a direct answer.

"If you look at the history of the use of that technique, used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes, and we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam, I agree with you Mr. Chairman [Sen. Patrick Leahy], waterboarding is torture."

As Shane writes, Mr. Holder was "merely admitting [what is] obvious" to most people, but it's the obvious with implications: "[opening] the door to an unpredictable train of legal and political consequences."

In this corner, we have the legal opinions from the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, a supposedly extra-territorial prison (that the Supreme Court said was not so), and a provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that grants legal protections to government employees who relied on that cover.

In the other corner, evidence of serious crimes, our obligation to the international Convention against Torture. For those of you on the so-called religious Right, which side are you on? Would Jesus have agreed with Dick Cheney that we needed to go to the Dark Side to protect ourselves from Evil? Just how righteous do our ends need to be to justify the means that were chosen?

Interesting times are ahead.

15.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's a wrap Permalink to this item

Just finished watching George W. Bush deliver his farewell address, and I have to say it didn't really hold my interest. I'd listened to commentary about it on NPR while driving home, and the actual thing... well, what Matthew Dowd said: "a great deal of sadness." And a little bizarre, with that grin that keeps sneaking onto his face at the strangest times.

Unlike last night's interview of Richard B. "Dead-eye Dick" Cheney on the Newshour; that was a fish of a different color. Riveting. Astonishing. Incredible.

"This nation must continue to speak out for justice, and truth."
George W. Bush

When he got to "there's no doubt in my mind," that 2002 run-up schtick was ringing in my head, from back when it was so "simply stated." And utterly false.

We have his assurance it was all done with the best of intentions, we've been kept safe by near superhuman efforts, but of course "a lot of the details are still obviously classified."

Never mind the human pyramid of abuse that was the Orwellian "Justice Department," the willful destruction of the Constitution they swore oaths to defend, the squandering of our national reputation in the rest of the world, and an economic morass being measured against the Great Depression.

Were there mistakes to reconsider?

None that sprang to mind. The best he could do was to "think of places where (he) underestimated things."

And he's not giving up on the conflation of the dictator we'd defeated once and contained for a decade with the terrorist who was behind the 9/11 attack, with "a relationship" of some sort. George Tenet said so. (Curveball too?) He thinks it was worth 100,000 lives.

Abu Ghraib? "Some military personnel who were improperly supervised - weren't given the right kind of guidance, weren't managed properly." Torture? "We had all the legal authorization we needed to do it, including the sign-off of the Justice Department."

"Phenomenal results."

14.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Aint she over already? Permalink to this item

The Republicans' dark horse running mate is mad as hell and she aint gonna take it anymore, firing off a nastygram to the Anchorage Daily News... who responded, in detail.

Governor Palin comes off looking well out of her league. Maybe she could see if there's a Wasilla Daily News she could practice with before she tries the bigs again.

H/t to BinkyBoy for the link.

And, oh, I could go on...

"Governor, I would encourage you to go on. I cannot address your concerns if I do not hear them. Perhaps after reading this you will conclude that the facts are not exactly as you thought, or that there was more to these issues than you knew. I hope you see that we have tried hard to practice sound journalism. We may have trusted the accuracy of the AP too much, but I won't know that for sure until you confirm that Levi will graduate from high school."

How soon before we talk secession? Permalink to this item

Anti-Boise sentiment is easy to drum up in this state, since we're the Capital city and everybody hates government. But after the latest shuffling in the membership of the key budgeting body of the Legislature, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, the Treasure Valley finds itself on the decidely short end of the not-quite-so-big stick of this year's budget: just three members instead of the six we used to have. The Mountain Goat Report picked up the editorial from south-central Idaho, where the Magic and Wood River valleys (Twin Falls, Sun Valley, that lot) have temporarily stumbled into the 30% of the Committee membership that we used to have.

The undeniable demographic and economic fact is that the largest population center in the state is carrying the rest of the state, much the way the blue coastal states in the country carry the red center. The 2010 census will straighten things out—some—but my forecast is that the folks suspicious of the Big City will still be getting more than their share of what it has to offer.

Woe is Roads Permalink to this item

In the neighborhood of Peak Oil, and with our economy whipsawed by (among other things) energy prices, we saw last year that if a price signal is large enough, people actually will pay attention. Even after oil and gas prices calmed down to only modestly higher than their 1990s' trading range, since real estate deals are no longer spewing cash back at consumers, the Subdivision SUV business is at least grievously wounded. Not so much a "wakeup call" for Detroit as a defibrillator applied in lieu of an alarm clock.

Our 2001 Prius at 55,555; last month Howie Long is still advertising manly trucks during NFL games, but now he's talking about miles per gallon the same way those messages filling your spam bucket talk about "size." Bigger is still better baby!

Unlike the scenes in that advertising however, those mega-pickups do not find themselves in wide open spaces with nary another car (or truck) to be seen. There are more of us, we're piloting bigger vehicles, and the roads are more crowded than ever. Traffic sucks, at an increasing rate of suckage.

Before Dirk Kempthorne left for his Interior decorating job in D.C., his signature push as Idaho's Governor was to try to start an Intrastate version of Dwight Eisenhower's Highway System, a glorious, $1.6 billion, 13 project plan (back when $1.6 billion sounded like a lot of money, eh), funded with "innovative finance," which is to say someone else's money, in the future. (Sounds like one of those creative real estate deals, doesn't it? Among the projects was a possibly self-serving 4-lane highway from Emmett through Indian Valley to Mesa. To which you may be asking "where?" "Through where?" "To where?")

Now our "Butch" Governor Otter has picked up the torch, and is telling us that spending on roads is really the most important thing we could possibly be thinking about, even more than education, because we're somehow hundreds of millions of dollars behind the eight ball, and you saw what happened over the Mississippi River, didn't you?

While the Gov. and Legislature fight over new laptops, one "point of fact" brought out by Sharon Fisher in her article about Monday's State of the State/Budget address seems worthy to keep in mind: the "more-than-$200-million-a-year shortfall in road maintenance" was

"obtained by taking the alleged value of the roads in Idaho, saying that a certain percent each year should be devoted to maintenance, and declaring from then on that there was a 'shortfall' in roads maintenance of that amount—but where the total value and the annual percentage number came from is unclear."

12.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press Permalink to this item

Another fine PressThink article from Jay Rosen, describing the result of new communication tools giving formerly atomized audiences the means to connect themselves, and challenge the implicit and explicit boundaries that the MSM claim as their professional purview.

"That journalists affirm and enforce the sphere of consensus, consign ideas and actors to the sphere of deviance, and decide when the shift is made from one to another—none of this is in their official job description. You won't find it taught in J-school, either. It's an intrinsic part of what they do, but not a natural part of how they think or talk about their job. Which means they often do it badly. Their “sphere placement” decisions can be arbitrary, automatic, inflected with fear, or excessively narrow-minded. Worse than that, these decisions are often invisible to the people making them, and so we cannot argue with those people."

It's a beautiful day Permalink to this item

Headline: Bush Holds Final News Conference.

When he gets around to a memoir, will it have to be shelved under Fiction? After it's too late to do anyone any good, he's finally starting to recognize that mistakes were made.

"Clearly putting a 'mission accomplished' sign on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," he said.

"Abu Ghraib, obviously, was a huge disappointment, during the presidency," he said referring to the Iraqi prison scandal.

Yes, most "disappointing." Also disappointing was his administration's unwillingness to bring those responsible for the scandal to account, settling instead for a handful of low-ranked scapegoats, and maybe one or two mid-ranked.

"You know, not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment," he said... "I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were things [that] didn't go according to plan."

"Could things have been done better? Absolutely."

I couldn't have said that better myself.

11.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Senate to Dr. No: please be seated Permalink to this item

It took a Sunday session, and vote with a gentleman's C attendance, but the one-man show of obstruction, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok), got voted down today. With two open seats, the 60% threshold for cloture (def.: "sit down and shut up") is a scant 59 votes, and there were 7 to spare at 66-12.

What's at stake? 200 million acres of designated Wilderness in nine states, 1,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers System and 2,800 miles of new federal trails. There are no doubt some ingredients you'd have a hard time swallowing by themselves in this legislative sausage chain of 160, count 'em, 160 separate bills, but it looks like it's on the pre-inauguration menu.

I'm happy to say that Idaho's two Senators were among the 12 Republicans who thought the possibility of legislation was more important than continuing the all-obstruction, all-the-time approach that we've seen too much of for the last two years.

Mike Crapo, our new senior Senator is the champion of one of the better (or best?) wilderness bills in the lot, for the Owyhee Canyonlands, so his vote wasn't surprising, but it's good to see our two Senators working together in the first meaningful vote in the post-Larry Craig era. Progress!

10.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Big Tippers Permalink to this item

Alright, let's not end the day on all things gloomy. Consider our local favorite pizzaria, The Flying Pie, and their forthcoming closed-for-a-week to take the whole staff to Costa Rica for a vacation. It's not just great pizza, but great attitude, with an ambience that takes one back to the good part of the 60s and 70s. (Yesterday when I went by the Fairview restaurant, there were four, count 'em, four 60's vintage Volkswagen Microbuses out front. Unless I hallucinated that.)

The trip is being financed with "about 10 percent of workers’ tips," collected over the last 13 years. The whole thing will cost less than... your average Secretary of the Interior's bathroom remodelling job.

Things are looking up (aren't they?) Permalink to this item

Sorting through the rubble of the last 9 days of the Bush/Cheney administration, just one day of headlines: "Joblessness soars in Valley, state, U.S.," "Bush legacy: grim times, gloomy nation" ("11 million people are out of work. The unemployment rate is at a 16-year high. The Dow Jones industrial average fell by 33.8 percent in 2008, the worst decline since 1931. One in 10 U.S. homeowners is delinquent on mortgage payments or in foreclosure."), "Talks with potential Tamarack buyer fail" (Idaho's newest resort gets a 2010 week set aside for a foreclosure trial) and "Treasure Valley Foreclosures Resume Their Climb"

Small wonder that we're too numb to muster outrage at yet another $50 billion rip-off, the "sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad."

The hits just keep on coming. Our former mayor, former Senator, former Governer, and soon-to-be-former Secretary of Interior (Decorating) dropping a quarter-million bucks on a bathroom remodel? It's not even the funniest thing on late-night this week. This week! That story broke on Monday, and already it feels as dated as the original Star Wars movie. (Is that a light saber or are you just glad to see me? Paging Mr. Vader...)

All I can say is, if nadir isn't in your vocabulary, you're going to need it. Let's hope you need it sooner, rather than later, and you can point to January, 2009, when you bring it up, because things could still get worse before they get better.

You can't make this stuff up Permalink to this item

Fortunately, you don't have to. The writers at Comedy Central must've thought they'd died and gone to heaven when the news that Joe the Plumber was planning a News Crusade broke.

Primary productivity Permalink to this item

The sycamore wood pile The unexpected sound of a chainsaw reached us yesterday morning, and I wondered if someone had had an emergency overnight. There hadn't been any weather to cause it, and as I saw when I left the house, it was deliberate, scheduled work, our down-the-street neighbor's two mature sycamores being removed. When I returned a couple of hours later, they had been rendered to an impressive pile of firewood, shining yellow-orange on a clear winter's day, the stumps dug out with a big old stump-digger, leaving mounds of warm, brown earth.

I brought my camera to capture their demise, and chatted with the kid who was doing the cleanup before the new trees arrived, asked him whether the trees had been diseased, or...? "No, they're going to replace them with three new trees. Those sycamores are such a mess, and the owner's an older guy who got tired of cleaning up after them."

We know, we've got one of our own. It has a habit of dropping too much stuff, with bad timing. The leaves come off through the winter, long after the city's compost pickup is over in early December. The fruits (a.k.a. dingle-balls) come off and come apart any old time, filling our gutters with, or without the leaves and dead branchlets. But ours is at the southeast corner of the house and makes great shade through the summer, and we think we'd miss it if it were gone, so it lives through another winter, at least.

Just to whack those trees into firewood like that seems like a terrible waste. (And not cheap, either: the kid told me the job was north of $3,000.)

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy birthday, Blue Note! Permalink to this item

Photo from Five Points MARTA station, Atlanta We had a snow day at my workplace, an inch overnight and a couple more coming after yesterday's airy 5 to 6" in the mountains. It wasn't all it could've been, but I had fun making tracks in the near white-out conditions up the hill. The snowflakes were getting smaller, less-pointy and warmer by the time I left, one last run down the face of Shafer Butte, looking for the pillows of powder between the ramblin' rocks, and trying to keep the ice scraped off my goggles as I descended through the fog and snow.

On the way home, I got to enjoy Talk of the Nation's birthday party for Blue Note Records as I twisted from snow floor, to slush, to rain back here at home.

Sing along Permalink to this item

Epiphany do dah, epiphany eh,
My oh my what a wonderful day,
Intuitive insight, comin' my way,
Epiphany doo dah, epiphany day!

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

Shine a light under the rocks... Permalink to this item

and watch those critters skitter. Bill Moyers votes one of George W. Bush's exit lines as quote of the year:

"Yeah, that's right. So what?"

But apart from what he tries to say that just ain't so, and the meaningless bravado, are the secrets that he, his Dark Lord, and the teams of sycophants are doing everything they can to delete, or bury.

Perhaps the case can go right up to the Supreme Court now so artfully stacked by The Decider, and they can supply a one-off endorsement going, as well as they did with W coming.

In the meantime, if not after, we may have to content ourselves with oral histories such as Lawrence Wilkerson offers:

"What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States.

"He became vice president well before George Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum."

Tiptoe through the Albus Permalink to this item

This year's Christmas tree at our house We've been watching the irrigated stands of poplar grow on the Columbia River plateau between Pendleton and Boardman for some years, driving to and from the Gorge and Portland. Daniel Jack Chasan's article on (republished from another regional news aggregator,, "News of the Great Nearby") tells us more about the trees now being marketed as "Pacific Albus."

I wondered in the comments about what species might be behind the alias (before being reminded that it's almost certainly a hybrid between two or more species of poplar), and was rewarded with a fascinating world tour of current forest economics from the mind of the ever-voluble "bearbait."

World-class burial in Georgia Permalink to this item

All of a sudden, dead bodies have spooked the good people of Bibb County, but their Commission has responded in fine fettle, setting an ordinance that defines "a world-class step to success" for their corpses, in the words of the president of the Fall Line Preservation Association.

The FLPA says it doesn't object to the idea of "green burials," they're just concerned about the local water. They applaud the County ordinance requiring that bodies be put in "leak-proof" caskets and vaults, in cemeteries fenced to keep out "wild animals" (including bird netting?!), with "appropriate" and "permanent" grave markers for all.

The Wall Street Journal had a lark making fun of pretty much all sides in the dispute, from Zoroastrian consultants, to Prius drivers, to the people who lost their campaign to stop a nearby landfill, and feel they're the "rug in this corner of middle Georgia" where everybody wants to sweep stuff under to get rid of it.

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

Let the good times (and web awards) roll Permalink to this item

The Center for Public Integrity has a list of Top Ten Websites from 2008, and our neighbors at NewWest.Net and High Country News were fourth on their list. (Of eleven, actually, but who's counting?) Congratulations to two fine sources for news, opinion, and networking.

Another interesting entry in CPI's list is the DocuTicker, specializing in what I'd never heard called "grey literature" before today: "full-text reports published by government agencies, academic institutions, NGOs and other public interest groups."

New Year's mouse cleaning Permalink to this item

Zoomed in detail of my Intellimouse scroll wheel encoder A few months back, my Intellimouse with 3 buttons and a scrollwheel turned into an Intellimouse with just 2 buttons, and I found out how accustomed I am to rolling up and down web pages, and editor views and so on, and how often I use that middle button to bring up pages in a new tab in the background.

I can live without a lot of creature comforts, but my fingers are very demanding, so it had to be fixed. The first time around, I got away with taking the ball out and blowing out the dust bunnies, but that didn't get it done today.

So I looked harder, and with a useful hint from WikiAnswers, found the one assembly screw under one of the two antifriction pads and took it apart. Inside, the cause of the trouble was clear enough: oily, dusty fibers wound around the axle and into the optical encoder. Some careful cleaning (and a little soap and water on the outer case while I was at it), and we're ready for the second 4 years.

2.Jan.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Breath of fresh air Permalink to this item

We've tried all sorts of formulas for success, most recently a ne'er-do-well born on third base and carrying the smug satisfaction of somehow hitting a triple he can't remember, still smudged from the oil patch. Next up, something completely different: the spirit of Aloha, Hawai'i-cool, body surfing his way to the White House.

"Every time Obama comes on television now, the collective blood pressure in the United States goes down 10 points. He cools the water. He's sober and he speaks sensibly in a calm manner that breeds confidence."

You can't be too careful... Permalink to this item

traveling with 5 buddies and 3 kids when your name is Atif Irfan. Do not, for example, comment on where your seat on the plane is relative to the engines, or discuss anything about air travel safety. This would make you a suspicious person. Normal people don't talk about safety on airplanes, do they?

"[Airline spokesman Tad] Hutcheson said AirTran is not likely to reimburse the passengers for the additional cost of their replacement tickets on USAirways. He said they were given a full refund for their AirTran fares and may fly on the carrier now that the investigation is complete.

"The detained passengers said that is not likely.

"“It was an ordeal,” said Abdur Razack Aziz, the family friend who was also detained. “Nothing came out of it. It was paranoid people. It was very sad.”"

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

Civilizations and strangleholds Permalink to this item

Our weather is burbling along in a more usual winter mode, a little wet and gloomy some of the time, snow in the mountains (Brundage says "6 inches of fresh powder off-trail is making for a VERY Happy New Year!" and "forecasters expect 1 to 2 more FEET by this weekend"), freezing at night, but not so much during the day. The white Christmas has melted down to a few dismal icy remnants in the shadows, and everyone's happy to have the days getting longer again.

Millions of cubic feet of natural gas I've got utilities on my mind this time of year, hoping that the electricity and the natural gas keep flowing so we stay cozy and warm. One of the big winter gas bills just came in, $120. Electricity as usual, edging up to $25 a month. It all seems pretty cheap, and if we had to, we'd certainly pay more for the benefits.

These are regulated utilities, and nothing short of a triumph of modern civilization and engineering. We don't spend minutes, let alone hours of a day fetching water, or scrounging for dry wood or dung to start a fire and heat our food. We don't have much of a backup plan, because we've never needed to.

It's not just stormy nights that keep this in mind this time of year. There's also the news that "Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly, shut the entire flow of natural gas intended for Ukraine's domestic consumption Thursday morning after negotiations over prices and transit fees unraveled the day before."

When it's freezing outside, you're not in a very good negotiation position against your energy supplier. For Russia's part, it's playing chicken with the source of 60% of its budget, skimmed as taxes on exports of oil and natural gas. But you can live without government in January longer than you can live without heat.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 01-Feb-2009 18:48:59 MST