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31.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wild times in NY-23 Permalink to this item

Frank Rich: the G.O.P. Stalinists invade update New York.

"[P]reposterous as it sounds, the real action migrated to New York’s 23rd, a rural Congressional district abutting Canada. That this pastoral setting could become a G.O.P. killing field, attracting an all-star cast of combatants led by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, William Kristol and Newt Gingrich, is a premise out of a Depression-era screwball comedy. But such farces have become the norm for the conservative movement—whether the participants are dressing up in full 'tea party' drag or not."

Inability, or unwillingness? Permalink to this item

Thanks to a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (and the Obama administration's refusal to appeal the court's order to release it), we can now enjoy the the (redacted) transcript of Richard B. "Dick" Cheney's May, 2004 fireside chat with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame case.

"The transcript reveals that Mr. Cheney—generally credited with razor sharp intellect and recall—demonstrated an astonishing inability to recollect even simple facts much less the numerous conversations others have testified to regarding his involvement in the administration’s efforts to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Mr. Cheney’s memory frequently failed to improve, even when confronted with his own hand-written notes."

The transcript—like Mr. Cheney's credibility—is slightly skewed. Noted in the introduction is that David Addington, Counsel to the VP "would be waiting nearby for consultation" if Cheney felt that any questions fell outside the scope of the investigation, thereby "requiring" him to claim executive privilege.

"The Vice President could not recall whether the Wilson trip was discussed during any of the visits he made to the CIA" with Scooter, and he claimed the first he heard about Joe Wilson's trip was from Nicholas Kristof's NYT column in May 2003. Perhaps the headline, Missing in Action: Truth caught his eye, just 5 days after George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" strut on the USS Abraham Lincoln?

1 soldier = 20 schools Permalink to this item

Instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?

That's Nicholas Kristof's calculation of the tradeoff between military escalation and a different way forward in Afghanistan.

"[T]here is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which, in fact, have a pretty dismal record."

The Central Asia Institute —from their experience fully or partially supporting more than 100 schools (39 in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan)—estimates the cost of a school building and support for up to 5 years at $50,000.

"When I travel in Pakistan, I see evidence that one group—Islamic extremists—believes in the transformative power of education. They pay for madrassas that provide free schooling and often free meals for students. They then offer scholarships for the best pupils to study abroad in Wahhabi madrassas before returning to become leaders of their communities."

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

Perfectly justified grandiosity Permalink to this item

Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne Heller, cover image She may be dead, but she's still in the vanguard, selling hundreds of thousands of her books, as well as creating a secondary market, including Anne Heller's biography, ably reviewed by Adam Kirsch:

Rand labored for more than two years on Galt's radio address near the end of Atlas Shrugged—a long paean to capitalism, individualism and selfishness that makes Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" sound like the Sermon on the Mount. "At one point, she stayed inside the apartment, working for 33 days in a row," Heller writes. She kept going on amphetamines and willpower; the writing, she said, was a "drops-of-water-in-a-desert kind of torture." Nor would Rand, sooner than any other desert prophet, allow her message to be trifled with. When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt's speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls "a comment that became publishing legend": "Would you cut the Bible?" One can imagine what Cerf thought—he had already told Rand plainly, "I find your political philosophy abhorrent"—but the strange thing is that Rand's grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

Running out of things to steal Permalink to this item

I was perhaps too elliptical about Spitzer's piece about the Angelides commission, which was announced last July by Congressional Democrats, with a charter to investigate the roots of the financial crisis. Here's more. Spitzer's proposed 5 avenues of inquiry are:

  1. What did corporate boards know about the state of corporations they governed and why did they do so little to protect them?
  2. What, exactly, did corporate compensation consultants and compensation committees say and do—and why?
  3. "Third, the rating agencies must bare their souls to the world."
  4. "Fourth, the commission must put the New York branch of the Fed under its microscope." That's the branch that was headed by Timothy Geithner, now Obama's SecTreas.
  5. And finally, "the Angelides commission should also demand to see every piece of paper from the Fed, AIG, and all of the counterparties related to the AIG bailout."

Matt Taibbi's take on Wall Street's Naked Swindle offers another something to look into, the short-selling vultures descending on Bear Stearns and Lehman, incidentally detonating the leverage bubble while making—in just one case—$270 million on a not-quite $2 million investment. In just over a week of March, 2008.

Although the SEC issued more than 50 subpoenas to Wall Street firms, it has yet to identify the mysterious trader who somehow seemed to know in advance that one of the five largest investment banks in America was going to completely tank in a matter of days...

The SEC's halfhearted oversight didn't go unnoticed by the market. Six months after Bear was eaten by predators, virtually the same scenario repeated itself in the case of Lehman Brothers—another top-five investment bank that in September 2008 was vaporized in an obvious case of market manipulation. From there, the financial crisis was on, and the global economy went into full-blown crater mode.

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

Mistakes were made Permalink to this item

From someone with significant experience as an investigator as well as an investigatee: Eliot Spitzer, on Commission Impossible:

"If the Angelides commission issues subpoenas to investigate these five questions and promises to set these documents before the public, we will know it is for real and will serve a genuine public purpose. Populist anger is no better a policy guide than libertarian rhetoric. Only hard facts—facts that this commission can gather—will permit the debate to move beyond either one."

Simple enough to just say no Permalink to this item

Image of content of letter from Risch I didn't get invited to our junior Senator's E-town hall, but from Idaho Conservative Blogger's report, I guess I didn't miss much. The Democrats' plans are crazy and mind-boggling, 'nuff said?

The most recent communication I had with Senator Risch didn't rise to the same "always articulate, up on the issues, passionate, and approachable" benchmark as ICB enjoys. I expressed my dismay at Risch voting against the Franken amendment, probably in succinct terms (via the inevitable Senate web form), and his letter dated October 7 showed up in the mail most of 3 weeks later. The letter acknowledged that "from time to time there will be issues on which we will not all agree," but thanked me for "exercising [my] right to express [my] opinion," said opinion being (as he wrote) "expressing displeasure regarding my work as your U.S. Senator."

In a Washington Post op-ed, Kathleen Parker did offer a possible explanation for voting against Franken's amendment, which Risch might have taken the trouble to use in his reply:

"The real goal, obviously, should be to ensure that no one is denied access to justice and that arbitration agreements are nonbinding in criminal acts. In fact, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled last month in Jones's favor, agreeing that the alleged gang rape wasn't related to her employment and that she, therefore, wasn't bound by the company's arbitration agreement."

But I do have a certain admiration for the efficiency with which the Senator's office blew me off. Four sentences, "Very Truly Yours" and done.

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

Wm. K. Walthers von Alten II, 1921 - 2009 Permalink to this item

Bill Walthers and Jobst von Alten checking the map at Big Cedar L., 2003 Family matters to attend to, a trip to New Mexico over the weekend, for my Uncle Bill's funeral, catching up with his big family after their move from Midwest to Southwest, 40 (!) years ago.

We've kept up with Bill and Geri over the years, including our 2003 family reunion joined by cousin Jobst from Hannover (pictured on the right, going over a map with Bill) but not so much the kids, and not at all the grandkids and great-grandkids. Funerals tend to be muted affairs, but there was a lot of joy in the gathering, celebrating Bill's 88 years and his family legacy.

Among the other stories told, his son Mike's eulogy included a few of the many interesting occupations Bill had had over the years (just about everyone heard one they didn't know about). This summer when Mike and his family visited Rio Rancho and they all went for a ride on the Sandia Peak tramway, Bill told them that he'd put in a job application to work there and was making a follow-up visit to check on it.

Here's one of those great-grandkids whose name I didn't catch, feeling the moment during the reception at the Elks Lodge, while his elders were assembling for a family photo opportunity:
One of the great-grandkids

25.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Front end alignment Permalink to this item

Check out your horoscope from Bob Wire and see what's lining up for you. (This is either non-fiction, or he's worked to establish an elaborate ruse with Moon Cat. Me, I've got a sudden urge to dig out the peppermint soap and read some label. But wait, there's more! The soap business is celebrating its 60th Anniversary, and there's a movie: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.)

"Love is like a willful bird, do you want it? It flies away! Yet, when you least expect its bliss, it turns around and it's here to stay!"

You mean it'll work now? Permalink to this item

I've now seen two "Windows 7" TV ads; the first one was a Mac ad, showing the "news" that lots of PC owners were... taking advantage of the "since we have to move all our stuff anyway, we figured we'd get a Mac" opportunity. The second was Microsoft's, with a pudgy, graying homeowner (closing with "I'm a PC," no less) talking about how he could now print from one of his computers, and actually network stuff between devices in his house.

Wow, 2009, who knew we'd get this far?

Let's just say that while "we're a PC," we'll be sticking with XP for the forseeable future, until we're driven away. I mean, the advertising may be entertaining (we can hope!), but we need a slightly stronger endorsement than this:

"Windows 7 means that Microsoft employees can show up in public without avoiding eye contact."

With the ad campaign working the numerology, watch for lots of riffs on 7, including seven-second videos and seven-word tweets, like... oh, I don't know, compared to Vista, this is way better. Is that going to be good enough?

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

NCA governance gets more interesting Permalink to this item

The Nampa Classical Academy's latest board get-together, as reported in the Idaho Press-Tribune, with links to an audio recording for some? all? of a non-meeting that ran 4 hours or more. With 2 resignations of voting Board members after a special meeting on October 8, they no longer have the members to form a quorum, "so there's nothing to adjourn," but Mike Moffett proceeded and tried to let everyone be heard.

"I have evidence, and I will read if I have to tonight, although I do not want to, that shows that this Board has conspired for the last couple weeks to violate our bylaws, violate state law, and our core values," Moffett said.

At 23:40, someone shouts up "I disagree with everything he has to say..." and Moffett rules him "out of order." But the whole meeting is out of order! Isaac Moffett gets his say about this "sad state of affairs"....

"It is true, I did ask one of the Board members to resign for his betrayal. As many of you know, some of the worst pain you can have is somebody in your own church, somebody who's a friend."

But "the kids are thriving," according to the school's director of operations, even though "there are days that I am wore out..."

Val Bush, the headmaster, speaks next. "This is an interesting position to be in." No doubt. Later... Mike Moffett takes the time to speak for "our little Athenian outpost of NCA."

"At some point, and we see this in every civilization, people will get tired of the dictator, and they will go to war to retrieve their freedom."

Your point being? Permalink to this item

The (third) billboard that the American Humanist Association paid for up in Moscow (Idaho) said "Millions are good without God." The vandal with spray paint covered "without," making it either a sentence that doesn't make any sense, or else a three-word message from God (that probably falls short of Her expectations—just millions, out of more than 6 billion humans?).

It's a milestone of sorts, the first AHA ad that's been defaced. I guess their message is getting out.

Idaho's ACORN buried some time ago Permalink to this item

Gavin Dahl reports the history of Idaho's branch of ACORN, which ran out of funding support a couple years before the recent successful attack by the right-wing against the idea of helping the disadvantaged (and especially of helping them register to vote). The general demonization of ACORN seems to go back even further than the Republicans efforts started during the first term of GW Bush.

"ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said that starting in the 1990s, industry, including food and beverage interests began to attack living wage initiatives, led by lobbyist Rick Berman who has also marketed trans fats, mercury, high fructose corn syrup and tanning."

57/40 now favor a public option Permalink to this item

Once upon a time it was 62% in favor of reform including a public option for healthcare insurance. It dropped to 50% in the heat of the summer and "town hall meeting" disrupters, before rebounding, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. If the question is narrowed to consideration of a program run by states, and limited to those who can't find private insurance, more than 3 out of 4 are in favor.

20.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The backward states Permalink to this item

Among the 30 Senators voting against the Franken amendment, and so against punishing government contractors for restricting their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court, there were 11 states that had BOTH of their U.S. Senators voting no.

Not quite sure why they should all be Republicans, but they are. (What happened to the party of "family values"?) Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming.

Sad company.

18.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

En passant Permalink to this item

...the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, won't you stay
Well put on the day
And we'll talk in present tenses

Fall color of Lake Harbor in Boise

The brilliant fall day called me to the scenic route, and I went home from church the four times longer way via the Greenbelt. At one stop, a couple rode by and I heard one sentence of their conversation:

"That baby deer looked like it was going to attack me."

Dappled light in a side channel of the Boise R.

Fishing the Boise R. next to the Americana Bridge As I meandered through the kaleidoscope of colored leaves further on, sound from behind, "coming up on your left," and one of those stretch-fitted cyclists rolled past, a faint whiff of sunblock coming off and blending with the smell of the Lander Street sewage treatment plant.

Miles more upriver, a young boy from another continent was standing smack on the centerline, looking at a grazing gaggle of geese and trying to get them to respond to "quack! quack!" I did my best Canada goose impression and instructed, "those are geese. Honk! Honk!" Before I was out of earshot, he'd changed his call to match mine.

Push poll off rails Permalink to this item

Through a combination of curiosity and occasional good intentions, I'm on a variety of partisan lists that send out fundraising emails with robotic frequency. They usually have interesting subject lines, at least, sometimes some information, always a pitch to send money at the end. That's almost never going to happen, and the predictability of the format makes it easy to develop a "delete" reflex.

Today's offering from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (under Executive Director Rob Jesmer's name, the personal touch) started with the subject Your Opinion Matters. Thank you for noticing! And then he led with this arresting lead paragraph:

"I know where you stand on President Obama's liberal agenda, and I want you to know that you are not alone."

A bit presumptuous, hmm? But it did pique my interest enough to go see the survey, hosted by It's a long series of questions with Yes/No/No Opinion radio buttons under each, with the selection preset to the first choice—Yes— on each.

That's a bit odd; it's possible to initialize a form with no choice on a set of radio buttons (although once one's made, you can't go back to "no selection"). That part's not presumption, it's just poor design. How can I tell? Because the "I know where you stand" answer for almost all the questions is "No," starting with

"Do you believe that Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have the best interests of Americans like you in mind when they formulate and propose policies and programs?"

Interesting start: let's first agree to assume bad intent on the part of the opposition? It was easy enough for me to say "Yes" to most of the questions, "No opinion" to a few about issues that are absurdly too complex to admit a simple Yes or No, and then laugh at the very last question, for which I was OK with the "Just say no" reflex their supporters would have developed after 18 training runs:

"Do you believe that electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate in 2010 is essential to stopping Obama's agenda?"

16.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Peace Prize Explanation Permalink to this item

Mark Danner gave a succinct justification for awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, on Bill Moyers Journal tonight:

" of the reasons behind the Nobel Prize was a recognition that the rest of the world is so grateful he's in place. And that he is speaking eloquently about a world of inclusion, of cooperation, and not of unilateralism.

"Because the Bush administration was really the nightmare that the world had always feared, which is an America unbounded by anything but its own power. Unbounded by international law, judicial processes, anything. And Obama has changed that impression of the United States, which is extremely important."

Of course, there's also the Nobel Committee's own explanation, as well.

Edge of darkness Permalink to this item

Our DSL connection had been getting flaky of late, coming and going, occasionally requiring a power cycle to get its attention. Last night it was just gone, all the lights on the Qwest-branded 2Wire 2701HG-D modem/router were out. Power-cycling brought most of them back on, steady, useless. Called Qwest. Led me to the [Reset] button. No help. "I'm very sorry, and that has only a 1-year warranty."

Just over 2 years, and this thing is toast? Epic fail.

The tech gave me two makes/models to choose from to replace, and this morning I started to let my fingers do the walking, but the version of the storied Yellow Pages® that came first to hand was too fragmented under "Computers" to be much help. I called a local chain store I've been using regularly for various goods and services, Staples and asked them what they had. A couple NetGear models that weren't on the Qwest list, but then what the hell does Qwest know? A couple different clerks assured me it would work with Qwest, and I rather expected it to be easy to plug in a new one, configure it up and go.

It wasn't, but some hours, unpleasantness and $70 later, we're back, and newly apprised of just how much we've come to rely on an internet connection as one of our utilities.

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

The gift that keeps on giving Permalink to this item

The comments in the GOP blog post asking Why Are You A Republican? Frank Buckles answers:

"I guess I'm a Republican because I grew up with President George W. Bush. He was a great President, a real conservative, and someone I wish I could vote for again. President Bush protected us from islamofascists and Saddam Hussein when we needed him most. I would support any effort to amend the Constitution to allow George W. Bush to become President again."

Kristin McCabe was raised by decent parents and then... "Hah! I read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and my worldview was flipped upside down."

There's plenty of entertainment in the medium, but this hadn't occurred to me until Larry Pituch's postscript: "The banner to this website looks a lot like the Chinese flag; are you trying to rub it in to the many Americans that have lost their manufacturing jobs to China?"

Always up and to the right? Permalink to this item

No, not always. Inflation was "negative" last year, which is to say we didn't have inflation, we had a little deflation. Perhaps you lost your job, or part of a job, or part of your pay for your job, or perhaps you're doing 25% more work at your job because there are fewer employees around you than there used to be. Our state budget is "breathtakingly" bleak.

But Obama wants to give Social Security recipients a raise anyway. Huh.

Maybe the benchmark consumer price index doesn't accurately reflect the cost of living for seniors. Maybe happy times are (almost) here again, with the Dow touching 5 figures and Goldman Sachs reporting $3.2 billion in profit for their 3rd querter Maybe $13 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to what we poured into banks (and bankers, including $20 billion to Goldman Sachs via AIG).

What do I know?

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

College football mainstay? Permalink to this item

Wow. Frank Deford loves the Boise Cinderella story (and instructs the world on the "correct" pronounciation due our fair 'burb. The soft (some might even say sissified) 'S'? I've heard that said, but never bought into it. I like the Z sound myself. I was quick to pick up Orygun and MosCOE to blend in when I moved west, but 26 years here, and I'm still not going Boy, See?)

His idea of the "Boise bang-for-the-buck" factor is entertaining, but how does the 2009 BSU compared with the 2006 glory year (which reached its peak in the January 2007 Fiesta Bowl, by the way)? $29.4 million for FY2008 athletics, sounds like, which is a LOT more than the Okies are paying their head football honcho now. According to the Oklahoma Dept. of Intercollegiate Athletics 2008-9 annual report, their football budget is 19% of $79M. That puts their football budget at about half of BSU's total athletic budget for the same period. Oklahoma took in double its expenses for the football program: 40% of its $79M revenue.

Oklahoma touts the fact that their atheletics program subsidizes the university's academic effort, "one of a handful" in Division I "that is self supporting and receives no subsidy from state-appropriated funds and no student fees. OU is one of an even smaller number of universities where Athletics subsidizes academic programs," most recently to the tune of $7 million. Sounds like pretty good bang for the buck to me.

(H/t to TreasduredValley for the link to Deford.)

Can we get the hydraulics, too? Permalink to this item

Prius owners know it as "stealth mode," when the gasoline engine is off. That leaves the whirring of the electric motors and their planetary gear set, and tire noise to alert pedestrians or cyclists with their backs to you that "car," as we used to say when playing in the street. (It is really quiet, thank you, and you can sneak up on somebody unawares.)

Drivers are hopefully mindful of their stealth, and don't expect people who can't see us to stay out of our way, but an alternate approach is to add a fake vroom for safety. Or "car tones" (not to be confused with car toons, heh) for a lucrative new audio market. You could have "a cross between a starship and a Formula One car" like Henrik Fisker, or In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida, or The Ride of the Valkyries, whatever.

13.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Web 3.0 = Business 101 Permalink to this item

It's been a while, or forever since you noticed the cute footnote on this site's splash page (old enough that it predates the deprecation of such things, I might add), and the statement "almost no advertising" at the end. It's "almost" because I made a decision a decade ago to sign up for Amazon Associates (as explained here) because the links to Amazon connected to some useful content, and what the heck, I might cover some of the expense of keeping a domain name and web host going.

Trust me, I haven't made a business out of this, nor do I want to. But the exceedingly modest trickle of referral credits I used to get has dried up, perhaps because none of my links are alluring enough to cause any readers to follow and buy, or more likely because there are so many things to buy in so many different ways that this feed as run its course. I mention this because it sets the scene for my initial mood when I placed an order through Amazon on Oct. 4, and after getting a shipment receipt, went to track the order to see how it was coming.

It was at an undisclosed location as of October 9. Weird, but not worrying. The estimated delivery date was October 22. Excuse me? I used SuperSaver (as in "pay no more!") shipping, of course, but just shy of 3 weeks from order to delivery? and more than 2 weeks from shipment to delivery?

I tracked down "Contact us" and sent a complaint. I got a nice, hand-crafted reply that included an invitation to "let [them] know if this e-mail resolved [my] question." Via a hyperlink. It didn't. Here's what I wrote back:

I'm becoming less and less satisfied with Amazon, and this "call and response" is a good example of the problem.

I received a pretty good detailed reply... and "please let us know if this email resolved my question," but (a) I CAN'T REPLY TO THE EMAIL, and (b) you give me a link to this form... that requires me to fill in my name and order information! Stupid.

We're having this conversation because your shipping process and delivery estimation are defective. From past experience I expect shipping to take about a week (and it might even happen this time, too: you shipped on Oct 7, it's in SLC on the 12... and should be in Boise in a couple days.

But your estimate of OCTOBER 22 for an order placed OCTOBER 4 is just unacceptable. You wrote "5 to 9 business days"... what the heck is a BUSINESS DAY for a company that's doing business 24/7? You're saying anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks? How is that different from "we're not really sure."

Two words, friends. Quality. Control.

Figure it out, or our relationship of Long Standing will be at an end.

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

Blogospheric navel-gazing Permalink to this item

I did enjoy reading much of the World Book Encyclopedia as a child, and while we do keep a good dictionary around the house, I'm more about looking things up than reading straight through anymore. John Cole's Balloon Juice Lexicon does however, provide some direct, end-to-end entertainment. There's so much I don't know.

Short-term memory Permalink to this item

The coincidental juxtaposition of Frank Rich's latest column and the summer movie we just got around to seeing, Woodstock, Now and Then were still bubbling around in my head when I read McClatchy's treatment of current military strategy this morning. [As is often the case, the online original of what ran in the Idaho Statesman has more than what they set in print.]

"In his definitive recent field manual on the subject, Gen. David Petraeus stipulates that real counterinsurgency requires 20 to 25 troops for each thousand residents. That comes out, conservatively, to 640,000 troops for Afghanistan (population, 32 million). Some 535,000 American troops couldn’t achieve a successful counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, which had half Afghanistan’s population and just over a quarter of its land area."
Frank Rich, Two Wrongs Make Another Fiasco

McClatchy was one of the voices of greater reason in the heat-up to the Iraq war, which may or may not lend their current treatment more weight. And naval power isn't the deciding factor it once was, but you have to wonder about loose lips when you read that they "interviewed more than 15 senior and mid-level U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic officials, all of whom said they concurred with the assessments. All of them requested anonymity because the assessments are classified and the officials weren't authorized to speak publicly."

"White House officials, they said, have concluded that McChrystal's [and Petraeus' broader counterinsurgency strategy] could be doomed by election fraud, corruption and other problems in Afghanistan; by continued Pakistani covert support for the insurgency; by the strains on the Army, Marine Corps and the federal budget; and by a lack of political and public support at home, which they fear could also undermine the president's domestic priorities."

This unnamed Greek chorus is saying the White House is "downplaying the dangers" of "a limited war against the guys who hit us on 9/11," that "narrow interest of protecting the homeland" from al Qaida.

As opposed to... whatever is the opposite of "failure" in Afghanistan, a dream that many invading armies have imagined, but none have realized to date. Now, now! the chorus is worried about "a massive blow to U.S. international standing," possibly something more massive than Colin Powell's nadir at a desk in the United Nations, or the photos from Abu Ghraib?

9.Oct.9 Permanent URL to this day's entry

So much for the last minute selloff Permalink to this item

What was it that the Bush administration said it wasn't going to do any more of in most of its last year? Oh yeah, regulation. But apparently unregulation, and trying to sell off some choice goodies were still OK, right up until the last minute.

Upon further review of one set of those deals, 77 oil and gas leases on Utah public lands, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said less than a quarter of them were valid.

Endure forever Permalink to this item

Jerusalem artichokes, flowering in our yard The Statesman ran a nice piece about the Snake River Alliance's 30th Anniversary today, with more photos on the web than they printed. (Looks like they're finally getting the hang of that web thingie?)

Alliance volunteers have provided some nice graphics (and calligraphy) over the years, and there were a number I hadn't seen. Speaking of Latin, the best in show logo graphic looks to me to be Esto Perpetua.

Strange to say Permalink to this item

Sometimes, it's the little things that get your attention, and for no good reason, really. As Ada County Highway District Commissioner Sara Baker wound up into her dudgeon about being left off the plaque for the new E. Park Center Bridge, she said "mirra BILE DISS-too, wonder to behold..."

What did she say? I've used that bit of Latin myself, so I could spell it out and look it up just to make sure my sense of the pronounciation isn't crazy... Nope, try mi RAH bi le, DIK too (or hey, maybe klaatu barada nikto will work). Nevertheless, Ms. Baker's BILE was clearly of the essence.

"Who made the decision to leave me off the plaque?... Was there a meeting that I wasn't invited to... an email that went around that I was not on the distribution list?...

"I'm not accusing anyone here of being Stalin, but this is exactly what Stalin did during his reign. He purged history, he changed history. And this is not something that is appropriate in the United States. I'll go with Hanlon's Razor, which basically says that, do not ascribe to malevolence would could simply be incompetence, but this is incorrect and it needs to be corrected. And so [pats the table firmly], since no one knows how this worked, and no one knows how it happened, I ask unanimous that staff be directed to take the plaque, return it to the artist, and have the correct name be put on it."

She didn't get it. She got a cool rebuttal that "during 'public communications,' we don't make any decisions." She got an offer to have it be put on an agenda, some other time.

And Baker pressed the issue... the "always in order" Motion to Adjourn stuck a fork in the first of what promise to be more episodes of "must-see local government reality TV," as Kevin Richert puts it.

Seems a little early for that Permalink to this item

Living in Norway gives one a different perspective OK, but with the first year of his Presidential term still underway, the Nobel Peace Prize?! I mean, there's already backpedaling on closing Gitmo, and more talk about escalation than ending the war in Afghanistan.

The prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and so on reward work that has stood the test of time (well enough that it sometimes seems like they have to pull out ancient history to describe what the prize is for). The pixels are barely dry from Randy Cohen's piece about taking back Nobel Prizes (Peace prizes, in particular), posted on Tuesday.

Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said they're betting on the come, caught the "hope" fever: "The committee wants to not only endorse but contribute to enhancing that kind of international policy and attitude which he stands for."

If nothing else, it'll light up the bloviosphere. "Courts controversy" in the WSJ. 1983 laureate Lech Walensa says "he has no contribution so far." Nicholas Kristof is "nonplussed" and has a pretty good to-do list, to boot. "He's been largely absent on Sudan, Congo, Burma and global poverty and health issues, and doesn’t even have a USAID administrator." Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh says "We are in need of actions, not sayings." So to speak. Sentiment in Pakistan and Afghanistan is tepid, as you might imagine.

8.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Barkus: I'll have mine on the rocks Permalink to this item

I'd read about this guy crashing his boat on Flathead Lake before I saw the picture in The Flathead Beacon.

Oh that kind of boat crash. The kind where you drive it clear up out of the water onto a 30° bedrock bank. I guess driving your boat at 40+ mph in the middle of the night and navigating by GPS isn't such a good idea?

It can't help if you're three sheets to the wind, with a couple of Dewars and ample wine with dinner, leaving you with a 0.16 BAC almost two hours after the crash. And what's up with Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, who "did not see whether Barkus was drinking at the restaurant," and "was surprised to learn the results of Greg [Backus]'s blood alcohol test."

"There is, of course, a presumption of innocence in our system of justice and the charges made today by the prosecutors are now in the hands of the Court. I’ll continue to provide whatever information I can to the authorities...."

7.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

It's an ugly picture Permalink to this item

Paul Krugman: The Politics of Spite.

"How did one of our great political parties become so ruthless, so willing to embrace scorched-earth tactics even if so doing undermines the ability of any future administration to govern?"

When life imitates art Permalink to this item

Better to not have the art be a 17-year-old episode of The Simpsons. That was brought to mind (in the comments) by the $90,000 P.R. contract for the Boise Trolley that almost, but not quite got rubber-stamped through the City Council's consent agenda.

Today's pirate D'OH! award Permalink to this item

Avast ye mateys, that there be a French Navy ship! Arrrr!

"Once they realised they were facing a ship that was responding and was heading towards them, they stopped shooting and attempted to flee."

6.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Remembering Loma Prieta Permalink to this item

20 years ago this month, Jeanette was "at home" in our 3rd floor apartment in the Hoskins "high rise" (an 8 story building) on the Stanford campus, and I was in class on the 5th floor of the lively Terman building that the chairman of the Civil Engineering department was concerned about, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.

"My engineering instincts took over my personal safety instincts, and I was looking at [Terman] to see how it was shaking, and it was shaking like mad...."

I'm not sure where the rest of the evacuated high-rise residents spent the night, but we spent ours in our minivan, parked among the Eucalyptus trees in the Arboretum. (Officials decided that our building was OK to reinhabit the next day.)

For the next several months, the bouncy floor of Terman gave me the willies, making me wonder if it was another aftershock I was feeling, or just the foot traffic and mechanical equipment.

Are you dead yet? Permalink to this item

If you sell your life insurance policy, expect someone to give a jingle and ask that question periodically. Is that creepier than turning your medical records over to someone who wants you dead? Take your pick.

So called "life settlements" have been around almost a century, I learned while listening to Here and Now this morning. Wall Street is itching to bundle and "securitize" purchased policies, just like those sub-prime mortgates that worked out so well. Bundles of death, what a great idea.

There was a story in the Statesman on the subject today, too. Idaho has a new law as of July 1, the Life Settlements Act, which requires life insurance brokers to be licensed, "and to disclose fees, the value of offers and contractual arrangements."

"Once an individual decides to sell their policy into a settlement, somebody else has their medical records, and [they] are able to call and check to see if you're living"...

4.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

War is hell... on your economy Permalink to this item

Matt Bivens takes a look at some of the economic tradeoffs we've been making, trying to make the incomprehensible comprehensible:

"Even now, at one of our darkest economic hours, we could be performing miracles with the spare change left behind the national couch cushions....

"If you look at the polio campaign costs on an annual basis, it's about $240 million a year, or less per year than it has cost to occupy Iraq per day.

"The United States has been polio-free since 1994. But if the polio campaign falters, the virus could return. This, unlike Iraqi military operations, truly is a case of having to fight them overseas so as not to face them at home."

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."
James Joyce

Payback time Permalink to this item

The "estate" of a long dead writer (a.k.a. his heirs) has to pony up a quarter $million for attorneys' fees, after hounding a biographer, and intimidating her publisher into deleting the basis for her conclusions. That led to snarky reviews about her "wish fulfillment," and "speculations, surmises and unconvincingly supported suppositions."

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

Rio d'Olympico Permalink to this item

Saddest/funniest comment from dejected Chicagoan, Beth Nielsen: "We'll be O.K.; we have the Cubs, remember. We've been through things before." As seen in the NYT.

The (positive) power of tiny disparities Permalink to this item

Contrasting with the ease of tipping millions of people into for-profit Medicare substitutes is how little it might take to save thousands of lives by making organ donation the rule, rather than the exception.

"In the world of traditional economics, it shouldn't matter whether you use an opt-in or opt-out system. So long as the costs of registering as a donor or a nondonor are low, the results should be similar. But many findings of behavioral economics show that tiny disparities in such rules can make a big difference.

"By comparing the consent rates in European countries, the psychologists Eric Johnson and Dan Goldstein have shown that the choice of opting in or opting out is a major factor.

"...In Germany, which uses an opt-in system, only 12% give their consent; in Austria, which uses opt-out, nearly everyone (99%) does." [my emphasis]

In the U.S.... we have 50 ways to leave your liver. Richard Thaler's got another idea: "a free app for the iPhone that lets people sign up as organ donors in their home states.

The Medicare Advantage advantage Permalink to this item

UnitedHealth Group financials, 1995-2008 In the child's primer of health insurance, D is for Donut hole in your Drug benefit, that curious feature of the last "reform" of Medicare this century. I have no idea how many people have been helped by Part D (or been sunk by the donut hole), but I do imagine that the threat of (a relatively modest) penalty if you don't sign up on time prompted a lot of decisions to shift from public to private insurance.

Even if you weren't doing any expensive prescription drugs at the moment, it was motivation to find a "free" Medicare Advantage to cover the future possibility that you'd need something. The minimum cash flow solution moves you from "government healthcare" to "insurance-driven healthcare," with one side effect that insurance companies have more money for lobbyists to make sure future changes go their way. Monica Sanchez takes a look under the hood to see how this Medicare Advantage is working out.

Conservatives in the Senate Finance Committee are fighting hard to protect the current payment structure that gives private insurance plans in Medicare up to 19 percent more (pdf) than it would cost to care for the same people in the public Medicare program. It is... shall we say puzzling?... to hear so-called fiscal conservatives trying to defend a program that overpays.

Follow the money: UnitedHealth Group has more than ten times the revenue and profit since the Republicans killed the Clinton era attempt at health care reform.

It's a beautiful day in Wisconsin Permalink to this item

Gives me a little nudge of nostalgia when I hear a midwestern accent, such as Russ Feingold's, talking about the "gemultakite" event he just went to... (you might have come across the fine German word that combines a range of good qualities and feelings, geniality, comfort, coziness, as Gemütlichkeit, pronounced "slightly differently").

The teaser wasn't about talking funny though, it was about music. The latest "Feintunes" pick is The Builders and the Butchers, worth a listen, Why not? It's free. And the first reason I've seen to visit in forever.

When it rains,
when it rains, let it wash us away
Your love is so much sweeter,
when it rains.

1.Oct.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Season's turn Permalink to this item

4.7 day at C.J. Strike, near highway 51 Before the double whammy cold front that put frost on uncovered tomatoes last night, we had a mouse come up to the patio door, looking for a way in, to a warm spot... to raise her next family? Oddly enough, she seemed to know the concept of "door," walking from one side to the other, and then right up the door frame, up to three feet off the ground before I opened the door a crack and said "boo!" and chased her out into the landscaping.

Apparently the word is out we no longer have a cat living with us, although a couple of the neighbor toms do spend time in our yard. May need to hire one at some point...

Given wind in the mid-20s and gusts in the mid-30s (and above!), it seemed like a good day to get one more windsurfing session in. The email and phone network was in top form, and after a so-so on-site report from Lake Lowell, I headed for the north arm of C.J. Strike, and met my spotter for a wild and woolly cold water adventure, somewhat wilder for my having neglected to load up the smaller sails that were called for.

(Another buddy who missed the fun said he was "sitting in Pocatello FREEZING and watching it SNOW! Outside temp all day has been between 37 and 43. The foothills are white. It was like 75 here yesterday.")


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 01-Nov-2009 22:28:12 MST