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

Let it snow! Permalink to this item

Didn't get around to a top N list of anything... too busy with other end-of-year stuff, sorting out tax business, wrapping up my work on a non-profit board (with 2 hours to spare!), and oh—my opening day at Bogus Basin. They had 4 or 5" of dry snow, a day in the 20s yesterday, with the usual sort of fresh snow weather: fog, wind, occasional visibility and occasional white-out conditions up top. I scraped a few rocks here and there, found some wonderful snow...

Another half foot today, more expected overnight, tomorrow, and into the weekend. Just the way it ought to be.

Happy New Year!

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

Idaho's occupational licensing business Permalink to this item

News is, more than 40% of Idaho's Occupational licensing boards are running a deficit. I visited the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses website (slogan: "Adventures in Living" Huh?) and ran through the finance pages, which show the revenue and expenses for each of the Boards. In the table below, you can click on the headers to sort by a column.

Athlete Agents 500442(12,163)
Acupuncture 16,5119,027124,689
Architectural Examiners 43,86350,070150,208
Athletic Commission 6,00233,617(84,612)
Barber Examiners 10,32118,37857,534
Chiropractors 33,18435,377105,604
Contractors 178,238231,528386,052
Cosmetology 225,650194,1321,255,765
Counselors / Marriage & Family Therapists 71,80373,807(35,546)
Denturitry 7,1016,774(30,305)
Driving Business 5,03531,716(26,681)
Geologists 11,30025,25719,371
Landscape Architects 17,52218,59412,300
Liquefied Petroleum Gas Dealers 15,95431,438(147,929)
Midwives 06,933(6,933)
Morticians 20,63322,26667,761
Nursing Home Administrators 15,25414,98349,240
Occupational Therapists 3,38714,490(9,715)
Optometrists 25,92330,89760,893
Physical Therapists 30,98327,496154,333
Podiatrists 11,31321,319(118,099)
Psychologists 39,93836,522(50,439)
Residential Care Administrators 21,92717,7903,597
Real Estate Appraisers 106,772138,338(63,373)
Speech And Hearing Services 32,36930,001(42,468)
Shorthand Reporters 6,3467,17618,958
Social Workers 86,87369,39554,025
Water & Wastewater Professionals 82,80677,596441,938

So many questions come to mind... starting with, what's so special about these 26 professions over all the others? Artifacts of state history, each one with its own story. Three of them just got started this year: the Midwives, the Occupational Therapists, and the Driving Businesses, whatever those are. So never mind their small arrears.

The timing of license renewal determines how the cash flow works out, and even though there are 14 of the 23 established Boards with more expense than revenue so far this year, most of the deficits are small, and well less than the positive balance the Boards have. Four Boards are seriously in the red, and still headed south: the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Dealers, the Podiatrists, the Athletic Commission, and the Real Estate Appraisers. As a group, they're most of half a $million in the hole, and $85 thousand deeper than they were at the start of the fiscal year. The Real Estate Appraisers might just be a little out of joint, but the other three have huge structural imbalances and need to be fixed.

On the other end of the ledger, most of the Boards in black have sizeable balances, half a dozen in 6 figures. And the Cosmetologists; they've got a $1.3 million balance, about $60 for each of the 21,000+ licenses on file. If I had one of those, I'd be wondering why my license fee is as high as it is, and why I should be carrying LP gas dealers and Podiatrists. Ditto for the Water & Wastewater Professionals, with a balance that's $90 for each of the almost 5,000 licenses.

Quotes from the corner office Permalink to this item

Don't think I'd heard of Teresa Taylor before reading this interview with Qwest's COO. It's entertaining.

On integrating personal life and work: "everything personal and everything professional is on one calendar. I used to keep literally two separate calendars, and then wonder why I missed a few things." On what questions she asks people she's considering hiring:

"If I called three people who have worked for you, how would they describe you?" That seems rather simple, but they usually end up telling a negative story along with two good ones. I don’t know why. It’s almost like they’re afraid you’re actually going to do it.

And the question to ask at the beginning of a meeting: "Do we all know why we’re here?" Even better:

"Does everyone need to be here? If anyone feels like they want to leave right now, that would be fine."

Tax dodges Permalink to this item

It's on my mind as the year winds down to its Thursday dénouement. Here's Amazon (and its customers, most likely) dodging sales taxes in at least 14 states. A weird attack on the middle class buried in the estate tax mess foisted on us by the Republican Congress and George W. Bush: letting a few thousand of the richest off while grabbing at 70,000 of the not-so-rich.

If you're looking for your own loopholes this week, here's a list of last-minute ideas for you.

More gifts from Cassini Permalink to this item

Rings splintered by Saturn's shadow, tiny moons Helene and Epimetheus, an astounding view of Enceladus and its jets, and a view from behind the giant planet taken on Christmas Day.

One world of wonder after another from Ciclops.

When "free" means $14.95/month Permalink to this item

So much for those cute ads from freecreditreport dot com; Experian bought this "very valuable domain name" and has managed to garner 9 million subscribers for a "service" almost no one needs, hooking them with the idea of something for nothing.

The fine print on this one isn't even all that fine, and it tells you the hook will be set in 7 days. Pay attention.

The actually free alternative is available once a year (from each of the big three reporting companies, so make it one every four months if you like), because we had our government make them do it. is the legitimate "combined" portal, just in time for the post-holidays. The site is "sponsored by" Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, which you can also go to individually if you're willing to dodge their attempts to rope you in.

The FTC's got a couple of videos of their own... which they can't afford to actually broadcast the way Experian can, and to make the point that the competition's "ads can be funny, so don't be deceived," they seem to have gone out of their way to make sure their ads weren't. They're instructive. But not so funny.

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

Christmas presence Permalink to this item

Glimpse of a red-headed woodpecker Year of Plenty quotes Wendell Berry: "People who love each other need to have something they can do for each other, and it will need to be something necessary, not something frivolous. You can't carry out a relationship on the basis of Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents."

Thinking about a couple of the very thoughtful Christmas presents we received, I'm prompted to observe that there is some space between "necessary" and "frivolous." We're fortunate to have our subsistence pretty well under control and so are more in a position to help others than needing help ourselves.

But "needs" come in many shapes and sizes. With a far-flung family, we need ways to stay connected, and cards, letters, emails, pictures and telephone calls are part of how we do that. The solstice and the many cultural traditions that gather to it are a minimal reminder: if not the rest of the year, at least this once.

With more than 3 dozen books, Berry has lots more in print to think about. Here's an interview with him that ran in Sojourners Magazine in 2004.

"One of the oldest human artifacts is the trade route. People were trading in obsidian and other rare things long before history. So we know there's going to be trade, we know that you can't isolate a culture and keep it going without cultural interchange. You can't live without influence, you can't live without change, you can't live without trade."

23.Dec.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Verdict: unequivocally warming Permalink to this item

From the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level."

In listening to the alarms about the changing climate, and the skeptics who dismiss some or all of them, I've been thinking that the "news" doesn't help us sort out sense and nonsense. Henry Pollack's book, A World Without Ice explained that we do have the means for that sorting: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their assessment process and peer review is the best thing we've got going.

He also outlines the attacks on what scientific consensus we have, arrayed in four "trenches" of resistance:

  1. The instrumental record of surface temperature change was flawed;
  2. The causes of climate change were entirely natural;
  3. The consequences of climate change would be beneficial; and
  4. The economic cost of addressing climate change would not be worth the effort.

before pretty well dismantling the arguments in each of the first three trenches. Along the way, he provides a readable and reasonably comprehensive overview of earth's history and geologic basics for understanding the current discussion, and what lies ahead. There isn't much discussion of the economic cost of addressing climate change, but he does talk about the dislocations we face if we don't address it.

Can we all get together and pull in the same direction? And make decisions before they're (a) blindingly obvious, and (b) too late? Those are the big questions left to answer.

Stop this insanity Permalink to this item

The first question that springs to mind as I watch our freshman Senator, Jim Risch rail about the Health Care bill is, what does he know about "the usual way things are done in this body"?

The Republicans placed their bet: that they could stick together and Just Say No to kill whatever the Democrats came up with. You lost, and you want to know where's the outrage? Mr. Risch, I'll be happy to tell you.

I'M OUTRAGED that the "team" of Republicans in the Senate have UTTERLY ABROGATED THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to provide leadership in the Congress.

I'M OUTRAGED that you think your theatrical display of indignance is in any way useful. You've already jumped up and down and told us what you want to do: ANYTHING to kill the bill. Having failed that, you've killed your own credibility, even as you empowered a couple of self-important Senators sitting in the middle to degrade the legislative result.

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

Can't see the forest for the trees Permalink to this item

Bernd Heinrich sums up the Copenhagen summit as "a weak agreement to disagree in the future." Sounds like a sure bet. He's not the first person to express skepticism about the ability of "offsets" to solve the underlying problem of too many people burning too much fossil fuel, but he's worried about the confusion between trees as crop, and trees as components of forest ecosystems.

"[P]lanting more trees is decidedly not the same thing as saving our forests. Instead, planting trees invariably means using them as a sustainable crop, which leads not only to a continuous cycle of carbon releases, but also to the increased destruction of our natural environment...."

The delegates who created the 1997 Kyoto Protocol "decided that there would be no carbon-reduction credits for saving existing forests. Since planting new trees does get one credits, Kyoto actually created a rationale for clear-cutting old growth."

"...Never before in earth’s history have our forests been under such attack. And the global-warming folks at Copenhagen seem oblivious, buying into the corporate view of forests as an exploitable resource."

Pro and con Permalink to this item

The public option had support from 55 Senators, a majority of the House, and 70% of the American people by one count. It was opposed by Joe Lieberman. Thanks to a rule originally intended to ensure a reasonable debate on a given issue, we have an unreasonable parade of votes for cloture, instead of votes for and against bills.

Robert Creamer, on Why Senate Filibuster Rules Must Change.

Through the looking glass Permalink to this item

Morialekafa on Republican adventures in politics.

"Apparently many Americans do not understand that Republicans are their deadly enemies who want them to die and go bankrupt, presumably because the Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries have pumped so many billions of dollars into outright lies and misinformation about health care and the ability of the government to manage it."

The alternative interpretation (helpfully provided by Mike Crapo for U.S. Senate, not to be confused with Mike Crapo in the U.S. Senate) is that "this wrongheaded legislation will increase health care spending, not reduce it," by growing the government, increasing our taxes, cutting Medicare, imposing burdensome unfunded mandates on our states, and establishing extensive new government control over our health care economy.

You can sign the urgent petition declaring all that, and somehow "help Senator Crapo save America from a big mistake."

Trouble is, after you've said you're just going to vote no, no, no, and then you've voted no, no, no (and yes! let's keep debating forever!), you've pretty much given up all your negotiation leverage, not to mention the element of surprise. Not to mention your credibility when you complain that you didn't get any say in the bill.

Mix and match Permalink to this item

The recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that many Americans mix multiple faiths got some attention in the MSM. There's more in our melting pot than race and ethnicity these days. More than a third of their survey's respondents said they go to church at more than one place, with most (a quarter of the total) saying they attend services of different faiths. "Aside from when they are traveling and special events like weddings and funerals, three-in-ten Protestants attend services outside their own denomination, and one-fifth of Catholics say they sometimes attend non-Catholic services."

It was the "eastern" and "new age" beliefs that made it newsworthy, though. Well over half of those surveyed find something "other" to believe in, whether it's reincarnation, yoga as a spiritual practice, astrology, spiritual energy in mountains, trees or crystals, or that old-time favorite, the "evil eye."

UU worship in Kiabugesi (Kenya), Scott Kraft 2008 photo In a different direction, and on a different continent, the tiny seed of liberal religion has found some fertile soil; mostly as a result of Africans having contact with Unitarians in the US, but also by "Google-powered spiritual journeys." Unitarian churches have been formed in Uganda, Burundi, the Republic of the Congo, and Kampala. Scott Kraft's first person account in the summer 2009 UU World magazine reports that "the most spectacular growth has occurred in Kenya, where local leaders say sixty-eight congregations have sprouted in the Kisii province, a six-hour drive west of Nairobi. Several dozen more have emerged in Nairobi and central Kenya."

"I had never heard of Unitarian Universalism, but when he told me that it was a faith where everybody was equal in the eyes of God, I was blown away. It broke my heart. Even Hindus, Buddhists, traditional faiths. All are equal. Now we are all brought together by faith." – John K. Mbugua

Kraft was on the trip with UU President Bill Sinkford a year ago; this entry from the trip blog is interesting as well, and includes video of the opening songs and chalice lighting at a church in Kenya.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

Set your alarm for solstice
Wake up to swing around the sun
Bare trees green under bark
Trapping precious photons
Putting them to work
in service to life.
Wake up!

This is no time for hibernation,
slogging down the trail, looking at your feet.
Look up, look around. It's winter!

The 60-40 rule Permalink to this item

James Fallows and Paul Krugman are both ready to talk about the "plague" of filibusters in the Senate, blocking a lot of useful progress, and empowering individual fence-sitters such as Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman far beyond what their opinions deserve.

Fallows is teasing for his "gigantic article coming out soon in the Atlantic—long even by our standards! but interesting!—which concerns America's ability to address big public problems, compared in particular with China's. The increasing dysfunction of public institutions, notably the Senate, is a big part of this story."

Can you imagine a better poster child for increasing dysfunction than the health care reform bill? The Republicans went for all or nothing, bet on being able to sabotage any and every bill... and failed, leaving us with a ten or twenty year supply of legislative sausage.

The descent of man Permalink to this item

Winter sunlight coming through our spruce needles While we merge and mangle holiday traditions (latest: battling over which words shall be used... not that more risable news can't be had), Ross Douthat's in a twist about recycling archetypes for mass entertainment, making Nature seem more attractive than Heaven.

He might be annoyed by James Cameron making more sleighloads of cash than he ever will, with that blue-tinted "long apologia for pantheism" that came out on the weekend. "Pantheism has been Hollywood's religion of choice for a generation now," Douthat tells us, from Dances with Wolves to The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Jedi knights.

Here's the way to "numinous experience" for those "uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions" (or perhaps just struck dumb by implausible dogma). But... hold on there, bucko! We're supposed to be "half-escaped" from nature, with yearnings of immortality. Traditional monotheism is supposed to make us uncomfortable, so that we can work toward something better than nasty, brutish and short.

"This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward—or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it—a deeply tragic one.

"Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

"But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back."

Sounds like we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't, eh? It's a new variant on Pascal's wager: might as well make up a story you like to hear.

(H/t to Sadly, No!)

The new flashing 12:00 Permalink to this item

Are you being used as an advertising vector? Do the emails you send from your whizzy little portable device tell your hapless recipient what it was "sent by"?

I'm so happy for you that you have a Mapple myPhone or Farizon Crackberry or whatever, but you might want to fix that thing; it looks sort of stupid there at the end of the message you sent, quoting some long mailing list thread that served no purpose being quoted again, other than burning bandwidth.

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

Reconsidering Person of the Year Permalink to this item

Frank Rich: "If there's been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it's that most of us... have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard's megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century's history so far. That's why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade's flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy)."

The decade opened with Enron flicking California's lights on and off to get attention, as it provided "the template for the decade of successful ruses." Things went downhill from there.

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

She's leaving home Permalink to this item

Julie Fanselow's emailed press release caught my eye with the subject Leaving the Idaho Democratic Party, but it's not quite that way. She's leaving her job with the IDP, as of today (and as she'd previously announced), and so that she can return to her independent writing career.

I'm a big fan of "independent business" even though it doesn't always pay that well, and "be your own boss" may not get you the best supervisor in the world. We wish her well, and look forward to reading what she writes.

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

Hold that chortle, though Permalink to this item

The pixels were barely dry on Parker's press release (next item) when Marguerite McLaughlin, a director of The Common Interest fired a reply:

"Contrary to the Republican allegations, Keith Allred's communications with the members of The Common Interest have been well within the bounds of the law.

"In fact, we have acted with an abundance of caution in this matter. Although not required to by law, Keith Allred has resigned as President, and we are suspending the organization's activities until after the election. We are doing this to ensure that it is clear to everyone that The Common Interest, Incorporated, does not engage in political campaign activity."

Allred needed to inform TCI members of his candidacy, and to affirm that the organization "does not endorse candidates and has no party affiliations." (He even repeated that statement, so that folks like Jonathan Parker might get the message. Even with the best of intentions, we don't always succeed.)

Disappointed? He must be CHORTLING Permalink to this item

Jonathan Parker, Executive Director of the Idaho G.O.P. writes that he's "disappointed that Keith Allred would try to exploit the non-profit tax-exempt status of The Common Interest to further his own personal and partisan agenda."

You think?

He's so disappointed that he's had to file a complaint with the IRS, claiming that Allred's announcement about his candidacy for Governor violates the prohibition against "directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."

They might well have a case on that one, but confounding running for elective office and "his own personal and partisan agenda"? The Common Interest has demonstrated through its actions that it is uniquely non-partisan. Something Parker does not have clue #1 about.

If Parker succeeds in his complaint, he won't have affected Allred's campaign in any way to speak of; the relatively small membership of TCI has the news, and it's now on to the job of getting name recognition in the rest of the state. The complaint might have a big impact on TCI, though, if it loses its non-profit status. That would help neither the Republicans, nor the people of Idaho.

While Parker and his buddies at GOP HQ chortle away, Allred gets some free publicity, even if it's not the sort he'd choose.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Permalink to this item

The portions of actual time zones west of nominal boundaries The wrangling over Daylight Savings Time seems to be almost as steady an interest as the weather. You'd think it would be quiet this time of year, but no: there's plenty of news, you can even get an RSS feed of Time Zone News. Just this month, we learned that South Korea will not have daylight saving time in 2010, Russia wants to reduce the number of time zones it has, and northern Mexico's border cities are one step closer to sharing the same daylight saving schedule as the United States.

And just today, two letters to the editor (last two in the group). Roger Okins of Twin Falls wants us to be like Arizona and just say no to DST. He pithily points out that "Idaho is still on daylight saving time.... At least everyone west of Bliss is." west of the 115th meridian, where "the Pacific time zone starts."

Hey, let's all go back to solar time, we don't have to worry about railroads any more, do we? Or be like China, and have one time zone instead of five or six. (I bet Alaska and Hawai'i would love that.)

Mr. Okins is wrong about 115, though. (And since he doesn't know the right end of his meridian, I'm suspicious of his claim that "the change to and from daylight saving time contributes to heart attacks," too.) The central meridians for nominal time zones are 15° increments from Greenwich. The Mountain Time Zone's meridian is 105°W, and runs through Denver, roughly. If we played by the "rules," Pacific Time would start at 112.5°, which is about Pocatello, not Bliss. Are you itching to go an hour earlier over there in Twin Falls, Roger, or did you just want to tell us what's best for SW Idaho?

If you look at a map of the continental U.S. with its time zone meridians, you'll find that there are some big chunks of the country that are over the nominal western border, in Eastern, Central and Mountain zones. Only the tippy snip of down east Maine is over the eastern border of its zone. Then talk to Alaska, Argentina, the Yukon, France, and Spain.

Must be because we like it that way, huh? Speaking for all of the Treasure Valley, I'll say we like our double daylight savings time in the summer, too, all that sunlight late in the day when we're wide awake and can enjoy it.

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

Living in the Past Permalink to this item

The stolen bus, recovered 35 years later From long ago and far away, up pops the "beloved hippy van" that was stolen 35 years ago. Allstate is the current title holder, having paid off the Insured way back when. She can't remember what she (or they) paid for it, maybe $600? I'm thinking it must have been more because this thing is totally cherry, not quite 77-thou on the clock, original bumpers, seats, engine clean as a whistle, whitewalls, the moon hubcaps, everything. Current bid is $17,900 with Allstate sending the proceeds to charity.

You're looking at the imaginary version of the first automobile I owned, purchased the same year this baby was stolen. I can't remember how much I paid for mine either, but it had to be less than $600, given the condition it was in. Still, it made it out of Wisconsin, and around the West, and home again (on the last legs of its 4 speed tranny).

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

Now for something completely different Permalink to this item

Tool use by octopi: home, sweet, coconut. And oh by the way, who knew that octopi could run, too?

Three angles on climate(gate) Permalink to this item

Whorl in a Yosemite snag, October 2000 The Idaho Statesman ran an interesting trio of articles on global warming in its larger than usual Sunday Insight section yesterday, under the banner Who cares about 'Climategate'? They had opinion from the "left" and the "right" framing a cartoon from Steve Breen, unfortunately formatted to put its punchline under the fold: the earth is still round.

The left column was given to Glen Macdonald, a professor of Geography, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA, former Chair of Geography there, and now the Director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment, noting that while the emails stolen from climate researchers raise legitimate questions that must be addressed, the "scandal" distracts from a crucial issue.

Even in "a worst-case scenario" where the climatic records from Jones and Mann prove to be spurious, there are "hundreds of records of unusual 20th century warming from glaciers, lake and marine sediments, soil temperatures, tree rings, climate model estimates, etc., have been produced independently by many scientists in many countries."

"In the Arctic, where I have worked for 30 years, there is evidence of environmental changes in sensitive ecosystems such as lakes that appear to be unprecedented in recent millenniums. In some cases, Arctic lakes, including ones that I visited as a student, have simply disappeared. Similar temperature-related changes are occurring in many places. We've seen disappearing glaciers from Mt. Kilimanjaro to the Andes, terrestrial plant and animal species expanding their ranges to higher altitudes or latitudes, increasing abundance of tropical/subtropical plankton species off the coast of California, and on and on."

(Another story inside the section, Yellowstone a petri dish for climate change, described some of those particular observations in the 20 million acres of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.)

The right column was given to Cal Thomas, who takes the tack of his own speciality, religion, to make this a question of "who are the real flat-earthers?" to help us all figure out which "doctrine" to believe. The Washington Times ran Thomas' column under the headline The flat-head society and the Spokesman-Review ran it headlined Mockery is the last refuge, working off Thomas' epigram from Poverbs 15:12, "A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise."

Did the Statesman purposely set up such a comedic mismatch? Thomas calls down his Authority in the person of Leonard Weinstein, who "has scientific credentials no reasonable person can deny," retired from a long career at NASA, now a Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace, with 11 patents on unrelated technology and 90 publications, only the one essay from April, 2009, that comes to the fore when I searched this morning, published in a blog post with his name mistyped: Disproving The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) Problem. As Thomas puts it, Weinstein "dismantles" all the theories on which the entire AGW model is built, concluding that "there is NO real supporting evidence and much disagreeing evidence for the AGW theory as proposed," (emphasis in the "original") and

"Any reasonable scientific analysis must conclude the basic theory wrong!!"

Such a pronouncement is deeply worthy of two exclamation points, don't you think? How remarkable that a retired researcher from an unrelated discipline could boil the whole field down and see what everyone else missed.

If you're still with me, you just might be wondering about part three of the trio. That might be the most interesting angle, from James Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp. in Europe and Asia: Clean energy conservatives can embrace.

Murdoch suggests we establish "a Red-Blue-Green agenda on whose principles conservatives, Democrats and independents can all agree," roll up our sleeves and get to work, solving the inarguable problems of our dependence on (mostly foreign) oil, our lost dominance in manufacture of solar technology, high unemployment, and environmental degredation.

"You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies -- as a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and reduced costs for businesses."

12.12.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A thousand (plus) military bases Permalink to this item

Nick Turse on the Pentagon's construction project in the middle east (and around the world):

"No other great power, from the Han Chinese and the Romans to the British Empire, has ever built so many military outposts in such far-flung places."

10 minutes to better understanding Permalink to this item

Little Green Footballs offers up a 10-minute short course on the phony "scandal" known as Climategate. We're shocked, shocked to find out that the proponents of the conspiracy theory are bloviating gasbags who couldn't be bothered to do any actual due dilligence.

Well ok, not really. We kind of knew that already.

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

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize Permalink to this item

The PBS Newshour report of Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo yesterday includes a video of the whole speech. (It's also on YouTube.) It's quite a bit more interesting than the snippets and summaries we saw in the nightly news. ( has the transcript of the speech.)

Some of the crowd pans made it seem as if the audience was disinterested, or mildly hostile to the message, but in fact they were paying close attention. At the end of the speech, the enthusiastic, standing ovation lasted at least a full minute (the video didn't continue to the end of it). The first audible response was an interruption for applause, after this:

"Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend."

I think the speech did an exemplary job of stating the irreconcilable truth "that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly," and at spelling out the way forward:

"First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, [to] develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior... regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price."

We must prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

We must recognize that "only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting." It "must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want."

His closing included a deeply religious exhortation:

"Let us reach for the world that ought to be—that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls."

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

Allred ready to run for Governor Permalink to this item

I got the semi-inside tip that the Dems had a candidate for Governor lined up before news hit the blogosphere, but I'm not close enough to the real inside to have heard the person's name. I had a couple ideas, then heard (another wrong) one from someone who I thought actually knew, before seeing NewWest's scoop that it's Keith Allred. (And Eye on Boise updates that Allred has filed his initial paperwork for the run.)

Congratulations to our state for having such a high-quality candidate for its top office! I just hope that if he wins, someone else can carry on the work that Allred's Common Interest has been doing (and in which I've been participating). That organization has garnered praise from our current Governor, among others, as Kuraitis quotes:

"The Common Interest already has proven itself to be a valuable a valuable resource on issues of public policy. There is an important place in any public policy discussion for a well-researched, facts-based voice of reason. We may not always agree, but the essence of sound public policy is open discussion and constructive disagreement that leads to better ways of empowering individuals and communities to succeed."

With degrees from Stanford (in History) and UCLA (a Ph.D. in in organizational behavior and social psychology), it'll be interesting to see how Allred fares among an electorate that has show more than its share of suspicion for intellectuals. Idaho tends to be more of the "we love pretty gals who shoot moose from airplanes" type. But... he can trump the "Idaho native" by noting he's a fifth-generation native of the state, and oh, by the way

"Allred is a skier and backpacker who grew up working summers on the family cattle ranch and competes in cutting horse competitions, including two trips to national championships. He and his wife Christine have three young children."

9.12.9 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not quite there yet Permalink to this item

It's long-underwear cold again today, as I just verified by a walk over to the Library! to fetch a book I'd put on hold. (The temperature measurement was brought to mind by the fact that I didn't have my long underwear on.) On the way home, I saw something that was so remarkably stupid, it made my jaw slacken. Not stick-your-tongue-on-a-metal-railing stupid, but in the general direction: a teen-aged girl riding a bike on the sidewalk (that much was smart anyway), with no hat or helmet, no gloves, and cute pants that stopped below her knees and left her calves bare.

After I got in the door and while waiting for my glasses to unfog, the humor in the title of the book I'd just fetched struck me: A World Without Ice.

Drowning in information, starving for knowledge Permalink to this item

Fig. 4: Consumption in Words I just "consumed" another couple of MB, downloading the UC San Diego report, HMI? (How Much Information?) Roger Bohn and James Short figure that "Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day" last year, adding up to 3.6 zettabytes, or 34 GB per capita, per day. (You remember Zetta, don't you? Right after tera, peta and exa: a billion terabytes, or as they put it, a million million gigabytes.) They're including

"20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included."

Information at work is not included?!

The largest single share of "time" (42%) and "words" (45%) come from TV; the majority of bytes (55%) come from computer games. The good news is, you're not limited to 24 hours a day anymore:

"We do not adjust for double counting in our analysis. If someone is watching TV and using the computer at the same time, our data sources will record this as two hours of total information. This is consistent with most other researchers. Note, though, that this means there are theoretically more than 24 hours in an information day!"

(Tipped from the Bits blog, where "Mike's" comment provided a 1915 quote from Rutherford D. Rogers: "We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.")

Slow start, but then kaBOOM Permalink to this item

The new community college in town, College of Western Idaho, thought they'd get 1,700 students for their year-ago opening. They came up 30% short of that, but then jumped to 3,618 this semester, and almost that many registered for next, with still a month to go. Mike Butts lights up the "explosion" metaphors to talk about the enrollment growth, and the hiring the college is doing.

The story says "CWI officials expect enrollment growth to double each semester for about two years" but I'm thinking they might need another math class. From 1,200 to 3,618 is 300% growth. If they were to do that again, they'd have 11,000 students in January, and more than 30,000 next fall.

Maybe it's just enrollment they expect to double, not enrollment growth. Still, that would make for almost 30,000 students by January 2011. I don't think that's going to happen.

All in this universe Permalink to this item

Small portion of Hubble's deep view HubbleSite's headline encapsulates the story: Hubble's Deepest View of Universe Unveils Never-Before-Seen Galaxies. Peering into the far distance (and long ago), considering the plethora of galaxies... it seems a shame to be so finite ourselves, isolated in this tiny solar system out on a wing of the Milky Way, looking into the night sky through the tiniest of peepholes.

Never forget a face Permalink to this item

From I am not making this up. Have it sitting on your mantel! Personal Urns offers to build you a bust, full-sized "from just one or two photographs" in which you can keep your loved one's ashes. No, seriously. $2,600 will get 'er done, with the latest in custom personalized cremation urns, state-of-the-art 3D imaging, "made to look like anyone."

"Personal urns come with a bare scalp ready for a suitable wig, which we can provide. A plaque and nameplate are also available."

If the idea of a full-sized, life-like head hanging around to be "cherished for generations" is a bit too much, you can get the shrunken head, ¼-sized version for only $600. (Thanks to James Taranto's Best of the Web Today for that, and plenty more.)

Half that bonus, please Permalink to this item

NPR's Planet Money reports that Britain plans to impose a one-time tax of 50% on bonuses (of $40,000 or more) to bankers. The estimate is that it'll affect 20,000 bankers through April.

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

Winter all of a sudden Permalink to this item

Old goldenrod, new snow, Feb. 2002 Canada sent us one of those polar air masses, with a nice bit of powdery snow on the front end to make it slightly more pleasant. The usual first snow mêlée on the highways, more than 40 crashes.

Our new furnace's condensate drain is not prepared for this sort of thing, and I found myself thawing it out yesterday morning, again at 3:30am this morning, and then a few hours later. Our furnace people are scheduled to be here this morning, to implement plan B for a design that in retrospect was pretty much guaranteed to fail. The only questions were how soon? and how often?

Trusky's obit Permalink to this item

It's suitably literary, entertaining, and nigh on extravagant, given that you pay by the inch for these things. It covered most of two columns in today's Idaho Statesman; the online version has some shortcomings, starting with a too-wide column and no paragraph breaks, ugh. (Hello,, market opportunity?!) It also has him headlined as Anthony Trusky, rather than Anthony Thomas Trusky (as it is in print).

When I wrote my own brief remembrance on Saturday, I'd thought of Poetry in Public Places but without found reinforcement, I wasn't certain that was his baby, and had forgotten our specific patronage of that program for several years running in the 90s. (Man, there goes the memory, huh?) It just seemed like a worthy thing to support, providing artistic confrontation to the neighborhood.

Even though his obituary writer noted that he "did not put the fun in funeral," there is a memorial service planned, this Friday, Dec. 11, 4:00pm at the Hemingway Center at BSU (1819 Campus Lane, between the Special Events Center and the Liberal Arts Building).

5.Dec.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Googlegate! Permalink to this item

Sometimes, echoes of lunacy suffice. Sadly, No! brings us the RedState Trike Force expozay of teh Google, attempting to cover up ClimateGate (but failing to fully cover its tracks!).

A man of his words: Tom Trusky Permalink to this item

Tom Trusky collecting clay, from a Corinne Fuller photo We were fans of Tom Trusky for many years, started supporting his work in the BSU English Department in the heyday of cold-drill (although I see it had been going a good while before we found about it), ready to be astonished at what unexpected permutation of "book" would come out each year. (Some years after he passed the baton to others, it seems to have foundered in its 39th year.)

He went on to work on his own literary, history and film projects, Ahsahta Press, the Idaho Film Collection, the Idaho Center for the Book, and to direct the Hemingway Western Studies Center.

tipped-in taco sauce packets
Postcard from Albania
iraq in idaho

He does indeed leave behind a rich legacy. The Statesman remembrance of a life too soon ended has a brief collection of comments from friends and students, and more here from people who knew him as a teacher, mentor, friend, treasure, blithe spirit. From one:

"Tom was brilliant, sometimes difficult, always witty. I can't count the times I clicked on an email from Tom and ended up in a laughing fit. I especially loved his sign-offs: 'Relentlessly, Tom.' That was a classic." Janelle Brown

And a sample of Trusky's own writing, from "iraq in idaho," in the Winter 2008 Idaho Landscapes:

"The abandoned psychological term 'schizoid' still seems applicable to my reaction to the four tablets I held at ISHS. On the one hand, I was holding artifacts older than Christ—older than Mohammed or Moses, too. I felt oddly woozy, as though I had stumbled through some sci-fi portal or wormhole while clutching little, shaped lumps of clay about the size of big Brazil nuts in my white-gloved hand. Perhaps the reverence I felt stirring my jaded soul was peculiar to my biography? Born and raised in the American West, 'ancient' to me usually meant staring at a rusty Remington repeating rifle on display at the inevitable pioneer museum in any self-respecting western town. You know, the fire-stick said to have saved the West from savages. 1860. Kraaack!-Kraack!-Krack!"

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

You are now free to move about the country Permalink to this item

But you'll have to learn to crawl first. Woman gives birth on plane bound for Boise. There was some delay...

Go get shot, Monday Permalink to this item

Eye on Boise reports that now everyone under 65 can get a dose of the H1N1 vaccine. Check the Dept. of Health and Welfare where to get vaccinated page for your part of the state. Our CDHD for District 4's Disease du jour page doesn't have this latest news (ironically), but it does have our shot spot: the old CompUSA store on Milwaukee, across from HomeDepot, 3–6pm Mondays.

3.Dec.2009 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Harpies of the right Permalink to this item

Way back in 2001, the Republicans concocted a tax-cutting bill that combined a reasonable adjustment to the estate tax with an unreasonable and fiscally irresponsible elimination of it, but balanced, hey! with a "sunset" provision to "pretend like nothing happened" in 2011. Did they know they'd have screwed things up so badly that they'd be in the minority by the time it came to fix the damage?

It was oh so cute, they called it "the death tax" and goaded the rabble to rally for rich people. And... they're back! Jonathan Parker, Executive Director of Idaho's GOP is jumping up and down. "Walt Minnick Votes for Death Tax!" his email subject screams. "Not even trying to hide support for tax hikes."

This would be the tax "hike" between next year's one-year abolition and this year's $3.5 million exemption. As contrasted with the tax reduction between the back-to-$1 million exemption we'd be going to in 2011 if we stayed with the Republican plan.

I don't know, is this too complicated? Has no one been paying attention? Parker sets a new low with this.

As with so many of the messes the Republicans created and left for someone else to clean up, if they have something constructive to offer, this would be the time to do it. If all they have is nonsense to contribute, their time out will continue.

Making a mint (with something useful) Permalink to this item

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountain west, taken from an airplane I started using Quicken in 1991, and have bought a new version roughly on the same schedule as getting new computers—on my 5th now? It's been more about paying for maintenance than significant functional improvement. Mostly the changes are annoying.

Since we upgraded to Q09 a year ago, I wasn't likely to pay attention to any upgrade notices, but this article about Aaron Patzer and his upstart financial offering, gave me something new to think about. It gave Intuit something to think about as well: they bought him out, and put him in charge of both Mint and Quicken's desktop, online and mobile products.

Patzer says the 2010 version of Quicken is "vastly improved" over the old version, according to the story. (What else would he say about it?) But the product that Intuit tried to pre-empt, and then bought is maybe more interesting.

Q. How exactly do you monetize Mint?

A. makes its money by helping identify savings opportunities for users.... We find better interest rates on checking, savings and CDs; lower interest rates on your credit cards, or more rewards if you pay them off in full; investment and I.R.A. options based on your unique financial profile, and a new auto insurance savings engine that lets you know how much above or below the average for your ZIP code you're paying for coverage.... If you sign up for a new account via, we get paid a referral fee.

Pay for performance, that's a good thing. The interview also provides amusing tidbits about the culture clash between a startup and a corporate giant:

Q. Are there parts of corporate culture that you find strange?

A. The corporate campus seems so quiet. A start-up is overflowing with energy. Here it's a little more subdued. They've got these high, very depressing cubicles.

If I wanted a new computer or had some IT issue at Mint, I just walked to the tech ops team and they would get me set up in a couple of minutes. At Intuit, being a big company, you call the help desk, and the help desk has been outsourced to some foreign country—I can't place the accent. They really have no idea of where you are or what your needs are. It's the standard phone service when you get sent to a foreign country, but this is an internal help desk. It's a real pain. I expressed this to one of my Quicken colleagues and he said, 'Yeah, we just never call the help desk. Don't bother, here's who you need to call to skirt around the system...' I thought, that's sort of dumb in a bureaucratic way.

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

How much compromise is too much? Permalink to this item

Budget, bailouts, war therapy, health care reform mangled by special interests pulling it hither and yon, Barbara Ehrenreich on TomDispatch: Not So Pretty in Pink. (Or as he headlined it, "Welcome to the Women's Movement 2.0.")

"When the Stupak anti-choice amendment passed, and so entered the health reform bill, no congressional representative stood up on the floor of the House to recount how access to abortion had saved her life or her family's well-being. And where were the tea-baggers when we needed them? If anything represents the true danger of 'government involvement' in health care, it's a health reform bill that—if the Senate enacts something similar—will snatch away all but the wealthiest women's right to choose."

Creepy, comic, Canadian Permalink to this item

The Olympics... NOT Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman had no idea the 2010 Winter Games were a worthy topic for discussion when she went to Vancouver to give a talk at the public library. The Border Patrol demanded to know what she was going to talk about, to see her "notes," and to look through her vehicle and her companions' computers. It makes for quite a story now.

Sara Robinson laments the "ugly shadow side of Canada's famous uber-politeness: a visceral terror of noisy public outburst of any kind that runs deep enough to totally obscure the rather bright line between honest free speech and terrorism."

Time-honored practice Permalink to this item

From John Burns' take on the Afghanistan strategy:

"One worried Afghan voice on the BBC this morning was that of Ali Ahmad Jalali, an Afghan-American who served as interior minister in Mr. Karzai's government for 20 months in 2003-2005, and lately a visiting professor at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Mr. Jalali, a colonel in the Afghan army 30 years ago, and later a member of the armed resistance against the Soviet invasion, said that it was a time-honored practice among Afghan fighters to wait out invading armies.

"All Afghan rebellions have had the same strategy, that is to wait out the other side," he said.

They do of course live there.

Burns has a lot of personal experience in the region, and I respect his opinion. His take on Obama's speech: "It was an impressive speech, for the clarity and sense of authority with which Mr. Obama set out the extraordinarily difficult mix of issues confronting the United States and its allies in the war." That's the good news. The bad news:

"...Obama may have chosen an inherently unworkable compromise between the poles of opinion on the war: that it is currently being lost for a lack of enough troops and an effective military strategy[, and] it is ultimately unwinnable regardless of any sustainable troop increase, making an early withdrawal the only realistic choice....

"As a means of reconciling the conflicting points of view among his own most senior advisers—indeed, as a means of satisfying the poles of American and world opinion, and threading a way between a range of inhibiting options—the compromise has unarguable appeal. But as a strategy for prevailing in the war, it could, I fear, prove fatally unrealistic."

You can't go home again Permalink to this item

Snow on our neighbors' fence With all the whining about bureaucracy in this country, we sometimes lose site of how good we have it. (Just as I used to worry more about air quality in this country before our visit to China.) Still, this report about the problems "repats" have back in India is about the half-full glass. (If 34% found it difficult to return... 2/3rds didn't, eh.)

"India can seem to have a fairly ambiguous and chaotic way of working, but it works," Ms. Bansal said. "I've heard people say things like 'It is so inefficient or it is so unprofessional.'" She said it was more constructive to just accept customs as being different.

That reminds me of the affirmation a couple of our friends who went on a foreign assignment in Italy had: "It's not good, it's not bad, it's just different." But hard to get used to.

Don't miss the punchline in the last three paragraphs of Heather Timmons' piece.

The reality of D.C. society Permalink to this item

When you read an op-ed columnist for a while, you get a sense of his or her expertise, blind spots, favorite things, and so on. Every once in a while the perfect topic for a particular writer comes along, and it's a juicy curveball that hangs over the plate a moment too long. Ka-WHACK! and it's headed out of the park and into orbit. Such is Maureen Dowd and the saga of the Salahis.

"Because even the outrage over the fakers is fake. The capital has turned up its nose at the tacky trompe l'oeil Virginia horse-country socialites: a faux Redskins cheerleader and a faux successful businessman auditioning for a 'reality' show by feigning a White House invitation.

"Yet Washington has always been a town full of poseurs, arrivistes, fame-seekers, cheaters and camera hogs."

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

Racism, in black and white Permalink to this item

Excerpt of NYT graphic, link to the original Imagine having to bleach your culture out of your résumé. That's what Johnny Williams and Barry Sykes have done, hoping to at least get past the screening process. But that's only the first step in the job hunt...

"Mr. Williams recently applied to a Dallas money management firm that had posted a position with top business schools. The hiring manager had seemed ecstatic to hear from him, telling him they had trouble getting people from prestigious business schools to move to the area.... [Williams has an MBA from the University of Chicago.]

"But when Mr. Williams later met two men from the firm for lunch, he said they appeared stunned when he strolled up to introduce himself.

"“Their eyes kind of hit the ceiling a bit,” he said. “It was kind of quiet for about 45 seconds.”"

The confidence that right makes might Permalink to this item

After the lead-up, after the news had been anticipated, pre-debated, rolled out to the military first, and then dribbled to the press, the Obama's address was somewhat anticlimactic. Giving it at West Point, while criticised by some as political theater seemed completely appropriate to me. I appreciated the near-complete absence of interruption in a complex and important speech about a profoundly serious matter.

"[W]e must draw on the strength of our values—for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values by living them at home—which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America's authority...."

The decision will be criticized from both the right and the left, I imagine. Obama made it sound careful, measured, appropriate, mature. Let's hope that's not just skill at oratory, and that we can figure out how to be the first foreign power that can claim victory in Afghanistan.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 02-Jan-2010 16:41:28 MST