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31.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yeah it's bad; it could be a lot worse Permalink to this item

Paul Krugman: Curbing your enthusiasm. "Why does the Obama administration keep looking for love in all the wrong places? Why does it go out of its way to alienate its friends, while wooing people who will never waver in their hatred?"

I can just imagine them all spewing their latté at the idea of Obama being "centrist and conventional" isn't going to sell much of whatever it is they're selling over on Fox and Friends. Boring! We're wrapping up our 9th year of all-terror, all the time, still fighting a couple of foreign wars, and hiding under the bed from wave after wave of illegal aliens. Centrist does not register.

I don't see any way around the fall elections being a referendum on the economy, though. Given that, the Republicans job #1 is to prevent anything useful from happening in D.C. Unfortunately, it's a strategy with inertia solidly behind it. You don't even have to actively obstruct much, really. The steady stream of press releases and disinformation will cover it.

New Republican plan to sink Social Security Permalink to this item

The House minority leader is floating a new Republican proposal to "fix" Social Security: raising the retirement age to 70. Given how many people are struggling to keep their jobs through their 40s and 50s, it's a sort of reverse pie-in-the-sky idea on the one hand, but more directly, it's a big, fat benefits cut; pushing retirement out three years amounts to a 20% cut in benefits.

The "just keep working for an extra 3 years" plan also doesn't line up with the corporate plan, calling all the productivity gains "profit," and restructuring jobs away even as revenue goes up.

30.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Race between the 19th and 21st century Permalink to this item

Joel Kennedy's got an interesting take on the ID-01 race between incumbent Democrat Rep. Walt Minnick and Republican Raul Labrador. Imagining Idaho as a bellwhether is not particularly easy for me, any more than I can buy into the silly "is what America was" that some people like to trot out when it suits them. But it could happen, and we do have a contest between a middle-of-the-road conservative (that's the incumbent) and a challenger who's trying to stake out the extreme right in a state that leans right.

Yesterday's sycophancy from Labrador, singing the praises of "visionary leader" Michelle Bachman fits in with the popular anti-Washington theme, but the idea of John Boehner being an improvement over Nancy Pelosi? I suppose if you're waiting for 30 second ads late in the campaign to decide how to vote, anything is possible.

Joel cross-posted to 43rd State Blues if you want a different flavor of comments than the submariners offer.

29.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Come Sunday: Appleseed Project Permalink to this item

Mattathias Schwartz' piece in the next NYT Magazine: Firing Line.

"The Appleseed Project appeals to a broad constituency, one whose edges blur into the N.R.A. at one end and into violent militias like the Hutaree, nine of whose members were indicted in March for conspiracy to murder, at the other end. Notices of Appleseed shoots appear regularly on militia Web sites. Dailey argues that outreach like this attracts radical anger and then moderates it."

Just makin' stuff up Permalink to this item

If you keep saying it over and over, eventually it becomes true, right? Paul Krugman: Tax Cut Truthiness.

28.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is it Biblical yet? Permalink to this item

When we visited China in November, 2003, the Three Gorges dam and the Yangtze river were on the itinerary. Back then, the dam was still under construction, and the reservoir being filled (toward a revised higher level of 179m above sea level). Still, in the presentation by one of the river boat tour guides about the engineering of the dam, he explained that the goal of flood control was unlikely to be fully realized. The Yangtze is just too big. (And in the long-term, it has too much silt coming into the river upstream for the reservoir's capacity to be maintained.)

Hearing about dramatic flooding on the news tonight, I looked for a story, and found this, on Bloomberg's site, from a couple days ago.

"Water at the Three Gorges may flow at 56,000 cubic meters per second on July 28, the fastest rate since the July 20 record speed of 70,000 cubic meters per second, the operator said. The dam released water today, lowering its reservoir’s water level to 156.79 meters as of 1 p.m. local time to gird for the expected rush of water, China Three Gorges Corp. said in a statement."

We measure river flow in cubic feet per second over here, and the biggest rivers in my neighborhood get into 6 figures when they're raging in the spring, approaching 200,000 cfs at the extreme. The mighty Columbia maximum flow (according to whoever filled in the number on Wikipedia) is over a million cfs. 70,000 m3/s is two-and-a-half million cfs. Astounding.

From another world Permalink to this item

Thanks to whoever it was on Facebook that sent me to look at Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 on the Denver Post's photo blog. Fantastic and powerful stuff.

Two from Idaho in there. A couple of favorites: #47, the C&NW Proviso yard at twilight; #53, Mrs. Viola Sievers, one of the wipers at the roundhouse giving a giant "H" class locomotive a bath of live steam.

1 MW = 1 Super Wal-Mart Permalink to this item

That's the tidbit that caught my eye in the story about wind power driving the growing use of batteries. Large-scale power generation has two big challenges: being available at all times, and keeping supply and demand precisely matched. Energy storage is one major component between customers on "the grid" and variably available sources such as wind and solar. Hawai'i makes a great laboratory for figuring out how to make this stuff work: lots of wind, sun, demand, and no neighbors available to balance the load.

"[O]ne of Hawaii's best wind sites... is gusty and erratic. What is more, it is at the farthest point on the island from the company's main load center, Honolulu, and does not even lie on its high-voltage transmission backbone. So the 30-megawatt wind farm, which will have enough power to run about 30 Super Wal-Marts, will have Xtreme Power of Austin, Tex., install a 15-megawatt battery...."

(How else might you store power? Pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheels... all mentioned in the article. Bloom Box fuel cells and giant capacitors weren't.)

Now then, what is a "15 MW battery"? When you go to the store to buy batteries they come by (physical) size, mostly, and voltage, but that's standardized so you don't have to care, much. 1.5V for AAA, AA, A, C, D (what happened to B?)... and different capacities, measured in amp-hours. Decent NiMH AA rechargeables have 2500 mAh capacity, which, if you could drain 'em right down, would be 2.5 mAh x 1.5 V = 3.75 Wh. Amp-hours (at some voltage) gives Watt-hours. That's not the same as power (in Watts), or current (in Amps).

If the Amp-hour rating is based on the current a battery can deliver for 20 hours, the power available at that rate of discharge would be its capacity (in Ah) divided by 20 (h) times its voltage. So not quite 0.2W for one of those 2500 mAh AA cells. Xtreme Power of Austin, Texas, is presumably not using 80 million AA cells for their 15MW battery, but it would be just like that.

Figure 5 or 6 million AA cells to keep a Super Wal-Mart lit up. For a day.

27.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A conversation on race Permalink to this item

The Facebook tip to this keyed off Cynic's comment, "We don't need a conversation about race. We need an education." All the same, the comments following Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay at the Atlantic make for an interesting conversation.

TR (and Sanders) on taxing estates Permalink to this item

Teddy Roosevelt, as quoted by Senator Bernie Sanders, the longest-serving independent in the history of the US Congress, in The Nation:

"The absence of effective state, and, especially, national restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.... Therefore, I believe in a... graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate."

The death tax has taken a holiday this year, if you're looking to dodge the tax man, you know what to do. On the other hand, Sanders has a different plan, with the Responsible Estate Tax Act (S.3533):

"This legislation would raise $318 billion over the next decade by establishing a graduated inheritance tax on estates over $3.5 million retroactive to this year. This bill ensures that the wealthiest 0.3 percent of Americans pays their fair share of estate taxes, while making sure that 99.7 percent of Americans never have to pay a dime when they lose a loved one. It also makes certain that the overwhelming majority of family farmers and small businesses never have to pay an estate tax."

Ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more Permalink to this item

It's a catchy domain name, and subheading: Escape from Cubicle Nation, from Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur. But Pamela Slim must be too busy with the coaching, training, speaking, to keep steady posts going, so she's not game for my blogroll, I think. Also "corporate prisoner" seems a bit over the top (unless of course you actually are currently incarcerated by America's Leader in Partnership Corrections).

Top of the blog right now is how not to get old, jealous and bitter once you are famous, as inspired by Robert Plant, who's staying in touch with the root of his passion by reviving his Band of Joy band (name).

26.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Purely noteworthy Permalink to this item

Folklorists are an irreverent lot, operating out of the assumption that we humans, all of us, like to clump up with those who share our delusions. Religious beliefs and other forms of piety are just one more source of mockery for these heretics. In everyday society they aren't marginalized to the degree you might expect because they are hard to spot. They prefer to pass unnoticed, smiling and nodding, then slipping off to record what you just said about your in-laws or other adversaries....

(Read the rest of Jeanette's essay, fresh on the home page.)

Let's go sailing! Permalink to this item

Looks like Tony Hayward is getting his life back, and a £600,000 a year pension to boot. That ought to keep his boat bobbing.

IRS offers amnesty Permalink to this item

They didn't use the A-word, called it a one-time special filing relief prgram for small charities. If your tax-exempt organization didn't file its required returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009, here's your chance to get right with The Man. Submit your return (which could be as simple as an e-Postcard) by October 15, and they'll let bygones be bygones.

Not sure where you stand? They've posted the tax ID numbers, names and addresses of more than 321,000 organizations that missed their return due dates between May 17 and October 15 for the last three years running. 1,557 of them are in Idaho.

The dead end of corn ethanol Permalink to this item

Mearns, 2008,, The Net Energy Cliff One of the three authors of a paper published in the journal Environment, Development, and Sustainability has posted the essence of the argument in the "net energy" section of The Oil Drum: New Perspectives on the Energy Return on (Energy) Investment (EROI) of Corn Ethanol.

Lots of interesting detail in their meta-error analysis, spatial analysis of the return in more than a thousand counties in the U.S., sensitivity analysis and looking at biorefinery production "to assess how much net energy was delivered to society by ethanol in 2009." Their conclusion:

"[T]he EROI of corn ethanol is statistically inseparable from one energy unit returned per energy unit invested, and it is likely that much of our ethanol production is acting as an energy sink, requiring more energy for production than that contained in the ethanol product."

My emphasis. In other words, it's a break-even proposition at best, a make-work program for the Corn Belt that's mining the soil of the Great Plains, and, in many western counties, the water of the Ogallala aquifer.

What are the odds? Permalink to this item

This Time is Different cover Gloomy morning after a warm night, gathering clouds didn't resolve themselves into a thunderstorm and get it over with. The forecast is for this to carry on a few days. So I started reading the book I just picked up from our local library, This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, and I'm impressed with the Table of Contents expanded to six pages, then three pages listing Tables, five pages for the list of Figures, and one more page of Boxes, before I reach the Preface. Where is this book going?

"Our aim here is to be expansive, systematic, and quantitative: our empirical analysis covers sixty-six countires over nearly eight centuries. Many important books have been written about the history of international finacial crises,1 perhaps the most famous of which Kindleberger's 1989 book Manias, Panics and Crashes.2 [Now in its 5th edition, 2005] By and large, however, these earlier works take an essentially narrative approach, fortified by sparse data."

I'd checked out the Kindleberger book last week, and it had failed to hold my interest, rambling over various panics (and so on) that I'd never or barely heard of without really working up to an interesting story about them. "They're all the same, really" just doesn't make for a compelling read after a while.

But there in this preface, page xxviii, I'm distracted by this, their explanation of why we need a wider historical view to see the big patterns, to see "an event that was rare in [a] twenty-five year span [that] may not be all that rare when placed in a longer historical context":

"After all, a researcher stands only a one-in-four chance of observing a 'hundred-year flood' in twenty-five years' worth of data."

Is that right? Seems too simple an answer for something that has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. I work out my own calculations, eventually checked my work against Wikipedia, and see there's a relatively simple formula that amounts to the probability that the singular event doesn't happen, for N years running. 1 – 0.9925 is 22.2%, a good bit less than 1 in 4 which would make their point stronger, if it hadn't already detracted from it by their tossing off a simple, and wrong, statistical non-calculation.

When you get flooded out, the odds no longer matter, and you might be motivated to go back and check the assumptions underlying that formula: year-to-year events are independent, come from the same, and a constant probability distribution. The question of "Stationarity" seems of the essence, whether we're handicapping floods or financial folly. The book title is supposed to be ironic after all: this time it isn't different, really. "Our basic message is simple: We have been here before."

Yes and no. We'll see.

23.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Vroom vroom Permalink to this item

Hybrid owners enjoy "stealth mode" as the antithesis of old style car culture: rather than a bad muffler and a throaty rumble, our sports cars go super-secret when the battery pack is topped up and the demand is low (such as neighborhood streets) or non-existent (stopped in traffic). Nothing, or nothing but tire noise and the gentle whine of an electric motor is surprisingly quiet compared to "regular" cars.

One element of safe driving therefore includes recognizing that you might not be heard when navigating a parking lot or side street, and being a little more careful to watch for pedestrians or cyclists that don't know we're coming. Not everyone is comfortable relying on hybrid driver's suitable caution, however. The National Federation of the Blind has been working on making cars noiser for a decade and a half now. But is there actually a good reason to do that?

Some limited data and a report from the NHTSA suggested a hazard. But another look at the data suggests we don't actually know. And a look at proposed fixes suggests we don't actually have a good way to regulate a "fix." If there is a problem to fix, that is.

21.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One vote off the Party line Permalink to this item

Interesting account from Dana Milbank of the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote to report the nomination of Elena Kagan as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to the Senate for consideration, with just one of the Republican members, Lindsay Graham, standing apart. The contempt—and thereby the contemptibility—of Senators Kyl, Cornyn, and Coburn is also reported, as they let the ranking member cast their "No" vote "by proxy," even as at least two of them were in the room.

Maybe they can tell you're a dog Permalink to this item

The nice thing about being a blogger is that you can't be fired, I guess. Instigating one scandal after another is all publicity, all good, even if you continue to foment in the wrong direction. But will Shirley Sherrod get her job back? Maybe.

It's just so much easier to find a minute or two that can go viral than it is to consider five or fifteen minutes (let alone a day or two) of context. Expect more of teh crazy.

Update: WH apologized, SecAg offered her another job. That was quick.

Wherever you are Permalink to this item

Columbine, and iris. 2010 Tipped by a Facebook friend, I was delighted by the clever collection of photos in the rundown of 15 digital point and shoot cameras used by pros, but then my eyes glazed over a little bit. Is there really no way to name cameras other than by mashing letters and numbers together arbitrarily? And shouldn't this be about the cameras rather than particularly wonderful photos? I mean, "I want a camera that can take that photo," that doesn't make any sense. (But still, nice photo!)

The tradeoff is pretty simple: something small enough and handy enough that you always carry it with you, or not. It seems inevitable to me that the "handy enough" part means it has to be a phone, too, and indeed, a raft of the "winners" use iPhones. (And hmm, no other phone? Do all pros use iPhones, or is it that none would admit to using some other phone? Surely there are other phones with good P&S cameras in them?)

One pro says "the beauty of the iPhone is it is simplistic." And the next one says "I have a bunch of iPhone apps to adjust the images on the go," and lists a baker's dozen (including "Hipstamatic," and the undoubtedly useful "Best Camera." Oo, and "Camera Genius"). But it's Randy Santos who provides the most attractive text, a small poem:

Just have it with you -
Beauty is all around Us
Art is Wherever you Are

19.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thermostasis Permalink to this item

Our semi-automatic air conditioning worked perfectly again last night: all windows open and a small fan to pull in cool night air, the house is down to 70°F and ready for another sunny run into the 90s.

Having just replaced our attic fan, I got to thinking about all the other thermostats in the house. A desktop computer has 2 or 3 these days for variable speed fans (power supply, CPU, GPU), and laptops must have at least 2. Laser printer, DVR, clothes dryer, hair dryer, oven, refrigerator/freezer, water heater, furnace, the A/C unit we hardly ever use, the attic fan... and "the thermostat" that controls the furnace and A/C. Somewhere north of 20.

18.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Three Cups of Tea meet DOD Permalink to this item

Elisabeth Bumiller in yesterday's NYT: Unlikely tutor giving military Afghan advice, thanks to their wives encouraging them to read Greg Mortenson's book.

The proxy push poll, framing the deficit Permalink to this item

The National Republican Senatorial Committee does actually have 2 straight questions out of the 6: which of the following are your first and second choice for the GOP presidential nomination? I guess they're all eager to know, even though the 2012 campaign has to be a little ways off, doesn't it? Tough choice, even if I wanted to queer the deal by making the worst possible picks; those are the people the GOP seems to like!

But before we get to that, they'd like to know if I think voters in my area are waking up to the real cost of letting Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi wreck this nation with Obamacare, "stimulus" packages, and big government takeovers? Yes, no, or unsure?

Do I support the efforts of Republicans in Congress to work for free-market solutions to Healthcare Reform and Energy independence without raising taxes?

And while you're worrying about all that, you can watch the national debt whiz upward, the thousands digits flipping by too fast to follow. The debt per citizen is slightly less alarming: they had to include hundredths of cents to show some movement. $42,814 as I write, pennies more by the time you see it.

The "all debt, all the time" message seems to have a lot of dog days traction, even though the unwashed masses care a lot more about their own debts, and mostly about getting or keeping a job (or three). David Broder is comforted by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and its charge to deliver "a package to Congress for the promised up-or-down vote in December."

Safely after the midterm election, which will be decided, as Ezra Klein describes by the economy. Yet again. (Expect Idaho to be at least a week late, which is how long it took our Statesman to pick up Klein's piece.)

"We made one graph comparing the share of the vote the incumbent party got with the change in the deficit that it had presided over. It looked as if we'd spilled a bag of dots onto a piece of paper. The next graph plotted vote share against change in real disposable income. The line showing a correlation fit perfectly—more perfectly, in fact, than I'd anticipated."

But the paper has the "let's talk about the debt" theme in hand, framing Broder's column under a bold headline of RED INK NATION, with a page-high graphic from the Dallas Morning News showing projections out to 2065.

Snippet of Morgan Stanley's 80-year debt graph The 55-year deep-water drilling projection might distract you from the mountainous line graph that is perhaps the more interesting part of the U.S Treasury Bureau data. Household debt has reached about 100% of GDP. Business debt is slightly smaller, but about the same scale. And the indebtedness of "domestic financial sectors" exceeds GDP. This is the "leverage strategy" of "banks, insurance companies and investment houses," used to "grow their businesses throughout the last decade." Our non-government debt is more than three times GDP, and the "debt held by the public" and "government accounts" are just pink frosting on a luscious layer cake of debt. Cue Pogo.

(Here's a less dramatic view that shows how the our debts (scaled to GDP) stack up against 13 other countries. And a more neutrally colored Morgan Stanley report from March, 2009, "Economy + Internet Trends," showing the breakdown of U.S. Total Credit Market Debt at 350% of GDP as of 2008. That report is not all about debt, by the way, and quite interesting. "We are undergoing the greatest media transformation in history." Among other things.)

But for the next few months, the larger question is one of national defense. If the minority party's interest is served by having the economy in as bad shape as possible come November, how do we avoid the sabotage and terrorism that we should expect as their game plan from now until election day? The first step seems to be to ignore the incessant noise about the wrong parameter. It's not the deficit, stupid. We've got a National Commission looking after that. (That must be why the GOP voted against it after they were for it.) It's about getting back to work, and hopefully doing something useful.

17.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Weapons of persuasion: feedback and a smiley Permalink to this item

OPOWER's smiley O Here's a clever idea: "creating a sustainable future by empowering people to make smarter decisions about their energy use." Whether or not they realize that's what they're doing.

OPOWER is a software company that is totally up to date on buzzwords. You can get "proactive engagement" with your customers, "targeted messaging," and "usage analytics." Their "Insight Engine" provides usage disaggregation, tip targeting and customer segmentation, and integrated normative messaging.

But the plum in the pudding is the applied behavioral science. Of all the possible motivations for reducing electricity usage, doing better than one's neighbors turned out to be the most effective. But what if you're already doing better than they are?

"Homes using less, however, began to let their use creep up toward the average. Cialdini feared the two effects would neutralize each other. So he decided to target the below-average energy users with a special message.

"'When we sent them the message saying you're doing better than your neighbors, we put a smiley face emoticon next to their score,' he said. 'And that kept them down below what any of their neighbors were doing.'"

The Empire strikes back Permalink to this item

If you're a millionaire black actor convicted of misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns for three years, you could go to jail for three years. If you're a dapper, middle-aged white guy from a small town in north Idaho who sues the federal government to "prove" that the federal income tax is unconstitutional (sorry), doesn't pay your taxes for years, puts assets in trusts to "shield" them from tax collectors, habitually pays taxes late, and pockets the money he's supposedly withholding for his employees' taxes... why, you could be a member of the Idaho Legislature, and serve on the House Revenue and Taxation committee.

Still, you might want to line up a good lawyer (as Hart did), and take heed of the Notice before you order a copy of the 3rd Edition of Constitutional Income: Do you Have Any?

"The reader should realize that defending one's rights is risky, especially against big government. The right to pursue happiness has been denied to many Americans who have found themselves destitute after entanglements with the tax collector. How the reader uses the information in this book, either directly or indirectly, is not the responsibility of the author."

(Today's blog post headline brought to you by Christopher Bass of Spokane, attempting to argue Hart's tax case for him—and sing the praises of "a great proponent of Constitutional freedom and liberty"—on The Daily Paul. Not to be confused with the more somber Daily Pall site, I guess. You can vote on the Hart question at Polldaddy where the court of public opinion currently gives better than 2 to 1 odds he's "a tax dodger hiding behind principles" rather than "a principled man." You be the judge!)

16.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Homework Permalink to this item

The old attic fan motor, after close to 50 years, maybe The old attic fan started squealing a couple days ago, one of its bearings going south. In the last couple years, I'd had a thought from time to time that I should probably replace that thing before it failed, because it would certainly fail on a really hot day, and it would be most unpleasant to have to work on it then. It's been spinning the heat out of the attic for at least 26 years, and perhaps the whole life of the house, now closing in on 50 years. Heck of a motor!

Well. It wasn't a really hot day, as it turns out, it was a rather pleasant one, just in the 70s and a cool breeze following an unlikely cold front in July. I tried switching the fan off, and then back on (you know, the way we "fix" computers); no help. But then it did stop squealing a little while later, on its own. That's nice. Then it started again. And stopped. Time to replace.

I climbed up into the attic, looked at the patient, took some reference pictures, headed off to Grover's. "What you're going to do," the guy said, "is buy this new unit, and take the motor of it." He was sensitive to my complaint that I didn't want or need all that sheet metal, but they don't stock replacement motors (even though the OEM—Ventamatic—is not only still in business, Grover is selling their current product line), and who would, anyway, if they last for multiple decades?

I took a look at Home Depot's offering (same concept, without the knowledgeable technical help), went back to Grover and spent the money. I waited to start messing around with the thing until the evening when things had cooled off and I wouldn't be in the sun, but then I didn't quite get the job done, after a bit of modification to make the new mounting work with the old jack, and because the (now brittle and deteriorating plastic) cap wasn't going on easily, and once I did get the bolts in, the fan was hitting the screen between the roof jack and the cap. Darkness falls, I punt for the day, the solution occurs to me: put it together roofside, then go in the attic and push the screen out, as needed.

That kind of worked, but every so often the vibration gets it to start interfering again, makes a horrid racket. Today, I worked on it up on the roof one more time (that cap is really falling apart now), got it running free again, hopefully with the interference fixed for a longer while. The new model (CX1000 AM, Grover is smart enough not to sell the plastic cap "budget" model) has the screen on the outside of the roof jack, duh. One of these days when I feel like doing some roofing, I think I'll go back and replace the jack and cap, as I should've just done from the get go.

15.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The party of ideas Permalink to this item

Who says Republicans don't have any fresh ideas? Not only do they have ideas, they can cover both sides of most arguments! Jill Lawrence runs down seven things Republicans were for, before they were against them.

The GOP balooon boy rises again Permalink to this item

Rod Beck is not so much "party boss" as indefatigable gadfly. Or maybe horsefly, more in keeping with local flavor. The Idaho Statesman gave him ink for a Reader's View, whinging about the media and the "Democrat [sic] Party," those "fellow travelers" who have been making fun of his team's recent performance at the GOP (or should I say Republic Party) convention last month.

Dustin Hurst over at Wayne Hoffman's Idaho Reporter is on a bit of a roller coaster ride with Beck pushing: since he was the one who said the demanded statement of adherence "amounted to a loyalty oath," that makes him a "willing instrument in the media," criticizing the eminently criticizable Mr. Beck.

"If it wasn't completely clear to you that the 'legacy' media is the official mouthpiece for progressives and statists, aka Democrats, it should be now," Beck wrote.

Meaning... wuh? "Statist" is code for something, I'm sure. Those who support the federal government over rugged individualism? It can't be "state" as in "state of Idaho," because not only are we supposed to support that, we want to put more power in the state's hands, at the expense of the people. That 17th Amendment thing:

One state senator, Shirley McKague, a Republican from Meridian, said repeal is the right way to go. "I totally agree with repealing the 17th Amendment," said McKague. "We are a republic, and the Legislature is the voice of the people of the state, and, therefore, the senator should listen to the state of Idaho's position and that's why our Founding Fathers put it that way."

And of course "progressives" are the new "liberals," according to Glenn Beck, I think it is. That's going to be a tougher semantic sales job though. "Progressive" just sounds so wholesome and positive. You're not against progress, are you Rod?

Oh, right. Sorry I asked.

Bastille Day, 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, this guy is cracking me up Permalink to this item

I've added Ceglowski to the blog roll after enjoying his latest post on Idle Words: Mission: Burfjord.

"Later on I will stand in one of these stores in front of a pyramid of Coke Zero bottles and consider the fact that a whole infrastructure exists for bringing this substance of no nutritional value from wherever it's bottled in Europe up to a place like this. I happen to love Coke Zero and whatever cyclopyrimidines or butylated phenols give it its weird fake sweetness, but seeing it stacked in quantity after coming off an island where everything has to be carried in by hand gives me pause. I feel like the Burfjord grocery store will someday form part of a sanctimonious diorama about the folly of late-period humanity in someone's well-meaning, sustainably-built museum or alien terrarium, and the thought fills me with irritation in advance. I buy a large bottle of the stuff as my way of shaking a fist at the future."

And more about that remote cabin up in Norway.

The quiet giant in e-obits Permalink to this item

Hawthorne's grave in Sleepy Hollow, Concord Mass. Maciej Ceglowski's Idle Words blog is an old-school model of the form, from its understated presentation, to its cheerful closing Threat. Just a tiny miswiring at the New York Times (as in "we forgot to tell you how much this was going to cost") gave motivation for The Great Swindle, examining the business that is sucking up the oxygen in the lucrative market for obituaries.

"When you are mourning someone, any automated reminder about their death from a website that wants your money is going to cause what you might call a negative customer experience. It doesn't matter whether you entitle it 'A gentle reminder from' or 'DEAD FRIEND'S NAME IN ALL CAPS Guest Book' (although guess which one they went with)."

For as artfully written as the story is, he didn't think all the way through the business. This is hardly "clutching at any revenue stream"; obits have long been one of the most reliable sources of income in a business which is desperate to hold whatever territory it can. If they're smart about it, will fix their mistakes (as the update shows they did with the worst one at the NYT) and share enough of the revenue stream to keep the hosts alive, and feeding them business.

That won't protect them from some other "vulture" putting them out of business, though. Facebook springs to mind as the most likely giant to take charge. Hundreds of millions of people think of it as the first place to look for and stay in touch with friends. On the internet, no one knows you're a corpse! If Samuel Clemens can go to press with his autobiography as a hundred year-old stiff, why should I have to give up my friends just because I'm dead?

(Facebook has contemplated death, in fact. Accounts are "memorialized," which sounds like going read-only. And they'll last until... "the expressed wishes of an immediate family member of the deceased user" pops up. Rather pre-emptive, and subject to post-mortem squabbling. And where's the revenue stream?)

13.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Narrow chinks of his cavern Permalink to this item

Drawing is seeing. We see what we're looking for. We select people like ourselves, for friends, confidants, advice, coworkers. We accept facts that reinforce our beliefs, and reject the ones that don't fit. One of many ways this plays out: what you believe about climate change depends on your worldview.

The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School studies "how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs." And I suppose their studies reinforce what they already believe? But you be the judge of that.

The headline comes from the less memorable half of the quote from William Blake that gave Aldous Huxley a book title, and Jim Morrison the name for his musical combo:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

12.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Chinese Coal Monster Permalink to this item

Coal terminal, Yangtze R., Nov. 2003 That's Euan Mearns' headline for his post on The Oil Drum: Europe, showing China's share of global coal consumption rising from 10% in the 1960s, to nearly half today. Their production more or less matches their consumption, both of which are rapidly increasing. From the second comment following:

"This post totally explains why China stonewalled at Copenhagen. THEY KNEW THAT THEY HAD NO HOPE OF CONTROLLING [GREENHOUSE GASES]. Goodbye 350 [ppm CO2] Wishful thinking."

Our 2003 trip to China had an underlying (so to speak) coal theme, starting with the foul yellow air in Shanghai where we first landed, and following its shipping along the Yangtze River through the heart of the country. It put the US's Clean Air Act in a completely different context. Boise has "bad" air when vehicle exhaust and smoke from things burning accumulate in the summer heat, but our handful of worst days each year seemed "normal" on the other side of the Pacific, 7 years ago now. China's production and consumption were "only" a third of the world's total then.

Bad habits? Permalink to this item

I hadn't connected the dots between my past and burqas until reading Martha Nussbaum's interesting Opinionator piece today. Talking about efforts to ban the Muslim dress for women in various countries of Europe, she notes that "in Germany (as in parts of Belgium and the Netherlands) some regions forbid public school teachers to wear it on the job, although nuns and priests are permitted to teach in full habit."

I started my elementary school career under the tutelage of the always-habited Sister Robert Mary, the year before the Second Vatican Council started. By the time I was done at Holy Family, so were the black and white costumes of the Dominican Order, the ones that inevitably brought forth penguin jokes.

But it's a serious issue, and Nussbaum's thoughtful analysis of how we should respect individual dignity and the freedom of conscience in matters of religious beliefs and observances, describing—and dismissing—five arguments made in favor of proposed bans is well worth reading.

Larger than life, from the G20 to the Lochsa Permalink to this item

The protests against the G20 pretty much don't make the news until the gangs in black start breaking things and setting them on fire. But there is an alternate point of view, isn't there?

Thanks for asking. Here's Naomi Klein with 20 minutes of speaking truth to power, including a lament for the utter lack of leadership on the issue of climate change from Toronto and the G20 summit:

"And all those promises they made about climate change, we can't afford that anymore, because apparently we can only talk about climate change at this summit if it's the kind of action on climate change that increases economic growth.

"There is no action on climate change that increases economic growth, especially here in Canada, where the only action on climate change that matters is shutting down the crime scene they call the Alberta tar sands."

Yes, those same Alberta tar sands creating a demand to move hundreds of larger-than-highway loads up the Lochsa and over Lolo Pass. More on that from George Prentice, in the Boise Weekly, reporting on the public "hearings" Exxon/Mobil/Imperial held around north Idaho to assure the natives that there's nothing to worry about. "Traffic [will] not be delayed more than 15 minutes; $10.6 million impact to Idaho's economy in the form of temporary jobs, hotel rooms and meals," and don't forget the $1,000 per oversized load fee the Idaho Transportation Department gets to collect.

There are two more days to read the ITD's version of the story, and send them your comments (ah, try rather than their broken hyperlink), and an online petition to consider.

Update 13.July:
The ITD replied, saying they're "compiling questions [they receive], and will be posting them to an Internet page, along with responses." And since they're "continuing to work with ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips to put together a thorough, detailed plan on how equipment would be moved from the Port of Lewiston into Montana," it's pretty much a done deal that they're going up US 12. How else would you get to Montana from Lewiston, eh.

Whoops, did I say that out loud? Permalink to this item

The last decade has been more about a tax-centric economic theory than the job-centric approach Andy Grove advocates. And here it is time to decide on what to do at the "sunset" of the huge tax reductions that were passed at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration, before you-know-what, and everything went pear-shaped, but we continued to "give back the surplus." What a surprise that a decade worth of deficit spending led to a ballooning debt.

Now then, what shall we do? Here's one idea: lower tax rates on the rich, and raise them on the poor. Free the capitalists to trickle down on us! That always works. It's a no-brainer.

9.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Escaping the Hive Mind Permalink to this item

Fareed Zakaria proposes to do the heavy lifting for you, so you can just swing in the hammock and take the summer off, without having to worry about who's greedier than thou or what the captains of industry have on their minds.

But his list of unnamed CEO kibitzers apparently did not include Intel co-founder Andy Grove, who has his own prescription to heal what ails us: "Long term, we need a job-centric economic theory—and job-centric political leadership—to guide our plans and actions." He's working from his own experience:

"I fled Hungary as a young man in 1956 to come to the U.S. Growing up in the Soviet bloc, I witnessed first-hand the perils of both government overreach and a stratified population. Most Americans probably aren’t aware that there was a time in this country when tanks and cavalry were massed on Pennsylvania Avenue to chase away the unemployed. It was 1932; thousands of jobless veterans were demonstrating outside the White House. Soldiers with fixed bayonets and live ammunition moved in on them, and herded them away from the White House. In America! Unemployment is corrosive. If what I’m suggesting sounds protectionist, so be it."

What he's suggesting is "to rebuild our industrial commons" with financial incentives for creating jobs in this country, rather than wherever unnamed CEOs can see their way to maximizing profits. What a concept!

(H/t to Randy Stapilus for the pointer to Grove's piece.)

7.7.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Party poopers Permalink to this item

"They were looking for something that was upbeat and positive," said State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, talking about the Bonner County fair board, and their choice of the slightly circular theme of "Fiesta at the Fair" for the Fair.

Oh, and isn't that some sort of foreign word, too? The Bonner County Republican Central Committee wants to make it very, very clear that they don't like the idea of foreign words at their Fair.

Seriously? Seriously.

The BCRCC Chairman (and a County Commissioner to boot) wrote a letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer... to express solidarity? Well, to ask for a handout, at least:

"The Republicans at BCRCC want to make it very clear that English is our primary language, and call our booths ‘Celebrate!’ and display some Arizona license plates if you have some to spare."

It's 11pm. Do you know where your bits have been? Permalink to this item

Web anonymity, no one knows you're a dog, trusted identity, big brother, single sign-on, blah, blah, blah, then this:

"We're now seeing attacks on the Internet's plumbing," said Rodney Joffe, senior technologist at Neustar, an Internet infrastructure firm. "If you get control of the plumbing there are lots of things you can do because the plumbing was never designed for a world where there is a lack of trust."

The essential plumbing components are the routers, which direct traffic on computer networks. Operators of these routers—mostly private companies—share instructions with each other on how to direct that traffic. They trust the information is accurate. But at least three times this year, a substantial fraction of the global network's messages were mis-routed through China, potentially opening millions of users to spying or tampering. Chinese Internet engineers say the misroutings were mistakes; other engineers are not so sure.

It's one thing to have all our data streams monitored in secret rooms by the NSA, but China?! Makes Google driving around and picking up Wi-Fi packets seem like small potatoes. What do you suppose China's best and brightest are doing with a few terabytes (or whatever it was) that they "accidentally" acquired via a configuration error on a Border Gateway Protocol router?

Update: a reader sends an email recommendation for the book by Richard A. Clarke and Rober Knake, Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, along with the provocative question "Did you know that most routers are made in China?" Most computers, too.

Here's Clarke on Fresh Air (including an excerpt from the book), and Wired dismissing the book as file under fiction, in April.

6.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A failure of imagination Permalink to this item

Chipseal garden, 5 years before its time is up Maybe I've still got a chip in my forehead from that time I fell out of the car in front of our house, leaning over to check if the door was closed. (Not quite.) But when the Ada County Highway District runs its advertising to announce that bad news that Its that time of year again!, it gets under my skin, and not because they left out the apostrophe.

I came home from a longer bike ride than I've been making of late on Sunday, and my hands and arms were tingling a little. They actually had a buzz on for an hour after the ride, thanks to the ubiquitously coarse gravel-in-tar concoction that ACHD insists is "the best value for the tax-paying public." Their sales pitch is one for the annals of great marketing, the chapter featuring the sadists:

"ACHD likes to compare chipsealing to a trip to the dentist. Like dental checkups, chipsealing is uncomfortable but necessary. Duck the dentist and suffer cavities. Avoid preventative road-maintenance and suffer potholes and early road failures...."

(Only so much room for copy in a print ad; they've got a brochure, a video, maps of the 9-year rotation and more of their totally convincing arguments on their website.)

The only problem with their argument is that chipsealing is early road failure by design. It's an utter failure from the moment they lay it down, never quite sequestering the tar, nor the gravel (a jobs program for the windshield repair folks?), and the theory of it "sealing" is laughable nonsense. Not that I want them to do it more often than the 9-year cycle, but the stuff gets cracked, leaks, and starts sprouting weeds in year 2.

The video extolling the "tremendous economical savings" tells us "the most important thing it prolly does for the roads is it, it seals the pavement..."

A short walk around the neighborhood today turned up plenty of photogenic counterexamples, in chipseal that's 5 years away from its refurb date. I guess the good news is we could start a street garden if we wanted to?

4.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The overdraft protection racket Permalink to this item

It seems the Feds have put a stop to this, or at least a kink in it: banks now have to be slightly more up front about what they're doing, and get your explicit permission to sign you up for this incredible deal. "Recent federal regulation changes affect how banks administer overdrafts and assess overdraft fees" our bank writes to us. Because they had to.

The "standard overdraft services" that come with our checking account are that they authorize and pay overdrafts on checks, automatic bill payments and other transactions using the checking account number, but they'll only do that on ATM and debit card transactions with our consent. (Because the new regulations require them to get our consent, of course.)

In any event, they'll pay overdrafts "at their discretion." No guarantee. Maybe nice to have, though? Maybe not. Check out the charges:

We're pretty good at keeping our balance positive, but anyone on the edge could get pushed over, and then have their heads held under until they drown with this kind of "service."

Note the half-measure in the new regs, too: they're required to get consent for ATM and debit card transactions, but not for checks and automatic bill payments. Consumer protection, meet political compromise.

Update: I hadn't seen the two useful stories in Saturday's paper when I wrote this; I was just working off the notice our bank sent regarding our checking account, and the opportunity to opt-in to ATM and debit card overdraft fees. One of them had an estimate of the revenue from (all) bank fees: $37 billion last year. The other enumerated the "other" fees you can still be charged, and how much they've increased.

3.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Farming ain't what it used to be Permalink to this item

Thanks to Jill Kuraitis at NewWest for a short summary of, and a pointer to the interesting report from Colorado College, State of the Rockies Report Card: Agriculture in the Rockies. (The whole thing is a 10+ MB PDF, for a beautiful document well worth the download. That link to has smaller chunks as well.)

The short short summary is that employment in farming and forestry, which peaked at more than a third of the population of the Rocky Mountain states 90 years ago, is now down to just 1% in the region. (It's slightly higher in Idaho: 3%.)

2.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Everything you need to know about Kagan's confirmation hearings Permalink to this item

Tidily assembled by the folks at The Daily Show, and aired last night.

1.July 2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Road hogs Permalink to this item

One of the stupendous 300 ton loads When I rode my bike up U.S. 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa, my rig and I weighed in at something under 200 pounds, a couple feet wide, five high, and five long. Compare that to the proposed traffic for equipment to process Alberta's tar sands: 6 times higher, a dozen times wider, 40 times longer, and 3,000 times more massive. And 207 of them. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that?

"The manager of Radio Free Moscow asked how the mega-loads will negotiate the narrow and curvy highway, which runs 174 miles from Lewiston to Lolo Pass. The Idaho transportation official seemed confident that it could be done safely, but local residents, who have made their own measurements, are dubious. More than half the modules are 24 feet wide but the highway is 23 feet at its widest, which means that they will extend dangerously beyond the fog lines on both sides."

According to Nick Gier's piece on NewWest (or the full PDF on his own site), the Idaho Transportation Department is accepting public comments (comments at through July 14, but after a couple years of planning, and great reluctance to hold any hearings, a change of plans seems unlikely.

Pork sausage Permalink to this item

We desperately needed health care insurance reform, but the interests of sabotage outweighed those for something genuinely useful. The need for financial reform was just as desperate and even more immediate, and once again... we've got the talking points for both sides (We passed reform! The reform they passed sucks!), and something slightly stinky that doesn't get the job done.

"It would be a huge mistake to pass a bill that purports to re-regulate the financial industry but is simply too weak to protect people from the recklessness of Wall Street.... False security is no security at all."

The Idaho GOP platform Permalink to this item

Thanks to Randy Stapilus for the pointer to the draft amendments, posted on Talking Points Memo. The party hasn't updated the document on their website from the 2008 edition.

As Shawn Vestal puts it, it's "a platform that would make the John Birch Society proud." It may help outsiders to understand where the Idaho Republican party is these days to know that most of them would not dispute that assessment, nor see it as criticism. Some might take exception to the "bunch of new, woefully silly planks," but "lock[ing] the state into a political time warp"? It's of the essence. Proposed insertion to item 4 under "State Legislature":

"It has now come about, that the accumulated usurpations by the Federal Government of Idaho's state sovereignty has reached a point of complete intolerance."

Secession? Revolution? Something more than just abolishing the Federal Reserve, going back to using gold and silver currency, instituting a party loyalty oath, and repealing the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They're also poised to "battle the scourge of transgendered people getting married." The state? Of Idaho?

"I often think of the anti-government fervor when I visit my family in southern Idaho. Gigantic dairy farms fill the desert there, having fled California's strict regulatory environment. All that freedom—you can smell it everywhere you go. It's actually kind of stifling."

Then the truly astounding call for Vern Bisterfelt, winner of the Republican primary contest for Ada Co. Commissioner, to give it up, because he's not Republican enough. Seriously.

Update: Dustin Hurst provides a first-person account of the GOP convention wrap-up for Idaho Reporter, naming two of the architects of the continuing shift of the Party into looney extremism: Rep. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home, and "GOP insider" Rod Beck, the driving force behind the attempt to close Idaho's primaries.

My pick for Friday night: Four Shillings Short Permalink to this item

Four Shillings Short Acclaimed San Fransciso duo Christy Martin and Aodh Óg Ó Tuama, a.k.a. Four Shillings Short, in a lovely outdoor setting in Garden City. Indian ragas, Celtic airs and more, singing and playing dozens of instruments the sitar to the Renaissance crumhorn. Tickets $10 at the door, Friday, July 2nd, 7 p.m., 6200 N. Garrett (north of Chinden at Maple Grove). Doors open at 6pm, bring a picnic dinner and enjoy a delightful evening of music from around the world.

First Thursday blog-a-rama Permalink to this item

Since TreasuredValley has got out of the habit of its daily local linkfest, and since I'm still struggling to catch up with all the news I missed while going out of town for 5 days, here goes.

The Johnson Post: Remembering Robert Byrd. (Marc's in stride with one thoughtful post a day; Tuesday's Room for Borah and Wednesday's Google to the Rescue are worthwhile, too.)

IdaBlue: Can we be done now please?

Tomorrow: Sensible liberalism in the age of Obama, now featuring Chuckles the Sensible Woodchuck

John Brown Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, Version 2.0: June 28-29, for the next time you've got a couple spare hours to spend following interesting insights and a professional blog-a-rama.

Atanu Dey: Use the phonetic alphabet, OSS car KEY loh?

Dennis Mansfield: i48 Film Festival; consider... a short film about (summer) reading.

James Fallows: The heartbreaking truth about flying cars

Projo Subterranean Homepage News: Bad fiction winner with one, truly awful sentence.

Ok, wow, that was a completely disjointed perambulation to nowhere in particular. Welcome to July!


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 01-Aug-2010 15:34:27 MDT