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

Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite Permalink to this item

I don't know where I first heard that, but in my mind's ear, it's in my sister's voice, so maybe from her. I've said it on occasion, even though I've never seen, or been bitten by a bedbug, to my knowledge.

News is, this scourge that might as well be a myth as far as my experience goes, is making a pretty serious comeback after being beat down with DDT, malathion, diazinon, lindane, chlordane and dichlorovos, by turns. Back in the 1950s, "mattresses were sprayed, DDT dust was sprinkled into the sheets, nurseries were lined with DDT-impregnated wallpaper."

Aye carumba! This chemical warfare even though the annoying little bugs haven't been shown to transmit any of the many diseases they very well might, if they were like other bloodsucking insects, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, fleas, tsetse flies or kissing bugs.

The new plan is for people to "be aware, but not panicky." Even though you really can't feel them bite (bug people say). The aware scientists are said to "routinely pull apart beds and even headboards when they check into hotels," and keep luggage in the bathroom or heat treat it when they get home.

The secret backroom deals Permalink to this item

I see these press releases from the Idaho Republican Party, and I'm wondering who on earth is supposed to be the audience? Today's has Jonathan Parker quoting Norm Semanko complaining about Congressman Walt Minnick having "smuggled [House majority leader Steny] Hoyer in for secret meetings with fundraisers they would not identify and from which the media was barred, rais[ing] troubling character questions."

Speaking of character questions!

It reminds me of Dick Cheney's stealth visits to Idaho to boost the local GOP back in 2005 and 2006. Larry Craig's 60th birthday, yeah, those were the days.

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

An unlikely preacher Permalink to this item

Following the link from the New York Times account of Glenn Beck's church picnic on Saturday to the video excerpt on MSNBC (and after muting and ignoring the 30 second ad that preceeds the rather brief selection (not quite 3 minutes), I was struck by how pedestrian his writing and speaking is. The mixed metaphors (will we be crushed by our scars?) thud and distract from a remarkably bland message.

That's when they don't just flat-out boggle the mind, such as his promoting of the rally as "the Woodstock of this generation."

Beck has the energy and tone and style of preacherly exhortation, but in a venue and for an event where he had to put the knob back on and turn it below "crazy", there doesn't seem to be a lot of there there. "God" drew the most reliable applause from the "overwhelmingly white and largely middle-aged crowd," but it's the demons and conspiracy theories that have made Glenn Beck a celebrity.

Even with big screens and big loudspeakers, it's not easy to entertain 87,000 people (or "more than a million" if you prefer Michelle Bachman's version of reality). It's not in-the-dark-of-your-den and up-close-and-personal the way TV works best.

Without an altar call, we can't tell how many people were moved by Beck's command to start today on a new path, to restore America, to "turn back to God." I suspect quite a few felt they personally had not turned away, but we'll just have to wait and see. By their works ye shall know them.

Beck said it wasn't about politics, riiiiight. Just in case turning back to God and restoring America's honor buys the Republicans a house of Congress, brace yourself for the witch-hunt that is sure to follow.

Wonderful Life Permalink to this item

I intended to put the presentation I gave about Stephen Jay Gould's book, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History and several of the responses to it shortly after I'd given it in December 2008, but I didn't get around to it for some reason.

One of the email lists I inhabit has been busy of late with discussion about evolution and creation, and when cladistics came up, it seemed like I ought to get around to sharing. So, there. Kind of an interesting (but I would think that, wouldn't I?) nexus of the realms of popular science, evolution denial, the technical details of how the work of science is done, and interesting stories about some fascinating fossils left by strange creatures gone before.

"Gould has ample detractors among his peers, in addition to the other-wordly Creationists. His storytelling and scientific description is confounded with his own interpretations of what the evidence tells us about the story of evolution, and a preference for iconoclasm that has not stood up as well as you might believe from his own account."

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

Puppetry Permalink to this item

Barry Blitt's cartoon accompanying today's column by Frank Rich, The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party sums it up with a quarter million pixels (most of them white, appropriately enough).

"Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government 'handouts' to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly)."

The longer treatise that has brought fat cats David and Charles Koch into the limelight is Jane Mayer's article in The New Yorker, Covert Operations. With a combined fortune just shy of Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's, and as the sons and heirs of one of the original members of the John Birch Society,

"The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests....

"Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a 'kingpin of climate science denial'... Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus."

Bioinspiration Permalink to this item

It's hard not to be charmed and fascinated by geckoes the first time you experience them. Taking the next step, here are some mechanical engineers applying the biology of the little green climbers to make Stickybots, climbing robots.

I happened to take a class from Mark Cutkosky (mentioned, but not featured in the news story, in favor of his grad students) when I was at Stanford, but the "RobotWorld" we worked with two decades ago was nowhere near as interesting as this. It was massive, clunky, and definitely not flying, climbing or running. Cutkosky's Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab just sounds like toyland for M.E. geeks. And even better: why should robots have all the fun?

"The team's new project involves scaling up the material for humans. A technology called Z-Man, which would allow humans to climb with gecko adhesive, is in the works."

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

Look who invented the internet now Permalink to this item

Refurbed my seldom-updated (these days) Patent Watch, and added a current item: Paul Allen's Interval Licensing LLC is suing a long list of internet/technology corps for (allegedly) infringing 4 key patents (out of a portfolio of several hundreds) by "making and using websites." And stuff.

Coming to a courthouse near you? Permalink to this item

The George W. Bush-tipped Supreme Court is primed for another Ten Commandments case to bubble up and to decide 5-4 in favor this time that yeah, sure, Thou Shalt Not Worship Any Graven Images. And when you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. And stuff.

"...Foundations of American Law and Government displays have basically gone viral, popping up all over the place in the five years since the court's ruling in the McCreary County case. The South Carolina Legislature enacted a law to permit the Foundations display to be erected 'in a visible, public location in the public buildings of this state and its political subdivisions.' Any such display 'must include' a description of the Ten Commandments as the Kentucky counties described them, as 'the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.'"

I'm surprised the Idaho legislature hasn't taken up the tablets on this one.

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

Standing by for Glenn Beck in D.C. Permalink to this item

The Washington Post offers a photoessay to put tomorrow's to-do in context, however it may turn out. The captions point out that the National Park Service excused itself from the business of crowd estimation way back when there was a "Million Man March" that organizers wanted to be 1.5 to 2 million people, but that the Park Police estimated at 400,000, and Louis Farrakhan threatened to sue over that estimate.

It was a big crowd in October 1995, to be sure. (See photo #14.) "ABC-TV funded researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd size to be 837,000, plus or minus 20 percent," or ±167,000 people.

"Estimating the size of a crowd requires aerial photographs, dimensions of the gathering space, and a calculation of the crowd's density," WaPo observes.

Tomorrow's crowd may be exceptionally dense, I don't know. Gold is also very dense, so maybe the crowd will be persuaded by Glenn Beck's advertisers (and the Law of Gravity) to buy some gold.

Can Beck match the "several hundred thousand" protesters against the idea of going to war in Iraq in January, 2003, or the more and bigger protests held around the world a month later? Or the 2 to 300,000 that heard Martin Luther King speak 47 years ago tomorrow?

What'll they think of next? Permalink to this item

Sooner or later, I'll learn to just ignore calls with Incomplete data showing on the caller ID, but sometimes those are from people I want to talk to, just a dropped bit or something. This afternoon's started with a woman asking for me by name, and I said


There was a pause. Did she not hear me? I adjusted the microphone boom and said it again, a little louder. The voice on the other end launched into a non-profit identification and spiel and something was a bit off. Was it the same voice I'd hear initially? Or was that first thing a robovoice and this a live person... or was this a robot?

"Is this a recording?" I asked, interrupting.

"No, you're speaking to a person, but I'm using a computer for quality control purposes," she said. That gave me a moment's pause, wondering what exactly that meant, and how you could use a computer to make a person's voice sound real, but not "live," before I came to my senses and ended the call.

A charity I never heard of, cold calling for a contribution? No. Sorry. We don't do that at this number.

Growth anemia Permalink to this item

UK quarterly economic growth graph (excerpt), from the The eagerly awaited financial news is out, and the headline is... U.S. Economy Slowed to 1.6% Pace in 2nd Quarter. By which of course the writer means that the U.S. economy sped up by growing 1.6% in the second quarter. This growth wasn't as fast as expected, or hoped, or previously estimated, so that's slower growth, but still a "faster" economy.

If you're following the derivative, it's a bad trend all the same: +5% in Q4 2009, +3.7% in Q1, now +1.6% in Q2. Bigger, sure, but we want more, more, more!

"[Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke] also indicated that the Fed would be willing to resume large purchases of longer-term debt if the economy worsened. Such moves could have the effect of lowering mortgage rates. Although rates are already at historic lows, economists suggest that lower rates could eventually spur some home-buying or at least refinancing, which gives households more cash to spend."

Across the pond, the UK's pleased that their economy grew more than first thought, 1.2% (versus an initial estimate of 1.1%). For them, "that was the fastest rate of quarterly expansion recorded since the first three months of 2001," to say nothing of a damn sight better than the last couple of years. They're happy with their smaller number, we're unhappy because we expect more?

Nope: the market (as we say) is happy today. Major indices up more than a percent and a half, regaining some of what was lost in the midweek slip and slide.

But Paul Krugman's not happy: "We need about 2.5 percent growth just to keep unemployment from rising, and much faster growth to bring it significantly down."

Read, write, invert, add, divide and converse... Permalink to this item

all at the same time. That was Mr. Harry Kahne's stage show, as apparently reported in Strand Magazine in October, 1925. The pictures aren't up to today's blog standards, but it's a fun story to open up the discussion about multitasking. I don't have any personal motivation to do six things at once, but it does make me think about how often I'm doing more than one thing. More than two? That's harder to come up with personal examples, but I'm sure there are some. Walk, chew bubble gum, and... something. Carry on a conversation.

Am I actually multitasking, or multislicing? How much does it matter?

If you want to develop your own talents, there are exercises at the bottom of that long page on

Thanks for the link to a fortboise reader with a vaguely familiar name who may himself undertake kindness, anagrams, palindromes, synchronicity, and serendipity simultaneously, I don't know, responding to that "two things (but not three) at once" link down there in your brain on gadgets.

Now for something completely different Permalink to this item

Here's a challenge: watch this guy's "contact juggling" without having your mouth fall open in amazement. I was ready to drop a bill in his hat, but my folded feelings don't reach all the way to Tokyo.

Thanks to one of my musical Facebook buddies for the tip!

Edge of disaster Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan: Building a Nation of Know-nothings. Willful ignorance is a luxury, on the one hand, and a form of disease on the other. Its ubiquity in our culture at present speaks to the vast wealth we enjoy, and the nature of parasitism.

It reduces cultural capacity for productivity, if not survival. In times of stress, its toxic effects multiply.

Coral reefs do it, why can't we? Permalink to this item

A bit of email serendipity sent me to the world of technology this morning, to learn about 50 years of the oil field (a slide show that's gone mildly viral as a 4MB PDF) and then this company called Calera, working on an idea to employ the "waste" (heat, and molecules) in flue gas to make cement.

"The Calera Mineralization via Aqueous Precipitation (MAP) process captures massive volumes of carbon dioxide and other emissions, such as SOx, acid gases, and mercury, and converts the emissions into sustainable building materials and water that meet or exceed industry performance standards. The overall process is not just carbon neutral; it is carbon negative due to the offset of the avoided carbon emissions at the cement plant."

At least one smart guy with a ton of money thinks this is brilliant, a "hugely simple idea" that's "stunning in its scope and impact." And they've got one heck of a catchy logo to go with their technology vision: "green cement for a blue planet."

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

Ken Mehlman's gay? Meh Permalink to this item

Just another brick in the wall of inevitability of same-sex marriage, to find out that the guy running George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, and then the Republican Party is gay, and pretty much nobody cares, much. The president of the Family Research Council concludes that this explains everything, even if it doesn't, and that the conservative movement needs the Republican Party to "[remain] committed to its longtime stance on core social issues." But that's yet another Republican Party losing proposition.

Ok, that's embarrassing Permalink to this item

Deputy dog at Boise Junior College Athletics (that's what the sign says) cuts off channel 7's coverage of... a press conference with the highest paid public employee in the state, Broncos coach Chris Peterson (a.k.a. "Coach Pete")?!

I care so remarkably little about the local phootball phenomena I normally wouldn't notice any of this, but this is now kind of interesting. Do the local media, who feed off BSU's athletic program, have a right to cover the program, which feeds off local (and national) media? Pass the popcorn!

25.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The fault line between Christianity and Islam Permalink to this item

That's what author Eliza Griswold calls the 10th parallel in her new book, describing her experiences in Sudan.

Part of the experience involved travelling with Franklin Graham, son and proselytizing heir of the famous preacher Billy Graham (and George Bush's "personal pastor"). I found this part of Terry Gross's interview with Griswold the most disturbing:

Gross: [W]hen Franklin Graham, who is perceived in the United States by a lot of people as very extreme, when he goes to a place like Sudan, establishes hospitals there, meets with the president, is he seen as representative of what Americans believe?

Griswold: Very, very much so.

Inside job Permalink to this item

The problem with salmonella in eggs is that the dang hen has it, and she's putting the bacteria inside the egg. It's not (just) about washing the outside. So, can we fix the problem at the source? I was gobsmacked to learn that yes we can, and in fact, farmers in Britain already have.

"Faced with a crisis more than a decade ago in which thousands of people were sickened from salmonella in infected eggs, farmers in Britain began vaccinating their hens against the bacteria. That simple but decisive step virtually wiped out the health threat."

Our FDA wasn't so sure, and they decided not to require vaccination, something the story says "would cost less than a penny per dozen eggs." Illnesses traced to bad eggs in England and Wales went from 14,771 in 1997, to 581 last year, a 96% reduction. They don't require it over there either, but estimate that 90% of farmers are doing it (versus "one-half to two-thirds" here).

(no pun intended) Permalink to this item

Did I say that out loud? You're writing along and you come up with a turn of phrase and then recognize a pun in it. Ha ha! You didn't mean to make a little joke, but there it is. And you wanted to share that gosh, look what happened to me, a pun fell in my lap.

But maybe you secretly did intend the wordplay. How can we be sure? Take your word for it? You might have fooled yourself, too. Anyway, was it a good pun (with the "other" meaning relevant, and perhaps illuminating, as well as amusing), or a bad one (distracting and not funny)?

Now that you've explained yourself, whatever humor might have been on tap has been pretty much drained away. Here's an idea: you want a little pun, go with the joke. You don't want a pun, rewrite the sentence. Either way, don't distract from your point by bringing up your intention.

There, I feel better now, how 'bout you?

You get what you pay for Permalink to this item

We pay a lot for highways, not nearly so much for mass transit. Since 1956, governments at all levels have invested nine times more capital in highways than in transit. See here: Why our railways suck (in two graphs). An inevitable question about gasoline taxes was the first comment, and the second an answer (with my emphasis):

"Currently, the fuel and other excise taxes are bringing in about $32-35 billion to the feds, of which a fraction is sent to public transit. However, as you can see in the first graph, road SPENDING is over $40 billion. So any amount of the fuel taxes which are diverted to public transit are more than offset by even larger infusions from the general fund.

"State spending is partially fuel taxes and license/registration fees, local spending is almost entirely property or income taxes. Overall, about 50% of road funding is covered by fuel taxes, excise taxes, or fees. The other half come from general taxes. Oddly, about the same proportion of public transit spending is brought in at the fair box. So roads are actually just as 'public' as 'public transit.'"

Science isn't like opinions Permalink to this item

Cover image of 'Merchants of Doubt' by Oreskes and Conway Everybody does not have a science. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming has a generous teaser on AlterNet, Global Warming Deniers Aren't "Experts" At All: It's Time for a New View of Science.

"Research produces evidence, which in time may settle the question (as it did as continental drift evolved into plate tectonics, which became established geological theory in the early 1970s). After that point, there are no 'sides.' There is simply accepted scientific knowledge. There may still be questions that remain unanswered—to which scientists then turn their attention—but for the question that has been answered, there is simply the consensus of expert opinion on that particular matter. That is what scientific knowledge is.

"Most people don’t understand this. If we read an article in the newspaper presenting two opposing viewpoints, we assume both have validity, and we think it would be wrong to shut one side down. But often one side is represented only by a single 'expert'—or as we saw in our story—one or two. When it came to global warming, we saw how the views of Seitz, Singer, Nierenberg, and a handful of others were juxtaposed against the collective wisdom of the entire IPCC, an organization that encompasses the views and work of thousands of climate scientists around the globe—men and women of diverse nationality, temperament, and political persuasion. This leads to another important point: that modern science is a collective enterprise"

24.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Judge says no go to US 12 megaloads Permalink to this item

Breaking news from the Lewiston Tribune Online: Judge John Bradbury denies the issuing of a permit for the first wave of bigger-than-the-highway loads going from the Port of Lewiston to Lolo Pass.

The point of law that Bradbury's decision tipped on, at least from the spare facts in the news story, is that Idaho Code specifies that road-blocking, oversized loads have to allow traffic to pass every 10 minutes, while ITD had written their permits for up to 15 minutes.

Update: longer story from the Spokesman-Review, and the text of Bradbury's ruling.

This is your brain on gadgets Permalink to this item

When will someone who can actually sit still and concentrate for extended periods of time be treated as the aberration, and hyperactivity be the norm? Or is that a silly question, and we've already jumped that shark in the age of ADHD? What would you expect when we all hook up to the World Wide Web and start consuming hypertext—you are what you eat.

Terry Gross interviews Matt Richtel, one of the authors for the Your Brain on Computers NYT series. Of course I multitasked while I listened to the streaming audio. Like I'm just going to sit still for 38 minutes?

When he got to the part about scientists have proven that we can't really multitask, I just laughed and kept editing the document I was working on. (Normally when I listen to the radio, I'm in the car... and yes, multitasking there, too. Oh, here: you can do two things at once, but not more than two. I actually know that feeling!)

I remember something about a "vacation" in the interview, too. Should be at least three days, ungadgeted. Good idea. I'll get back to you on that. (Actually, I did have one of those earlier this month, that backpacking trip in the Selkirks. I remember the weird feeling that first night when it was too early to go to sleep, but the light was fading, and there was "nothing to do.")

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

The important principle Permalink to this item

Good for U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—and we, the people, if we can accept the truth of what he has to say—for identifying the very nut of what's wrong with the anti-mosque position: "the presence of a mosque is only inappropriate near ground zero if we unfairly associate Muslim Americans with the atrocities of the foreign al-Qaidaterrorists who attacked our nation."

"Some have also argued that the construction of the mosque would hand a propaganda victory to Osama bin Laden. I think the opposite is true. Al-Qaida justifies its murder by painting America as a nation at war with Islam. Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans' place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida's ideology of hate and division. We strengthen America by distinguishing, clearly and unequivocally, between our al-Qaida enemy and our Muslim neighbors."

Thanks to Sisyphus on 43rd State Blues for the tip.

The Bush era tax cuts, revisited Permalink to this item

Where does the time go? Almost 10 years later, just like that. The question kicked down the road by the 2001 Congress when they made the decision to divvy up a budget surplus—a surplus!—is back: should we let those tax cuts that could only be passed with a sunset provision actually sunset, or what?

The Tax Policy Center figures that "the price of extending all of the [2001 and 2003] tax cuts is steep; full extension would contribute $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years."

Divvying up the tax cut pie There are a number of nice graphs in the report by Adam Looney, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, The Debate over Expiring Tax Cuts: What about the Deficit? But they don't have this one, a pie chart (using their tabulated estimates) showing the tax benefit to four subgroups of taxpayers. The 149+ million taxpayers at the bottom stand to get that thin, thin, thin slice that works out to an average of eight cents each. The 4½ million taxpayers in the 95-99th percentile get to divvy up $4 bil, a useful $1,000-ish a pop.

The two fat slices of the pie go to folks with the top 1% of incomes, with the creamy $37 billion per year slice going to the finest 120,000 taxpayers in the nation. Paul Krugman wonders "How can this kind of giveaway be justified at a time when politicians claim to care about budget deficits?"

"Well, history is repeating itself. The original campaign for the Bush tax cuts relied on deception and dishonesty. In fact, my first suspicions that we were being misled into invading Iraq were based on the resemblance between the campaign for war and the campaign for tax cuts the previous year. And sure enough, that same trademark deception and dishonesty is being deployed on behalf of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."

The revolution will be televised Permalink to this item

Steve Lohr's piece in the NYT, Night of the Living Tech prompted me to go check the latest Mindset (below). He notes poetically that "blog swaths of the blogosphere lie fallow, abandoned" as one social medium fizzles and is snuffed while the next one catches fire. The etiquette of communicaion evolves along with technology:

"People increasingly use text messages and e-mail to arrange telephone calls, which are reserved for more important, complicated dialogues. An unscheduled call from people other than family members, they say, is often regarded as a rude intrusion."

The Wired Magazine piece that Lohr started with, The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet, leads with a nice graph of the varying flavor of total US internet traffic, dominated by ftp and "other" two decades ago, "web" peaking at 50% at the turn of the millennium and now video expanding to suck bandwidth away from the web and peer-to-peer. (It could have been more expressive with a vertical scale of bits transferred rather than percent of total... but then it wouldn't have supported their first headline statement very well. Call it "look out, here comes video" instead.)

Like I needed a reminder? Permalink to this item

Portland SKATE ROUTE sign Ron Nief and Tom McBride wind up their introduction to the latest edition of the Beloit College Mindset List by telling us that "the college class of 2014 reminds us, once again, that a generation comes and goes in the blink of our eyes, which are, like the rest of us, getting older and older."

What's out: cursive, email, Kodachrome.

What's in: viewer discretion, Russians and Americans living together in space, paying your nanny's withholding.

Holding steady, maybe? Immigrant parents.

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.
51. Food has always been irradiated.
71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

22.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Got any informed opinions? Permalink to this item

Enjoying a loaner copy of Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! and the (mostly) prose version of Scott Adams' humor. It's probably a mistake, but I'm thinking some of the things he says make a lot of sense, like having Well-Informed Super Geniuses provide us with leading opinions, rather than paying attention to polls of the sub-geniuses around us (or the sub-sub-geniuses who get more than their share of attention).

Cooking class Permalink to this item

An earth egg necklace We're now talking about north of half a billion chicken eggs that have been "recalled." I don't suppose they'll be repaired? (And slightly more astounding, said half billion eggs "represent a small fraction of national egg production." says "less than one percent of all U.S. eggs affected.")

Run of the mill chicken eggs are about 2¼" long, so if you arranged them the long way in single file at the equator, the recalled eggs would be about ¾ths of the way around the world by now. You don't have time to arrange the U.S.'s good eggs at the equator, trust me, but if you did, they'd be going around 70 times. Even taking them the short way would make a many-multi-stranded chicken egg necklace for our planet.

A food safety expert at Consumer Federation of America tells us that "You have to treat eggs with the assumption that they’re contaminated with salmonella." I'm not sure how such a direct statement stays clear of food libel laws, but perhaps truth is still a defense? (The Wikipedia entry on the subject has one item in the "See also" section, "chilling effect".)

I can't count how many years ago it was that "salmonella" and "raw eggs" were joined together in my awareness, but they certainly are. It brings back a memory of the kitchen in the house I grew up in, so call it 40 years now.

Last year, when the overhaul of FDA rules for food safety was in the news, the Washington Post reported that "about 142,000 Americans are infected each year with Salmonella enteritidis from eggs, the result of an infected hen passing along the bacterium. About 30 die."

The plan back then was for an $81 million/yr regulation ($.01/dozen eggs), to reduce food-borne illnesses by 60%, and save $1.4 billion/yr in medical expenses. Not sure if measuring the results is part of the plan, but if we had succeeded in the reduction, we'd still have an 85,000/yr runrate for infection, 7,000 a month. The news now from federal officials that "hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases of salmonella since May have been linked to tainted eggs" doesn't belong on the front page, does it? But this bit of basic hygiene bears repeating:

Health experts say that people should make sure that they cook eggs fully to destroy any possible bacteria and wash their hands and utensils after handling raw eggs.

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

Collateral damage Permalink to this item

The Party of No is not limiting itself to economic monkeywrenching (and hoping they can convince voters in November that it's all the Democrats fault), it's making what hay it can of demonizing the second largest religion in the world. Blowback, anyone?

Frank Rich: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus.

"Here's what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the 'ground zero mosque' just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America's nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they're wielding is not merely pounding Park51, as the project is known, but is demolishing America's already frail support for that war, which is dedicated to nation-building in a nation whose most conspicuous asset besides opium is actual mosques."

Oh, and Nicholas Kristof has a few questions in regard to New York city's zoning problems, too:

"Why do so many Republicans find strip clubs appropriate for the ground zero neighborhood but object to a house of worship? Are lap dances more sanctified than an earnest effort to promote peace?"

Keep looking up! Permalink to this item

His little show was so far over the top that it came back around in orbit. Still, I got a kick out of his enthusiasm. Was it for real, or just a theatrical contrivance? Learning that he was executive director of the Miami Planetarium for more than 30 years, and that he made more than 1,700 episodes of "Star Gazer" (originally "Star Hustler") makes me conclude it must have been the real thing.

But now, Jack Horkheimer is gone too soon.

Big "news": Follow the money Permalink to this item

Thoughtful treatment of the recent million dollar transfer payment from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to the Republican Governors Assocation, on The Johnson Post. Chutzpah points for the unabashed wrongness of a pseudo-news entertainment business pumping money into our political system.

"If money in politics is poison—even Teddy Roosevelt said it was—then tighter limits on the amounts of individual, corporate and union contributions seems like a sensible approach. But, thanks to a tangled web of laws, regulations and court rulings, we have an increasingly wide-open system where every election cycle the money flows farther and faster and the candidates spend vast amounts of their time, as the campaign language goes, 'dialing for dollars.'"

We're shocked, shocked to learn that News Corp.'s news and commentary arm somehow doesn't see that there's a story worth mentioning.

20.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And how is the seed of ignorance passed on? Permalink to this item

Imam Franklin Graham unhelpfully chips in still more confusion about the President's religion, adding exactly nothing to an already less than useless discussion, by reminding us which "seeds" he imagines are matrilineal and which are patrilineal.

That's what I like about my religion. We don't have a bunch of holy men or women making stuff up and saying "this is what you have to believe to get into heaven," let alone making it their business to idly gossip about what other people do and don't believe.

Damsel in distress Permalink to this item

I decided to deliver Kay Marie's bike from our house to hers, by bike. She said "I don't know how you can even do that." Jeanette assured her I could, and said "that's how he brought my bike over," which would have been 30 years ago. I didn't remember that, but it stood to reason, as I hadn't had a car for half a dozen years in 1980.

Not sure why I decided to bring my tools with me for the ride of barely a mile, but I did. On my way home, I came upon a young woman who'd just started out from a house along the route as I was going over. She was off on the sidewalk, had her bike upside down, and was in the process of trying to figure out where the couple parts that had fallen off might go back on.

Not likely she would have solved the puzzle, but lucky for her, a bicycle mechanic had just appeared.

There were 5 parts altogether that had fallen off, and it took a little while to track them all down, but also lucky for her, the upper idler assembly of her rear derailleur had come off all at once, and she'd stopped almost immediately to pick up the pieces. The cap screw was a bit of a problem, with an allen recess slightly buggered. While I was wondering how far a less-than-perfect field repair was going to hang together, a nice neighbor lady came out to ask if we needed any tools. Seemed unlikely, but sure enough, her boy came up with a set of allen wrenches with one that fit better than mine.

"Would you like some water?" the gal asked, and quickly produced two glasses of ice water. After the damsel's bike was put back together and she on her way, I was treated to some Orange Goop at their utility sink to clean up my greasy hands. Nice touch.

Finishing my ride home, I had to chuckle in quiet delight at our intersection of friendly strangers giving each other a hand.

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

Why America needs more Muslims Permalink to this item

and fewer fundamentalist extremists, tinfoil hat bloggers and ex-politician bloviators. Joshua Holland, on AlterNet:

"While a small number of Muslims embrace an idealized view of a 'pure' Islam that prevailed in the seventh century, most of the world’s Muslims are, to varying degrees, like 'cafeteria Catholics'—adhering to some teachings and ignoring others. On one extreme end of that spectrum are the followers of Osama bin Laden and his fellow travelers. On the other extreme are the people behind Park 51 (formerly known as Cordoba House), an Islamic community center that will feature art spaces, a theater, a gym and pool, and a mosque, or prayer space. The Park 51 people are as different from bin Laden's crowd as a Christian extremist who blows up an abortion clinic is distinct from a good Unitarian. That’s what makes the contrived outrage over the project especially crazy."

And Amy Goodman , on truthdig:

"Opposition to the center started among fringe, right-wing blogs, and has since been swept into the mainstream. While the hole at Ground Zero has yet to be filled, as billionaire developers bicker over the plans, the news hole that August brings has been readily filled with the 'Ground Zero Mosque' controversy. There is another hole that needs to be filled, namely, the absence of people in the U.S. in leadership positions in every walk of life, of every political stripe, speaking out for freedom of religion and against racism. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'"

Maybe George W. Bush has cleared enough of the brush at his ranch that he could do the elder statesman thing, pop up and repeat some of the reasonable, moderate things he said in 2002 and 2006. Just an idea.

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

Big oil and little people Permalink to this item

ConocoPhillips drums at the Port of Lewiston, Roger Inghram photo Everything you need for fighting Goliath: a single issue website in opposition to turning of an incomparable road through the Rocky Mountains into an industrial truck route for the transport of mammoth loads of heavy equipment. (Except perhaps for the political power of Govern Clement L. "Butch" Otter, who pledged our [sic] support and cooperation long before the public knew about the plans to haul South Korean equipment to harvest tar sands in Canada.)

H/t to Ridenbaugh Press.

It's always just something Permalink to this item

Not that he actually shows the faintest clue on scientific topics, but Ron Johnson, hoping to take Russ Feingold's (D-Wis.) Senate seat thinks the notion of a human contribution to global warming is "lunacy"; it's just something in the geologic eons of time.

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere "gets sucked down by trees and helps the trees grow," said Johnson. Average Earth temperatures were relatively warm during the Middle Ages, Johnson said, and "it's not like there were tons of cars on the road."

Trees suck. Who knew?

Johnson is one of a raft of right-wingers working the "skeptic" angle for the coming election.

How do parents manage? Permalink to this item

We had the three grandkids for two days and one night, and while it was a wonderful time in the neighborhood (and a glorious celebration with the youngest having his 5th birthday party), we appreciated a quiet close to yesterday evening and returning to our calm (if crazy quilt) routine this morning. I kept thinking of the bit in Harrison Bergeron where the bell goes off just about the time a complete, lucid thought is forming in his head.

What was I talking about?

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

Margaret Mead might be resting uneasy just now Permalink to this item

One committed person... or perhaps one person who should be committed. Justin Elliott describes the origins of the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering, in Salon:

"[T]he controversy was kicked up and driven by Pamela Geller, a right-wing, viciously anti-Muslim, conspiracy-mongering blogger, whose sinister portrayal of the project was embraced by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post."

14.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This'll light up the wingnuts Permalink to this item

It should go without saying, given the history of our country, and the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but there apparently plenty of extremists who didn't get the memo. Let's have the President restate the principle:

"This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are."

For the counter-position, no better whackjob than our own ex-Idaho Bryan Fischer, talking to Alan Colmes about how he wants Muslims to renounce parts of their Koran while he gets to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we should enforce on everyone. Oh, and have a ban on the construction of any new mosques in the country. (He wouldn't answer the question about whether his personal jihad would extend to tearing down all the existing mosques in the country; "one step at a time.")

Unready sugar beets Permalink to this item

Sugar beets are big in southern Idaho, and this decision out of Federal District Court in SF is a Big Deal:

"[It] appears to effectively ban the planting of the genetically modified sugar beets, which make up about 95 percent of the crop, until the Agriculture Department prepares an environmental impact statement and approves the crop again, a process that might take a couple of years."

The judge said beets currently in the ground can be harvested and processed, but next spring's planting has to be the old-fashioned kind. Monsanto is mentioned in the article, but not the specifics of "the genetically engineered trait" that's at issue. Don't tell me, let me guess: those engineered beets are Roundup Ready®, aren't they?

Make that Genuity® Roundup Ready® Sugarbeets, introduced just a couple years ago. Monsanto's page has a timeline of "Key Events," starting with "the fastest adoption rate of any biotech crop to date" and ending with yesterday's hearing, before the ruling came out. In the decision handed down, the Judge said the growers had fair warning:

"[W]hile the environmental review is pending, the Court warned the parties that it was inclined to order the Defendant-Intervenors to take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed. In light of Plaintiffs’ showing of irreparable harm to the environment, the Court informed Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors that it was troubled by maintaining the status quo that consists of ninety-five percent of sugar beets being genetically engineered while APHIS conducts the environmental review that should have occurred before the sugar beets were deregulated."

Trojan horse Permalink to this item

The last of the 16 images in the NYT Magazine slide show A Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana is captioned:

"The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, agreed to in 1989 and now adopted by a majority of nations, was meant to stop the dumping of toxic waste in poor countries. But rules get complicated when the waste arrives as a gift."

Such a gift. The waste end of our wonderful technology is haunting.

Friday the 13th Permanent URL to this day's entry

They'll be taking theirs out of the middle Permalink to this item

The Clearwater and Lochsa rivers in Idaho aren't just incomparable scenic canyons in the Rocky Mountains: they're a "national asset" offering "logistical efficiencies" to energy companies who want to move more than 200 big loads up to the Alberta tar sands, on 112-wheelers that are wider than the highway. Back in January, 2009, our Governor fell all over himself "pledge[ing] our support and cooperation to enhance the development of this important new business opportunity."

That's "on behalf of the State of Idaho." Mighty big of him.

Question authority Permalink to this item

Snippet of EFF's map of CAs, Speaking of web insecurities, there's this matter of some hundreds of certificate authorities supposed to make your online transactions safe and secure, but how sure are we, really? If an "authority" is the tool of "authorities" in some place like the United Arab Emirates, or China, or Russia... you OK with that?

Peter Eckersley, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation "said Exhibit No. 1 of the weak links in the chain is Etisalat, a wireless carrier in the United Arab Emirates that he said was involved in the dispute between the BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, and that country over encryption. The U.A.E. threatened to discontinue some BlackBerry services because of R.I.M.'s refusal to offer a surveillance back door to its customers’ encrypted communications. Mr. Eckersley also said that Etisalat was found to have installed spyware on the handsets of some 100,000 BlackBerry subscribers last year. Research in Motion later issued patches to remove the malicious code."

Eckersley and a colleague gave a presentation at Defcon 18 in Las Vegas last month, proposing an "Observatory" to investigate the certificates used to secure https websites. The jargon in the slide deck is pretty deep, but I gather that even the world of valid certificates is pretty messed up. ("There is all sorts of crazy stuff in the set of invalid certs," which they didn't go into so much.)

Happy 75th! Permalink to this item

This just off the PNS wire: birthday cake and prizes today, to mark Social Security's 75th anniversary. But they don't say where! Or when!

Here we go, on the AARP Idaho subsite: Press conference at 1pm (just 35 minutes to get there!), followed by event, at the AARP Idaho State Office, 3080 E. Gentry Way (across from St. Luke’s on Eagle Rd.) in Meridian.

We're not ready to dash for grocery store cake, but Happy Birthday anyway, ya big galoot! The AARP's posted a 75 year timeline of the program for your viewing pleasure.

Don't know much about a science book Permalink to this item

Whitebark pine staminate cones, in the Selkirks, 2010 Let me see if I have this right: the State Board of Education, concerned that elementary and high school students aren't being tested enough for proficiency has decided to eliminate the requirement for students to pass a standardized test in science before they graduate? Starting with the class of 2013, and for the subsequent three years, there won't be a requirement:

"The board instructed Luna's department to develop end-of-course assessments in science that students will have to pass in order to graduate, according to documents provided by the board. Those assessments would take effect for the class of 2017."

Four years to straighten out a fundamental flaw in the current system? God help us if that's the best we can do. Paul Krugman's recent column decrying America going dark made what should be an obvious point about economics and education:

"Everything we know about economic growth says that a well-educated population and high-quality infrastructure are crucial. Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we’re going backward."

Idaho seems ready to do its part to lead that way.

He coulda been a contenda Permalink to this item

Even though the kids made fun of anyone named "Newt" all through school, didn't they? He long ago overcame that adversity, and rose to a considerable position of power, Speaker of our House of Representatives, right behind Al Gore in line for the Presidency.

We're not totally opposed to brainiacs, as long as they drink beer or have a ranch somewhere. But divorced people? Are they really in the running? While their ex-wives are still around to talk?

"She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. 'I can't handle a Jaguar right now.' He said that many times. 'All I want is a Chevrolet.'"

It's OK to prefer a Chevy, especially if GM is paying you for an endorsement, but who admits to not being able to handle a sexy sports car? Not presidential timber, if you ask me.

What makes a strong password? Permalink to this item

Another week, another friend's email hacked for the little blue pill spammers, that no-subject, cryptic-URL-as-payload job you've probably seem a few times by now. As I understand it, the "fix" is to change the hotmail or yahoo or whatever password on your account, because that's how they got in to send an email to everyone in your address book.

Of course, since they had your password, whether through brute-force guessing or skimming software at a public computer (used any hotel lobbies lately?), they also had access to all the saved messages in that account, too. Did they politely look the other way? Not bother because they're not that kind of miscreants? It should give an uneasy feeling, especially for any and every other account that's exchanged its access information with you in plain text via email.

With news of yet another exploit in the air (server-based botnet flooding the net with brute-force SSH attacks, compromising websites running outdated versions of phpMyAdmin), this might be a good time for you to learn about how to come up with a robust password that's memorable to you, but not others: Kurt Marko's article from last year, What Makes a Strong Password?.

"Passwords containing a single dictionary word, or a word and an appended digit, can be compromised almost instantaneously with widely available tools. Unfortunately, a recent survey of more than 30,000 MySpace passwords found that about 16% met this criteria and that 65% were eight characters or shorter....

"Hackers may also use social engineering or online searches to unearth personal information about a targeted account, such as the names of a spouse, children, and pets, to prioritize the word list and reduce the search time."

Heed the advice, at least the sidebar-boxed "Key Points."

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

Free topographic bits! Permalink to this item

Snippet of Pyramid Peak (ID) 24K topo map, at Big Fisher L. The US Geological Survey has a ton of data that are in our public domain, with no copyright. Your tax dollars already worked! But that fine government agency has avoided getting in the business of giving away copies. In the old days, printing good quality maps was a bit of a specialized business, and there was pretty much no way around having to pay someone for the privilege of "a map."

Then came the web, and fast data connections, and... TopoZone made topo maps more browsable, and more flexible to mix and match (since the part you really, really want always seems to be close to a corner or an edge). But they still made you pay, or live with lower resolution, or the tedium of doing your own image stitching out of their viewer's tiles. (Now I understand they've merged into, and continue to sell "subscriptions.")

Google Maps has disintermediated much of the business, and its "Terrain" view might provide a lot of what you want from a topo map (along with more attractive shading), except... their "print" function seems to strip away the good stuff.

(Maybe you've got a whizzy off-road GPS device that makes all of this idle blather? Never mind, I'm not talking to you.)

While experiencing the limitations of the what the USGS has done lately, with the National Map and various viewers (and finding "No topo map found" for the area of my interest), I stumbled upon TopoQuest. Track down the quadrangle you're after, download a high quality TIFF, and you're off to the races. Mostly. They don't have the combine and re-seam function going, but they do go on up into Canada. And they're apparently living with ad revenue, not money out of your pocket. Great idea.

11.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Special Ed Permalink to this item

An all day meeting, and the Idaho State Board of Education couldn't agree to uphold revocation of the Nampa Classical Academy's charter, nor to restore the charter. Maybe tomorrow.

The merits of its pedagogy aren't under discussion, the issue seems to be its ability to run the business of a public school. One recent story said they're $140,000 in the hole from their first year, and forecasting a deficit of that much for the second, if there is one. The only thing everyone can agree on is that their school year won't be starting on the originally planned date of August 19.

Music for sale: price negotiable Permalink to this item

NYT Magazine story last Sunday about performing rights organizations (which means mostly BMI and ASCAP): The Music-Copyright Enforcers. BMI's CEO likes to say "You have to be in the future a little bit." For example:

"BMI has developed a system called Blue Arrow... to identify music. [It] can listen to Internet sites, as well as radio and TV stations around the world and identify, in two seconds, virtually any piece of music being played—not just American, but Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Latin, Japanese and so on. The Blue Arrow database has a capacity of 500 terabytes of music, and can recognize eight million songs. About 3,000 new songs are added each day....

"With Blue Arrow, it is possible to count every song played by a representative sampling of 400 radio stations across the country. Under the old system, hit-makers tended to dominate the machinery of royalty collection and distribution. Now, the 'long tail' can be more effectively monetized: writers with minor hits, older hits, songs played here and there."

House for sale: $322 OBO Permalink to this item

Time to round up all the folks who haven't been paying their fees to the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District, and sell their houses. Minimum bid is the account balance: the District just wants its $321.33, or $535.35 or something like that.

Could be a heck of a deal for a starter home, 23 year old, 3 bedroom, 2 baths, 1600 square feet. If you don't mind the ghost of the former owner haunting the place.

Slow news month Permalink to this item

What, even with that special session of the House, and now the Senate doing some work in August, too? Robert Borosage declares that WH PressSec Robert Gibbs' complaint about the "professional left" is a dog bites man story.

"It's summer. It's hot. The president's poll numbers stink. The economy is going south. Tempers are short. But really. The left is pushing the president from the left? The horror. The shame."

Followed by seven reasons why "Gibbs' outburst doesn't make much sense," starting with "the fact that it will generate hundreds of articles like this."

10.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The V1 has landed Permalink to this item image of the V1 flying bomb This just in from the RNC political director: news of their network to match volunteers with jobs for this election cycle, for campaigns, state parties, and "RNC Victory Centers." Good idea. In the body of the message, they refer to it as "Volunteer Match," but the headline is V1 Has Landed.

Apparently no one on the team has knowledge of history all the way back to WWII, when the German Luftwaffe developed the first cruise missile to terrorize London? Or perhaps they just see their effort as a flying bomb. Puts the RNC's claim that "we built Volunteer Match so that you can make an impact" in a slightly different light.

Did you get your elk? Permalink to this item

If you didn't, maybe you're blaming the big, bad wolves that have been reintroduced into the northern Rockies, and maybe you're among the crowd that's hopping mad about U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's decision that the Endangered Species Act doesn't allow for state-by-state unlisting of an endangered species within the same population range.

Rocky Barker thinks "the wolf is now at our door," and we'll see "a new round of civil disobedience." And the science shows... a mix of good news and bad news for elk populations, looks like ample ammunition for both sides of the argument.

Bill Schneider calls it "the story that just keeps going, great for journalists but nobody else." Among other strange bedfellows in this twisting tale are Wyoming ranchers happy to have the Feds help pay for depredation, and wolf lovers who appreciate Wyoming's stubborness getting in the way of the other states that want to assume management roles.

Update: After reading Timothy Egan's post from last week, In Fire Country, at the 100th anniversary of the Big Burn, Jeanette reminds me that it was those big fires a century ago that led to the large elk herds in the northern Rockies.

Woodsy Permalink to this item

Subalpine fir cones, at the top of a small tree Just home from a visit to Spokane Valley, and a north Idaho adventure, backpacking in the Selkirks with Cary and the grandkids. All sorts of interesting challenges, all surmounted well enough, and everyone back to our everyday lives.

Some of the more interesting encounters: profound quiet the first night; two steps into the hike, a moose on Trout Creek road just the other side of the trailhead; three least weasels dodging and whirring around granite boulders to check me out while I enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in a talus pile; a rifle-toting backpacker, carrying his gun as if he expected trouble at Big Fisher Lake. (Happily, not, from him, or anyone else.)

The forest is almost entirely Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir; a few whitebark pines trying to edge in higher up, Western Red Cedar and some lodgepole coming up the trail. This photo is the top of a small fir at eye level on the trail out of the lake.

Sign at the trailhead says it's bear country, but we didn't see any. The huckleberries were a long way from ripe at the trailhead, let alone around 7,000' where we camped, so they had better places to be.

5.Aug.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Working class anti-hero Permalink to this item

Gary Glenn is back from his midwest gig to dance on the grave of the union movement in Idaho. (I guess it's not dead enough in Michigan yet?) Back in 1985, Orwellian bill naming hadn't really hit its stride, but "Right to Work" was certainly in the vanguard. Right to work for less money, more variable shifts, and more generally at the boss' whim. Woo hoo!

The bosses are OK with that, and hey, they even have a "Teamster and forklift driver who chaired the Union Members for Right to Work." (Seriously?)

Popkey's account doesn't deconstruct the history, but hints, darkly, quoting Statesman former political editor Steve Ahrens, and later business lobbyist Right to Work proponent, who said the landmark campaign was plenty bitter. "The tactics on both sides were equally despicable," Ahrens said. "They ranged from scurrilous to reprehensible."

Equally, you don't say. Right down the middle? No kidding?

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

Feeling better all the time Permalink to this item

Reading the view from across the pond that the US citizenry is coming around to the idea of this new healthcare (insurance) reform, I'm wondering how much of the swing (from 44 to 41% opposed, to 50 to 35% in favor now) in just two months is based on any sort of experience, or is it just the distraction of the sky not having fallen. The mandate for individuals to have health insurance (or pay a penalty, your choice) is still some years away, giving the state lawsuits against the law time to have their run. Will we have forgotten to care by then?

Looking back in history, we can only infer that socialism is creeping. What was forecast to bring "the lash of the dictator" in the mid-30s became "the single most successful program in government history" by the turn of the century. What Ronald Reagan lamented as the end of freedom is now the single-payer health insurance that everyone takes for granted. Sic semper tyrannis, apparently.

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

Free up money... how's that again? Permalink to this item

Front page news in our local paper, Congressman Walt Minnick's legislation to "help small banks lend to small community businesses" as the subhead put it. Small is beautiful. Good things come in small packages. And stalled lending seems to be hurting our hopes for an economic turnaround, after too much lending brought us to where we are. Tough to follow all the twists and turns.

"Many of those smaller, independent banks have been flagged by regulators for having too much commercial real estate on their books," and have been ordered by regulators to reduce their exposure. Trouble is, the market for commercial real estate has tanked along with the housing market and this isn't a great time to have to sell. A lot of the commercial loans are under water, same as mortgages.

"That's contributed to an artificial devaluation of the commercial real estate market, said Dawn Justice of the Idaho Bankers Association, which backs Minnick's proposal."

Really? What's "artificial" about that? Real estate valuations were over-inflated in the bubble, and now that gas is gone out. So the question is, how do we bootstrap the system to get that precious commodity of "confidence" flowing again? If the plan is to "offload" those loans, who gets stuck holding the bag?

"Minnick's proposal allows community banks to take their portfolio of good commercial real estate loans and sell them to so-called big money-center banks. The bigger banks package the loans as investments. If they're rated high enough, the U.S. Treasury will back them....

Haven't we heard this before?

"Minnick acknowledges that the idea sounds somewhat like the process that led to the housing crisis—repackaging and selling home loans, many of them to poor credit risks. But while it's the same concept, there's a major difference, he said. Unlike during the mortgage crisis, the original lenders in commercial real estate deals—the small banks—are on the hook first if a loan they originate goes bad."

So, um, how have they reduced their risk? And how are they more secure? And how are those "packaged as investments" bad loans going to be better than the last time we tried that?

Minnick's competition for his seat in Congress, Raul Labrador, phoned in his generic objection to the initiative that's been in the works for almost a year, and that has the support of Idaho's other, Republican, Congressman. The problem is "expanded government power," according to Labrador. Somehow. For regulating the financial markets? Because... if only they'd had less regulation, we'd be better off?

At least Minnick's H.R.5816 "Commercial Real Estate Stabilization Act of 2010" has a narrow scope: loans of no more than $10 million, total guarantees of not more than $25 billion, a 3-year limit on loan orgination (or refinancing), and a 10-year limit on the guarantees.

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

Perpetual performer Permalink to this item

Along the Boise R. greenbelt, by Park Center, 2003 I don't have a witty idea for the singular of tweeple (since "twit" is far too pejorative), probably because I'm not a resident of Twitter-space. I can still enjoy someone else's self-reflection though, such as Peggy Orenstein's existential musing on where the brave new medium is taking us. (And by "us," I mean "you.") Catchy phrases:

"Effectively, it makes the greasepaint permanent, blurring the lines not only between public and private but also between the authentic and contrived self. If all the world was once a stage, it has now become a reality TV show: we mere players are not just aware of the camera; we mug for it."

Once upon a time, I kept a "journal" (the masculine form of "diary"), dating entries, talking to pretty much just myself over the years. They were ordered, numbered. Then computers came along and disturbed this tidy serialization of my inner life. If I were motivated, I could perhaps reassemble some sort of sequential narrative, but since it could only be "a" story, and not "the" story, and who would be the audience, anyway, I'm not motivated. It's all working material, aging to the point where it can be burned, recycled, deleted, handled with curiosity by someone who knew me a little or not much, then discarded.

This here is about as introspective as I've a mind to be in blog form. For my Facebook tribe I'm more likely to mention the weather or a mood, but just dropping in from time to time puts me in that milieu, that land of selves "increasingly externally manufactured rather than internally developed [where] a series of profiles [are] sculptured and refined in response to public opinion." We'll "sort out the line between person and persona" with more people watching than ever before.

The long and winding road Permalink to this item

We joined the exclusive group at the White House honoring Sir Paul McCartney and his being awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, thanks to WETA and PBS. If you missed the broadcast last week, never fear: the whole show is on the web. And whether or not you saw it, check out the half-hour "web-exclusive interview" on, a fine film all by itself.

McCartney joins the first two recipients of the Library of Congress' prize: Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. Good company. The left-handed bass guitar he plucked on occasion was the same one he played on the Ed Sullivan show, most of 50 years ago, back when girls Malia's age were screaming their heads off.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Wednesday, 01-Sep-2010 23:04:09 MDT