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

Congress' grade: incomplete Permalink to this item

The quick summary on tonight's Newshour was that Congress scrambled to adjourn "just weeks ahead of the midterm election." That's "weeks" as in 4½ weeks, otherwise known as "a month."

But while they're scrambling (and sending out a ton of emails begging for last minute, end-of-quarter contributions), there's another deadline tonight: the end of the federal government's fiscal year. And just as with every year in recent memory, the basic job of Congress, appropriating money to run all the departments and agencies in the federal government, did not get done. Stand by for one "continuing resolution" after another.

Here's an idea: if Congress doesn't get the budget done on time, their salaries stop getting paid until they do. What do you think?

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

Koch snorts "Fiorina!" Permalink to this item

Not-so-secret (any more) Tea Party moneybags Koch Industries PAC is hosting a fundraiser for Carly Fiorina in the California Senate race. $500 for run-of-the-mill schmucks, double that if you want to be a "host," or $2,400 to be a "sponsor." (Or if you're representing a PAC, make it $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000.) My favorite of the prospective "hosts" is Plastypac, the political action committee of plastic surgeons.

US Senate broken: Jim DeMint takes over Permalink to this item

Our expectations for the world's greatest deliberative body (as they like to think of themselves) have been plunging ever lower, but a Republican from South Carolina may have taken them to rock bottom:

"DeMint's staff informed all Senate offices yesterday that he plans to hold all legislation that hasn't been 'hot lined' by the end of business on Tuesday, forcing each piece of legislation the Democrats hope to address before the election to overcome days' worth of procedural obstacles."

Apparently this has been SOP for the whole Obama administration. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), quoted on Huffington Post: "It is my understanding Jim DeMint has had a standing hold on everything throughout this two year process."

H/t to Sisyphus for the heads-up.

Not seen on last night's news: Appalachia Rising Permalink to this item

You'd think over one hundred protesters from the Appalachian coalfields getting arrested in front of the White House would be worthy of some mention. (That's the same White House that's powered by coal strip-mined from Appalachia, by the way.)

The (non)stimulative property of tax cuts Permalink to this item

Johnston's Fig. 1, source IRS SOI Table 1.4 With the 2010 campaign heating up, and one of the hottest topics being the cries to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, this might be a good time to ask How Did the Bush Tax Cuts Work Out for the Economy? David Cay Johnston answers, on "[In 2008 dollars,] total income was $2.74 trillion less during the eight Bush years than if incomes had stayed at 2000 levels."

"The tax cuts did not spur investment. Job growth in the George W. Bush years was one-seventh that of the Clinton years. Nixon and Ford did better than Bush on jobs. Wages fell during the last administration. Average incomes fell. The number of Americans in poverty, as officially measured, hit a 16-year high last year of 43.6 million, though a National Academy of Sciences study says that the real poverty figure is closer to 51 million. Food banks are swamped. Foreclosure signs are everywhere. Americans and their governments are drowning in debt. And at the nexus of tax and healthcare, Republican ideas perpetuate a cruel and immoral system that rations healthcare -- while consuming every sixth dollar in the economy and making businesses, especially small businesses, less efficient and less profitable."

But hey, it's not all bad news:

"The number of people reporting incomes of $200,000 or more but legally paying no federal income taxes skyrocketed in the second Bush term. A decade ago it was fewer than 1,500 taxpayers; in 2000 it was about 2,300. This high-income, tax-free group jumped to more than 11,000 in 2007 and then doubled in 2008 to more than 22,000."

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

Op{-Ed Ch}Art Permalink to this item

Turner Gulch, from my birthday plane ride, some years prior I guess I'm part of the Op-Ed generation, coming of age about the time the New York Times invented that thing. Their Op-Ed at 40 series has been deconstructing the phenomenon with the help of the participants. Today's offering, Four Decades of Art is remarkable, both for the art and opinion it celebrates, and for showing the next step we're in the middle of, the Op-Video.

Older and wiser Permalink to this item

It's a nice genre, the giving of wisdom from the older generation to the young. But the wider the gap, the more falls into it along the way. You need to be closer to the problem to really (be seen to) understand. So, graduate students, with advice for college freshmen.

From the obvious ("try lots of things") to the difficult ("break up soon [with your high school sweetheart] because you are likely to break up over Thanksgiving, anyway"), to the overreaching ("universities are places where facts are made") and the technologically astute:

"When you leave your room for class, leave the laptop behind. In a lecture, you'll only waste your time and your parents' money, disrespect your professor and annoy whomever is trying to pay attention around you by spending the whole hour on Facebook."

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

Time bending Permalink to this item

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, on Charlie Rose Friday night: "There are 24 hours of YouTube video uploaded very minute."

Levity couldn't hurt, couldn't it? Permalink to this item

Stephen Colbert's a little too much for my taste for a full half-hour show, but in small doses and with the right jokes, he can be funny. So, 10 minutes testify before a Congressional subcommitee, what the heck. The line that got the biggest laugh (even from that stone-faced aide sitting on his right shoulder)?

"I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interests of the American people, as you always do."

Representative King—who's from Iowa, and says he knows corn—, challenged the verisimilitude of Colbert's actual field labor, and certainly some of the stunt was over the top, but there was a message at the end, for all those who have ears to hear. One good idea could make a productive day up on Capitol Hill (not even counting that "work together in the best interests of the American people" idea; that's a good one, too).

Stop being afraid Permalink to this item

A call to patriotism, going viral, in the form of an Uncle Sam poster for the new millennium. As seen in a larger version, on Facebook, from Al Haug.

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

What I didn't do this week: Permalink to this item

Attend an Oracle customer conference with forty thousand collected geeks in San Francisco. Named with Orwellian style by a company that's acquired 66 companies in the last 5 years (including the once sort of mighty Sun Microsystems), "Open World" featured "downtown tents covering parts of Howard and Mason Streets house alcohol-soaked evenings sponsored by Fujitsu, fully stocked candy bars and Lego playpens where people win prizes from Google for interesting constructions," "Services Serum smoothies" from Dell's juice bar, and bus rides to Treasure Island for concerts with the Black Eyed Peas, Don Henley and the Steve Miller Band, according to Ashlee Vance's report.

Along with his America's Cup, Larry Ellison had a trophy (co-)President to show off, the former Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of HP, who's now cleared to compete after coughing up $14 million-ish of his parting gift.

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

Insight to the Middle East Permalink to this item

Jon Stewart's interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan, not quite 20 minutes, half of which aired in last night's Daily Show broadcast: part 1 and part 2. Plenty of the same old bleakness in the political tales, but one way out, at least:

"There's an old saying that there's enough religion in this world for us to hate each other, but not enough religion for us to love one another. If you truly believe in God—our God, your God, my God, the Christian God—it's the same God... the basic tenet that binds us all together is, the love of God, and the love of your neighbor, and your brother."

A new contract on America Permalink to this item

The bondage-themed strip club where the RNC met Oh wait, it's a "Pledge" this time, even though the players and ideas are all recycled from the last time we had the Republicans take over Congress. I got a charge out of the visuals, rolling it out at Tart Lumber in their shirtsleeves (except for that one guy who didn't get the memo and still had his tie on). Back to their roots? Building a fresh start? The only problem is that, as Jon Stewart and his video editors deftly illustrated, "this thing's not even a sequel, it's like a shot-by-shot remake!"

"We are not going to be any different than we've been," says that man who would be Speaker, at an event paid for by taxpayers. Call it the Party of "No" ideas. And them the Foundering Fathers.

Top of the agenda is to make sure the best of the best keep their low tax rates now and forever. Reining in the deficit? Not so much. WaPo's editorial board: the Pledge "mixes irresponsible tax cuts with implausible spending caps and unspecified actions to control entitlement spending. The resulting concoction is a profile in cowardice."

This remake seems to have even less substance than the original, in fact, providing something to wave on the campaign trail while miming solidarity with the Tea Party, a.k.a. one of the most successful scams in American political history. That'll be a pretty good description of John Boehner at the front the Wedge in the lumber yard if the voters fall for this thing, too. In terms of measuring the yardage of this scam,

"Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: 'No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.'"

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

Tax dodger invited off House Tax Committee Permalink to this item

The Ethics Committee convened from the Idaho House couldn't agree on any outright violations committed by Rep. Phil Hart (R-Athol), but they did agree—unanimously—that he should be booted off the Revenue and Taxation Committee. That was after they offered him the chance to resign, and his lawyer said you're not the boss of he. It's now up to our Speaker of the House, Lawerence Denney, to decide his fate.

Dustin Hurst's report of yesterday's Committee action for Idaho Reporter here, and the Idaho Statesman... was missing in action. They gave the call for Hart's ouster a tiny blurb on page A7 this morning.

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our not-so-secret weapon: the EPA Permalink to this item

Terry Tamminen, writing in grist ("a beacon in the smog"):

"While the U.S. certainly still has its costly environmental challenges, such as the growing concern over natural gas extraction from 'fracking,' our environmental regulators have largely reversed the types of trends seen today in China and Alberta. Moreover, smart U.S. companies have realized that a healthy environment leads to a healthy economy. Last year, the Harvard Business Review concluded that sustainability policies are the 'motherlode of organizational and technological innovations that yield both bottom-line and top-line returns' even in a severe recession."

Graph of US v. China total primary energy consumption, 2000-9 He cites an estimate by the International Fund for China's Environment that "China must spend at least 2% of its GDP annually" for environmental remediation of decades of pollution. Rapid economic growth does not generally foster careful deliberation and efficiency, either; there's little reason to suppose their current practices are all they should be. Given our own history, it would be truly remarkable if they were.

And this just in: "On July 20th, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, told the Wall Street Journal that China had overtaken the United States to become the world's number one energy consumer," producing and consuming three times as much coal as the U.S. does. (We're still outburning the Chinese per capita though, 4:1, down from 9:1 at the turn of the century.)

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

Train time Permalink to this item

Not quite the same as seeing it roll out under steam power, but a train is a train. Lots more pictures taken this morning, and some video of UP 844 standing ready, and then being pulled out of the Boise Depot back to Nampa where it would be in the lead once again. The departure was spot on time today, anyway. A friend said she and her husband saw it at Black Cat Road (westbound?), then chased down to Kuna to see it again, eastbound.

Not exactly must-see TV, but my first video posted on YouTube. (I had to settle for FtBoise; the onion people are squatting on the fortboise channel.) You can check out Saturday night's freight blasting through Notus over there, too.

Unanswered question by the gal passing by near the end: "why were those passenger cars empty?" UP couldn't be bothered to try to sell tickets, apparently. Freight is better behaved.

There must be a ton of video of this thing on the web, all of it better than mine. Here's a nicely finished one made by two guys chasing the Portland Rose along the Columbia River. Nice to see it in high-speed action, and to hear beautiful whistle!

Republican plan: choke and sabotage Permalink to this item

They say that misery loves company, and the Republicans in Congress have a lot of misery to share over losing their attempt to utterly block healthcare insurance reform. The next "best" thing is apparently to chip away at the law, by withholding funding, attacking specific provisions, sabotaging the Internal Revenue Service if they have to.

Here's a twist: they "may try to undo some cuts in Medicare" too? Apparently anything that the Democrats have enacted is something they are against, even if they were for it before they were against it (or against it before the Democrats were against it). Confusing. Duplicitous. Stupid.

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

Portland Rose in Boise Permalink to this item

Union Pacific, just for show, at Boise Depot Went down to the Depot to see the public relations vehicle, on a perfect day for a bike ride, cool, bluebird day at the end of summer, and just right to show off the old passenger livery of the Union Pacific.

There was a big crowd in the middle of Monday, some folks from the original Age of Steam, and a lot of grandkids in tow. Everybody wanted to see more than what we were allowed to, which was the Souvenir Car (we've already had our once-in-a-lifetime visit to that, thanks), and up a steel staircase to rest an elbow on #844's padded cab windowsill and chat with the Fireman, looking after the low heat keeping the burble on.

The fellow throttling the visitors at the bottom of the stairway told us he was a volunteer, and that there was a sizeable queue of people willing to do this kind of work for free and an occasional train ride. No doubt, they get to go inside the train, which we all did not.

UP 844 and a couple of its tenders The paint is in tip-top shape, signed by the craftsman on one spot, and I noticed another where it said "Amtrak." (Noticed that name on one of the Timken bearing end caps, too!) Amtrak's happy to extend its own public relations, sort of, and let UP keep their cars in good repair, hauling them around for show, with no passengers? Hmmm. The volunteer also told us that they usually stay in hotels when they travel around; once in a while somebody'll stay with the train, but not usually.

I also learned that once they cleared Nyssa (OR) yesterday, they put the hammer down and "made up for lost time," explaining why my attempt to intercept west of Caldwell yesterday failed so miserably. Their speed limit is legislated to 79 mph, we were told, and the track between Nyssa and Nampa allowed them to get most of that.

So much public affection for trains, but no apparent way to make a business out of passenger transportation. It's exciting, but not convenient enough for people of the Age of the Automobile. The slogan painted on one of those Amtrak cars, "Pround Heritage / Powerful Future / Building America" gave it a baggage of considerable irony.

The faux Portland Rose, parked in Boise

Jacket, forty-nine ninety-five Permalink to this item

Timely combination of threads in Marc Johnson's post about poverty in America as la crème de la crème party like it's 1928, sending their generous donations to the folks waving the Taxed Enough Already banners. Our "strange paradox," as Sadhbh Walshe put in the Guardian is that "the party that is accused of doing too little to combat the crisis [of growing poverty] is poised to suffer heavy defeats in the upcoming mid-term elections by the party accused of doing nothing at all."

We're an optimistic nation, always looking forward, more keen for rags-to-riches stories than the ones about going from middle-class to homeless with one accident, health crisis, or bad real estate deal.

And we don't have a lot of patience for complexity, which gives a decided advantage to those willing to work the details to their benefit. If you're not writing the fine print, it's not going to be on your side. Ed Lotterman's column today describing how tax reform has fallen by the political wayside in favor of a hostage situation is a case in point. Gaming the system is not productive work, whether it's done retail, or wholesale. It's not going away because it continues to pay for the practitioners.

As for the threads mentioned at the end of Marc's post, I haven't seen the ink-and-paper NYT in a while, so no Macy's ad for me, and when I looked online, I couldn't find the animal print mink, or anything in four-figures. I'm sure they're out there, though: advertising is aspirational, whether it's for clothing or politicians.

I'll tell you what's all over my house Permalink to this item

Squirrels. But we're not getting any useful work out of them. They're just chasing the acorns that start raining down on the roof about this time of year. If you need any acorns, or any small oak trees, let me know. As for Colin Powell's house, I'm not surprised to hear that his office now says he "misspoke" on Sunday, talking about illegal immigrants:

"They're all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at your house. We've got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status."

Instead of all over his house, on Monday, they're "the many service contractors who work in my neighborhood, using mostly immigrant workers, who do good work. Some may well be 'illegal.'"

And as for who's looking after our landscaping, maintenance, and what not, it's mostly us, doing our own work. As I suspect is the case for the vast majority of the Meet the Press audience who spewed their Sunday morning coffee when they heard our former Secretary of State say illegal immigrants were all over his house.

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

Live steam in Boise today! Permalink to this item

UP 844, 'Portland Rose', From the UP press page Motive power from last century is on the high iron today. You can track it from your browser (Moving East near MISSION, OR at 9:03:31 AM PDT), and see how close to the 5pm scheduled arrival in Boise they'll meet.

Or take your time and visit it on display tomorrow at the Boise Depot. If your appetite needs whetting, Marie Watkins' piece that ran in The New Haven Leader (Missouri) back in 1984 might work, Eight Seconds with Eighty-Four Forty-Four. (It's since been renumbered back to its original, 844.)

"...She hit with such a blithering force that it caused terror to rise up and go forth. Black thunder swept all breath away and the air roared with mocking anger...."

Update: Amusing that from the Union Pacific's perspective, the capital of Idaho is known as "near KUNA, ID," where it arrived about 3½ hours late. It was a clean miss for me, after I'd tracked its slow progress through eastern Oregon and along the Snake River, then decided to give chase to get pictures before dark. I met another foamer at a grade crossing in Notus, but his clever little 3G phone was outwitted by the UP website, which shunted him to an uninformative "mobile" siding and left us looking the wrong way for the train that had come and gone.

Jeanette heard the beautiful sound of the whistle from our house, stepped outside in the twilight to listen to another era.

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

Closed book and constant noisemaker Permalink to this item

What better place to visit the universe of Sarah Palin than Vanity Fair? I had no idea that Michael Joseph Gross had featured her until I was reading about Friday's "Ronald Reagan Dinner" in Iowa.

In her regular speech, I see that Ms. Palin is happy to characterize the whole of the "lamestream media" (excepting herself?) as "cowards," "striving for personal power."

Seems confessional.

I'd like to see her go mano a mano with Ted Rall, or Amy Goodman, or any of reporters who have been willing to work in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or even a writer for Vanity Fair, for that matter. That 2008 go with Charlie Gibson left one hell of a mark. I haven't heard anything about her history that speaks to courage on her part. Taking a shot at Karl Rove hardly qualifies, that guy's like a speed bag for Republicans and Democrats alike, isn't he?

In Vanity Fair, I think Gross had me at an "audience of 4,000 people clapping their hands in time to The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but there's lots more.

"With few exceptions—mostly Palin antagonists in journalism and politics whose beefs with her have long been out in the open—virtually no one who knows Palin well is willing to talk about her on the record, whether because they are loyal and want to protect her (a small and shrinking number), or because they expect her prominence to grow and intend to keep their options open, or because they fear she will exact revenge, as she has been known to do. It is an astonishing phenomenon. Colleagues and acquaintances by the hundreds went on the record to reveal what they knew, for good or ill, about prospective national candidates as diverse as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. When it comes to Palin, people button their lips and slink away."

Definitely worth reading to understand what's behind the signature red suit stirring up the culture these days. And when you finish, you'll want to read the author's response to criticism about the article as well.

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

Derek cheater! Permalink to this item

Never been a Yankees fan, but I did think that Derek Jeter was a class act and a superstar and all that. But what's this? They're in pennant race with the Tampa Bay Rays, behind in a close game, 2-1 in the top of the 7th, relief pitcher for the Rays just in, Jeter's going to try to bunt his way onto base, and an inside pitch seems to hit him.

Gosh, is he hurt? I hope he's OK!

But wait for the replay... and we saw the ball hit the bat before it hit him. That's called a "foul ball" the way I learned baseball. And Jeter's act, pretending, ah, something's hurt? Couldn't be his hand or his elbow 'cause the ball never touched those things. It hit the bat, and then grazed his hip.

And Jeter pretended like gosh, I got hit by the pitch. But he knows what happened. And he knows he just cheated to try to win a stupid baseball game.

So much for the respect I had for the guy.

Next batter hit a home run, so the cheat was worth at least one run, maybe both of them, since the pitching wouldn't have been the same with the bases empty.

Update: the Rays' Dan Johnson punched another 2-run home in the bottom of the 7th, negating Jeter's cheat. Jeter made an error, and struck out to lead off the 9th. Rays win, cheat fails.

Republican cannibalism Permalink to this item

Object in mirror are closer than they appear Christine O'Donnell and I agree on one thing, even if we might not say it the same way: Karl Rove is a spent gasbag with a long history of spouting "unfactual" information. She's looking forward, to things like "how we're going to defend the homeland of our security."

We're not likely to find out if she can be elected as dog-catcher (Delaware's state GOP chairman thinks not), but she is going to be on the Delaware ballot for the U.S. Senate. This is indeed past the politics of personal destruction, and into potential destruction on a broader scale. To say nothing of entertaining!

Interesting update, from Marc Johnson: A big tent or a pup tent.

Cracking open the good old boy network Permalink to this item

Chummy tax deals are a way of life; what good is the influence you're buying if there's no return on investment? Less common is to have the curtains opened on the back rooms and have sunlight streaming in. Rep. Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow) is working on the drapes, with help from former employees of the Tax Commission, and now former Idaho Supreme Court justice Robert Huntley taking on the case in which

"...there is a strong possibility that the conduct which has been reported by the eight present and former auditors discloses actual criminal activity by way of appropriation of public funds in violation of the Idaho Statutes and the Constitution."

Seems like it should be our Attorney General's job to get after this, but last we heard, there was nothing to see here, just move along: he said the secret tax deals were legal, a couple years ago. Now the District Court will be sorting out at least some of the unanswered questions.

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

Printing in 3-D Permalink to this item

Back in my day, we were starting to use stereolithography for prototyping, and the occasional pattern for a cheap mold and a short run of not-so-precise parts. Things have moved along, with better (and cheaper) machines to do the "printing," and better polymers for the finished parts, including the neat trick of fabricating an assembly by using a 2nd polymer for temporary support and then dissolving it away. Check out the video accompanying the New York Times story by Ashlee Vance.

Furniture, fixtures, architectural models, prosethetic limbs, and sure, why not, "a giant 3-D printing device for building houses."

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

Non-starter Permalink to this item

We've been living under the budget-busting tax cuts that the Republicans wanted, passed, and signed into law. They upped the ante after taking the country to war in Iraq. The only compromise was that they had to put an expiration date on the raid on the Treasury.

Worked great, the budget is busted. Now that time's up? Awhoop, let's make 'em permanent, shall we?

It's not about God, or Country, or even Family Values. It's just about the money, and the folks who have the most still want more, and Mitch McConnell is their man.

We're all Kenyans now Permalink to this item

Speaking of jaw-dropping self-involvement, here comes Newt again, leveling a criticism so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Belgian education policy in the Congo could you begin to appreciate the infinitesimal chance this man could return from Minas Morgul to assume an actual position of power.

Been played Permalink to this item

After the weekend, I'm thinking I need a full-on category for "Fear Itself" rather than just recycling that headline every so often. Wordsmith at Left Side of the Moon has the round-up on what happens when someone undeserving solves the how-to-get-publicity puzzle: the inevitable remorse of the media. They're just doing what we want of them, seeking out the sensational (and "shiny shiny shining thing").

The upside is the opportunity to combine "synergized," "wackdoodlery," "bamboozle" and folie à deux in the deconstruction. The downside is that some people will accept the offer of dueling idolatries, and will go so far as to burn things in protest of planned burning, and kill people.

We do have better angels among us, but the quiet attention we may pay to them for an hour or two on the Sabbath is not keeping things from going off the rails the other 6½ days a week.

"Do not attach yourself in an exclusive manner to any one creed, so that you disbelieve all the rest: if you do this, you will miss much good; nay, you will fail to realize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed, for He says, 'Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah' (Quran 2.109). Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just but his dislike is based on ignorance."

That news from the thirteenth century is still relevant today.

32 is still growin' up now Permalink to this item

Not sure how Taylor Swift figured that out, but now she's told all of the MTV viewing audience. Just because you're "jaw-droppingly self-involved" doesn't mean you're not pretty, glamorous, commercially viable, newsworthy, anymore than it prevents you from stumbling on to insight and setting it to music and glitz.

"There was a brief moment when the possibility flickered that this was the cleverest scam of all time—wouldn't it have been great if it turned out you could mash up Swift's hopelessly earnest song of forgiveness and Kanye's hopelessly earnest song of self-flagellation, and she was going to come out on stage, and they were going to perform the funniest, most meta-funny duet ever? Wouldn't that have been utter genius?"

Didn't happen at the VMA, but I'm sure someone has already mashed 2 and 2 together, to make... something "borders on the creepy," or heck, right on over the shark.

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

Pals around with lobbyists Permalink to this item

He smokes, he golfs, he's an odd shade of orange, and who is he representing, exactly? The New York Times reports on who's tight in "Boehner Land." The list includes Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors, UPS, Altria, Discover Financial. No mention of the actual citizens who elected him from his district in Ohio. His "circle of lobbyists and former aides"

"have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns over the years, provided him rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed."

His spokesman gets a mention of him being "a former small-business man" but he's in to big business now, "[raising] $36 million for Republican causes during this election cycle."

"From 2000 to 2007, Mr. Boehner flew at least 45 times, often with his wife, Debbie, on corporate jets provided by companies including R. J. Reynolds. (As required, Mr. Boehner reimbursed part of the costs.)

"In addition, over the last decade, he has taken 41 other trips paid for by corporate sponsors or industry groups, often to popular golf spots. Those trips make him one of the top House beneficiaries of such travel...

"Mr. Boehner continues to travel to popular golf destinations on a corporate-subsidized tab, although now it is paid for through his political action committee, the Freedom Project. In the last 18 months, it has spent at least $67,000 at the Ritz Carlton Naples in Florida, at least $20,000 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., and at least $29,000 at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, federal records show, for fund-raising events."

Ah, so at least he gets some of his golfing in Ohio.

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

A rich vein Permalink to this item

Looking beyond this election cycle (and a couple more), serious questions about our energy future confront us. On the occasion of our new President assuming office last year, a former Wall Street trader and hedge fund manager turned student of Natural Resources specializing in Ecological Economics wrote him a letter. It's been reposted to The Oil Drum, under the subject "Yes We Could, But Are We?" and while skimming along to get the gist, I came upon one particularly hyperlink-rich paragraph that suggested (a) I wanted to read what he had to say, and (b) it was going to take a little while to drink it all in. Here then, as teaser, at least, the first paragraph of what was under the heading THE BIG KAHUNA (DEMAND) (and a striking satire of Ronald McDonald):

"Our species in general and Americans in particular have the wiring and drive to be consumptive machines. No matter how many goods we acquire over time, our pecuniary desires seem to increase faster than our acquisitions. Combine this with our mirror neurons (video), between-and-within-nation aspiration gaps (based on biologic underpinnings of relative fitness), an evolutionary penchant for waste, a built in drive to outcompete, a culture that fosters keeping up with the Joneses with a high % of Veblen goods, and the result is a frenetic feedback loop that has a vast plurality of Americans now Jonesing, many nearly broke, obese, and a fair number realizing, without knowing the details, that something is amiss. Alternative measures of 'keeping score' other than GDP concur that we are losing ground. Fortunately, subjective well being studies show we are equally happy as the average Phillipino, yet use 39 times the primary energy. This I view (as should you) as a great opportunity. In the end, humans are 'adaptation-executors', not utility maximizers. (This is really an ace in the hole - because it strongly suggests we do not need the economic 'utility' machine to make us happy)."

I won't—can't—give it all away, but I will say that the metaphor he chose to wind up his conclusions was quite apt for the predicament he describes:

"Just ahead of us is a waterfall that few can clearly see. Even our scientists are focused on measuring the water speed, distance to the waterfall, building bigger canoes and larger life preservers, etc. But one path that hasn't been duly considered, is just paddling towards shore, and walking the rest of the way."

Fear itself Permalink to this item

It's human nature to misperceive the magnitude of threats we face these days. Our brains and nervous systems evolved from selection pressures acting over millennia, in an untechnological world. Even though our great success in world domination comes from sharing what we learn through our culture, our limited individual experiences claim our greatest emotional attention.

Bad information, whether it comes with the best of intentions, or whether it's used for calculated ends, can lead to bad judgment and self-inflicted injury.

Since strong emotion rarely accompanies our best thinking, it's not that great a surprise to learn that the anger motivating expressions of the so-called Tea Party is built upon an illusion: "that government in general, and the federal government in particular, has grown so large that it now dominates the private sector and threatens our liberties and our economic prosperity."

Turns out the "ever-expanding government sector" isn't, actually, either in terms of employment, or as a fraction of GDP. (To the extent the data presented are accurate, of course.)

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

So big, so incompetent Permalink to this item

If somebody lies about the little things, can you trust them about the big things? Judy Woodruff was far too polite with former House majority leader Dick Armey in her interview with him on tonight's NewsHour, helping him flog his new book, "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto." (Kind of him to write their manifesto for them, yeah?) Extolling the virtues of the Tea Party people he wants to lead, Armey said:

"They're probably the kindest, gentlest, most gentle souls we ever saw. We had a million of them in town last September, and they left the town cleaner than they found it."

He referred to last year's September 12th rally, attended by something less than one-tenth of a million people by independent, objective reports. (But you know that whacky MSM, right?)

Armey thinks "government is just so big, so incompetent and inefficient," one has to wonder why he personally was so ineffective at changing that while he was part of it. Or why anyone would imagine he can get it done now, from outside.

Teh crazy Permalink to this item

Gail Collins explains a great deal by observing that a sizeable percentage of the population "is and always will be totally crazy." She says 5 percent, I've heard 1 to 2 percent, whatever. Like Margaret Mead said, you only need a small group of people who should be committed to change the world.

"So far, the people lining up to denounce the burning of the Koran include the pope, Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. [And the President, and the Secretary of Defense.] On the Republican side, Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor and would-be presidential contender, stepped up to the plate. ''I don't think there is any excuse for it,'' said Barbour at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

"Unfortunately, Barbour followed up his bow to tolerance by suggesting that the public's confusion over Barack Obama's religion is because of the fact that ''this is a president that we know less about than any other president in history.'' The governor claimed that Americans had been particularly deprived of information on Obama's youth, while they knew a great deal about the formative years of the other chief executives all the way back to the way the youthful George Washington ''chopped down a cherry tree.''

"Let us reconsider the above paragraph in light of the fact that while Obama wrote an entire book about his childhood, Washington never chopped down the cherry tree."

The American Way Permalink to this item

The day after that fine Op-Ed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf about his Cordoba Initiative (a.k.a. Park51) we hear that a chunk of the money behind the project is just in it for more money:

"If someone wants to give me 18 or 20 million dollars today, it's all theirs," Hisham Elzanaty says. "I'm a businessman. This was a mere business transaction for me."

The Donald stepped up, very generously offered to buy the place for the price paid plus 25% (not quite $6.1M). They've already laughed off his publicity stunt.

So, if it's all about sensitivity and respect, perhaps the most strident of the critics can show how much they believe in American values, take up a collection and buy out Elzanaty and his partners. Newt? Sarah?

'10.9.8 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Building on faith Permalink to this item

Good for Feisal Abdul Rauf: undeterred by the manufactured firestorm of criticism, the building of Cordoba House in lower Manhattan will proceed, "with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners."

"Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures."

No compromise Permalink to this item

For a while there, the decade-long gambit of the Republican tax cuts seemed to be playing out brilliantly. For politicians facing elections every 2 years (or at most every 6), 2011 seemed an eternity away back in 2001 and 2003. We'd all be so used to the huge tax cuts that of course Congress would have to make them permanent. (Even though they put the deficit down a well? Whoops, forgot to factor in that $trillion war; it was supposed to pay for itself, remember?) Now here we are, on the verge of that huge tax cut for the highest incomes expiring.

The Republican playbook for Obama's first term has been simple, and straight out of Reagan's era—Nancy Reagan's—"just say no." Obstruct, impair, sabotage, and blame the party in power when things go to crap, making enough noise to distract people from how much blame belongs to Bush, Cheney, and the Republican-dominated Congresses for most of their terms.

But there's nothing that Congress does that isn't subject to negotiation, deconstruction, and reassembly. (Think "pet food" rather than "sausage.") Obama's OK with the (relatively small) middle class part of the deal, but not the "tax breaks for the wealthy" part. The Republicans can likely prevent action before the election, but that means the fuse they lit way back when will keep burning.

It's a game of Chicken, with most of the innocent bystanding voters poised to be collateral damage one way or the other.

7.Sept.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The devil and Dr. Jones Permalink to this item

Pastor in Podunk plans anniversary book burning, and protestors in Kabul return the courtesy (without waiting for any particular date), burning an effigy of Terry Jones, along with the Stars and Stripes.

Yes indeed, our political discourse is rising to new heights of religiosity. I'm sure a bright day will be dawning soon.

Insider trading Permalink to this item

The ink's hardly dry on the 8 figure check for Mark Hurd's golden parachute and here he is, "landing on his feet" with half a head job at Oracle. Nice work if you can get it.

What's a little not-quite-sexual indiscretion when you made a ton of money by firing people by the thousands? Larry Ellison says he wants some of that "brilliant job" for his company!

Let's just say that if the HP Board didn't make its severance payout contingent on non-competition, they just aided and abetted its stockholders being taken to the cleaners yet again. Michael Capellas, Carly Fiorina, Mark Hurd... quite the parade of gold-diggers, mining the corporation's apparently bottomless pockets.

Update: Oracle shares surge! Ellison should sure shave!

Update #2: It took HP less than a day to file a lawsuit against Hurd because he couldn't possibly "perform his duties for Oracle without necessarily using and disclosing H.P.'s trade secrets and confidential information to others."

Labor Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Glenn Beck's coming out Permalink to this item

Taylor Branch sees Glenn Beck as Dr. King's newest marcher, and makes him sound positively inspired, and inspirational.

It's a lovely portrait of last month's rally in Washington, and would that it were true. It seems an awkward fit for the entertainment business Beck has been in, but who knows, he may be ready to transition into (or back to?) religion, and what he describes as a God-given instruction to spark a new civil rights movement. It'll take more than one day's worth of "peace with the liberal half of the American heritage" for him to lead us to the promised land of constructive politics, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

Business as usual, so far Permalink to this item

Sparrow pool party, in the gutter next door Ten years ago, I was working in California and experiencing the result of "innovation" in the "market" for electricity; we were having forced load reductions, trying to dodge rolling blackouts. Not because we were actually "short" of electricity, mind you, but rather that a buggered market was unable to deliver the juice for an appropriate price.

Given the choice of a public regulated utility, or an invisible hand in the till, give me the regulated utility every time. Part 3 (of 5) of The Fake Fire Brigade Revisited on The Oil Drum adds more explanation than simple common sense as to why it matters:

"[M]any things are either impossible or economically not feasible in environments where grid stability becomes an issue. And even for applications where it is theoretically possible to ramp them up and down without efficiency or material losses based on energy availability, there are significant social costs associated with unpredictability."

As their graph of an "electricity availability index" against per capita GDP shows, one of the things "not possible" is for a country to break out of the bottom tier of economic development without stable electricity.

Their concern is that our steady, ubiquitous delivery of electrical power—"one of the most complex continuous endeavors of mankind, and one where many poorer countries fail"—will be put at risk by increasing the component of intermittently available sources:

"This grand plan—to maintain something that already now is highly complex by adding multiple layers of complexity—is something we are very concerned about. The overlying challenge is to keep a flow-based demand system working while stochastic, non-controllable flows gain a significant share of supply, and to do so without jeopardizing grid stability, and at a price which is still affordable. We believe that most people underestimate this challenge and that it actually may be insurmountable."

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

Three posts from the days of Ike Permalink to this item

From the Johnson Post, a cross of iron (about the prospect of a permanent war economy), the verdict of history (for America's wars), and forecasting the future (BLM's estimates about 2012, from 50 years ago).

Vacation property like none other Permalink to this item

The National Parks (and some other NPS properties) I've visited Timothy Egan: My summer home.

"[T]his is what every [U.S.] citizen owns: 530 million acres, of which 193 million are run by the Forest Service, 253 million by the Bureau of Land Management and 84 million by the National Park Service. The public land endowment is more than three times the size of France."

For just the National Park properties, I've been to Arches, Badlands, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Cedar Breaks, Crater Lake, Craters of the Moon, Devil's Tower, Dinosaur, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Haleakala, North Cascades, Olympic, the Presidio, Redwood, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion. And maybe Great Smoky Mountains, but that would have been when I was too young to remmeber.

That leaves a lot of vacations still to be had!

Department of Redundancy Dept. Permalink to this item

We've been following employment numbers quarter-to-quarter, hanging on the reports, and revised reports of how the economy is doing at getting people back to work. The number is hanging tough around 10%; 1 in 10 people unemployed, if you don't count the folks who are "underemployed" or the ones who have fallen out of the count (sometimes as "given up," but it's probably more complicated than that).

What positive news there has been for most of the last decade has been qualified by comparison to how many jobs are needed just to keep up with population growth. Last December, Paul Krugman figured that:

"to keep up with population growth over those 7 years [starting two years earlier], the United States would have had to add 84 times 127,000 or 10.7 million jobs. (If that sounds high, bear in mind that we added more than 20 million jobs over the 8 Clinton years). Add in the need to make up lost ground, and we’re at around 18 million jobs over the next five years—or 300,000 a month."

When I left HP, 7 years ago this month, they were just starting to hit their stride in the business of cutting jobs. The mergers and acquisitions make the news, the subsequent reductions in force, not so much. But like other large corporations, HP is shedding workers wholesale. As Douglas McIntyre described last month, the 25 "leading" companies— the "Layoff Kings"—managed to eliminate 700,000 positions between December 2007 and this July.

General Motors was in first place on the dubious top 25, 107,357 jobs cut; Citigroup second, 73.056; HP third, 47,540. And on down the line to Sun Microsystems (before it was acquired by Oracle), Boeing, Chrysler, with 14,000 each.

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

Singin in the choir Permalink to this item

Nice story in the UU World magazine with several of my UUMN choir director friends featured: Choirs bring a 'heart connection.' Interesting factoid included, from the organization Chorus America: they estimate "more than thirty-two million adults [in the U.S., I suppose] regularly sing in choruses, up from twenty-three million in 2003."

Interesting estimate. In 7 years, participation in choral singing has increased by 40%? So they claim. Chorus America also tells us that

"singing in [a chorus] is strongly correlated with qualities that are associated with success throughout life... Greater civic involvement, discipline, and teamwork are just a few of the attributes fostered by singing with a choral ensemble."

Hey, never mind that confusion of correlation with causation, it's good for you, trust me.

Oh lordy Permalink to this item

The review of the GoPro HD Hero camera is very, very positive, and the accompanying video is cute and a lot of fun. And then down there at the bottom, it says go take a look at "some of the gorgeous videos people have uploaded to Vimeo and YouTube."

What he said.

That's one nifty little gadget, and a bunch of nifty surfers and base jumpers.

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

Gaffe-o-rama Permalink to this item

I got the press release early today, but set it aside, thinking I'd deconstruct the talking points later. Leave it to the professionals to handle this business: Kevin Richert pulls out the bullet pointer on the Idaho GOP's attempt to castigate Keith Allred for taking undue credit for getting the Idaho homeowner's tax exemption expanded back in 2006.

My favorite part is having Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney leading the finger wagging, given that they both voted against the version that became law.

For his part, Allred is quite gracious about the dust-up while quoting Idaho Statesman writer Dan Popkey and the Republican chairman of the Senate Local Government and Tax Committee at the time, Hal Bunderson, to support his claim.

"I think the errors in today's press release were honest mistakes. In the five years that I led The Common Interest, they tried to get their facts right and we worked together well. I look forward to working well with them again as Governor."

Speaking of honest mistakes, that House Speaker's name is a real bugaboo. Even the **CORRECTION copy of the press release has it wrong, two different ways. Join in the comment free-for-all on the topic at Huckleberries Online.

Update: Eye on Boise has John Miller's account for the AP Wire, providing the "second correction" for the unfortunate GOP attempt to criticize Allred. Those stubborn facts.

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

Religions of the dead Permalink to this item

The Latter-day Saints have this idea that people will appreciate a ticket to paradise, even if it's posthumous. I'm kind of particular about my own beliefs, so having someone revise my preference after I'm not able to object has never attracted me very much, but what are you going to do? (Word is, the Mormons believe "departed souls can accept or reject" the offer. No offense intended.)

The positive way of looking at it is that it offers families the opportunity of reuniting in the afterlife.

The downside is that it might be taken as disrespect "to alter the religion of Holocaust victims, who were murdered because of their religion."

Mission Impossible Permalink to this item

One of two, according to Tom Friedman:

"There is so much to hate about the Iraq war. The costs will never match the hoped-for outcome, but that outcome remains hugely important: the effort to build a decent, consensual government in Iraq is the most important democracy project in the world today. If Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites can actually write a social contract for the first time in modern Arab history, it means that viable democracy is not only possible in Iraq, but everywhere in the region."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 04-Oct-2010 00:31:15 MDT