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

Rare earths and a toxic legacy Permalink to this item

Ni-plated NdFeB magnets in a steel structure
Nickel-plated neodymium-iron-boron magnets in a steel structure from a high-performance disk drive actuator motor from the mid-90s.

China's currently refining more than 90% of the so-called rare earth metals, even though it has only just over a third of the world's proven reserves. That's because "the country has been willing to do dirty, toxic and often radioactive work that the rest of the world has long shunned." Some of that dirty work is detailed in Keith Bradsher's report in the NYT.

"Across China, rare earth mines have scarred valleys by stripping topsoil and pumping thousands of gallons of acid into streambeds. The environmental costs are palpable here in Baotou, a smoggy mining and steel city in Chinaís Inner Mongolia, where the air this week had an acrid, faintly metallic taste.

"Half of the global supply of rare earths comes from a single iron ore mine in the hills north of Baotou.... The refineries and the iron ore processing mill pump their waste into an artificial lake here. The reservoir, four square miles and surrounded by an earthen embankment four stories high, holds a dark gray, slightly radioactive sludge laced with toxic chemical compounds.

"The deadly lake is not far from the Yellow River watershed that supplies drinking water to much of northern China. The reservoir covers an area 100 times the size of the alumina factory waste pond that collapsed this month in Hungary, inundating villages there and killing at least nine people."

Most periodic tables include both the 15 lanthanides (assuming lathanum is one of them!) and the actinides as "Rare Earth" elements, although the Times Topics intro describes them as just the former. The actinides are all radioactive, and include thorium (found in most lanthanide ores), uranium and plutonium.

Check out Theodore Gray's beautiful site for an in-depth tour of these (and other) elements of the periodic table.

Idaho would be best off with Allred as governor Permalink to this item

So sayeth the Spokesman-Review's editorial board. I happen to agree with their opinion.

Allred "stands out in a field of nonpartisan and third-party rivals, has the potential to be a strong, collaborative and methodical governor who could get positive results while upholding Idaho's independent spirit."

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it Permalink to this item

A momentary respite from dirty campaigning Permalink to this item

Rocky Barker's personal interest feature of the two leading candidates in the Idaho Governor race, vignettes of life on the farm, dairy, and ranch. And rodeo. And Stanford. And the J.R. Simplot family, and Co.

As compared to the oversized postcard from the Idaho Republican Party in yesterday's mail, featuring "The Nate Family" in ties and pearls and their Sunday best on one side, and a damn the "Democrat [sic] Party" letter on the back.

"Here's what you need to know about Keith Allred: he's the Democratic candidate for governor."

'Nuff said! But of course there's more. The obligatory references to "Obamacare," pro-life, Idaho values, tax-and-spend. And this:

"If he talks like a Democrat and runs as a Democrat, he must be a Democrat!"

Leave it to a Professor of Economics at BYU-Idaho to take campaign rhetoric to a new, loftier plane.

Death of cursive Permalink to this item

Bill Graves, in The Oregonian: it could be gone in a generation.

When I was a wee lad, printing was a crude precursor to really learning how to write. You didn't do it any longer than you had to, because printing was what babies did before they learned how to write. (Years later, for architectural and engineering drawing, returning to printing was a different sort of challenge in precision, "how much like a machine can you be?" Still, some practitioners can find the panache in artful printing, too. Then CAD took over and meh!)

Is cursive wonderful because it's attractive, or because it "engages more of the brain in learning and forming ideas"? (Gee, maybe that's what's wrong with society today.) Does failure to learn cursive cause you to say silly things like "I print. I think it is faster. It is easier to read."?

Five word sentences are easier to say, too, but that doesn't make them easier to listen to.

When I was in high school, I took a typing class, and I didn't get the hang of it, especially on the so-called "manual" typewriters. (Versus "electric," kids.) Too much like calisthenics, maybe, my 'a' and semicolon were weak. And MisteaksMistakes Were Made, and you had to do things like White-out or even Start Over (and go slower!). Very tiresome. I was more interested in expressing artistic beauty with graceful strokes of a pen on paper.

Then as the computer age kicked in, typing was no longer optional, and I did get the hang of it, although I peeked at the keyboard for a long time. I wasn't hunting and pecking (isn't that embarrassing?) but neither was I "touch-typing" until gradually I stopped needing to peek. I still remember the moment when I was flying home from a business trip, typing on an early laptop computer, when I realized that not only could I write without looking at the keyboard, I could write without looking at the screen, too. I'm sure I must have typed out that realization as I gazed out the window and thought about what it felt like to have your mind in two places at once.

Hmm, I've never been able to write without looking at what I'm doing, much. A note in the dark, now that's hard to read, whatever letter forms you use for it. Anyway, what's next, a lament about spelling and grammar? How do you spell f-o-g-e-y?

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

The sanctity of the ballot box Permalink to this item

The Idaho GOP has issued a press release titled "Idaho GOP Keeping a Close Eye on Potential for Voter Fraud" which is pretty damn interesting given that there is no credible report I know of regarding voter fraud in the state. They start by saying

"the U.S. Attorney's office sent notice to Idaho voters [yesterday] that several attorneys will be present in Boise, Pocatello and Coeur d'Alene to take complaints on voting fraud and voter rights violations for Tuesday's statewide election. The FBI will also have agents available in its Boise office."

Not sure how that constitutes the "GOP" doing anything, but go on.

"Today, the Idaho Republican Party made contact with the U.S. Attorney's office to thank them for ensuring the sanctity of the ballot box in Idaho and to notify them that the State Party will be visiting polling locations and making spot checks at polling places to ensure that voting irregularities are not taking place in Idaho."

I guess the lopsided predominance of Republicans in the Legislature and statewide offices leads the GOP to suspect that someone must be cheating on their behalf, and they want to make sure they catch it before someone else does? Doesn't speak very highly of their self-image, but how else can we read this proclamation?

$141 million can't buy you love Permalink to this item

Meg Whitman divesting some of her personal wealth is a useful boost to California's struggling economy, even if her unfavorables are over half. Probably had a lot to do with that illegal Mexican immigrant housekeeper she had. For nine years. OMG.

Howlin' wolf Permalink to this item

Bill Schneider's been following the northern Rockies wolf controversy in some detail, writing about both pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups' malfeasance. Along with his conclusion that "outdoor writers will have a lot of wolf stories to write about for a long, long time thanks to all this futile polarization," is the illustrative and profoundly useless comment section following any and every article on the subject.

No limit to how much you can give Permalink to this item

And "no politician, no bureaucrat and no radical environmentalist will ever know you," unless perhaps you make it into a feature story about astroturf attack dogs. Not like political corruption and influence buying are news in Montana. Our neighboring state is comparatively benign, with a mere handful of malefactors here and there. Oh, and the Idaho Association for Commerce and Industry, a.k.a. The Idaho Prosperity Fund. There's truth in advertising for you: it's all about their prosperity.

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

He is the very model of a modern U.S. President Permalink to this item

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

Good news of the decade Permalink to this item

Hans Rosling's wonderful world of statistics, in person, on TED Talks, telling the story of reducing childhood mortality all over the world. His GapMinder "unveils the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics." And his enthusiasm is contagious.

Here's another video, compressing 200 years of improving health and wealth into just 5 minutes.

"The investments we make in progress are long-term investments."

It came out of the swamp Permalink to this item

Empty cul de sacs south of Rotonda West, Charlotte Co. FL Alan Taylor's The Big Picture on has a remarkable collection of images scraped from Google Earth, showing human landscapes in SW Florida, including Bradenton, where "many homes there are empty and have been for years. Huge developments sit partially completed among densely built up neighborhoods and swampland."

H/t to Terry Harris, blogging for the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

The financial side of the story: Planet Money's Toxic Asset, purchased at a 99% discount. (They bought gold with the less than 50%—half a penny on the dollar—left after Toxie's death.)

Putting our foothills' dusting in perspective Permalink to this item

The jet stream's amped up a third above normal, and delivered some crazy scary weather to the midwest: 8" of snow in North Dakota (and more coming), tornadoes galore, high winds (and more coming).

"In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was injured when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her abdomen. Doctors removed the branch and Miller's husband said she asked him to hang on to it."

Would you buy pills from Russia? Permalink to this item

Maybe if you were in Russia and weren't feeling well, but then you probably wouldn't follow a link out of an email message and give your credit card number to a website, eh?

Can you imagine the über-geeks who invented the internet planning for the bright future when more than 300 billion spam emails would circulate in a single day? Yes, that's right, more than 40 emails per day for every man, woman, and child on the planet. (And since a lot of them—most, still?—don't have anywhere for that email to go, you're getting an extra share.)

The good news is that in the last few months, the daily circulation has dropped by more than a third. A story about "spam kingpin" Igor Gusev being pursued by Russian police connects's closure a month ago with the big drop, but the graph in the sidebar shows that the steep decline started back in July.

The bad news is that even if there are only one out of a million suckers out there, that'll be enough business to keep this disease organism alive.

Maybe if there were a pill to cure it...

"On a typical day, spam accounts for about 90 percent of all e-mail traffic on the Internet."

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

Megaloads make the paper of record Permalink to this item

Tom Zeller Jr., reporting in the New York Times: Oil sands effort turns on a fight over a road. It includes a remarkable map in a sidebar, showing that the 175 miles along U.S. 12 in Idaho is just the start of the planned 1,270 mile road trip from the port of Lewiston (more than 300 inland, up the Columbia and Snake rivers) to the Kearl Project site in northern Alberta. "Northern" in the sense of further north from the Canadian border than the length of Idaho from south to north.

One ray of economic sunshine Permalink to this item

One of our big three automakers is on a tear: Ford posts its 6th straight profitable quarter and expects to have "zero net debt" by the end of the year. The best news is in the last paragraph:

"On Monday, Ford said it would create as many as 1,200 engineering and manufacturing jobs by spending $850 million to upgrade at least four Michigan plants through 2013."

Engineering and manufacturing jobs, in Michigan, no less.

Mad as a hatter Permalink to this item

I'm on Richard Viguerie's mailing list because hey, why not hear from every color of the rainbow? This just in, a "media advisory" (which is not on ConservativeHQ's news release list, go figure) for his and Morton Blackwell's election night victory party, with the theme of "replacing the ruling class with constitutional small government conservatives."


And oo, oo, Grover Norquist will be there!

It's to "function as a one-stop conservative central [sic] to obtain the reaction of the leaders in the conservative movement."

While you're there at ConservativeHQ, you can sign on to Viguerie's petition to defund NPR, because there are "an almost uncountable number of news and public affairs programs throughout the nation" and who needs that one, anyway?

Almost uncountable.

Today's healthcare mailbag Permalink to this item

Letter for me from my insurer, Regence BlueShield of Idaho, explaining that some changes have been made as of October 1st, because they had to, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

"As a nonprofit health insurer, we have no option but to factor cost impacts into premiums. To ensure that we are adequately covering costs associated with medical trend, and some of the recent benefit changes resulting from the passage of the new law, your premium will increase upon your next renewal."

March to Keep Fear Alive! 10.30.10 An increase to my health care insurance premium?! Imagine my surprise. I didn't get a special heads-up for the previous increases, of 20%, 43%, 50%, and 36%. Do the math: in just four years, that's an increase of TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY PERCENT. Over those years I've had one or maybe two small claims, so it has nothing to do with my claims history. Not that I wish I'd collected more, but the Rates and Regulations page they invite me to visit shows that from 2006 to 2009, their average payout per member went from $231 to $292, with three single-digit percentage increases that totaled 26% over the three years.

Also in the mail, the 2nd flier from "the Idaho Prosperity Fund," a tool of the Idaho Association for Commerce and Industry, bleating about Keith Allred's Dangerous Government Health Care Plan, "a liberal power grab that could cost Idahoans billions." Let's just say they're not too subtle in their approach.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch (not in his official capacity, of course, and not in direct support of his pal running against Allred, Clem Otter) warns us to "don't be deceived by the gauzy TV ads," because he's experienced in "fighting against liberal East Coast elitists every day in Washington."

"Power is all that matters to them, and controlling our health care decisions is their greatest goal, and our worst nightmare."

The Republican message is simple: be afraid. Be very afraid. Put us in charge... to keep fear alive!

Still fighting in the streets Permalink to this item

Here's a couple of Tea Party/Rand Paul supporters fighting... to surpress the free expression of an opponent who wanted to highlight Paul's corporate-friendliness. Right back to the roots.

Forty years of Doonesbury Permalink to this item

Seems like pretty much forever. NPR's feature celebrates Gary Trudeau's enduring creation, from its start as a "sports strip." Who knew?

"It's a ridiculous story, and it nauseates my children," Trudeau says, "that I would find my life's work six weeks into it."

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

The journalism business Permalink to this item

James Fallows, on why NPR matters, regardless of whether they botched Juan Williams' send-off.

(Given all the bad publicity, it's hard to argue that they didn't. Given how much Fox was willing to pay Juan Williams to go from moonlighting on their network to full time, NPR obviously made the right choice. But we digress.)

"NPR, whatever its failings, is one of the few current inheritors of the tradition of the ambitious, first-rate news organization."

Fox's news-entertainment enterprise is nothing if not ambitious, but it isn't in the running for second-rate, let alone a news organization.

O.K., have a good day! Permalink to this item

Beyond "the wacky coda to one of the most searing chapters in American history" are the consequences of profound judicial activism. Maureen Dowd, on Supremely Bad Judgment:

"The court has gone beyond mere politicization. Its liberals are moderate and reasonable, while the conservatives are dug in, guzzling Tea.

"Thomas and Scalia have flouted ethics rules by attending seminars sponsored by Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate run by billionaire brothers that has donated more than $100 million to far-right causes."

Second thoughts, anyone? Permalink to this item

Speaking to the mythical Undecided voter, who I suspect does not find him or herself reading fortboise for very long, about Paul Krugman's column, Falling Into the Economic Chasm. He might have used his opening metaphor more effectively with a title of Jumping Halfway Across the Chasm, but then he didn't ask me how to position his opinion of the political catastrophe of an inadequate stimulus, responding to straits more dire than the Obama team imagined.

And I'm thinking it's not the case that "voters respond to facts," whether or not they do respond to "counterfactuals." I think most voters go with the gut, don't you? Where Krugman and I come together is here:

"The tragedy here is that if voters do turn on Democrats, they will in effect be voting to make things even worse.

"The resurgent Republicans have learned nothing from the economic crisis, except that doing everything they can to undermine Mr. Obama is a winning political strategy. Tax cuts and deregulation are still the alpha and omega of their economic vision.

"And if they take one or both houses of Congress, complete policy paralysis... is a given."

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

Two excellent posts for election season Permalink to this item

Sisyphus, on 43rd State Blues: eight false things the public believes going into election day, and the forces buying this election.

If the con job works, what do you want to bet that the false framing persists? A Republican win, they screw things up worse, they'll be blaming Obama. It works here in Idaho, where Republicans are completely in charge, but blame anything and everything that goes wrong on... the Democrats!

Seems like I've seen this movie before, and it was not a happy ending for anybody.

Wayside Permalink to this item

Our planned weekend jaunt up north didn't pan out quite the way we'd planned, and we ended up home a day earlier than the original schedule. Not sure what's next for the weather in central Idaho, but it had the feeling like we got through in the nick of time.

Lots of rain (and sleet, starting to accumulate in one spot) and fall color along the way, the dark gray skies setting off the autumn pallette, from black Palouse mollisol and wheat stubble, winter wheat's green blush, evergreen canyons with tamarack candles, not so much of the traditional yellow, red and orange that you'd ever get tired of it.

We found the Salmon R. Geologic Point in between showers, scrambled around a bit in the river-hewn gash through time.

At the Salmon River Geologic Point

Back home a bit of a surprise from our two-year old programmable thermostat: the batteries had enough to keep the program going, but not quite enough to close the contact relay and start the furnace. It was 60°F and headed lower; just 2° below the setpoint, so it must have been just today it went out.

Tomorrow morning would have been very chilly in the house.

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

Unfinished business Permalink to this item

The preamble is a bit stumbling, but Ralph Nader warms up to 10 questions for Tea Partiers from the point of view of someone who's been tilting at the windmills of reform against the "Two Party dictatorship" for some time now.

Unfortunately, all that ever seems to make it through the filter of our system is "throw the bums out," and that only occasionally. Then we meet the new boss, same as the old boss, and start the cycle over again.

"Can you be against invasions of privacy by government and business without rejecting the provisions of the Patriot Act that leave you defenseless to constant unlawful snooping, appropriation of personal information and even search of your home without notification until 72 hours later?

"Can you be against regulation of serious medical malpractice...?

"Can you keep calling for Freedom and yet tolerate control of your credit and other economic rights by hidden and arbitrary credit ratings and credit scores?"

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

Campaign fatigue Permalink to this item

Watching the end of last night's baseball game in real time, I was confronted with something I just about never see any more, except as the focus of ridicule or parody (and very occasionally for art appreciation): the television advertisement.

It's somewhat painful, and certainly unpleasant. Are these really the basis some people use to decide who to vote for? Not a happy thought.

If ever there was a reason not to contribute to political campaigns, the quality of the "product" they buy with those contributions is certainly it.

I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm for voting, understand, just the circus going on with people trying to persuade me how to vote.

2010.10.20 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Seriously? Permalink to this item

We've all had that experience of hitting "Send" on an email we knew we'd regret, or leaving that voicemail and wishing we could delete it. (There was a Seinfeld episode about it, so it's ancient history.) We have to wonder if Ginny Thomas had that sinking feeling after leaving her invitation to Anita Hill "to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband."

Portrait snapshots can be tricky; you can catch anybody any which way, but still that line up of the three characters atop the NYT story seems to speak volumes. Thomas' husband, and Hill both have had volumes published, and it's probably safe to surmise that what Anita Hill wrote in her 1998 book remains true:

"Virginia Thomas and I have never met. And one can imagine that she is guided by her own romantic interest in her husband when she assumes that other women find him attractive as well."

That Thomas couple is a piece of work. While Clarence sits silent, on the Supreme Court Bench, his wife is busy fighting tyranny at Liberty Central... and working the phone lines.

Since she brought it up, let's talk about who committed perjury way back when, who was motivated to lie, and who was subpoenaed to testify. And stuff.

But can he pronounce "Raul"? Permalink to this item

File this under Norm Semanko "Party matters": The other Bush brother (who would doubtless have made a better choice for President than W., but please, we've had enough of the family) stumps his way to Idaho and belatedly backs Labrador for Congress.

The elder Bush parlayed respectable service as a two-term governor in Florida (overseeing his brother's appointment to the Presidency) to operating a consulting business, making speeches for $40,000 a pop and sitting on corporate boards.

Nice work if you can get it. And what the heck, if you have to toss off an endorsement for a fellow Party member you've never met and don't know, what've you got to lose?

"I am happy to support [candidate first name] [candidate last name]. [He / she] is a family [man / woman] and a public servant who espouses the principles of the Republican Party: economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility and personal freedom. [candidate first name] is committed to conservative reform, and that's what the constituents of [state]'s District [number] need in Washington. I urge the voters of [state]'s [ordinal number] Congressional District to support [candidate first name] [candidate last name] on Election Day.

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

Rock and hard place: Geo-economics Permalink to this item

Awareness has to come first, and we've been having such a grand oil time, it's hard to get anyone's attention. As one commenter noted:

"A one or two degree change in direction of the titanic won't make any difference.

"Looking at the 2005 Hirsch report saying we need 20 years PRE-peak to change, well that's all she wrote. And the people in the Bush admin told him in no uncertain terms 'Don't mention Peak Oil again in ANY presentation.' THAT is the reaction we can expect from any central planning Gov. agency."

So we didn't start 10 years ago, let alone 20-ish, and putting a couple of oil men in the White House who could imagine goint to war in Iraq was part of a solution will be an object of wonder to historians for generations to come.

The tiniest of progress here, a standing room only briefing for 150 congressional staffers and others, on the question Can Oil Production Meet Rising Demand?

The answer is leaking out: not for too much longer, with a lot of people arguing over exactly how long it's going to be.

Riding herd over economics Permalink to this item

Cows in a pond on the Owyhee range, 2001 That'd be Home on the Range, where the cow and the calf gambol for less than one-tenth the market price (except that of course grazing on private land is better, because the better land got privatized, and landowner have an incentive to keep the value up.

None of the predictably bipolar comments following Dennis Higman's NewWest feature on Jon Marvel, The Guy Idaho Ranchers Love to Hate, addressed the irony of a radical environmentalist being more in favor of a free market solution than the good old boy network that runs our politics, spouting libertarian blather in public and dividing up the spoils in closed meeting rooms.

It's a fine thing to call for smaller government (which I'm sure must be a plank embedded in the GOP platform), but such bets are safely off any and every time we're talking about an entrenched handout.

Recognizing that political reality, Marvel and his Western Watersheds Project have taken the third way, through the judicial branch, with some significant successes, and leaving behind a lot of enemies.

"You don't influence change without directly taking on the people who oppose that change," Marvel says. "Collaboration simply gets you marginalized."

Seems to be the same playbook the Republicans in Congress used.

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

The long and short of it Permalink to this item

There's the pithy version, the animation, and the full story. Pithy: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (and pals) work took big risks with other people's money promising to share the upside. But not the downside. As as Louise Story puts it in her opening paragraph, "Heads, we win together. Tails, you lose — alone."

The animation atop the NYT story explains yet another "financial innovation" that left unwitting pensioners and investors holding a deflated bag. (Here's an idea for a new corporate motto: "We can't turn DEFLATE into DEFAULT without U.")

Gee and maybe the company doing the wheeling and dealing being named CashCo was a sign?

Sign of the times Permalink to this item

Pumped $30 worth of minutes into a prepaid T-Mobile account today, to keep it going for another year. The first year cost $100 for "1,000" minutes, of which we'll use about 1/10th. Average the two years, and it works out to (very) minimal service for slightly more than $5/mo.

It's also time to change personnel on the account, and I looked at their billing support page. There are 10 answers to frequently asked questions, and then under "Billing and account information" the first question they answer is

"How do I notify T-Mobile if I have to file bankruptcy?"

The answer is a fax number and mailing address where you can send them notice. The latter is a P.O. box for the "Bankruptcy Department."

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

The improbable ID-01 race Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan paints a homey portrait of the only uncertain race for Congress in our state, featuring the unlikely incumbent, "this living oxymoron—an elected Idaho Democrat."

So it's a little over the top, it's about Idaho. We're crazy about the publicity (even when you're studying us as if we're aliens).

"You remember this type—the Western independent. The Republican party used to be full of them: Mark Hatfield in Oregon, Barry Goldwater in Arizona, and the lost soul that once belonged to the hollowed-out shell of somebody calling himself John McCain. They didnít take their governing cues from the Old Testament or the political action committee of Fox 'News'."

One of the good guys, gone early Permalink to this item

Idaho Senator Clint Stennet dead at 54. I didn't know him, but the testimonials in Dan Popkey's story, and in the comments following, make me wish I had.

54. Damn that's too young.

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

Up and coming Democrat in Idaho? Permalink to this item

I set our DVR to record the debate between Idaho's candidates for U.S. Senate but haven't watched it yet. Randy Stapilus makes it sound mighty interesting, even if the outcome isn't holding much suspense. You can check it out on Idaho Public TV's debates page.

"...Sullivan's debate this evening was so strong—maybe the most powerful challenger's debate by a Democratic major office candidate we've seen in years. If you're not going to win, why not simply go for it—put your strongest case and your real thinking out there, even if it does anger some people? While Sullivan didnít make every point perfectly, and he made some questionable references, he skillfully constructed an argument that sliced into important parts of Crapo's talking points and exposed some of the problems with them."

Point and click Permalink to this item

Two updates to my sporadically updated patent watch blog: Apple being awarded patents for its clever "Multi-touch" technology, and Webvention, working to collect on a 1993 patent that was awarded for a whole lot of varieties of hyperlinking information.

Glutton for punishment Permalink to this item

But hey, sometimes a gem pops out, such as this, worst candidate debate response of the season: "There's nothing factual in your ads, either."


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

Another plutocrat for the Senate? Permalink to this item

The Republican running for the West Virginia Senate seat previously held forever by Robert Byrd says "I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it." And he knows how to spend it: how about a peach-colored marble driveway for your 7,000 square foot Florida home? Not sure what colors he chose for his homes in other states, or West Virginia.

Top of his agenda is to do away with the estate tax so that "more people in this country have [the] opportunity" to inherit wealth. But he thinks the minimum wage is "archaic," the government "micromanaging the economy," and it should be eliminated.

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

Worldwide injunction against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Permalink to this item

Decorative squash at Reggie's Veggies down the street Acting in a court case brought 6 years ago by the Log Cabin Republicans, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said the law doesn't help military readiness and instead has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training. "Furthermore, there is no adequate remedy at law to prevent the continued violation of servicemembers' rights or to compensate them for violation of their rights." From the AP story:

"She said the policy violates due process rights, freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances guaranteed by the First Amendment."

Logs to take before I sleep Permalink to this item

The Bard of Sherman Avenue outdoes himself on behalf of Robert Frost, and sometime logger, Representative Phil Hart: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

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

Newt in Idaho! Permalink to this item

Well, his voice is coming to town, anyway. If you're in ID-01, you can look forward to his dulcet tones, reading from the script:

"This is Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, calling to ask your support for [insert name of Republican candidate]. As a voter in [insert name of State]'s [number of district] District, you have a tremendous opportunity to elect [Republican candidate] and a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress. Whether or not that Republican majority is achieved may come down to whether or not you elect [Republican candidate] here in Idaho. Thank you."

Gosh, I wonder where else he'll be sending his voice recordings this month?

Update: you can listen to the call courtesy of the Idaho Reporter (mp3). It would be hoo rah and perfunctory were it not for the fact that Newt couldn't pronounce Raul's first name.

Phil Hart: a remarkable piece of work Permalink to this item

I think fishing without a license or cheating on your bag limit is not reviled in this neighborhood, but poaching seems to be. (The exception seems to be that if you poach game and shoot a couple of game wardens, you can become some sort of folk hero, even if you're a draft dodger.)

It remains to be seen how Idaho Representative Phil Hart's timber thievery will ripen in the lore of the wild west. It's not even sporting to go after trees on state land, after all, as they can't run away. And state lands are maintained for the benefit of Idaho schoolchildren, so stealing from kids doesn't seem very manly, either.

After admitting he cut down the trees and made off with the timber, Hart attempted to defend his action with a cockamamie story about how the state's laws and administrative rules allowed citizens to cut down public timber as long as it's for "personal use." You don't say!

The court didn't agree, calling his argument "frivolous," and awarding the state attorney's fees. The court also didn't agree that because Hart (says he) thought it was legal, the theft was not "willful and intentional." Nice try. But treble damages did apply.

Somehow, the state never collected on what Hart owed. He's still living in his house built with stolen timber, and even more incredibly representing the people of Athol in Idaho's House of Representatives.

Hero? Or just an amoral, thieving dunce and embarrasment to the state's Republican Party? You can weigh in on the court of public opinion on Betsy Russell's blog or Huckleberries Online.

10.10.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our future Permalink to this item

At church today, in the time between meditation and reflection when people can share a tiny bit of what's on their minds, one person said "I'm not sure if this is a joy or a sorrow, but..." she's moving from here to there. The windows into what's touching others' lives, birth, death, joy, sorrow, pain, compassion, love, made me think about constitutes religious work between us all.

Friday night, we had David Niose, the President of the American Humanist Association talk about a philosophy that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment without calling upon supernatural beings to make us do that.

On Saturday, there was a gathering in memory of Matthew Shepard, bringing together people from the First United Congregation Church of Christ, the Treasure Valley Metropolitan Community Church, Grace Episcopal Church in Nampa, Idaho Equality, my own Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition, among others.

And it was John Lennon's 70th birthday, I heard Imagine on the radio, and thought once again about whether all that was really possible. All the people, sharing all the world?

There's so much that gets in the way.

If we don't figure out something better than what we have now, squabbling children of lesser gods, armed with nuclear weapons and other unhealthy things, running amok, there could be trouble ahead.

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

How far to lower your expectations Permalink to this item

General Motors has a simple answer: by half.

"Under a cost-saving arrangement, G.M. will pay 60 percent of the plant's 1,550 workers the going wage of about $28 an hour, and the remainder of the workers about half as much—or $14 an hour."

Consider it part of "a new understanding of the realities in the 21st-century global auto industry" as an assistant director of the UAW puts it. But still, even that new plant's "going wage" for the first class labor is a new reality. Before bankruptcy, "the average G.M. worker earned over $70 an hour in wages and benefits," with that being reduced to $57 now.

Make that half again.

8.Oct.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tunnel to nowhere Permalink to this item

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finds no tunnel at the end of the light, killing the largest public transit project in the nation, on the calculation that his state couldn't afford the projected cost overruns.

$3 billion of federal funding forfeited, thousands of jobs foregone, along with the intended benefits of reduced road congestion, reduced pollution and "help[ing] the growth of the region's economy and [raising] property values for suburban homeowners."

Could be brilliant fiscal conservatism, or "one of the biggest public policy blunders in New Jersey's history." Paul Krugman laments the demise of a nation

"that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness."

Artificial intelligence, ever on the verge Permalink to this item

Are you smarter than a computer? Yes, and no. You each have your strengths, and you live in different worlds.

We mostly know how computers work (because we built and programmed them, after all), but "we" doesn't mean me and thee. I can tell you very specifically how some parts work (and how to work some parts), but I couldn't build one from "scratch" any more than I could program one from scratch in a reasonable amount of time. Still, we're a lot closer to knowing how machines "think" than we are to knowing how we ourselves think.

That's a glorious mystery, and never more enjoyable to experience than when you step outside in early fall and take a deep breath.

AI question: Whose logo is this? Autumn leaves, my first job raking them, Nat King Cole singing, fall color, chlorophyll, carotene, anthocyanin, the green and gold of the Packers, the Chicago & North Western commuter trains, still rumbling through my neurons, long decades after even the rails have been pulled up in the "real" world.

All that and more springs to mind, so to speak.

Coming up with a machine that can think more like us is a mighty challenge, even if you don't consider that you should be careful what you wish for.

Steve Lohr, reporting in The New York Times on Carnegie Mellon's Never-Ending Language Learning system (a.k.a. "NELL") and other research projects such as:

"Google Squared, a research project at the Internet search giant, demonstrates ample grasp of semantic categories as it finds and presents information from around the Web on search topics like 'U.S. presidents' and 'cheeses.'"

got me to thinking. Since their areas of interest overlap with my own (for NELL, "cities, companies, sports teams, actors, universities, plants and 274 others"), maybe they could try having their baby answer a simple question: why do Green Bay Packers fans wear cheese-heads?

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

Science made in China Permalink to this item

Not all of it is quite up to snuff by Andrew Jacobs' report of rampant fraud, in cheating on college exams, plagiarism, promoting fake and unoriginal research, and not enough honest practitioners to point fingers at the dishonest ones.

Appointed bureaucrats with little expertise in the fields they oversee make decisions about grants, housing perks and career advancement based on... the number of papers someone (says he's) published. The cheating in school is "nonchalant":

"Perhaps itís a cultural difference but there is nothing bad or embarrassing about it," said Mr. Lu, who started this semester on a master's degree at Stanford University. "It's not that students can't do the work. They just see it as a way of saving time."

If Republicans had been in charge Permalink to this item

We'd have more debt, fewer jobs, and happier rich people. Do I oversimplify? Only a little. Their talking points are all booga booga DEFICIT, but they see no problem with definitely extending the Bush budget-busting tax cuts past the end of their agreed upon life, and maybe, someday, some sort of spending cuts that they won't name because they don't have to. And extending the tax cuts to just the first $quarter million isn't good enough; they want the whole enchilada for their boys.

Andrew Romano does the math for those pretending to be math-challenged, to find that

"if Republicans were in charge from January 2009 onward—and if they were now given carte blanche to enact the proposals they want to—the projected 2010–2020 deficits would be larger than they are under Obama, and fewer people would probably be employed."

Activist Chancellors Permalink to this item

Not sure what a "Chancellor" is, exactly, but in Tupelo, Mississippi, one named Talmadge Littlejohn apparently has some judicial power, including having a lawyer taken to jail for contempt of court. For refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

If I send more money will I get better politicians? Permalink to this item

Because boy howdy I've got a lot of them asking, from both directions. (Does that make me a moderate?) I especially don't love the end-of-quarter sales pitches: today's the last day before we report, so send money and make our numbers bigger!

What is a political activist who's tired of sending money, tired of robocalls, uninterested in glossy postcards and TV commercials, doesn't want anyone coming to his door, and is polite enough not to inflict any of those things on others?

Hey, that's me!

I did welcome the mailing from Idaho's Secretary of State, even if the statement that personal identification is required to vote in Idaho is not technically correct, and the alternative ("or sign a Personal Identification Affidavit") not properly presented as such on the Secretary's website. (The pamphlet/PDF is accurate and complete, and includes references to Idaho Code 34-1113, which says "must," and Idaho Code 34-1114, which says "may... in lieu of," "if a voter is not able to present personal identification."

That IdahoVotes page does include one useful piece of information: "After signing the Affidavit, the voter will be issued a ballot to be tabulated with all other ballots." Which is to say, they won't be sorting out "affadavit" and "photo ID" ballots, and decide later whether they'll bother counting the former.

(And one other thing: that sample photo ID, a beautiful 1601 x 1010px image of "Ima Idaho Resident's" D.L., scaled smaller in the HTML to a barely legible 206 x 123px, shows that it expired last October. Could I use an expired Driver's License?)

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

Retronyms Permalink to this item

You know you're getting old when memories turn into reminiscences, expensive long-distance calls that you have to actually dial to connect. Roger Cohen stitches up a crazy quilt of how different things are, but somehow we used to manage, and that's not so much the question any more as whether we will manage, isn't it?

"Before 'carbon neutral,' when carbon copied, before synching, when we lived unprompted, before multiplatform, when pen met paper, before profiling, when there was privacy, before cloud computing, when life was earthy, before a billion bits of distraction, when there were lulls, before 'silent cars,' when there was silence, before virtual community, in a world with borders, before cut-and-paste, to the tap of the Selectra, before the megabyte, in disorder, before information overload, when streets were for wandering, before 'sustainable,' in the heretofore, before CCTV, in invisibility, before networks, in the galaxy of strangeness, my impression, unless Iím wrong, is that we got by quite O.K."

Not too much gummint regulation here Permalink to this item

Gas company guy, gas company guy, gas company guy, gas company guy, gas company guy, gas company guy, coal company lawyer, lobbyist for the WV Environmental Council (representing more than 50 groups in the state), landowner rights advocate. How's that for a 9-member task force to "help the Department of Environmental Protection determine how to better regulate West Virginia's booming [gas drilling] industry"?

It's part of "the growing rush to tap the natural gas supply in the Marcellus shale field that underlies West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York," and I'll lay you 7-to-2 odds that the industry will come first in W.Va., at least.

Sharing values Permalink to this item

Thanks to a Facebook friend for the encouragement to watch last night's interview with Sam Harris on The Daily Show again. His new book is something to add to the reading queue: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

"I think the biggest challenge we're facing is finding some way to create a global civilization based on shared values; we have to converge on the same kinds of economic and political and social goals at some point. And we have to begin giving similar answers to the most important questions in human life....

"We have an intellectual and moral emergency, in that the only people we have on the planet who think there are truly right answers to moral questions are religious demagogues who think the universe is 6,000 years old...."

One path to a cleaner tomorrow Permalink to this item

A former colleague of mine has something interesting going, "a solar engineering company focused on the design/build of solar energy systems and solutions for residential and commercial buildings": Renewable Energy Solutions.

They're offering an inexpensive seminar series on Sustainable Energy Sustainable Homes, 2nd Thursday evening of the next 8 months. First up is Oct. 14, "Home Energy Performance and the Paths to Net Zero." 7:00pm at the U of I College of Art & Architecture's Integrated Design Lab in downtown Boise.

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

Overheard Permalink to this item

Factoid from candidate Stan Olson in tonight's debate in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction: "There are 102 languages spoken in the Boise School District."

Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise has a barrage of posts from the debate, and Idaho Reporter's Dustin Hurst live blogged it as well.

Putting County government in perspective Permalink to this item

Up here in Ada, we've got a horse track with no horses, a Po-Mo parking boondoggle and a Simon Legree act, evicting trailer park residents for no particular reason. But that's all small pototoes compared to Maricopa County, Arizona.

That's where America's Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has somehow managed to misspend at least $50 million in taxpayer money. That was before he came up north to put in a good word for whichever Republican is running for Congress in ID-01.

Sludge reservoir burst its banks Permalink to this item

Excerpted from Bernadett Szabo's photo for Reuters Pretty much words you never want to see together in your neighborhood. And of course you don't want to see the actual 2 meter high wave of toxic sludge either, even if the E.U. says it's not considered hazardous waste. (Seriously?)

Perhaps the local population should have been concerned about a company named "MAL Rt."

"Rescue workers used an axe to cut through the living room door of Mr. Kis's house in Devecser, to let the red liquid flow out, the Associated Press news agency reports.

"'When I heard the rumble of the flood, all the time I had was to jump out the window and run to higher ground,' said his wife..."

Reducing state government (or not) Permalink to this item

Since Idaho is a shining light on a hill, led by a Republican House, Senate, and Governor, we must be a model to other states on how to reduce the size of government, right? In response to yesterday's "We're No. 2!" Michael Blankenship sent a nice graph showing how well the state of Idaho has been doing at reducing the size of government:

Blankenship's graph of 17 years of Idaho appropriations

That "Mount Borah" in yellow is adult and juvenile corrections, peaking just shy of a 400% increase from 1994 to 2009. Medicaid is close on its heels.

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

We're No. 2! No. 2! (and No. 4) Permalink to this item

Idaho's total and per-offender spending on corrections, 1988-2008 The 4th place is for the Boise State University football team, slipped down from 3rd after the Ducks beat the Cardinal (go figure), and accounts for our regional shortage of blue and orange ink. One of the #2s is for the Idaho's per-pupil spending on education: second from the bottom, ahead of only the state of Utah, mentioned in the Idaho Statesman's opinion on the race for cowboy governor.

The other 2nd place is second from the "top," reported a year and a half ago by the Pew Center on the States, and noted by Michael Blankenship on The Justice Gambit: Idaho had 1 out of every 18 adults "under some form of correctional supervision," as we pass the point of diminishing return on the money spent for "correction," incarcerating more people having less effect on the crime rate:

"Most of the growth has come in the area of probation. The proportion of adults under correctional control in Idaho far exceeds the number for surrounding states.

"Spending on corrections threatens the other categories of state expenditures. Only spending on Medicaid has increased at a faster rate.... [T]he prison population in Idaho has grown far faster than the general population."

The March 2009 Pew report, One in 31 (that's the nation's per capita rate in corrections systems) includes individual state facts sheets; the graphic above is from Idaho's. Our six neighboring states have nowhere near our rate, ranging from 1 in 30 in Washington, to 1 in 64 in Utah.

The circus comes to town Permalink to this item

Norm Semanko, looking a little fishy Now that we've survived the end-of-September barrage of last minute! donation requests, and Congress has concluded the pretense of "governing" in favor of their real full-time job, campaigning, we've heard from Idaho's GOP potentate, Norm Semanko, rallying the troops for 30 Days to Victory!

In this "most important election in our nation's history," he tells us that "Idaho is on center stage, the rest of the nation is watching, and we won't disappoint!" That's my emphasis. His is on vote Republican, regardless.

"This election, Idahoans will be given the opportunity to not only ensure that Idaho remains the shining light on the hill, but we also have the chance to fight the socialist onslaught of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress by replacing democrat Walt Minnick with Republican Raul Labrador. Walt Minnick might try to run from his party and their liberal agenda, but I have news for him: Party Matters!"

And so on.

And great god almighty if Semanko doesn't wind up his pitch by pointing to an egregious bit of scary video flying under the headline New Republican Ad - Author Unknown!!! It's got the whole works, white on black, right down to the "socialist" bailout and TARP (that Bush kicked off, remember?) subliminal flashes of Communists!

Apparently the shining light on the hill is a strobe in the Halloween House of Horrors. I'm feeling slightly epileptic.

It reminds me of the crowd gathering around a street performer in a big city, and the casual-seeming pickpockets hovering around the periphery, looking for marks who are fully distracted.

Frank Rich's take on The Very Useful Idiocy of Christine O'Donnell examines this same rich vein, the clown absorbing all our attention while Dick Armey, the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove and on and on, work with anonymous sugar daddies to keep the ball rolling.

"However much these corporate contributors may share the Tea Party minions' antipathy toward President Obama, their economic interests hardly overlap. The rank and file Tea Partiers say they oppose government spending and deficits. The billionaires have no problem with federal spending as long as the pork is corporate pork. They, like most Republican leaders in 2008, supported the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout. They also donít mind deficits as long as they get their outsize cut of the red ink — $3.8 trillion worth if all the Bush tax cuts are made permanent."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 01-Nov-2010 22:52:15 MDT