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31.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The collegiate model Permalink to this item

The land where sports, education and finance—big finance—intertwine: Joe Nocera goes over the top (maybe ever so slightly) with Orwell and March Madness.

I haven't been watching the NCAA basketball championship, mostly because basketball's just not that interesting to me, but if I had been, I'm certain I would not have watched the NCAA's or anyone else's ad "hundreds" of times, or even a half dozen times. If a really good ad happens to catch my eye and prompt me to let up the FF, I might watch it once, twice, or even a third time. But not four, nor "many."

I see that the NCAA hasn't modified the page Nocera refers to (with an indirect hyperlink). Protecting the Collegiate Model is part of the Major Issues and Current Challenges collection, and talks about the "term of art"

"created by Myles Brand as a surrogate for—but not a replacement for—the concept of amateurism to the degree it was too frequently used as a descriptor for intercollegiate athletics."

(Speaking of Freshman English... "much of the rest of the legislation for all three divisions is impacted by a 'bed rock' commitment to the subject"? One should avoid being impacted by a bed rock. But I digress.)

The President's briefing document on Amateurism describes the current challenge well, and why "a steady drumbeat" of semantic reinforcement is essential to maintain the façade:

"As the scale of both revenue generation and spending has grown over the last few decades, there is a general sense that 'big time' athletics is in conflict with the principle of amateurism. There is some critical mass of making and spending money above which, conventional wisdom holds, intercollegiate athletics is no longer viewed as amateur sports."

I understand that "March Madness" is set to trickle into April this year. Something to think about during the many timeouts leading up to the final buzzer.

Living and dying Permalink to this item

Susan Jacoby: taking responsibility for death. "The politicization of end-of-life planning and its entwinement with religion-based culture wars provide extra, irrational obstacles to thinking ahead when it matters most."

We had a little bit of such politicization of end-of-life planning in Idaho's just-finished session of the legislature, Senate Bill 1348 passed mostly on party lines after it had been amended. As passed and sent to the Governor, it adds a new section regarding "withdrawal of care," emphasizing that the desires of a "competent patient," that person's health care directive, or his or her "surrogate decision maker" to maintain assisted feeding, artificial nutrition and hydration should not be overridden, "unless such care would be futile," as state law defines it.

The principle of state code remains as it was: "Any authentic expression of a person's wishes with respect to health care should be honored." But in the absence of such expression, this legal change tips the balance toward "do as much as you can, as long as you can," the position many in the U.S. Congress took—and attempted to act upon—in the infamous case of Terri Schiavo.

Jacoby sums up my point of view pretty well:

"...I do not consider it my duty to die for the convenience of society. I do consider it my duty, to myself and younger generations, to follow the example my mother set by doing everything in my power to ensure that I will never be the object of medical intervention that cannot restore my life but can only prolong a costly living death."

30.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Know when to walk away, know when to run Permalink to this item

According to The Caucus' report, it was Bar who urged applying Don Schlitz's lyric to the Republican presidential race, as the means for greater clarity. Rick Santorum, she's talking to you, through hubby GHWB. (Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul don't need to be addressed at this point; doesn't matter whether you fold or not when you're all-in and everyone knows you're holding a losing hand.)

The establishment is lining up behind the establishment candidate, now that the risk of not supporting Romney appears to fully outweigh the risk of supporting him. It would have been a bit more convincing if they could've used Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, but the feeling's not quite that strong.

29.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Son of swan song Permalink to this item

If Newt Gingrich is going to stick it out all the way to Tampa, as he's said he would on many occasions, it sounds like he should buy his ticket today, rather than risk NSF by the time summer rolls around. Moneybags Sheldon Adelson says Gingrich is mathematically challenged, and doesn't want Rick Santorum "running my country."

As for his entourage, a third of them won't make it through spring and with the campaign underwater and no billionaires in sight to throw a lifeline, it'd be time to make other plans. Gingrich's campaign communications director says "Obviously, every campaign has got to have a structure that fits within the financial ability they have," but didn't say what fits within $1.54 million cash and $1.55 million debt. No-host campaign events, for sure.

Out of order Permalink to this item

Ira Shapiro laments the "polarized, paralyzed and dysfunctional" state of our nation's upper house, "after a 20-year downward spiral." His call to action: Take Back the Senate, Senators.

Last month, as she announced her decision to retire, Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, described a Senate that "routinely jettisons regular order," "serially legislates by political brinksmanship" and "habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take it or leave it proposals." In The New Yorker, George Packer described the Senate as "the empty chamber."

Right in our neighborhood Permalink to this item

The southern plumes of Saturn's moon, Enceladus. NASA image While the discovery of exoplanets proceeds apace and the question of whether there is other life in the galaxy (let alone our universe) is reduced to a matter of time, here's a reminder that we have some home-grown worlds worth direct scrutiny. Carolyn Porco wonders if it's snowing microbes on Enceladus?.

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed watery jets erupting from what may be a vast underground sea. These jets, which spew through cracks in the moon's icy shell, could lead back to a habitable zone that is uniquely accessible in all the solar system....

"The kind of ecologies Enceladus might harbor could be like those deep within our own planet. Abundant heat and liquid water are found in Earth's subterranean volcanic rocks. Organisms in those rocks thrive on hydrogen (produced by reactions between liquid water and hot rocks) and available carbon dioxide and make methane, which gets recycled back into hydrogen. And it's all done entirely in the absence of sunlight or anything produced by sunlight."

27.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Quasi-khaki Permalink to this item

Newcomer showed up at the Humanists meeting yesterday, I'm told, in a khaki outfit looking vaguely like a uniform, a name badge and suspiciously black hair. Ted Dunlap is running for an office you didn't know was open, "Constitutional Sheriff," according to his faded flag-themed business card. Jeanette asked him if he was affiliated in any way with Posse Comitatus, and he smiled slightly, said "I do speak about posses quite a bit."

Dunlap was apparently set on course by Richard Mack, the guy who started the "Constitutional Sheriff" movement (according to Dunlap), and now making a living traveling and talking. Mack's visit to the Kootenai County Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner caused some kerfuffle up north, such that he "said he never felt as unwelcome as he did before coming to Coeur d'Alene" but then found out that KootCo Republicans are OK after all. And the chicken was real good.

Dunlap learned about what he wanted to be for Ada County at a conference, but you don't have to travel these days, you can visit the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Assn. on the intertubes, and see Sheriff Mack (RET) ask such questions as

"What would you do if you knew you had just one chance to save your family and country from complete and utter destruction?"

and give such answers as

"Very few people realize that the Sheriff has the legitimate authority to prevent federal agents from entering the county - or the power to throw them out once they are there."

The theme of Mr. Dunlap's visit was "I'm just like you guys, and fishing for endorsements," which the Humanists of Idaho, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is not actually handing out, even if they had bought his pitch that he's a humanist, too.

The theme of the right-wingnut quasi-organization is "we can restore peace and freedom." And "stop sending them (feds) the money!" And the message Richard Mack delivered up north: "the federal government is a greater threat to the Constitution than terrorism."

"The President of the United States cannot tell your Sheriff what to do," Mack says, which seems to be an especially appealing idea at the moment, for some reason.

Dunlap filed for the Ada County ballot as a "Libertarian," and his name won't appear in a polling place near you until the fall general election, where the odds are very, very good that he will be trounced by incumbent Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney. But you never know.

26.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Uniquely disqualified Permalink to this item

Rick Santorum failed his campaign stress test and went all Breitbart on a NYT reporter. Whoopsadaisy.

"He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama," Santorum said. And I guess we're all supposed to know when he says that, he means "on the issue of the Affordable Care Act," because yada yada yada. And woe unto you, lowly reporter if you ask him what's up with that? Worst Republican in the country? Apparently even asking him to clarify was a bridge too far, got him all apoplectic and indignant and stuff.

"If I see it, it's bullshit."

But the best part is where he says "you don't care about the truth at all, do you?"

Yup, we're all out to get you, Ricky.

And then he's working the fundraising angle of how he was "aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter," whoa. From sanctimonious #Tantorum to sanctimonious fundraising in nothing flat.

Two drawings of income disparity Permalink to this item

Infographic of where 2010's total income increase went Victors get spoils, and these days there quite a few to divvy up. Steven Rattner reports the not-exactly-news that the rich got even richer in 2010, with $4.2 million average raises for the 1-in-10,000 top 0.01%, a nice six figure bump on top of the income for the rest of the 1%, and you 99% lot get about $80 each. Don't spend it all in one place.

I didn't think the sidebar box chart did it justice, really, since yeah, 56% is bigger than 37% is bigger than 7%, but it's about the distribution after all, so let's show that more than half the pie went to "one" l'il circle, more than a third went to a ninety-nine, and the leftover sliver went to the remaining 9,900. Which are kind of hard to jam into the picture, so I cheated by piling them on top of one another, and, um, only drawing half as many as that. But you get the idea?

The other picture is about Omgpop, started "as a joke" and "on track to run out of money by May," but accidentally tapped into the Zeitgeist with a breakout smartphone hit game, Draw Something. Another company I never heard of, Zynga, bought it up for something in 9 figures, and the 32 year-old founder has stumbled into "way more" than $22 million, an unbridled fashion opportunity ("It's the kind of money where I'll be wearing whatever I want when somebody invites me to a wedding," he said), and traffic.

Perhaps he'll hire a handler.

25.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

History lesson Permalink to this item

There's a reason why this year's legislative folderol seems familiar: we've been through this ringer before. Dan Popkey smooths out some of the creases in the archive to show how the 1990 battle easily eclipses this years'. The electoral aftermath was re-election by a landslide for the Governor who vetoed that legislation and a 50-50 party split in the state Senate (which is 4-1 Republican now).

"They're slow learners over there," [former Governor Cecil] Andrus said. "It's not only politically correct, but it's the right thing to do. They need to take that piece of garbage and put it in the round file."

I have to assume that the Idaho Statesman didn't let its own editorial position bias the letters it selected to print and put online today, giving an indication of public sentiment: 30 to 1 opposed. And that one is not actually an argument in favor of S 1387, but a bit of bathetic speculative fiction in opposition to abortion.

The larger issue is addressed by Rabbi Dan Fink in his Saturday religion column: the questions of religious extremism and control of women.

Soul of a new machine Permalink to this item

Kevin Baker's campaign stop for the NYT: The Outsourced Party. How the Fairness Doctrine became a quaint artifact, and outsourced messaging (and then "thinking") left the Republican Party subservient to its mouthpieces.

"This campaign season we've seen all the major Republican candidates for president adopt the bombastic, apocalyptic rhetoric of talk radio, insisting that we will 'lose America' if they aren't elected, and filling their speeches and debates with ugly personal insults, directed at each other and at President Obama. The results are in the poll numbers. Unlike the sharp but generally civil 2008 primary fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton, which galvanized the Democratic base, the Republican struggle this year has been steadily driving down the party's appeal and driving up the candidates' negative ratings."

What do you get when you combine rugged individualism and tax-cut facilitiated unbridled wealth? The Billionaire Fairness Doctrine:

"Forced to resign as speaker of the House by your own party? Handed the worst electoral defeat in your own state that anyone can remember? Way behind in the delegate count? In some circumstances, it might be good that even though you've failed previously you can still go out and make your case to the people. But now you can even fail at that, as well. It doesn't matter. Just one billionaire can keep you on the campaign trail!"

In a smaller market, viewers of the weekly public TV legislative roundup, Idaho Reports, were treated to the bizarre spectacle of Wayne Hoffman, speaking in the royal plural for his secretly funded Idaho Freedom Foundation "think" tank, saying

"we have a whole, you know, herd of potential new legislators coming in and our job is to educate them, because we find that many people do not truly understand "free markets" and "limited government."

Hoffman's organization enjoys a tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) entity, as well as the free air time on public TV. The IRS limits such "charitable" entities to no more than 20% of their budget to lobbying, so "most of what we do is education," don't you know.

Host Greg Hahn charitably imagined that Hoffman's subsidiary "news" outlet has "a team of reporters," and Hoffman volunteered that they'll be covering "issues," not "who'd you get money from, and who's ahead in the polls or whatever." One of the two reporters currently listed is off to greener pastures, and the editor shares a surname with the remaining team-of-one.

With "news" and "education" like this, who needs lobbyists? (Or an actual political party, for that matter.) Just herd 'em up, teach 'em how to talk good and tell 'em how to vote.

Direct email Permalink to this item

The good news is, the messages come and go with less waste of resources than the old days of direct mail, an obligatory 4-page pitch with a response card and return envelope. And since no one would read 4 pages of text, the messages are a lot more direct. The bad news is that after a while they just seem pathetic. Today's, under the slightly ominous subject, your record:

Hey friend -- Our team is reviewing supporter records this weekend, and we noticed that you had not yet made an online contribution (your record is copied and pasted below):

Supporter record: #######
Name: , friend
2012 online support: pending
Suggested support: $5.00

The ask is easy enough, and if I could drop a fiver in the hat and walk on, I might even do it. But, my record. They've got my number, and you know the first contribution is the most important one. I could be hey , friend for life, for a click, chip and five bucks.

23.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gas is cheap Permalink to this item

Not the liquid gasoline you pump into your car, the gas gas someone else pumps into your house if you heat with methane. Crazy cheap.

The domestic oil and gas boom is full on right now, "vastly increasing production, reversing two decades of decline." The recession has reduced demand, and people are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. Liquid fuel imports are down from a record high of 60% in 2005, to 45% last year. From the New York Times:

"...the domestic trends are unmistakable. Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia."

Where they're keen to have it. The charts linked in the sidebar show world consumption of liquid fuels in Europe and the US relatively flat by comparison to the rest of the world, booming in consumption for more than a decade (or well more than two decades in the Asia/Pacific region that includes India and China).

Gail the Actuary's post on The Oil Drum earlier this month, Why High Oil Prices Are Now Affecting Europe More Than the US had a graph that should be held up and waved any time someone shouts "Drill, Baby Drill" as if it were an answer to anything. It's a time series of world oil supply and the price of oil from January 2001 to November 2011, and shouts two things: (1) the world has a very substantial infrastructure for maintaining a steady oil supply; and (2) the price is not correlated with supply. In any way, shape or form. "The world is presently sharing a limited supply of oil." As she (?) describes, it does matter where your supply comes from. Domestic is cheaper.

Fig. 7 from The natural gas price chart comparing the US, Europe and Japan is astounding. Figure 7 shows our price down to decade-ago levels after peaking at 4 and 5 times what it is now in 2005 and 2008. While our price is plummeting, Europe's and Japan's are peaking again, almost $12/million Btu in Europe and over $16 in Japan, versus almost down to $2 in the U.S.

So while folks consider the sticker shock of filling the car, they may also notice that their winter heating bills are a ton more manageable this year. Our new high-tech furnace has been loafing, and our cost for the whole winter this year will be about what we spent in the two peak months in 2007-8.

Mitt Romney's hope is that nobody will be thinking about natural gas come summer, and what Paul Krugman called a "craziness triple play—a lie wrapped in an absurdity swaddled in paranoia" will have some persuasive power. It'll all be Obama's fault, whatever "it" we don't like.

Brand new CEO at HP's annual meeting Permalink to this item

Reading Andrew Nusca's account of HP's annual meeting this week brought to mind the one such meeting I'd attended, back when I was an HP employee, and an HP shareholder. It was at the giddy precipice of the boom, when blogging was still a geek sport almost no one had heard of. I took notes, and published my account on HP's intranet, where a select (but worldwide) audience enjoyed the color commentary with carefully rounded edges. Nothing in it that would get me fired, and besides, everthing was coming up roses about then. The spinoff of Agilent was underway and seemed to be going well, after the largest-ever IPO in Silicon Valley history to date. (Talk about good timing!) The first round of layoffs and the gigantic merger with Compaq that would follow on its heels were more than a year in the future in early March, 2000.

There are all sorts of parallels and comparisons to consider, even though the context, and HP as a corporation in 2012 is nothing like what it was 12 years ago. Some of the same people are still there, to be sure (many of them good friends and valued colleagues), but after mergers and spinoffs and countless rounds of "workforce reduction," it has nearly 350,000 employees, four times what it had before it was split roughly in two to form Agilent. For 2000, it reported $3.7 billion net earnings on $49B revenue; in 2011, it earned $7B on $127B revenue.

With HP debuting another CEO, it seemed like time to mine the archives, and put it up on fortboise: HP's 2000 Annual Meeting.

22.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This could be a trend Permalink to this item

Rachel Maddow covers our breaking news—that the Idaho House, of all entities, has decided to slow, redirect, or possibly abort the coerced ultrasound bill—along with stories from around the country about right-wing overreach being walked back. Seems way too early to imagine they're done overreaching, but it's good to know there is a bridge too far, finally.

Turns out our womenfolk may have some say after all. Rep. Max Black's wife spoke up about a legislative bill, for what he says is the first time in 20 years. "By darn, she talked to me about this. She said, 'I don't understand how the Legislature thinks it can do this to women.'" Rep. Marv Hagedorn (R-Meridian) says he's conflicted because he's "pro-life" and "pro-business"... where I guess being pro-business means anti-government intrusion.

If the legislative overreach does indeed fail, there will be no small irony that our home-grown, self-promoting religious zealot, Brandi Swindell's putting on an ultrasound sideshow at the Capitol yesterday might have been the tipping point.

Another opinion: Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman, Winder's ultrasound case: callous, clueless.

21.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can't buy an Apple ID Permalink to this item

The iPad first light produced a never-explained server error, and now I don't know if I've got an account, or half an account, or what, I just know I can't get in. And no Apps for you if you can't get in!

Figured I'd just start over, create an account and so on. Having done that, and received the emailed verification link, and followed it, I'm asked for my Apple ID. From, uh, before? Or now? Because I don't remember asking for that, entering one, or getting it. Guessed once and no joy. Let's say... I can't remember my Apple ID. There's a link, instructions, gives more information (which is to say, the same information over again), and to this:

Apple ID UI fubar

Sure enough, the email that comes has the subject "How to reset your Apple ID password." and a link inside to do that, which is not really what I was looking for. Maybe if I reset my password, they'll tell me my Apple ID too?

Of course I can't reply to the email. Of course I can't contact support. I can wander through web pages and FAQs and everything other than means to actually contact a human being.

These are the vaunted paragons of User Interface Design?!

"If you can't remember your Apple ID, just provide us with some information and then we'll find it for you. [After we find it, we won't say a word about what it is!] Then we'll help you reset your password, even though you weren't asking to do that, were you?"

Update: After some gratuitous shaming from family members, I made another effort, searched up the relevant knowledge base article (Google still works for me), and read verrry carefully to the end where it explained that after you gave them your name and email address, asked for a password reset, received the email for that reset and then went back to their site to the reset web form.... on that form it tells you what your Apple ID is, and, (drum roll, please) it's my email address.

Now if it were me, I would have provided some sort of teeny, tiny hint somewhere earlier along the way that psst -- it could be like your email address. Or, I might have just guessed that's what it was, because I hadn't made anything else up, and a lot of systems work that way, even though email addresses make lousy tokens, and your bank doesn't have that kind of security defect, now does it?

Beyond the patronizing misogyny Permalink to this item

Marci Glass, the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, provides a thoughtful response to the news out of the Idaho Senate, on her "South Minister" blog: My conversation with Chuck Winder.

I'd listened to the debate (and posted my response), but even though I heard what Senator Chuck Winder, the sponsor of Idaho's coerced ultrasound bill, said when he said it, it simply did not register in my awareness. I was multitasking, and it didn't make enough sense to keep from being filtered out. Betsy Russell posted his statement verbatim on her Eye on Boise news blog, and Winder's remarks have gone viral (the AP story making it to The Washington Post, for example).

The conversation Glass started hasn't gone very far, but her attempt at deepening the dialogue is well-worth sharing. I won't do it the disservice of summarizing or excerpting; do go read it. The point she has to make—out of her own experience of being a pregnant teenager and an unwed mother—packs considerable punch.

Answering Norm Semanko's call Permalink to this item

Norm Semanko, through a lens, darkly The Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party is doing his fiddle-dee-dee leprechaun imitation again, celebrating the dismissal of ethics charges against Idaho State Senator Monty Pearce who waited until the 22nd vote on oil and gas legislation to mention that um, he had a bunch of leases on his land... the most recent of which was for 288 acres, and signed just a few months ago.

In the process of excoriating "desperate Democrats," Norm did not find any nice words to direct to the three who served on the Ethics panel and joined the unanimous vote to dismiss the complaint.

"With Senator Pearce being cleared of any wrong doing [sic] by the Senate Ethics Committee, I now call on the Idaho Democrats' [sic] to explain to Idaho families why they are opposed to the responsible utilization of our natural resources, including oil and gas development rather than hiding behind baseless ethics charges."

Dear Norm, what ever are you going on about, and why do you feel it is necessary for you to say anything, let alone anything as ridiculous as what you just put out in a press release? Pearce had a duty to disclose a potential conflict, and failed for 21 votes. By his own admission on the 22d, he had a potential conflict. He just hadn't thought of it as a conflict before then. The investigation was completely appropriate, and the matter was resolved quickly, and all the members of the Legislature received some training that was apparently needed.

Maybe you could explain why your party members are now attempting to turn the need for disclosing potential conflicts into a joke.

And for unintended irony, you couldn't have chosen a better red herring fallacy for the matter of oil and gas development regulation than poisoning the well; that is, your ad hominem attack that Democrats "oppose responsible utilization of our natural resources."

Hence I explain to Idaho families: pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain. He's not making sense.

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wow, look at that. Wow, oh wow. Permalink to this item

That was the reported reaction from the person who asked a roomfull of seniors in Pocatello who there thought Social Security was "very important" to the financial security, at the number of hands went up. If the AARP's campaign to "change the conversation" about Social Security and Medicare only talks to the recipients, the outcome seems preordained whether it's in Idaho, Binghamton, Chicago, Columbus, Denver or Miami.

19.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho's low regard for women, part 2 Permalink to this item

There were only a couple of moments in the Idaho Senate debate of SB 1387, mandating ultrasound procedures for pregnant women before they can obtain an abortion, that flirted with full-on emotion. Chuck Winder's elliptical response to the flood of emails that he planned to ignore, and once again testifying that he had no malice in his heart. Les Bock's bringing up his memory of growing up in the Cold War, what the "state" meant in the Soviet Union, Ayn Rand's novels, and 1984. Jeff Siddoway trying to duck out of having to vote, moving to be "excused," and sending his caucus into an at-ease tizzy to straighten him out and get him to vote "aye" like he was supposed to. And Joyce Broadsword, starting to tell her colleagues supporting the bill what she thought of them, before being backed off to "Common sense is lacking. This Senator votes no."

Senator Michelle Stennett, the Minority Caucus chair gave the longest, and most detailed debate against the bill, at the beginning of the debate, identifying five specific reasons why it would be bad law.

  1. Ultrasounds are not free. None of the providers prepared to offer "free" services are abortion providers.
  2. In spite of it not being made explicit, in the case of early pregnancy, the bill would effectively require transvaginal ultrasound.
  3. The medical emergency provision as written does not apply to the new sections; it lacks a provision for "reasonable, medical judgment."
  4. It conflicts with the Medical Consent Act, giving adult persons in this state the fundamental right to make their own decisions for their health care.
  5. It is likely to violate the privacy of patients, in that they would have to sign a statement which will become a public record.

And finally, that the addition of a severability clause after the initial draft signalled that the authors recognized the flaws in the legislation that would likely lead to (a) litigation, and (b) invalidation in part.

Contrast Stennett's careful, well-prepared debate with that of Jim Rice of Caldwell, telling us that (a) life begins at conception, (b) he "respectfully disagrees" with the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, and (c) Horton Hears a Who! Yes, that's right, never mind that Theodor Seuss Geisel and his widow specifically deprecated the hijacking of his artistic work to apply to this debate. It can simply be boiled down to "tolerance," of the rights of an imaginary person. Over a real one.

There are only 7 Democrats in Idaho's 35 member Senate, and only 5 Republicans who were strong enough to vote no on this bad bill. The 9 women in the Senate voted 5-4 against.

Our sometimes "libertarian" Governor seems unlikely to use that part of his conscience and veto this legislation after the House affirms it, but we shall see whether the anti-big-government posturing is mere lip service.

Idaho's (Governor's) low regard for women Permalink to this item

Good piece in Sunday's Idaho Statesman from Dan Popkey, describing how the state's good old boy network translates into salary disparities in Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's cabinet. The headline provides the summary, and punchline: women make less money than men. In general, in particular, pretty much regardless of job scope and responsibility. They also hold a lot fewer executive positions than men do in this state.

They provided a table in a sidebar (and as a PDF on their site, sorted from highest to lowest pay, and showing the number of employees reporting to the position, and the arithmetic of "pay per employee," one of many dimensions of job responsibility. (It varies by a factor of almost 500 from highest—$24,733 each for 3 employees at the Office of Drug Policy—to lowest—$50 each for the 2,853 employees under the Director of Health & Welfare.)

They used their power of colored ink to... style alternate rows, which sometimes makes it easier to read across rows, but adds no information. Watch what happens when you highlight the list by gender (after removing the 3 rows with 9 Commissioners for jobs that have pay set by law, and the one job whose holder recently resigned):

Otter's cabinet members' pay, disparity by gender highlighted

Popkey's text highlights a couple of interesting particulars. The highest-paid woman, Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould, supervises 259 employees, versus Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, with 53. She got essentially the same salary as her predecessor a few years ago. Sayer, hired last October, got a whopping 66% boost from his predecessor. (Both posts were previously held by men, as are more than 70% of the cabinet positions now.)

The chief of the Bureau of Occupational Licenses spoke up for the Governor (who declined to speak up for himself... because hey, he doesn't have to), saying that the totally gross disparity "is not troubling because I do not believe a list tells the whole story." The rest of the story is... she, personally, has turned down recommended increases recommended for her position, out of deference to the licensees she serves, and for the salaries of the other (35) employees in the Bureau. She knows which side her bread is buttered on, has a remarkable and unusual attitude toward executive pay, but I would have to question her powers of inference and observation.

Sure, there are more details to the story, but the big picture speaks for itself.

17.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

iPad day 2 Permalink to this item

The brilliant: Its display. Whether sitting still in your hand, or responding to gravity, or the "spread" and "pinch" gestures, scaling razor sharp at any resolution, it defines "state of the art" in 2012. Really, truly instant on is brilliant, too.

The annoying: I get that this is a consumer portal to the cloud, and that I'm supposed to tap in an IV from my bank account to Apple's vein, but Free should still be Free, damnit. First visit to Facebook suggested I should download the Facebook App, which is "free"... But not coming my way without that app store account that didn't get set up yesterday because of a server error. Later, the NYT h'link to its election app... takes me to the Facebook dead-end. No account, no apps for you.

The semi-digital: Touch-typing sort of works, but I have to mostly look at the keys, which I stopped doing about 27 years ago. And the silly stripped down keyboard that makes most anything beyond the alphabet a game of hide-and-seek is opportunity and obstruction. For a context where input is tightly constrained, the keyboard can be reduced to only permissable input. But that's not really what's happening: the space constraint means it's ALWAYS stripped down, spread across three screens. (Thank goodness I don't need to find diacriticals!) I guess "smart" phone users know all that and more, and this seems like a generous provision to them?

Autocorrect is very clever when it's right, and a real annoyance when it isn't. It helps make up for the hidden keys, inserting apostrophes in contractions at least as well as I usually do on the first try. It makes sense to default accept corrections—when they're right, but an opening to unintended... humor, hopefully, but Bad Things will happen, sooner or later.

Interesting: no cursor keys. Not expecting you to review and edit.

Funny: the F and J keys have the little "raised" bivets to let your fingers "feel" the home position. As if.

16.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When religion meets politics and goes crazy Permalink to this item

Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan: Women facing sexual McCarthyism:

"Guys, I'm thinking it's hard for you to imagine what it's like to have your most private decisions made for you. By women.

"Let's put it this way: Imagine that you need Viagra. Imagine that a law passed by an 80% female Legislature mandates that to obtain a prescription, you have to procure an affidavit from a sexual partner verifying that you are indeed incapable of an erection. ..."

In Texas, the 80% male state legislature was willing to forgo $35 million in federal funding to starve funding to Planned Parenthood, and in the long run pay even more than that in added maternity bills as a result.

"Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that Texas would not be receiving federal Medicaid money under its waiver anymore because the state was unlawfully limiting access to health care choice."

Maybe the courts will sort out whether, as the Texas A.G. surmises, "a Women's Health Program that withholds taxpayer subsidies from Planned Parenthood does more to 'promote the objectives of Medicaid' than a state in which the Women's Health Program does not exist at all."

In the only slightly less contentious realm of contraception, Margaret Talbot's comments for The New Yorker that it "seems more systematic than probable" that the attack on women is an attempt to "undermine them in the private [sphere]" "because women are on the ascendant in the public sphere." She thinks it looked like a good angle to work the attack on "Obamacare," and by the way, it's gone horribly off the rails.

Into another world Permalink to this item

In the early 80's, back when I still spun up Steeley Dan and set a stylus in the groove once in a while, and it was time to buy my first desktop computer, I considered an Apple ][, or maybe a III, and a PC. I ended up going in the direction of my employer at the time, HP, but eventually came around to the main mainstream of DOS, then Windows 3.1 (~shudder~), 95, 2k, and on down the line. Each round of obsolesence gave another opportunity, but the early inertia held ground, and even though I thought about it a lot, I never crossed the Rubicon.

Until today.

My boss got a notion to reward my labors with the gift of a shiny new iPad. Thanks, boss!

The new iPad stuff The packaging is elegant and spare. Less is more. A smooth, white, shrink-wrapped box the size of a thin book. The size of an iPad with a box around it. No help getting the shrinkwrap open, I'm am now responsible to protect this work of art against sharp objects.

There's no manual inside. A glossy "iPad" card, escaped from a high-tech Tarot deck, points me to the On/Off Sleep/Wake, Silent, Volume Up/Down switches on the side, and Home, down in front. There is a booklet printed on thin, slick paper, cover says "iPad" on it. Inside are many pages of alarmingly fine print. Very efficient use of paper, very annoying to anyone older than mid-40s. (Was I not supposed to buy this?) First section heading is "Important Safety and Handling Information," which I have to assume is not actually important, otherwise they would've made it readable. I am able to see that there is no instruction, however. But then Apple products don't need any, right?

Press the on button, et voilà, the battery is charged and it's ready to go. No need to figure out the not quite cubical plug thingie and the cord just yet. Screen comings and goings I don't understand, I keep bringing it back with "Home." It wants to know my language, has guessed English. Next. It wants to know my country, from a long list. I have to know how to scroll with a gesture. I do. I have to know how to scroll to the very bottom of a long list. I do. United States. Next.

I have to have a network to proceed. I do, but it requires (a) a password, and (b) configuration to permit this new device to connect. (We believe in tight security here.) I can't find how to do either. It can't (or at least won't) help me, because setup is not complete. You can go back... and specify your language and country again. And tell it whether or not to allow location-based services. (And if not, are you sure you don't want to? Yes, I'm sure.)

But no network, no go. And precious little color as well. Color is for people who have been able to finish setup.

Eventually, I roll down my Wi-Fi security knickers and let this upstart in to my home network, and we stumble through the essential parts of configuration, including an attempt to setup an Apple account of some sort, which fails, because of some problem on the server that it's unable to explain. Try later.

Once configured, I'm granted color, and access to fish around for the MAC address, and a place to enter the WiFi password after I turn my router's security back on.

I'm sure it'll be interesting and fun, but I'm pretty darn surprised at what a thoroughly awful user experience I had to go through to get to the "home" screen as shown on the card inside. (I don't have to worry about offending my benefactor with this public criticism, because he was sitting next to me as we—veteran technologists, both—worked to puzzle out this spare little beast, and both witnessed the minor debacle.)

By the way, on the back of that card, Below the Welcome to iPad paragraph instructing me to use the On/Off button, there's Learn more. with a web address for learning more, and for downloading the iPad User Guide. Because... they didn't want to preload the wrong one? And I could Get support. if I can get to an hyperlink.

Don't think of it as a computing device, so much as some sensors and a user interface to connect to the world. And the Apple Store.

There's a hole in the ground where they used to grow Permalink to this item

Today's soundtrack would be King of the World from Steeley Dan's Countdown to Ecstasy album, their second shot into the blue of my early 1970's music scene, after their debut Can't Buy a Thrill. That record was cool, catchy, complicated, cracking categories.

No marigolds in the promised land,
there's a hole in the ground where they used to grow...

This brought to mind by reading the news that the Frederick E. Terman Engineering Center is gone, if not lost: 99.6% of what used to be an L-shaped, 5-story building, a lovely below-grade pool with fountain, and a grove of mature conifers "has been diverted from landfill through either recycling or reuse," in Stanford style.

Terman was a lively building, from its small basement cafeteria, to its big classrooms on the 5th floor, full of engineering faculty and staff and students, and lightweight construction that let you feel the rumble of mechanical systems not quite in balance, or someone crossing the elevator lobby in a hurry.

At a couple minutes past 5:00 on October 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake rumbled through the San Andreas fault, stopping the World Series, remodeling the Marina District, collapsing freeway viaducts and adding a new feature to the Bay Bridge, I was in a design class on the 5th floor, listening to project presentations. If you've been in a big earthquake, you know the confusion and pandemonium that comes from your essential expectation of stability being rocked, the dilation of time and awareness. I remember the tables, the table that I did my best to get under after looking to the nearest, best doorway, and deciding that it was too far for me to reach, and with too many others trying to reach it at the same time.

Even without the amplification from the building, that was a big, long quake, and... I decided it was the longest, biggest one I ever wanted to be in. (So far, so good.) 45 seconds of shake, rattle and roll? Who knows at this point. I just remember it went way past "ok, this should be over now" and into "how long can this possibly go on?"

But not all the way to "the building is collapsing!" Terman passed its biggest mechanical engineering mid-term with colors flying, unlike a lot of other structures in the Bay area. It was not-quite a teenager at the time, dedicated in Steeley Dan's heyday. In its mid-thirties, "advanced deterioration of its exposed structural laminated wood beams" spelled its doom.

The fountain will survive... in a pleasant little park on the site. Not quite the same thing, though. What of the memories, the lessons, the late hours' labor over class projects, the learning? Let's hope 99.6% of all that can be reused or recycled, too.

Ides.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Batting .037 Permalink to this item

That's a lot closer to Little League than the minor leagues, but Newt Gingrich soliders on, fueled by his ambition, and the dream of a brokered convention allowing him to apply the same sort of machinations that once made him Speaker of the House. As Paul West puts it for the L.A. Times, "his sense of himself as an epic figure may well be what's keeping him going."

And he could make some more history! A "leading Gingrich lieutenant" during the 80s and 90s and now Romney campaign advisor, former Rep. Vin Weber says he's "hoping that [Gingrich will] have second thoughts" about sticking it out. But, the lure:

"Newt, being a political historian, sees the prospect of the first open convention, at least since 1976, as a very exciting historic opportunity."

14.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Out with a bang Permalink to this item

That would be Greg Smith, explaining on the New York Times' Op-Ed page why he's leaving Goldman Sachs, today.

"I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money."

He's not your run-of-the-mill disgruntled employee, having been a mentor, recruiter, featured in their college recruiting video, and having "[advised] two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia."

"What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm's 'axes,' which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) 'Hunt Elephants.' In English: get your clients—some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren't—to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. ... c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym."

Witnessing duplicity Permalink to this item

We got up at dark thirty, added ourselves to the morning commute influx and made our way through the rain to the Capitol and the "garden level" auditorium on the Senate side, to listen to the State Affairs Committee hearing on the ultrasound mandate bill, renumbered S.1387 after a severability clause was added on Monday. We arrived 5 or 10 minutes after the scheduled start, still a line of people signing up to testify, the room mostly full, and lobbyist Kerry Uhlenkott of Right to Life of Idaho in the middle of her extended remarks, first up in support of the bill.

Matters of fact that should have been resolved through testimony, or by the Senators or their staff were not. We understand that there are "crisis pregnancy centers" in the state whose mission is to persuade women seeking an abortion out of that decision, and that many of them offer "free ultrasound" services. Not all are actual medical facilities, nor HIPAA-certified. At least one is, but it wasn't made clear whether (and it seems unlikely) they also provide abortion services. Right to Life of Idaho President Jason Herring acknowledged the fundamental dishonesty of the service they provide. After you get the "free" ultrasound, if you still want an abortion, the law would require another—likely not free—ultrasound, from the physician who will perform the abortion. The cost might be anywhere from $200 to $1,000 or more. (Senator Patti Anne Lodge noted her bill for a breast ultrasound and radiological services was $914.)

For a divisive, contentious issue such as this, there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a hearing with public testimony. The motives of many parties are clear, but must not be disparaged. Name-calling is out, as are certain metaphors and comparisons. Mention of the Holocaust was gavelled. A last sentence reference to "a" holocaust by Ardvell Bajema was let go, after he'd waved his pictures supporting his position that "abortion is murder" from the podium. Bajema was last seen yelling "Shame" on the Capitol steps after last week's rally, bringing up the memory of Breitbart's last rant to an Occupy group.

Being a veteran wasn't sufficient to permit you to bring up Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union without pushback. The first to speak against the bill was my friend Sue Philley, who delivered a petition she'd circulated and that more than 4,000 people signed. She described some of the comments, including that "several [signers] likened this un-American attack on wives, daughters, friends and children's privacy privacy to the Taliban and Sharia law."

It's all too American at this point, but for as much as Senator Davis might sadly shake his head, the comparison to the Taliban and Sharia law are apt, and relevant. The moral force proponents feel has trumped the supposed disdain they have for big and/or intrusive government. You can't get much more intrusive than to reach into an examination room and coerce doctors to deliver a certain message, and patients to undergo medically unnecessary procedures. Sen. Michelle Stennet noted that the only comparable legal coercion is for taking blood from someone who refuses voluntary alcohol testing related to driving, and the administration of lethal injection to carry out the death penalty. Not to put too fine a point on what the Republicans would have the state do.

For her part, Brandi Swindell was free to paint with a broad brush of hearsay, speaking for the "they" of "numerous clients" who she said benefited from knowledge (and "knowledge is power," don't you know), justifying the state's proposal to enforce constraints of speech and action in what should be the most private setting imaginable. And finally to advertise the demonstration she's trying to arrange: conducting a live ultrasound in the state Capitol.

In the end, it was a 7-2 party line decision to send the bill to the full Senate with a do-pass recommendation. I was most disappointed in Sen. Lodge, who recognized the faults in the bill, who said her own church sent her information with concerns... but that her "concern for the unborn" was stronger than her sense of responsibility to her fiduciary duty as a legislator. Emotions can be confusing.

When it was all said and done, and the unruly yelling that punctuated the committee's adjournment died out, I was struck by both the pointlessness and the importance of the exercise. The committee's conclusion was already determined, as the whole Senate's may be as well. It's important to debate the merits of issues and legislation without being overwhelmed with emotion and personal attacks. Whatever the motivation behind a proposal, you have to deal with the expressed intent, not the imagined intent, even if little is left to imagination.

And then, eventually, higher powers in black robes will have to sort out what's right and what's wrong, and they'll make mistakes too.

(Thanks to Betsy Russell's detailed coverage of today's hearing, for the Spokesman Review.)

13.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Demise of a troll Permalink to this item

Couldn't happen to a nicer law firm: U.S. District Court Judge orders Righthaven to cough up ALL of its IP (and "other intangible property") to settle its debts.

"The order is an ironic twist to a copyright trolling saga that began in 2010, when Righthaven was formed with the idea of suing blogs and websites that re-post newspaper articles or snippets of them without permission."

Extra-grand theft Permalink to this item

Along the Boise R. greenbelt, footbridge in curtain wall, 2003 Not sure how much it takes to be "grand" these days, maybe inflation has made the limit more than $1,000, the old-fashioned grand. But in any event, $1,600,000,000 would certainly qualify, wouldn't it? Maybe not, if prosecutors are "unable to find a smoking gun"? Yes, we're sure there was $1.6 billion of customer money that went bye-bye, but... maybe the responsible parties weren't "intentional" about misusing customer money?

"[I]s it really plausible that you can take $1.6 billion—nearly 25% of the customer assets under management—and not know you've used customer money? It is not. One theory, which is implicitly suggested in the trustee's report, is that the executives 'borrowed' the money thinking they would be able to replace the funds quickly, which they then couldn't because the counterparties wouldn't give back the collateral. That's still a crime."

And it's also the inevitable "explanation" every embezzler comes up with. I was just borrowing it; I planned to pay it back.

Toronto a bridge too far for Dick Cheney Permalink to this item

I feel obligated to point out that I am not making up the fact that the promotions company that had booked our former Vice President for an April 24 engagement at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is named Spectre Live Corp. Really.

But anyway, the show will not go on, as ex-Veep considers Canada too dangerous a place for him to visit, the "risk of violent protest," don't you know, as reported in the National Post. Best to stay hunkered down in an undisclosed location for the duration of hostilities.

It seems when he was last north of the border, promoting his memoir, things got ugly. For Canada, that is: one fellow "lunged" and gratuitously "choked" an innocent employee of the venue, quite unseemly. But in the larger context of the violence Dick Cheney has perpetrated on the world, it seems a small thing.

Cost is no object Permalink to this item

Melissa Davlin's story in the Sunday Twin Falls Times-News confirms the duplicity of Chuck Winder's mandated ultrasound bill, SB 1394, as I surmised last week: there is no medical purpose in the legislation; it is solely for the purpose of shaming, and dissuading someone from obtaining a legal abortion. Cost—and the woman's rights—be damned.

Crisis pregancy centers will provide the service "free" in their mission to stop abortion. And then the woman will have to pay for a second—equally unnecessary—procedure should she wish to proceed.

H/t to Eye on Boise for the link to the Times-News article, and the reminder that the bill is scheduled for a hearing at 8a.m. tomorrow in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

12.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Two from outer space Permalink to this item

Venus and Jupiter have been gracing the evening sky and sliding closer to conjunction, coming up in a couple days, with a four-hour show. Hope there's a break in our clouds; today's been trying to rain, or something.

On the other side of the sky, and much further out in space, but with a close-up camera view in your browser, the water ice plumes of Enceladus.

Is this a great solar system, or what?

Making a sincere apology Permalink to this item

As I often have done, I expressed a negative reaction at one of life's minor vicissitudes yesterday, and then went in to sing in the choir at both church services. Having two chances to listen to the various speakers and the sermon, I had the opportunity to formulate a resolution. It might seem a bit late for "New Year's," but there's no reason to wait for a certain earth-sun alignment before heading off in a positive direction.

That was what my resolution was, in fact: think positive. When something goes wrong that's really no big deal, let it go by. If someone does, or says something disagreeable, I don't have to be disagreeable too. There's a positive side to almost everything, and a compassionate response can be chosen. The sermon was about recognizing "the light" in others, or as Mark Zimmerer put it in his personal story that came before the minister's presentation,

"Not only are we in it together, we are it."

The sermon included mention of Rush Limbaugh as an example, of all things, and the considerable challenge in responding compassionately to his recent hateful tirade. One person's response was to observe that "he doesn't seem like a happy man." I left it an open question, knowing that the fallback response when "you don't have anything nice to say" was an option to me.

But then I saw the local school newspaper ran a piece from the MCT Campus wire, Apology falls short, which started with a useful observation: "Everyone can learn from Rush Limbaugh." And then maybe basics that we should have all learned in kindergarten, the components of a sincere apology:

(1) I'm sorry.
(2) What I did was wrong.
(3) What can I do to make it up to you?

Recognizing sincerity (or the lack of it) is an important, learned skill. Expressing sincerity, and true compassion is the work of a lifetime. So, let's get started. (This is not the end of disagreements; nor even disagreeability, given my lack of perfection; but a direction to head.)

10.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The war on class Permalink to this item

Bruce Bartlett is one of the old school conservatives who got off the bus because the rest of the passengers on it seemed to have gone crazy. He's blogging in Economix, and his March 6 entry, Fanning the flames of class warfare is not too taxing to read. He brings up the basic uncomfortable fact of the anti-tax narrative that's been the Republican mantra of the last decade.

"I'm still waiting for the growth Republicans promised under George W. Bush after they cut the top federal income tax rate to 35 percent from 39.6 percent, the top rate on qualified dividends to 15 percent from 35 percent and the top rate on capital gains to 15 percent from 20 percent. All of these actions significantly lowered taxes for the rich without raising economic growth at all. Why will more tax cuts for these same people do any good now?"

Hope springs eternal?

Looking up Permalink to this item

Bloomberg data graphed by the NYT Politicians love to take credit for good things that happened on their watch, and to blame others for bad things that happened on others' watch, probably because credit and blame will be affixed by "the public," especially the public who votes them in and out of office.

The Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination are all over Obama's failures to turn the economy around, and to fix unemployment, as if that were something a president (and especially a president with a do-nothing Congress) could do single-handedly. The trouble with the doom and gloom is that it's out of touch with reality at the moment. The NYT Economix blog has a stack of handy charts in its sidebar, leading with change in number of jobs. The March 10 update of the Bloomberg data presentation is shown here, with the time window coinciding with Obama's term of office, more or less.

What matters to the individual voter is whether or not s/he has a job, but the overall picture is a positive record to run on. Yes, we wish it were even better; no, we don't have any evidence that any of the hypothetical plans B would have come through with a different result, any more than we can run that experiment. It is what it is. As the grey footnote says, "losses accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2008," and whether it was force of will, brilliant action, or just good timing, things have turned around and headed up into positive territory for a year and a half.

Most of the other stats show the same pattern as this one does; housing is bleaker, understandably, and Existing Home Prices are still showing a post-bubble deflation, but Housing Starts have been growing over the last year. Industrial production is up, as are retail sales.

Shorter summary: unless things blow up, Obama gets re-elected.

9.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho's tax scofflaw still on the loose Permalink to this item

Hard to believe another year has ticked by, and Phil Hart is not only on the loose, and in the news, he's still in the Idaho Legislature as well. He has primary challengers this time around though, and a credible Democratic opponent in a district that hasn't seen a Democrat run in a decade. His 15 minutes may be about up.

His Kentucky lawyer (I assumed Betsy's not making that up just to be funny) argued "that Hart's immune from being served any such notices during a legislative session, to 'prevent interference with the state legislative process.' Wrote McFarland, 'This has been a fundamental principle since the foundation of country and even the law of nations.'"

Except that, um, it isn't, actually. The U.S. Department of Justice's lawyer responded that "there is no set of facts under which Hart is entitled to assert legislative immunity for failing to pay his federal income taxes." And even if there were, the incident in question started when Hart failed to respond in the three months before the 2011 legislature, and we're in 2012 now. The taxes are still due, and the interest is adding up.

Semester in the wild Permalink to this item

In today's mail, a link to the announcement for the University of Idaho's new program this summer and fall, an "intensive field-based curriculum," with "classes in the natural sciences and humanities while exploring some of the most compelling ecosystems and inspiring landscapes of the Rocky Mountains." The instruction is to take place at two unique university properties, the Taylor Wilderness Research Station in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness ("America's wildest classroom") and the field stations on Payette Lake in McCall.

Ah, to be young again. Once upon a time I took the "Wilderness Ecology" course at the UI, two weeks studying botany and feeding zoology in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. This is bigger, for sophomore- and junior-level students:

"the opportunity to fulfill 17 semester credits while studying in some of the most beautiful, rugged landscapes in the United States. ... The 13-week curriculum is designed for students seeking a uniquely integrated ecological, earth science and humanities learning experience that can satisfy the curricular requirements and/or electives across many degree programs. The curriculum emphasizes inquiry-based learning—students and professors will be fully engaged in the mountains, rivers and lakes of these extraordinary field stations."

I'd have to dig deep into memory and paperwork (and probably still couldn't find it) to see what those two weeks cost me back in 1978, but this program isn't cheap. $3k in-state tuition and $3k room and board, and another $3k if you're paying out-of-state tuition. And worth every penny of that, I'm sure.

8.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The ultimate government intrusion Permalink to this item

Hundreds of Idaho citizens gathered on the Capitol steps today to protest having the legislature insert itself between women and doctors to coerce a medical procedure intended to dissuade women from seeking a legal abortion. Already a law in some states (most recently Virginia, after its legislature backed off from explicitly calling for government-mandated rape), Sen. Chuck Winder has brought it to Idaho as SB 1349. While I listened to the speeches, a local TV station's reporter and cameraman got in my face, and asked me why I was there. I hadn't expected to be giving any speeches, but I was able to answer directly, after a moment's hesitation to collect my thoughts.

It did make the news, as one of two "citizen" comments, positioned before Winder's statement. Which is good, because I was curious what I'd said: I'm familiar with the position I expressed, but wasn't sure what words had actually come out of my mouth. I said:

"Mandating an unnecessary medical procedure is anathema, and the Republicans in this state should be ashamed they brought it up."

I didn't do as well as the featured speakers (which, ahem, the reporter actually should have been paying attention to, don't you think?), and lord knows "shame" is not going to slow down those acting out the impulse to impose their morality on others. The reporter, Scott Logan, put my comment right in front of a sound bite from the Senator, collected indoors.

Scott Logan: "But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder is unashamed:"

Winder: "Obviously, the state has an interest in the life of that, uh, unborn uh, baby, and uh, I think that we do have a uh an interest in protecting that life, uh, it doesn't eliminate uh the right of that woman to have an abortion..."

Logan: "Winder says the purpose is to give woman the opportunity to make an informed decision by providing them with more information before going through with an abortion."

In his set up, Logan noted, accurately, that opponents call it a political tactic to shame and bully women already burdened with a difficult decision." There is no other diagnostic procedure mandated by state law. My soundbite made the 4pm and 5:30pm news, and someone else had her 15 seconds of fame on the 5pm broadcast. (Yes, they have three half-hour repeats of their news between 4 and 6pm.)

Sondra Lambert: "It just seems ridiculous in my mind that you would even question that women are so stupid that they can't make up their own minds about how they want their lives to run..."

Another disturbing aspect is highlighted by the ACLU: the list of "health care providers, facilities, and clinics that offer to perform such ultrasounds free of charge" that the state Department of Health and Welfare would be commanded to compile is certain to include "crisis pregnancy centers" that are not medical offices, but rather fake "clinics."

That does seem like a fitting connection for the fake principle of smaller, less intrusive government that state Republicans mouth when it suits their purposes, and ignore when it does not.

7.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tipsy point Permalink to this item

Adapted from the (linked) NYT graphic on this date Watching the numbers roll in last night, especially Ohio tipping to Romney (by less than 1% of votes cast, but thanks to the little men behind the curtains, he gets 62.5% of the delegates to be had), it seemed pretty obvious that Romney's adequate appeal, ample money, and competent campaign have reached the tipping point to demonstrate the inevitability that the pundit class have talked about for lo these many months.

But the other three candidates still standing all read the results in some favorable light, or something. Gingrich won his home state! Rick Santorum put a couple more notches in his belt and will slog-fight on! Gingrich promises to take the south (please). Mr. ConservativeHQ politely calls on Newt to consider dropping out, as he imagines "kingmakers" and "spoilers" in this Republican soufflé that's already gone flat as a pancake.

But there is some comedy gold still to be mined here. Viguerie's wind-up conclusion made me laugh out loud:

"As the astute student of history that he is, Speaker Gingrich is unique among the candidates in his ability to appreciate that the greatest acts of patriotism always involve a measure of self-sacrifice, such as setting aside one's personal ambitions in favor of what is best for your country."

If only.

6.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

WHIP Permalink to this item

The acronym for "wealth has its privileges" gave me a momentary shot back to the Ford campaign's "WIN" which didn't: we failed to Whip Inflation Now back in the mid 1970s, even if we do seem to have whipped it pretty soundly with the Great Recession we're starting to crawl out of.

Ann Romney's robotic servant has called our house a couple times in recent days, hoping to exhort us to attend a Republican caucus and stand up for her hubby. It would be an interesting thing to do, to attend that is, but the only candidate I could in good conscience stand up for is "None of the Above," and I'm not sure the Republicans will provide for that. "Uncommitted," though, seems like that should be a choice?

I certainly don't envy Mrs. Romney's position, life, or car choices (could be my association of Cadillacs as hearses, or Dallas motorcade vehicles*), and of course she needs to do what she can to support her husband's campaign. But "poor in spirit" is unfortunately more self-disclosure than self-defense. Doesn't consider herself wealthy, huh.

(Oh, and here's Mitt Romney calling, too. "...and as always, this call was paid for by Romney for President, Incorporated.")

* Update: Thanks to an alert reader who informs me that I should be frightened of Lincoln Continentals rather than Cadillacs when it comes to Dallas motorcades.)

Nation building Permalink to this item

Peter Van Buren's book, We Meant Well caught my eye while looking through the "new books" shelf at our library. Its subtitle provides a synopsis: "How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People." Van Buren is an experienced Foreign Service Officer who spend 12 months in Iraq as the US occupation wound down, 2009-10, and recounts his experience as a member of an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team on a Forward Operating Base, in bite-sized vignettes without a lot of embellishment. If he's lucky, he won't have any more of the kind of experience that inspired him to write an outstanding book on his first try.

He captures the enormity of what we did in Iraq by carefully examining the few shards he witnessed and reporting them directly. The irony and insufficiency speaks for itself, as almost every short chapter has sentences or whole paragraphs that can stand by themselves as summary judgment.

The mayhem is relatively limited, but one man (and a lot of training pigs) wounded, and one "non-combat-related" death are amply expressive. He doesn't need to introduce a lot of opinion where description alone tells the story. But at the end, in the Acknowledgments, one concluding paragraph from an employee able to express himself up the chain of command:

"Not thanks really but a special notice to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who led an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoned us there. In a sad way, their actions created this book—I just wrote it all down. There was one little hint about how unimportant this all was to the highest levels of even the new management at State. On our last day of PRT training, the facility was put into lockdown for a vist from the new Secretary of State (it's cool that when she visits her own staff the Secretary's security puts us into lockdown). She greeted and congratulated the Afghan PRT class down the hall from us Iraqis, then left. We didn't even rate a walk-on. Our war no longer really mattered, though it would take me a long year in the desert and writing this book to fully figure that out."

Kudos to The American Empire Project and Tom Englehardt for their supporting role to make the book happen.

5.March 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Carpetbagging Permalink to this item

When your run of the mill candidate for president comes through and tells you about what "they" back in Washington think and do, you can generally take it with a grain of salt. In the case of Rick Santorum, since he spent a fair amount of time as one of "them," we can at least assume he's representing himself well enough. During what I'd guess was his first-ever visit to the state last month, Santorum weighed in with the easy and vacuous opinion that the "they" of the federal government don't care about this land.

"They don't live here, they don't care about it, we don't care about it in Washington. It's just flyover country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."

That was on the way to suggesting "we need to get it back [sic] into the hands of the states and even to the private sector." The Sagebrush Rebellion rides again! We can give him the benefit of the doubt that he speaks for himself, at least. He doesn't live here, he doesn't care about it, it's just flyover country. With 32 delegates up for grabs in tomorrow's Republican caucuses here, really, he'd just like to use the drive-through window.

For his part, "Romney admitted he didn't know why the federal government managed much of the land in the West and hadn't studied the transfer issue." Maybe some one will hand him a position shortly, but give him credit for "I don't know" as a better response than "I don't know and here's what I propose to do."

A half dozen people with actual knowledge and experience in the field provided a rebuttal to Santorum in Sunday's Idaho Statesman, charitably pointing out that recent questioning was "misinformed."

"Most of [the individuals who manage public land in the West] have attended universities with programs in natural resources, engage in the same outdoor activities most Idahoans do, and chose to dedicate their lives to the stewardship of these public lands. They know the values the public lands bring to the American people from economic to open space to ecological. And yes, these are the some of the same people who often spend part of their careers as the 'bureaucrats' in Washington, D.C. ... We have worked with them and we value them highly, they are honorable people."

Who care about, and for, our public lands. If you have something to add to the discussion Rick, that would be great, but if you're just dropping quips for a campaign event, why not keep flying over?

3.3.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

360 to zero in nothing flat Permalink to this item

John Foster's been turning heads in Idaho in a career that's included bicycle racing, writing, editing, directing communications for Rep. Walt Minnick's one term, 50-50 managing Minnick's two campaigns, rising to senior vice president at Strategies 360 ("experts at negotiating the political landscape, crafting content, building coalitions and targeting communications" with nine eight offices around the west), his own firm, and a complaint out of that penultimate job for breach of contract, violation of the Idaho Trade Secrets Act, breach of duty and loyalty, and breach of duty and confidentiality.

Strategies 360 hasn't updated their website to reflect the closing of their Boise office; the Idaho page still touts

"operatives [who] made their reputations in tough political campaigns and working on the state's behalf in the nation's capital" turned toward "solving thorny crisis-communications problems, positioning organizations in the public arena, and guiding clients' public-policy objectives to success."

Let's see how this thorny crisis-communications problem turns out.

Local girl makes good (we hope) Permalink to this item

Idaho State Senator Nicole LeFavour is featured in the NYT for what she's planning after her term is up: helping this state take a step beyond "what America was" by making it against the law to discriminate for sexual orientation or gender identity, just as it is now to discriminate by race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

2.Mar.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just in time for filing season (and hours of fun) Permalink to this item

Screen shot of the map, this afternoon Autoupdating between now and the end of the candidate filing window on March 9, Brett Nelson's and Nathaniel Hoffman's Idaho Legislative candidate map, and a look behind the scenes, to elaborate on "data journalism." (As opposed to ... ? We'll need a retronym pretty quick. Non-data journalism. Decorative journalism.)

Shout-outs to Dan Nguyen ("journalist, programmer and photographer") the guardian's Data Store, and hey, Boise City Community Education where you might find a class on programming with Ruby, but I did not.

Nathaniel says it's unlikely he'll ever be a "real programmer," but I'm not so sure about that. Starts with the smallest of itches...

The goodies include: the shapefile of the new legislative districts brought into a Google Map; the link to Xpf, for converting PDFs to text; Google Fusion Tables, to "gather, visualize and share your date online." Nice. Anybody can play!

All your photobase are belong to us Permalink to this item

NO TRAFFIC SIGNS sign I've been twiddling pixels since before digital cameras were the rage (or worse, when they produced half and 1Mpx snippets of Impressionism), and who knows, I may get around to scanning some of the negatives, slides and prints squirreled away in the house. It's been all about the user interface, and the UIs have mostly been "clumsy," to pick a SFW and charitable adjective. With a thousand (give or take) different ways to share your photos online, there are a thousand different ways to dig them out of your camera, phone, disk drives, whatever.

Or, go the easy way, and give your (Android or iOS) phone permission to go on the internet... and woo hoo! An app can copy all of your photos to a remote server without any notice. "In response to questions, Google acknowledged this and said it would consider changing its approach."

"Users typically presume some care is given when designing these platforms such that their personal data is handled in a consistent way," Mr. Soltani[, a researcher specializing in privacy and security] said. "However, this seems to repeatedly be a false assumption."

1.Mar.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Top 5 from Stratfor Permalink to this item

Juan Cole digests the Wikileaks "Strategic Forecasting, Inc." dump for us, the top items that have emerged so far.

"The fifth revelation is that often Stratfor analysts did not know what they were talking about and had an extreme rightwing bias. ... [T]he one percent interpreting the world for the one percent as being about the one percent is a dire problem in our information system, since the one percent has the resources and can try to overwhelm reasoned analysis that recognizes the agency of the people."

Dart him! Permalink to this item

Screenshot of Fox News in action
It's called "pundit prep"

"You don't have one of Fox News' talking heads... I don't know, reading the memo aloud, much to the chagrin of one of the talking heads sitting next to him... do we?"

David Karpf, of shouting loudly, on why academics should read The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine about "propaganda efforts unlike anything America has seen in the modern communication era."

Karpf notes that there's still plausible deniability, of a sort (if the absurd clips The Daily Show's team digs up four nights a week aren't good enough for you). Good research, obvious conclusion, but not with "the feel or rigor of an academic study" just yet. Riiight.

Disaffinity #2 Permalink to this item

It seems Intuit is not content to accept our $100+ annual spend on TurboTax as sufficient cash flow. We started using Quicken in the early 90s, and have bought four or five versions of it now. "Friendly" email notice that Important: Quicken Services Will Discontinue April 30. Unless we send money. Don't think of it as marketing so much as extortion. But it's corporate extortion, which means they have a nice written policy about it. In the "Support / Help" section of their website. What will I lose?

  1. Downloading transactions and balances from financial institutions
  2. Paying bills online with Quicken
  3. Accessing live help by chat, phone, or e-mail
  4. Uploading portfolio information to
  5. Downloading stock quotes and news headlines to Quicken

Only problem with the threat is that I don't actually use features 1-4, and downloading stock quotes 52 times a year is not really mission-critical, but only a convenience to me.

Continuing the extortion theme, the next subhead in the email says Don't worry—we've got you covered!

If I send more money, that is.

Maybe I should forward this back to the address deep in the BOF fine print, "spoof" at, with the message that this is far too annoying a marketing program to be genunine, and someone is trying to besmirch their good name, and our long-standing business relationship.

Disaffinity Permalink to this item

The sleasy button Went shopping yesterday, even though I didn't need anything, and generally don't care for that experience. The motivation was an expiring coupon, a marketing ploy which I deplore, but the "Staples Rewards" for $40 were enough to get me to the store. Now I don't mind "shopping" terrible much if I'm actually hunting for something particular. Browsing's just not attractive. The amount wasn't enough to motivate a major purchase, or a new lifestyle gadget, and I'm pretty much fully accessorized... but I did finally find a useful desk lamp for the right price. But it wasn't in stock. So we'd order it, and they wouldn't charge shipping.

And did I have that coupon?

No, I just assumed they had it wired into our account along with everything else. Mmm, no. Don't actually have that "online account" setup done (even though they've been mailing and emailing us stuff for years.

Well, I could go into gory detail, but life's too short. The synopsis: no joy. Wasted an hour. Rode home, rushed dinner, went to choir rehearsal, came home, looked into the archives, found the coupon from September 2011, printed it, ran out the door, raced back to the store at 10 minutes to 9:00 closing time... and realized when I got there that their dumbass email formatting and/or Outlook Express had clipped the essential element of said coupon, ye olde barcode.

No joy, squared.

Back home flame-o-gram to corporate HQ, ending with "Unless you respond at [sic] satisfy me VERY DIRECTLY, I will go out of my way--a LONG WAY out of my way--to avoid doing business with you again." (I was typing black text on a dark gray background in a reply off their "inapprooriate" formatted coupon email.) This morning, they did what they had to, via return email:

"Since you are a valued customer, I have reissued your $37 and $4 Rewards with an extended expiration date. Please allow 7 to 10 business days for delivery via USPS."

That was easy.

Monkey wrench Permalink to this item

Can the Romney Flip-flop Finder find Mitt "...not only admitting to this practice of voting in someone else's primary, but admitting it in, say, a 12-year-old gleeful girly voice?"

Yes it can.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 03-Apr-2012 23:47:39 MDT