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31.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is that the best you got, big boys? Permalink to this item

I'm feeling more love for Megyn Kelly after seeing her epic smackdown of Lou Dobbs and this other bozo who all of a sudden are all about "science" and the "animal kingdom" to explain why men should be dominant and women should stay home with an apron on. As she points out, "Just because you have people agree with you doesn't mean it's not offensive."

As for Lou Dobbs... I would love to see him spring into action when the Serengeti is on fire. I don't think the lions and tigers and oh my will grade on the curve, though: "he's done very well, or as best he can" might just not be good enough.

Shifting north and to the (far) right Permalink to this item

The Pacific Northwest Inlander has "a version" of Sierra Crane-Murdoch's excellent piece that was first published in High Country News (where a paywall kept many interested readers away). Having read it, I think it may be time to subscribe to HCN again; it's excellent, detailed reporting of the political evolution of north Idaho. The exodus from southern California to Kootenai County has not been secret, but I haven't seen it covered this well: Their Own Private Idaho. The message is in the medium's subhead: "How Kootenai County became the most Republican county in the most Republican state in the nation."

It's so "Republican" that infights are breaking out to weed out the too-moderate and the too-conservative. If you're foolish enough to try the "Democrat" label, never mind if you're gentle, affable, have bipartisan appeal, children who served on active duty in Iraq, founded North Idaho Youth for Christ, served on the school board, city council and as County Clerk, your chances have not been good. (A bit of a turnaround, though? The Inlander also has former state senator Mary Lou Reed's celebration of the takeover of the Coeur d'Alene School Board being averted.)

A number of the characters have shown up in the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries Online blog from time to time, either as dramatis personae or commenters, and the article provides some background I appreciate. Crane-Murdoch also notes the wider cultural shifts and polarization that underlie our parochial battles:

"The consequences have only begun to emerge. Journalist Bill Bishop and sociologist Robert G. Cushing, in their widely praised 2008 book, The Big Sort ["Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart"], suggest that the U.S. has become a patchwork of ideologically distinct communities that elect representatives who are frequently unwilling to compromise. No wonder, they write, that Congress is gridlocked, and issues such as health care, which once crossed party lines, are now definitively partisan. 'What happened,' writes Bishop, 'wasn't a simple increase in political partisanship, but a more fundamental kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing social division.' Americans had created communities that functioned as 'social-resonators' in which they could hear the 'amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.'

"Indeed, Kootenai County's transformation suggests that the most indelible impacts may be felt in the echo chambers themselves—in the counties, red and blue, where the majorities' values are reinforced in every facet of local government, and where it's easy to forget the way the other half thinks. 'It's taking us a step back,' one self-described conservative told me, 'because by making our own private Idaho, we're insulating ourselves from the world.'"

A bit of the local color late in the article adds a funny postscript to the tiff surrounding Tina Jacobson's departure from the KootCo Republican Central Committee last May:

"She told me that she wanted more time to work on her novel, a paranormal romance about an ambitious anti-tax crusader who is elected to the Idaho Legislature and falls in love with a ghost."

Which really, is all we've been lacking in Idaho politics lately.

30.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Vultures circling Permalink to this item

Last we were in Michigan, the closest we got to Detroit was Andrew Moore's remarkable "Detroit Disassembled" show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, of which Moore's website has remnants, but seems to be undergoing disassembly as well.... the National Building Museum was a later stop for Moore's show, and its site has "press images" worth browsing, even if the "full-size versions" aren't really full-size. "National Time clock," for example, is a 34" x 27" print, and the birches growing in books covers 40 square feet).

Then there was the business in the last presidential election, Romney's proposed banker's cure making headlines and soundbites that cost him one of his home state's electoral votes.

And now? With the economy picking up a bit and housing on the rebound, it seems distressed properties are harder to find. That will bring a gaggle of famous turnaround artists such as Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and the hosts of "Morning Joe" taking the country air up on Mackinac Island for Davos in the Great Lakes.

"The least surprising development to anyone following Detroit's woes has been Wall Street's continued ability to squeeze money out of a city that can't afford to keep its streetlights on or police its neighborhoods... In recent years, Detroit's water department has paid Wall Street banks hundreds of millions in termination fees alone in order to get out of bad municipal bond deals. (The city utility is so broke, it issued new bonds in order to pay the fees to get out of the old bonds!)"

Now they've got the place being run by "emergency managers" from a law firm that also represents banks holding the city's debt, bankruptcy lawyer Kevyn Orr's spokesman telling The Detroit Free Press that the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts might make a rather nice addition to a creditor's rec room. Seriously.


"We have no interest in selling art," [Bill] Nowling said this evening. "I want to make that pretty clear. But it is an asset of the city to a certain degree. We've got a responsibility under the act to rationalize that asset, to make sure we understand what's it's worth.

"We have to look at everything on the table. As much as it would pain us to do it, and it does, I'm a great lover of art and so is Kevyn, we've got a responsibility to rationalize all the assets of the city and find out what the worth is and what the city holds."

"Rationalize" all the assets, that's a new one. Nowling wouldn't name any names of the people having a new look at Matisse and van Gogh, but would say that "these are people savvy enough to know where all the money for the City of Detroit is." Mark Binelli is thinking out of the box for his NYT op-ed:

"Why stop there? Perhaps as part of a settlement, Mr. Orr can negotiate with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to play at creditors' annual shareholder luncheons, or work out a deal wherein laid-off autoworkers perform free annual tuneups on the limousines of bank executives. Better yet, he could tear a page from the Chrysler turnaround—which, of course, ended with the company's being purchased by Fiat. See where I'm going with this? Italians love art, they love cars, and they know how to monetize old ruins!"

29.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You say it like that's a bad thing Permalink to this item

Happy-faced Flash crash notice There must be a downside of having the Adobe Flash plugin crash; certainly if you're wanting to watch some video, it would be an inconvenience. But for news pages with a right-hand rail larded with advertising I have no interest in, the gray, frowny-faced notices are not bad news. Turn that frown upside down!

Memorial Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Of course they did Permalink to this item

Moscow cemetery marker from 1900 Seems almost too easy to come up with examples of "social welfare" groups that were targeted by the IRS testing the law, but it's useful to balance the outrage with something. There may even be an example of groups who were genuninely wronged, even though I haven't seen any of those reported yet.

The New York Times reporters looked at "more than a dozen" organizations, none of which ran major election advertising campaigns, so a rather small sample. They note that "IRS agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting 'social welfare'," so at most they might have underachieved in that obligation. Instead of quibbling over the small-fry, let's do have a full investigation of the spawn of the execrable Citizens United decision, Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA, American Action Network and Americans Elect, and stop their money-laundering for SuperPACs.

And while we're at it, let's consider what Fred Wertheimer points out: the law says that 501(c)(4) organizations enjoy their tax exemption by virtue of being exclusively engaged in "social welfare" activity. The IRS regulations have relaxed that to "primarily" to keep themselves out of the kind of political firestorm they just stumbled into, and from there to the notion that up to 49% is OK, and measuring with a rubber yardstick. Wertheimer:

"What is clear, in my view, is that the IRS got this wrong twice. They got it wrong in targeting conservative groups for review based on their names and their identified interests, and they got it wrong in not investigating and acting against groups that in our view were blatantly abusing the tax laws by improperly claiming to be 501(c)(4) groups so they could keep the donors paying for their campaign activities secret from the American people."

Groping for a reason Permalink to this item

In one of the filing cabinets in the house (and ok, maybe a few other spots, too) there are a couple manilla folders labeled "clipfile," from the good old days when one might clip something out of a newspaper. Not all our clips are in manilla, and not all are "organized."

But most of what I've been "clipping" for the last 15 or 20 years is now collected in computer files, which I like much better. Less mass and clutter, primarily, but also I tell myself I could find something if I wanted or needed to. It starts with a decision of which directory (a.k.a. "folder") to put it in. That will leave it with the date of filing, too, whether or not the contents are dated. If my system were more advanced, I might arrange for keywords, author, a database, but that's more than I've felt the need for. Occasionally, a story comes along that defies simple, single classification, and forces me to arbitrarily pick a folder.

Nathaniel Rich's piece for the NYT Opionator blog is such a one: Showdown at the Airport Body Scanner. Medicine? Technology? Politics? Politics\Terror? Travel? or Culture? take your pick. Psychology would be good too, if I had one of those.

Haven't been in airports much lately, but I remember the drill well enough, and the enthusiasm travelers have for sharing stories of inconvenience. What I like about Rich's take is that he acknowledges the tenuousness of his technical concern, but stands by it, proudly.

"Many scientists will insist that the low levels of radiation absorbed in airport security checks have no deleterious effect. That's wonderful—I'm happy to concede that my fears are most likely baseless. But as long as there is any question of risk, no matter how small, I will continue to avoid the machines."

I also like his attention for detail in describing the "public groping" he's treated to for his temerity in insisting on refusing the X-ray treatment. After all, "civil disobedience is worth nothing if it's not done in public."

"Airplane travel is disquieting, as is dealing with peevish federal officers, as is life. Even the slightest gesture of assertiveness can create the pleasing illusion that you control your fate."

23.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Words fail Permalink to this item

That's what direct mail king Richard Viguerie says in a letter to his fellow outragees, the Republican Members of Congress (or at least the Speaker of the House and the Senate Minority Leader, to whom it's addressed), with a potpourri of political hacksactivists co-signing. Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Ralph Reed and Phyllis Schlafly catch my eye.

How many of the apparently political organizations doing business as Citizens for the Republic, American Values, Citizens United, Media Research Center, ForAmerica, Public Service Research Foundation, Family Talk and Family Talk Action, Center for Military Readiness, American Target Advertising, Gregory Management Company, Rebecca Hagelin Communications and Marketing, Traditional Values Coalition, Frontiers of Freedom, Capitol Resource Institute, The Committee for Justice, Americans for Limited Government, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Vision America Action, Eagle Forum, Traditional Values Coalition, Reagan Biographer, The Conservative Caucus, Inc., Liberty Counsel, National Tax Limitation Committee, and will have already caught the IRS's eye for possibly dodgy 501(c)(4) applications as if they were "social welfare" organizations?

They don't say, but they do say that "Words can hardly convey the depth of our outrage." And they want a government handout to

"make whole those organizations and individuals who suffered discrimination or who were politically targeted by the Obama administration's IRS.

"Many organizations incurred tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal and tax preparation fees pursuing their not-for-profit tax exemption. Others simply gave up and folded their organizations in the face of the daunting financial burden, intimidation and bullying at the hands of Obama's IRS bureaucrats."

It's like stealing, don't you know. They want legislation drafted! Which should be much easier than first describing the "illegal acts" they imagine have been committed, and how said acts "discriminated," and just how those "tens of thousands of dollars" went toward "unnecessary" preparation fees, or even better, the aggrieved parties who simply gave up. The sky would be the limit to salve such intimidation and bullying, would it not?

22.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We're all outraged Permalink to this item

Maybe something Congress does will fix what's wrong with the IRS (if indeed something is significantly wrong with it, which has yet to be demonstrated). Will it come about as the result of committee hearings? I can't see how that could happen. Catching up on last Friday night's Newshour, and this snippet from "Chairman Camp," Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., making his statement to kick the already resigned acting chairman on his way out the door:

"The reality is, this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive, and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers."

Too large for what? Too abusive of whom, now? What do "honest, hardworking taxpayers" have to do with organizations seeking tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code? There were reportedly 200 or fewer employees charged with dealing with 70,000 non-profit applications a year. 3,500 apiece. Beyond the facile "we are all outraged," where's the beef?

There's more substance in a single piece of reporting from the New York Times than four hours of Congressional testimony, I'm guessing. A former IRS employee who runs a newsletter devoted to tax-exempt organizations is quoted, describing an organization that bears no resemblance to Chairman Camp's bogeyman:

"The I.R.S. is pretty dysfunctional to begin with, and this case brought all those dysfunctions to their worst. People were coming and going, asking for advice and not getting it, and sometimes forgetting the cases existed."

But the more important point—indeed, the well-buried lede— is down at the bottom:

"Even as the agency was scrutinizing small nonprofit organizations, critics say, it appears to have done little to crack down on large 501(c)(4) groups that spent at least half a billion dollars on political advertising during the last four years, some in seeming defiance of the IRS rules."

Four votes for a $third of a billion Permalink to this item

The Spring Valley Community Infrastructure Development vote in Tuesday's election here in Ada County is an interesting story. According to the powers that be, the election turnout was an astounding 85.7%, as compared to a near-catatonic 5.38% for everything else that was on various ballots. It's perhaps less astounding when you see that we're talking about 6 of 7 total registered voters. Exactly two-thirds of the 6 people who voted said "aye" to issuing $325 million in bonds. That works out to $46.4 million per voter (or well into 9 figures each with 7% interest added on).

The Boise Guardian provides some of the fascinating, arcane, and soon to be expensive detail of the case, which appears to be about mega-developers feeding big time at the public trough, in the form of "municipal" bonding for their notion to build thousands of housing units north of Eagle, in the dry foothills.

Big fire in a small town Permalink to this item

It's nothing to match the enormity of the tornado in Oklahoma this week, but the fire that started in a garbanzo bean elevator and spread to three grain bins in tiny Craigmont, Idaho rocked the town on May 12. reported that a "massive interstate mobilization of fire and law enforcement personnel" included jurisdictions spread over north Idaho and Asotin County in eastern Washington, and KREM's report said "firefighters from 27 agencies" were involved, as the "giant fireball could be seen for miles."

Craigmont used to be most notable for the slow curve and the cramped railroad underpass on US 95 as you passed through on the way to somewhere else. A highway upgrade reduced that to a "business route" and the town blink-and-you-miss-it off to the side, easy to overlook for the vast panoramas of the Camas Prairie. (The railroad went away around the same time the highway did, leaving a most fabulous run of trestles orphaned to the fading glory of a western or two.)

We drove by four days after the fire and were surprised to see smoke still rising from the center of town. Eight days after the fire, when we drove back home, we made the turn through town to see the pile of rubble still burning, and the signs of spot fires some distance away, grass burned, trees singed and burnt chunks of charcoal scattered over the city park.

My photo of the smoldering heap of rubble in Craigmont, ID

21.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Same old, same old Permalink to this item

An interesting and metaphorically relevant photo, from this weekend Inside Joel on Software, which I've probably already read in serialized form, the acknowledgments include a hat tip to "the inspiration, free hosting, and publicity provided by Dave Winer of UserLand Software" and to "Philip Greenspun, who taught me that if you know something, you need to publish it on the Web for others to learn from."

If I were to write an Acknowledgments page (which is not a bad idea, come to think of it), it would include Messrs. Greenspun, Winer and Spolsky (in that order). In his 1999 classic, Philip & Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, Greenspun says he created a "catalog of the mistakes that I've made while building more than 100 Web sites in the last five years," written "in the hopes that others won't have to repeat those mistakes."

I'm sure I did go ahead and repeat many of them, just as I'm sure I have yet to build more than 100 websites. (I wonder how many Greenspun looks after, since that takes more time than building, for me.) The one lesson I did take away is that it's important to have good pictures to accompany one's writing. It's not particularly important that they be relevant to the text (although it doesn't hurt), but they really do need to be interesting, whether or not the writing is. (Which I guess is why Yahoo! is buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion.)

Where is he now? Still blogging, at Harvard, and promising "an interesting posting every day; an interesting idea every three months." Far too modest, I'm sure. And there's this, his eponymous top-level index which would entertain you for a month were you to follow all the branches.

My first foray into "blogging proper" (which is a preposterous pair of words) was on one of Dave Winer's properties, the free blog service which could have gone viral or made him a bazillionnaire if only he were a little less grumpy or had made it easier to post pictures. Maybe he was ahead of his time, or maybe he was just building the foundation for the success of the likes of Craig and Angie and Zuckerberg and Karp.

Joel Spolkey is still blogging too although not daily. He's another writer/photog/tech guy who doesn't let topical relevance stand in the way of posting a good photo.

This is what those thousands of years of evolution were all about: being able to share our thoughts with a million other humans.

Anyway, I knew it was right about now, when irises are in bloom, but I'd forgotten the exact day that is the anniversary of this particular web property, and blog, 13 years a week ago. It's a totally weird coincidence I'd never noticed before that my first post was exactly 140 characters. Too bad that didn't accidentally inspire me to come up with Twitter. I was thinking too narrowly in two respects: not "a million," but billions of other humans; and not sharing our particular opinions, but sharing the medium for sharing.

The new, new thing Permalink to this item

55 million blogs a year ago, edged into 9 figures now. He said "certainly I'm not in a position where anybody should be listening to anything I say about anything else in the world," but as the headline 20-something of the week with a $quarter billion fortune, we're all drooling over David Karp's every utterance.

While driving this weekend, we heard multiple news reports about Yahoo's buying Tumblr, first for $1.1 billion, then for "a little over a billion dollars," where "a little" thus equates to $100,000,000.00, considerably more than you, I, or everyone in the neighborhood put together is likely to make in a lifetime.

But that's only $1 per Tumblr blog, cheap at eleven times the price.

So hey you teenagers who spend all day on an iPhone, if you're bored with your high school classes, why not follow this well-worn path to success? Drop out of school, come up with the next big thing for all your friends who spend all day on their gadgets, and become a bazillionnaire before you turn 30. Never mind if you're a little antisocial for things like interviewing recruits, managing a team larger than four, or working with other people present. All that can be worked around.

"Because revenue was not growing as fast as they would have liked, investors considered putting Mr. Karp in charge of Tumblr's product development and finding a more seasoned chief executive."

Like... 30-something Marissa Mayer. She should be amply seasoned.

Microblogging is huge among younger users, who are huge among marketers' preferred targets. Jenna Wortham:

"From the dawn of the personal blog, people have loved to, you know, have a home to express themselves, and write about their thoughts, share pictures... and for a while that was Facebook, and then it was Instagram, and now it seems Tumblr has started to play a really interesting role in that..."

Never mind that Tumblr's not making any money, they have eyeballs! Engagement! $13 million in revenue last year, and as much in Q1 of this year. Surely that's worth $1.1 billion.

19.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A question occurs to me Permalink to this item

While reading the latest news about the unfolding IRS scandal, and the offhand suggestion that "even in the best of times," the Internal Revenue Service is "the federal government's most reviled agency."

Perhaps because I don't actually have that much revulsion for it; yes, it's an annual burden to voluntarily comply with all the requirements they administer, but I don't blame them. It's the Congress that wrote all the underlying tax laws, you know. Nearly four million words of it.

Shouldn't the Congress, even in the best of times, be our most reviled federal entity?

18.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Kochs' pet coke Permalink to this item

Your pets are charming, I'm sure, but the Koch brothers' "petcoke" not so much. Rather like an unwelcome black mound in the backyard, or a steaming heap alongside the Detroit River. Hello Alberta tar sands! After processing, the residue is tens of millions of tons of "petroleum coke," which would be good for making steel or aluminum were it not for the "small grains" and high sulfur content. Kerry Satterthwaite, petroleum coke analyst at a commodities analysis company based in London figures that

"It is worse than a byproduct. It's a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce."

If you don't care about air quality too much, you can just burn it. But we (and Canada) do. Mexico and China and India, maybe not so much. That's good for Charles, David and William Koch, who make the money from shipping tar sands waste to wherever, for whatever, and without having to whiff any of the brown air.

If we get that Keystone XL pipeline going, we can move even more of Alberta's waste product down to the U.S. Woo hoo.

17.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cultural divide Permalink to this item

The author of Pills Are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids has a specific agenda we presume, but if her opening fact for this short piece in Psychology Today is accurate, it speaks volumes:

"In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than 0.5%."

It's safe to say there is not a ten or twenty times difference in the incidence of bio-neurological disorders in the two countries; this is about diagnosis and treatment with medication, of course. Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD, by Marilyn Wedge.

"French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child's brain but in the child's social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child's brain."

15.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Who's going to jail for this? Permalink to this item

Saw that quip from Mr. Speaker, measuring his indignation as carefully as the fine-tailored suits he and Mr. Senate Minority Leader wear for their daily podium stand-ups. But consider Robert Reich's observation, posted to Facebook (at least) this morning:

"Keep your eye on the big scandal. Although the IRS was wrong to target conservative groups for review based on their names, the bigger wrong was its failure to investigate the major groups—such as Karl Rove's Grossroads GPS and Priorities USA—that falsely claimed to be 'social welfare organizations' under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code in order to hide the names of their donors. And the real scandal of the 2012 election (which will be even worse next year, because they got away with it) is how many corporations and wealthy individuals used this loophole to disguise their identities while pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns. The Supreme Court in "Citizens United" at least assumed full disclosure, but the 'social welfare organization' loophole in the tax laws has allowed corporations to keep political spending secret even from their own shareholders.

"The worst outcome of the indignation over the IRS's targeting of conservative groups would be for the under-manned IRS to pull back from investigating all putative 'social welfare organizations,' thereby turning the scandalous loophole into a giant river of secret money. Our democracy is already being purchased by big corporations and the rich. At the least we should know who the buyers are."

(And while we're wondering, who's going to jail for letting hundreds of people take 6-figure salaries for legislative jobs when they're running a theater instead?)

Food for thought Permalink to this item

Spine of an old volume of Idaho Code As ever, Michael Pollan provides an entertaining smörgåsbord on the frontier of food science, this time in next Sunday's NYT Magazine feature, Some of My Best Friends are Germs. Yours, too. You've probably heard parts of this unfolding story, but there's more to know and learn. I changed my toothbrush storage location halfway through, for example. And this made us think about the "royal we" in a new light:

"Our gut bacteria also play a role in the manufacture of substances like neurotransmitters (including serotonin); enzymes and vitamins (notably Bs and K) and other essential nutrients (including important amino acid and short-chain fatty acids); and a suite of other signaling molecules that talk to, and influence, the immune and the metabolic systems. Some of these compounds may play a role in regulating our stress levels and even temperament: when gut microbes from easygoing, adventurous mice are transplanted into the guts of anxious and timid mice, they become more adventurous. The expression 'thinking with your gut' may contain a larger kernel of truth than we thought."

"The gut microbes are looking after their own interests, chief among them getting enough to eat and regulating the passage of food through their environment. The bacteria themselves appear to help manage these functions by producing signaling chemicals that regulate our appetite, satiety and digestion. ..."

14.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nothing to fasten your seatbelt around Permalink to this item

No offense to Salty Dog 502, but Spencer Ackerman went a little overboard in effusing over the Navy's historic drone launch from an aircraft carrier. Yes, it's a giant step for unmanned-kind (and yes, Rear Admiral Matt Winter botched that line, too), but taking off from an aircraft carrier is not "one of the most complex missions in aviation." As anyone who's tried the Microsoft Flight Simulator can tell you, taking off is pretty straightforward. Throttle up, giddyup, and point to the sky. The boat wasn't unmanned, and with it driving into the wind and a catapult behind you, there isn't a lot of complexity.

Landing on a carrier is tricky, and that remains to be done. Check back this summer.

If it were my $billion project, I'd start with something smaller than a 62' wingspan. The smaller you are, the chushier the atmosphere. Of course, this was not the first unmanned aircraft to be launched off a boat either; Popular Science mined Wikipedia to show the RAE Larynx set up on the destroyer HMS Stronghold and a cordite-fired catapult in 1927.

Saturn rings Permalink to this item

A short article from Scientific American about Saturn shaking its rings points to the paper hosted on the Cornell University Library, Kronoseismology: Using density waves in Saturn's C ring to probe the planet's interior, and its fascinating, pellucid abstract.

"Saturn's C ring contains multiple spiral patterns that appear to be density waves driven by periodic gravitational perturbations. In other parts of Saturn's rings, such waves are generated by Lindblad resonances with Saturnís various moons, but most of the wave-like C-ring features are not situated near any strong resonance with any known moon. ..."

It seems that the pattern speeds of six fast waves can be explained by Saturn's interior sloshing back and forth, altering its gravitational field.

Moving beyond political theater for Libya and the mideast Permalink to this item

Wikipedia commons image of the Sahel Ethan Chorin provides something I hadn't seen amongst the finger-pointing and political sideshow about the attack in Benghazi: an insightful, informed opinion about what went wrong, why, and what to do now.

His take is a bit like a smaller variant of the mistakes of Iraq, "inspired and skillfully executed" application of force to kick things off, with "the potential to do more good than harm." Winning the aftermath of military intervention is no easy thing, however. Some of what many "failed to foresee":

"how Libyan arms could fuse criminal and extremist elements and intensify Islamist insurrections in the Sahel and beyond, including the spread of rebellion to Mali and of lethal weaponry to jihadists in Syria and Gaza. ...

"[T]he deeper question is why the United States and its NATO allies believed that international responsibilities to Libya would end with military action, and that Libya would somehow right itself. We will probably never get to have a meaningful discussion about this, as long as we are tantalized by theories about conspiracies or political malfeasance."

13.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Austerity kills Permalink to this item

Frugality seems generally virtuous even while so many of our cultural memes are about excess. Swimming in advertising is confusing, by design, for one thing, and the preachers are virtue never seem to be all that bent on frugality for themselves. Perhaps it's moderation that's generally virtuous, and frugality is going too far?

"If austerity were tested like a medication in a clinical trial, it would have been stopped long ago, given its deadly side effects."

David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu address two questions about austerity: how it kills, in a NYT Op-Ed, and why it kills, in their new book, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Maybe it's obvious and goes without saying that if you can't make ends meet, don't have access to clean water, nutritious food and basic sanitation, your prospects will suffer, but it may be helpful to quantify the particulars for political purposes.

While Congress acted with alacrity to address the "problem" the sequester had created for airline flight delays, there doesn't seem to be the same urgency for mitigating harm to programs for nutrition subsidies for hundreds of thousands of pregnant women, newborns and infants, public housing budgets, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Our research suggests that investing $1 in public health programs can yield as much as $3 in economic growth. Public health investment not only saves lives in a recession, but can help spur economic recovery. These findings suggest that three principles should guide responses to economic crises.

"First, do no harm...

"Second, treat joblessness like the pandemic it is. ...

"Finally, expand investments in public health when times are bad. The cliché that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure happens to be true."

When the IRS comes calling Permalink to this item

None of the organizations I've been involved with to date have found themselves on the wrong side of federal scrutiny, but I suppose it could happen? None have had as broad a mission as to "make America a better place to live" although we could have said that, sure. When it came time to tread carefully around candidate elections, we made sure we were beyond reproach, more so than some folks who make the news.

Predictably, I suppose, "Republicans fanned out on the political talk shows on Sunday to express outrage that is only likely to grow." Jonathan Weisman's and Matthew Wald's report for the NY Times. I imagine the Fox News talking heads must be apoplectic.

It brings to mind a previous round of fanning outrage, when the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was nefariously eviscerated by "activists" making stuff up. The outrage was at community activism supposedly run amok, and succeeded in killing the organization, in spite of there being no actual cause justifying its demise.

Doing away with the IRS won't be so easy, but it certainly will give Republicans something to focus their attention on; it's "sure to fuel an effort that appears to be uniting dispirited Republicans and their conservative political base: investigating Mr. Obama and his administration."

It seems a safe bet that this will occupy Congressional committees (and right-wing media, at least) for quite some time and that few or no criminal charges will come out of it. The chances of political organizations flying under non-profit sections of the tax code getting well-deserved scrutiny for non-"social welfare" activities will go down, and everybody will be happily indignant for a time.

Of course, if it were my ox being gored, my own outrage would be measured differently. As it is though, it's hard not to see this as a side show distracting from action on the actual problems we need to work on to make America a better place to live.

12.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Even better than the Roll-n-Glow Permalink to this item

A fire engine zoomed by, Sept. 2008 The headline Inventor claims solar energy discovery tucked in a narrow column above today's front-page fold does not do justice to the story below, and jumped to A15. It's a superlative lollapalooza, "will shatter barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy cheap, clean and reliable." Not quite too cheap to meter, but $.02/kWh, that'll spin your meter like there's no tomorrow, eh?

The sidebar after the jump says he has 700 inventions in 40 years, an impressive career, that apparently started with "a gravity-measuring machine he built in seventh grade to record passes of the sun and moon on cloudy days." The lede for Greg Gordon's story on McClatchy's site deems him "a little-known Maryland inventor," and we do wonder why that would be. There's a nice testimonial from John Darnell "the scientist and a former congressional aide who has monitored Ace's dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations," who we're told "has no doubts."

"Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he's proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: 'Oh, well it's obvious it'll work,'" said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.

"Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head," he said. "He thinks outside the box."

Five years ago, Greg Gordon published his first portrait of "a 69-year-old loner" who'd "spent three years glued to the internet," "careening from one epiphany to another." That story said "McClatchy has followed Ace's work for three years," then culminating in Ace's "making public a U.S. patent petition" [sic] for what he deemed the most "practical, nontoxic, affordable, rapidly achievable" and beneficial way to curb global warming and a resulting catastrophic ocean rise. Or as the application title puts it, a benign global warming solution [that] offers unprecedented economic prosperity.

The USPTO may still looking for an examiner with enough horsepower to assess the claims for what sounds like a planet-wide swamp cooler,

"evaporating, by way of multiple aerosol-evaporators, vast quantities of water to produce water vapors for cooling atmospheric air masses; causing lightweight water vapors to naturally rise and condense at high altitudes to form clouds; and thereby liberating vast amounts of high altitude infrared radiation, as said clouds form, to further cool earth by way of solar radiation reflected into space."

Before careening into that ephiphany, Ace had come up with things as disparate as manufacturing and coatings for eyeglasses and shaving lubricant, but hmm, only a handful of grants come up in a quick search.

Oh, and as Gordon drily notes well into the earlier feature, "a patent certifies that an invention is unique, not that it would work." Or perhaps it certifies that an examiner thinks it's unique, and is at least not obviously in violation of any of the basic thermodynamic laws.

One commenter admitted that "Every brilliant innovation in the history of technology looked a little bit loony when first proposed," without adding that loony ideas look loony too. There isn't enough evidence in the newspaper this morning to say one way or the other about Mr. Ace, but there are enough red flags to decorate a Chinese office park.

This "will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers," but the "still-secret design" is "a no-brainer" that will "vastly outperform all other known solar technology." Even though it's "yet to be constructed and fully tested." (If it's yet to be constructed, it hasn't been tested in any way, of course.) A "staggering advance" to slash wholesale power generation cost, and "a separate rooftop version" to put wholesale power generation out of business.

"Ace said that he contacted five national laboratories during his research, floating his interpretations of physics laws or double-checking his methodology on complex math equations without divulging his invention."

So there's that.

"[B]ecause his solar traps can collect energy at ultra-high temperatures, the storage issue all but disappears. The energy can be stored for weeks in silicon dioxide (pure sand) or other cheap materials and extracted via heat exchangers as needed, he said, meaning that reliable solar power plants could be built almost anywhere, though it would be more expensive in cloudy regions."

But the darn chicken-and-egg of funding and protection and actual development. The details are as confidential as they are unbounded.

"[Ace] said that he has been motivated by a desire to avoid an energy disaster and to help reduce the national debt. He envisions licensing his technology to the Defense Department so that military bases could use the traps to generate cheap power and even profit by selling low-cost excess energy to neighboring communities or host countries."

Maybe what Ace needs is an Amish connection in his marketing department.

11.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Plot thickening Permalink to this item

The better of our two Senators is looking increasingly sketchy, with this latest story of whoops, there goes a quarter million dollars out of the campaign coffers. "A loan authorized by a former campaign manager to an Idaho company owned by a friend who contends somebody else stole the money...." How's that again?! One observer noted that

"Senator Crapo is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth and the Senate Banking Committee. Small wonder our financial institutions failed on his watch. He needs to resign."

This goes all the way back to two years before the last time Crapo stood for election.

"The loan was approved in 2008 by ex-Crapo campaign manager Jake Ball, now [former] district director for Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, to an Idaho-based company, Blueberry Guru, that's now defunct. Ball is a longtime friend of Blueberry Guru owner Gavin McCaleb."

Idaho puts "defunct" in the U.S. Senate, I tell you what. The Senator "had no knowledge of this transaction until it was brought to his attention in 2010," which, let me check my calendar, is three years ago now. These things take a while to "figure out," apparently.

The quotes from people in this affair sound like stuff from The Onion. The Senator's attorney says "Certainly there's been a lot of money that's been properly used in his campaign."

Please define "a lot," and compare and contrast with the total amount of campaign contributions. Also, "so there's probably 250 people who cared enough about the senator to give $1,000 and may have to dig deep and give it again."

You think? That sounds like a very tough sell to me.

The man who moved the money says "he made no effort to keep the loan of Crapo's campaign funds to a longtime friend secret, though he didn't disclose it to Crapo until he was leaving his campaign staff in late 2010."

The loan went to a guy "with 10 years of experience flipping houses." Who made it all the way to 2011 before going bust.

"He's bankrupt," Crapo's attorney Stephen Ryan said, adding that he "took people's money and invested it. Based on our experience, he didn't do a very good job."

Sharp as a tack, I tell you.

10.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Targeted, unfairly? Permalink to this item

Tea Partiers, patriots, and Tea Party patriots are "livid" according to the Associated Press to find out that their buzzwords were used by the IRS to identify groups worthy of additional scrutiny in regard to political activity as it pertained to applications for non-profit status. "Social welfare" is the 501(c)(4) term of art that many political trucks have driven through; "some" activity is OK, but "their primary activity must be social welfare." Should we try to assess that in some way, or just take applicants' word for it? Surely, no one would dare lie to the IRS, amirite?

There's been an apology from higher-ups, who claim that it was lower-downs who decided to do all that, but the apology is not yet abject enough for some. "Not enough!" thunders Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

"I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views."

"Transparent" is the buzzword of the day this month. "Government-wide," seriously, can we afford that with the sequester on and all? "Thuggish." Hmmm.

Half of 300-ish cases have been closed, and none had exemptions revoked ("though some withdrew their applications"). Oh, and it was "about a quarter [that] were singled out because they had 'tea party' or 'patriot' somewhere in their applications."

Sounds like the system is working exactly the way it's supposed to, to me. Also does not sound anything like "harassment." I'm not saying that never happened, or never happens. I'm just saying there's nothing in the report so far to indicate that it did. Yet another "government-wide review" is not in order. But thanks for asking.

Slow learner Permalink to this item

Wayne Hoffman's making a living out of "restoring liberty and improving lives" if you can believe the slogan of his Idaho Freedom Foundation, and he uses his run-ins with the law as fodder for his opinions. A couple years ago, he was pulled over for driving 35 mph in a 30 zone, which sounds a little dodgy, and for not wearing his seat belt, for which, don't you know we have a law in this state. But according to his reading of the mind of the legislature, they "never intended the law to be used in this manner," but rather just wanted to "educate drivers about the seat belt law."

Consider yourself educated then, Wayne?

I rather thought the whole idea of required seatbelt use had been settled, somewhat tragically, by our free-wheeling libertarian Congressman (as she preferred to be known) Helen Chenoweth's demise, but Hoffman was making a larger point, about the insidious threat of Obamacare. "The question is, what's next?" he asked, ominously.

Well, what's next for Hoffman is a citation for 73 mph in a 55 mph zone, and more complaining about the need for restored liberties. Not for himself, mind you, annoyed but not devestated by a $155 fine, but for "the working poor" who could not take that kind of hit in stride.

Back in the day of the federally imposed slow-down to save gas when speed limits were set to 55 even in the wide open spaces of the west and on highways designed for 70 or 75mph, there were some legitimate arguments to be made. These days, up in the panhandle, I imagine 55 zones have a valid safety justification for libertarians and liberals alike. 15 or 20 mph over the limit is way too fast.

The "risk of running afoul of laws" that everday Idahoans face is actually quite manageable. If you don't want a big ticket, don't speed. And if you do speed and get caught, don't be such a whiner. Perhaps Wayne has heard this from other passing motorists, but hasn't quite caught on yet: LEARN HOW TO DRIVE.

Money for nothing Permalink to this item

By now, you've heard of the audacious hack and grab to drain $45 million cash from automated teller machines in "precision operations that involved people in more than two dozen countries acting in close coordination and with surgical precision," I assume? There's so much to admire in all this technical expertise and organizational development, you just wish they could have applied their considerable talents to a more productive end.

US Attorney's photo of two perps I trust the U.S. Attorney's office of the Eastern District of New York won't mind if I share the photo of Elvis and Emir here on the blog; it's just too precious, from the fingers to the tidily bundled bills.

Their part in the enterprise remains to be proved, but it's easy to imagine them part of the "cashing crews," buying "luxury items like Rolex watches and expensive cars" to launder the cash. Happy day for the salespeople on commission, too!

Working with prepaid debit cards and unleashing withdrawal limits, it turns out Japan is the best place visit an ATM, where "some banks allow withdrawals of as much as $10,000 from a single bank machine," which I suppose would be ¥1,000,000-ish?

Not as happy a day for the purported leader of the New York cashing crew, Alberto Lajud-Peña, 23, found dead in the Dominican Republic late last month. Might have to do with "the computer experts watching the financial transactions from afar, ensuring that they would not be shortchanged on their cut."

9.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Senator Blockhead Permalink to this item

Every once in a while I get a vague notion that one of my U.S. Senators, at least, is above average (unlike the decidedly sub-par one), even if we continue to agree on very little. I called his office yesterday to voice my support for the Senate proceeding on a confirmation vote for Gina McCarthy, nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an organization which has important work to do. (Unlike, from all appearances, the U.S. Senate.) Then today, I read in the NYT that Republicans blocked a vote on McCarthy, by boycotting a meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"[Republicans] said they took the action to protest what they called an inadequate response by the nominee, Gina McCarthy, to more than 1,000 written questions about E.P.A. policies and internal practices."

And sure enough, Idaho's Senator Mike Crapo is one of the eight minority members of the committee. So much for vague notions.

Update: Robert B. Semple Jr., on the (NYT) editorial page editor's blog: The Latest G.O.P. Temper Tantrum.

"[T]he Senate Republicans are now beginning to act and sound just like the House Republicans who have spent the last two years trying to undermine the E.P.A. at every turn."

8.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Did I say that out loud? Permalink to this item

The Heritage foundation is trying to distance itself from the history of a co-author of its recent study of the cost of every and any thing labeled "immigration reform." Drive a stake for $6.3 trillion, with a $T, for the "lifetime fiscal deficit" these incoming freebooters will draw. Talking Points Memo reports that co-author Jason Richwine (Ph.D.!) opined in 2009 that

"immigrants should be barred based on low IQ, which he claimed would have the effect of keeping out many Hispanics in particular, who may have a 'genetic' predilection towards lower intelligence." ... 'No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against,' Richwine wrote."

Hold on there partner,

"This is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation," Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications at Heritage, said in a statement. "Nor do the findings affect the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to the U.S. taxpayer."

Well, except for that dark cloud of suspicion, eh?

Can't hardly wait to hear what Richwine has to say about his other specialties, "welfare and religion." His lengthy C.V. on the Heritage site seems to be one essay after another about how people are overpaid. Him, too, maybe.

7.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Counting bikes Permalink to this item

Sunrise at 7am, preparing to count bikes in Garden City Saddled up and headed into the morning at a most unaccustomed hour today, dutifully early for my 7:00 to 9:00 shift for the Ada County Bicycle Count, at the human-unfriendly intersection of Chinden Boulevard, Veterans Memorial Parkway and Curtis Road. The cool air was redolent with spring after yesterday afternoon's thunderstorm, cottonwood smell and the sound of red-winged blackbirds and frogs wafting out of the wild little triangle subtended by Ustick, Curtis and the bench. Down at the corner, my appointed hour coincided with the sun coming over the foothills as an added treat.

Two hours sounds like a long time to stand around and wait for things to happen, but sliced into quarter-hour segments, the time passed relatively quickly, as I counted up 21 helmets, 25 cyclists northbound through the intersection, and 20 others spread out over the other eleven possibilities. Just under half of the cyclists used the sidewalks and crosswalks for some or all of the often slow process of negotiating an intersection that is of, by, and for cars and trucks, most of all. The motorized flow rate is about a hundred times greater than that of cyclists and pedestrians. All but two of the 45 cyclists went through in a sensible, practical, and legal manner.

The one kid who did not made a swooping turn through the gas station to get his timing on, and then angled across Chinden to suit himself, and made two lines of traffic stop to avoid hitting him. The gal who did not, definitely old enough to know better, made a "right" turn from northbound to eastbound, using the west and north sidewalks (that's fine), not bothering to request or wait for walk signals, crossing halfway while left-turn arrows gave vehicles the right of way on the outbound halves of the crosswalks. She did kind of slow down out in the middle of the intersection and keep from going right in front of any drivers, at least.

I let the pulsing roar of the cars and trucks blend into the background of my attention as I watched for non-motorized traffic, even after the one fellow who chatted with me suggest "you should count the people who run red lights!" (Hey, it's a long wait if you have to sit through another turn.) I took a few pictures, including one of an incipient jam when a school bus stopping downstream backed traffic up to and into the intersection. After I got home and looked at it, I could see that yeah, there were three or four people who must've run the red light and failed to make sure their exit was clear before they entered. D'OH!

Caught in the intersection

No accidents, which is good, and just one guy preparing to roll right on red through the crosswalk had to jam on his brakes when he realized there was a cyclist about to cross with a walk signal (after waiting 2 or 3 minutes to get it). The cyclist was watching, and smart enough not to push his luck.

Back up the bench and away from the intersection, I could hear the blackbirds again, still singing for the morning.

6.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Or was that 'ad ignorantum'? Permalink to this item

Idaho's Senator Jim Risch stopped by the newspaper during his most recent vacation-recess-district/state work period and chatted with Dan Popkey about how much he loves his job, how easy it is, and how well everyone gets along while they're doing next to nothing nothing.

"You know, I really enjoy this job. I really like this job," Risch said last week, saying it's a breeze compared to the seven months he served as governor in 2006. "Governor will wear you down. You can't do that job permanently. This you can do ad infinitum."

Just turned 70, planning on being re-elected next year, and what the hell, why not another 6 years of all-expenses jet-setting to do "what he wants to do" while enjoying the shows at Ford's Theater.

Could we set expectations any lower?

5.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Education conspiracy theories Permalink to this item

Our Money (plant) patch, just the one purple It's not exactly clear why education should be a locus of continuing controversy, but many of the complaints seem to tie into one conspiracy theory or another. The government wants more and more money, wants to control the minds of our children, the United Nations is doing the groundwork for One World government, it's all about teacher's unions and so on. The latest thing to spark the bat signal is Common Core curriculum standards, and in the Sunday paper, the Idaho Statesman ran competing "Reader's Views" on the topic, from the executive directors of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Hadn't heard of the former, but the latter is familiar as Wayne Hoffman's hobby horse and a sort of farm team for the Heritage Foundation and ALEC. "Democracy" sounds suspicious like this state's distaff party, but Travis Manning lists plenty of majority support for the Core, including our Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Governer, and Education committees in both the state House and Senate, as well as national figures Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie. Ah, but there's the National Education Association in favor, so it must be a conspiracy of some sort, yeah? Manning suggests asking teachers, there's a novel idea.

On the other hand... Hoffman notes that Luna "says there is a lot of misinformation out there," followed by a curious "but." Curious, because it connects to what might well be a recitation of misinformation. At most, it's a list of critics and generic criticism. Less education choice and competition? A push for federal control of all education? The standards are mediocre and injurious? The "most compelling discussion" by Hoffman's account is one parent's complaint about "her third grader struggl[ing] with overwrought math homework."

Hoffman has experience as a reporter, and a lobbyist, and you would think by now he could formulate an argument, rather than just filling space with overwrought verbiage, but he's not demonstrating competence here. I don't imagine he's so credulous as to find one parent's story about her third-grader to be "most compelling," which leaves me no conclusion to draw but that he's clutching at weak straws.

He celebrates a resolution from the Republican National Committee, and "success" at "delay" of implementing standards, without ever having established any reason for the demonization. "Homogenization and standardization of education" is bad? We need something for our "regional differences"? Funny that never came up a committee down in Texas was determining what all would go in school textbooks.

Why is anyone listening to this man, and why is he taking up space in my newspaper?

3.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

When will the shooting start? Permalink to this item

It's not news that the "culture war" is about more than just guns, but with tens of thousands of NRA members gathering in Texas, and a star-studded cast of headliners including Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Glenn Beck and Ted Nugent, be still my heart. Wayne LaPierre tells NRA members they "deserve to be proud" and "exemplify everything that's good and right about America."

Imagine that, all you have to do is pay your dues. Oh, and some shooting exemplifies good and right, too. Have a listen to the incoming NRA president, James Porter extolling our freedom to y'all to "fight like hell to protect our 2nd amendment rights,"

"fightin', scratchin', head-buttin', we got the pads put on, we got our helmets strapped on, we're cinched up, we're ready to fight, we're fightin' every day."

The shooting never stopped, actually. We, the people, are shooting—to kill—every day. In the less than five months since the Newtown massacre, the crowd-sourced estimate is that another 3,822 people have been killed by guns.

Fire for effect Permalink to this item

The Cornucopia Highway, Lone Fir Road, Fish Lake Road and the Pine Creek Highway meet in tiny Halfway which had 15 minutes of fame back in the dot com bubble by pretending to be, Oregon for certain promotional considerations. Of course you don't remember; eBay subsumed it more than a decade ago, and who even knows what their business model was? Half off?

It won't be too obvious what "Halfway" was about either, because you're not familiar with Pine, Oregon and Cornucopia, are you? It's sort of halfway to the North Pole, but then the 45th parallel has no shortage of scenic attractions around its length. Barely 300 people live in the town, but that is not stopping them from thinking big.

What if... two masked men in hoodies busted into the local charter school and started shooting up a staff meeting? They'd best be prepared for that, right? The "preparedness" exercise the locals came up with beggars the imagination, but I will give them credit for at least picking a day when there were no kids in school.

As the school district's Safety Committee and School Board "critically evaluate policies and procedures and decide what to do next," if they decide gee, we should arm teachers, the next event could be "live fire" and even more exciting than this one was.

Because you just never know!

2.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho Gives? Permalink to this item

The first step for this new (to Idaho) idea is to explain it (for the promoters), and understand it (for the target audience), and the second step is to loosen the latter's grip on their wallets. Everybody asking for money at once? Didn't seem to make sense to me, but maybe with a bunch of special events and a game show feel (time remaining, 14 hours and counting down) they can get some incremental give. I'll chip in the blog love anyway for this new idea: Idaho Gives.

"Today, Idahoans will come together for a day of giving to support the nonprofits in communities across our state. From midnight -11:59pm a share of every dollar raised by Idaho nonprofits will be matched with funds from the Idaho Gives award pool. In addition, the top five organizations with the most unique donors (nonprofits are divided by size) will receive bonus grants of $3,000, $1,000, $500, $250, and $250 respectively. If you give between the hours of 9am and 6pm(MT), the organization you support has the chance to win an extra $1,000 because of your donation!"

There are plenty of our favorite charities on the three lists (sorted by size), but with more than 400 to consider, yikes. For just those we support, we get about three times the solicitations we're prepared to respond to. Fewer, and more accurately targeted would suit me better than more, more, more. 400 in one day, that's too many for me to wrap my head around. But they're closing in on $120,000 in more than 1400 donations from 1059 donors in with more than half the day to go, so good on 'em, I guess.

1.May 2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Investment advice can sometimes be risky Permalink to this item

Professor Dwayne Barney has an ordinary-sounding bio blurb on Boise State University's site, lots of education, teaching areas, office hours, some featured publications. I hadn't heard of him before reading his piece in the Idaho Statesman's Business Insider section this week, "Buying government bonds can sometimes be risky."

Having bought a few government bonds over the years, yes, I'm interested to know more about that. I'm well aware that before the real estate bubble popped, municipal and other government bonds seemed boring and safe, but we can't necessarily assume that any more.

The chances that "Uncle Sam might run out of cash" still seem negligible, even if the clowns in Congress do have the power to roil the markets from time to time. I'm not the only one who took Standard and Poor's credit rating downgrade in the summer of 2011 with a grain of salt; the ratings agencies played an important role in enabling the finance debacle, by declaring toxic waste "instruments" to be sweet-smelling and AAA. I have no reason to give more credence to Uncle Standard than to Uncle Sam.

What else? The threat of inflation, yes.

"The safety of investing in a government bond whose payoff is expressed in fixed units of fiat currency is risky in an environment where the government and central bank are reckless with stimulus spending and monetary expansion."

Hmm, "fixed units of fiat currency" sounds like wing-nuttery dog whistle language, what the hell? I've been around most of six decades and all I've ever known is "money," honey. Fiat is an Italian car, or a dictatorial press release. It's not something that came up in polite conversation or in the college economics courses I took, or in any of the businesses I've worked in for the last 40+ years. I'm pretty sure there is no more than a tiny fraction of people in business or general Business Insider readers who know what he's talking about. "Government" and "risky" always plays well in Idaho, though.

Inflation is a meaningful economic issue, but not a bogeyman. In the early 1980s, it ran as hot as can be, but life went on. We borrowed money to buy a house in 1984, at 10.5% annual interest, can you imagine? Still, we made our payments, bought groceries, and what-not.

If you could buy government bonds with your gold and silver coins and they paid you back likewise, would you be better off? Inflation-proof? No, you would not. Inflation, and interest rates are at issue for any bond or fixed income investing, not unique to government paper.

Barney brings up Treasury Inflation Proteced Securities as an investment that "eliminates the risk of inflation," and then complains that TIPS "are paying negative real interest rates." Because... why, doctor? Because "real" rates are as compared to inflation which is low right now. Your TIPS investment doesn't require you to pay the government interest to loan them money, it just doesn't pay you very much interest. You can go look for yourself; you can obtain a negative yield by paying a premium for the bond, but there are only positive interest rates (some small, some not so small) in the auction results.

Over the Yangtze River, 2003 Why would you pay $107 for a $100 bond? If inflation lights up, the deal is that the government will increase the principle amount, and your guess would pay off. If inflation stays modest, you lose. Why would you pay $1,456.70 for an ounce of gold? Because you think it'll be worth more of that "fiat currency" and/or groceries in the future. Good luck.

After not making much of an argument, Barney wraps up by observing that "risk is a fact of life in investing" and "there is no sure thing."

"In an environment of gargantuan budget deficits and rapid money creation, a long-term investor should be wary when purchasing those U.S. government bonds that used to be regarded as the ultimate safe haven."

Personally, I would be more wary of professors spouting important-sounding nonsense without a legitimate argument, and flogging the book they just wrote. Rather than a link to BSU at the end of the story, playing to the credential that got him in the newspaper, the trailing tag is to his book site,, which is mostly a blog. Top of that blog today is the April 18 entry, Bitcoins: A Step in the Right Direction, leading with the news flash that "the free market is at work in attempting to come up with alternative solutions to government-controlled fiat money." After the plaudits for that bold idea,

"Creating a new 'money' that eliminates the government and central bank's monopoly on currency manufacturing is a significant move towards economic freedom and transparency."

Riiiight. Maybe the good professors have some bridges for sale, too?


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 03-Jun-2013 09:09:37 MDT