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Next read; link to the publisher's site. Listen to Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview, from Oct. 6.

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30.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The case of the purloined pixels Permalink to this item

It took four years for a seemingly dormant regulation to come to a full boil, but now that it's in the public eye, there is some explaining needed. Start with the mid-Willamette Valley's Statesman Journal piece by Zach Urness for background of the previously "little-known directive governing U.S. Forest Service rules on commercial filming and photography in federal wilderness areas." That includes a link to the notice of proposed directive in the Federal Register, which is about as clear as Mississippi mud, starting with its statement of "need":

"The proposed directive is necessary for the Forest Service to issue and administer special use authorizations that will allow the public to use and occupy National Forest System (NFS) lands for still photography and commercial filming in wilderness."

But that's not need, it's meta-need. Why would the FS need to issue such authorizations? To "preserve the wilderness character of the area proposed," perhaps, but wouldn't following the usual rules suffice? No motorized conveyances or machinery, and such. Having the government agency consider the "primary objective" of still or video recording is stuff and nonsense and wholly incompatible with the 1st Amendment, not needing reference to the 5 jumps to CFR or 4 to USC to understand.

Bruce Reichert, fresh out of Idaho Wilderness areas filming and acting for a 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act special for Outdoor Idaho, outlines the idea (nicely illustrated with images, btw) and with this interesting definitional loophole:

"IdahoPTV is a government entity of the State of Idaho under the Idaho State Board of Education. As a government entity, we are prohibited from engaging in commercial activity, including commercial filming. We are also deemed to be a non-commercial, non-profit, tax-exempt organization by the Internal Revenue Service. Moreover, IdahoPTV is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a non-commercial, educational television station. Our FCC license prohibits us from airing commercials or productions for commercial purposes. “Commercial filming,” therefore, goes against the very nature of our FCC license, and we do not engage in it. Period."

Ipso facto, Q.E.D., but they apparently didn't think about that answer when the USFS told them they needed permits earlier this year, and they felt pretty pleased with officials' help in obtaining "unprecedented special use permit for four Wilderness areas across multiple National Forest locations and two Forest Service regions," at least until it dawned on them that actually nothing of the kind should have been required.

Which is where the story is now, awaiting comments from John Q. Public, John Public Q., and what the heck, maybe some "commercial" entitites should weigh in on the questions too. The Federal Register has the addresses you need, with your choice of the federal eRulemaking portal, fax (!), mail, or email. By November 3.

And on a personal note, the image at the bottom of Reichert's piece looked familiar. I flipped through my own ("non-commercial"!) images and found this one, taken at the top of He Devil, looking toward the Snake River, Hells Canyon and NE Oregon:
July 2013, Seven Devils Wilderness

Met the deadline Permalink to this item

Not to go all partisan on you or anything, but you could look it up, when the end-of-quarter campaign finance reports come out.
A.J. Balukoff for Governor
Jana Jones for State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Holli Woodings for Secretary of State
Shirley Ringo for Congress Richard Stallings for Congress
Nels Mitchell for U.S. Senate
Deborah Silver for Treasurer

29.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Three good suggestions Permalink to this item

Marc Johnson offers some excellent potential nominees for a new Idaho judge to replace semi-retiring Edward Lodge, after describing the "pretty big deal" of the process of nominating and confirming a new federal judge.

"If Idaho had a Democratic elected official, even one, at the federal or even the state level it might be easier to predict the nomination path for a new judge, since that elected Idaho Democrat (who, of course, doesn’t exist) would no doubt be asked for recommendations. But, lacking much opportunity for the traditional forms of political vetting for an Idaho federal appointee, the politics around a federal appointment—particularly involving a judicial nomination—will get even more interesting. I’m betting a lot of telephone calls were made over the weekend on this subject."

I've got an idea: let's go ahead and elect Nels Mitchell to the U.S. Senate so the President can get some advising and consent on the question, instead of an underhanded "blue slip" from our two Republican Senators? Failing that, it wouldn't surprise me all that much to have the process not-so-mysteriously blocked for a couple of years, hoping on a new party in the White House come 2016. That's been the playbook for the do-nothing Congress for the last four years.

Things have devolved to the point that the best we can hope for is just "a high degree of partisanship, as opposed to a high degree of political obstruction."

Update: He followed up the next day with four more suggestions.

28.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Random editorial board endorsement Permalink to this item

But perhaps that's too generous of me: random has a 50-50 chance of coming out positive, whereas giving Raúl Labrador another go as the Idaho Statesman's board suggests, is considerably more predictable than that. The Congressman gets high marks for "remaining true to his core beliefs," apparently without regard to what those may be. It's been two terms' worth of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, a boatload of votes on "statement" legislation that was DOA in the Senate and nothing of any import that springs to mind for me (or sprang to print in their endorsement). He's "gotten behind bipartisan bills and negotiated with factions in his Republican Conference to allow Speaker John Boehner and his party to unite on some immigration matters"? How would we know that, exactly?

Immigration was supposed to be his strong suit, but his stint on a House task force ended when he quit the group, took his toys and went home. The Statesman endorses for "that firm-but-facilitating side of him" that's been so seldom seen, hoping that maybe in a third term, it'll show up more regularly, or to some useful end. Four years of obstruction, negation and now we hope he'll learn how to lead if he gets another chance, you don't say.

Labrador is meeting the exceedingly low expectations that Idahoans have inexplicably set. The Statesman editorial board could aim a lot higher.

Let us pray, maybe Permalink to this item

Cloud photo

It's always seemed strange to me to kick off a meeting of government with something religious, but unless a "chaplain" were to go on too long, or turn it into a homily or political message, I could probably sit (or stand) through it without comment or indignation. A thoughtful exhortation to listen to one another, to be generous in our interpretations and to strive to find common ground would be useful. Or, as we heard in church today, a reading of William Stafford's Ritual to Read to Each Other, or even just a couplet from it:

though we could fool each other, we should consider-
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

Skipping over the combative headline and opening parts about who all is bent out of shape, I have to agree with the assessment of the commentary on about David Suhor's pagan pantheist invocation for the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners: It was awesome!

And maybe a little long. But it wasn't the length that prompted one of the Commissioners (a professed Christian, don't you know) to walk out, saying

"People may not realize it, but when we invite someone a minister to pray they are praying for the county commissioners for us to make wise decisions and I'm just not going to have a pagan or satanic minister pray for me."

Never mind the distance between "pagan" and "satanic," he makes a strong argument for switching to what Suhor says he'd prefer: a moment of silence, allwoing anyong to pray according to his or her conscience. Or what the hell, just call the meeting to order and get on with it.

26.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Focus on funding education Permalink to this item

Idaho Ed News' report of today's City Club of Boise and the showing of the two candidates for Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction is another short chapter in the mystery of Republican Sherri Ybarra and her candidacy. She'll defer to the Legislature on tax policy, but does want "adequate" school funding, which she isn't prepared to elaborate on much, except that she knows inadequate when she sees it. She also thinks "no one could have predicted" problems with the great tax shift of 2006, which sounds more like she wasn't paying much to the issue back then, and just doesn't know. (There was plenty of criticism of the shift away from property tax and to the sales tax for school funding.)

With all the discussion about an "internet sales tax," you'd hardly notice that we already have tax law requiring that a "use tax" equivalent to our 6% sales tax be paid on purchases made out of state and shipped (or brought) home. In this case "more aggressive" means something like "actually collected" rather than honored in the breach. Of course, the property tax is connected to the sales tax, and the sales tax is connected to the school funding, going back to 2006. And this:

"There weren’t many fireworks at Friday’s forum, but Ybarra was on the defensive when asked about her voting record. Ybarra did not vote in the 2012 general election, when Idahoans overwhelmingly rejected Luna’s Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Ybarra acknowledged sitting out the election, but also suggested that most voters miss an election or two at some point in their lives."

So she's only missed one or two, is it? Be that as it may, most voters don't run for statewide elected office, either. Without going back any further than 2 years, it seems a good rule of thumb not to vote for anyone who couldn't be bothered to vote last time around.

Welcome to the machine Permalink to this item

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is presumably a reliable source for information about colorectal cancer screening and word is that getting some is a good idea once you turn 50, and until age 75 (when... they write you off?). I imagine this is not something that most people eagerly look forward to on their birthday, but still.

A computerized dialing system hired by my health insurance company rang me up today, and after obtaining my affirmation that they'd reached me, and an introductory statement about the importance and recommendation of such screening, it asked about my plans to obtain some.

I'm not averse to having this conversation, even if it happens to be with a party whose interest in my health is primarily financial, but somehow the idea of reporting answers to questions from a machine did not much appeal to me. (But then I don't suppose this is the last time it will happen, either.)

Maybe they're experimenting with different approaches? How about this: send me a birthday card with a discount coupon.

Sure it sounds crazy, but not as crazy as talking to a machine about your semi-internal organs.

Operators are standing by Permalink to this item

Well I've been busy, and not keeping up with the blog very well, and it's probably unbecoming to just keep on and on and on about all these ridiculous political fundraising emails I'm getting, but they are a distraction that it's hard not to say something about. Especially when they're trying so hard.

Karl Rove is TIGHT AS A TICK I guess, judging by the second time he's put that unfortunate colloquialism in the subject line. He does make me think of a bloated, pestilent little vermin, I'll grant him that.

They're all feeling a little discouraged by my lack of response. John Boehner tried You around? as if pithy and illiterate shorthand would loosen my grip on my wallet. Previously, it was Membership Update, a real snoozer of an email subject. Who's Thom Tillis, never heard of him. He says This is too important and wails about the Republicans being outraised. Sounds good to me. Mitch McConnell tries Overwhelmed imagining I'll feel sympathy for him, maybe? "I'm facing a competitive race myself," he says.

Mitt Romney him(virtual)self tells me I'm reaching out: and yeah, that's right, he ended his email subject with a colon, so that I'd be so curious I'd have to look inside. He thinks I should be good for $45, wants me to "chip in today." Chip in yourself, Mitt. Put as many zeroes behind your $45 as you like, why don't you.

Kevin (who I also don't know, at least not until he tells me his surname) wants to know Is this right? and unloads in technicolor. ACTION REQUIRED: IMPENDING DEADLINE, my conservative membership with the NRCC has not yet been renewed in 2014 and is in danger of being deactivated. I've already wasted one of the just 6 days I have left to get $29.74 in. Or am I down to my last day? The "ACCOUNT NOTICE" has a due date and time: midnight tomorrow! (But hmm, no time zone. More sloppiness.) Oh and this beautiful observation:

"You have been one of our most loyal supporters in the past, that's why it's so urgent that you renew your account today."

Moments later, email from Alex (also no surname) offers a "discounted" renewal contribution of $28.67. They've shaved 97 cents, whoopie! Under the subject Don't delete this, but alas, Alex, I have some bad news.

23.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fall Permalink to this item

Autumn's first morning, and impeccable timing from our oldest, grandest tree: there's an acorn bouncing off the roof.

I tested the two store-bought nectarines, picked the slightly softer of the two and bit in hopefully for breakfast. Disappointment and resolve came together; after considering slicing away the bite mark and saving it for a riper day, I went ahead and ate all as ripe enough to do so. It had travelled well, but not long enough, in the end. But it was a beauty to look at, round and smooth and deep red, all the showy attraction a piece of fruit ought to have.

Jeanette's canned peaches

I was reminded of the fellow with three peach trees he'd planted, thinking of a perfect moment in his North Carolina childhood and resolving to regrow it in his new neighborhood. The trees endorsed his effort with enthuiasm, and on the day we discovered them, their braced and drooping branches were littering the lawn with gloriously ripe fruit. The folks across the street had taken upon themselves to put some in a shallow box with a hand-lettered "FREE" for all. My eyes were on the road, but thanks for my stoker to say "hello!" and stop the train.

We found something quite like North Carolina sunshine warm in the box at the side of the road, chatted up the neighbors, stopped on our way back to hear the planter's story of anticipation to decorate his permission to help ourselves to the groundfall.

(Deeper and down to the pit of this resolutely firm nectarine, juicy, in a decorous sort of way, still thinking about how ripe those peaches were, and wondering "what on earth was he waiting for?")

Summer's round bounty coming and going, we bounce from patience to overabundance and then it's gone again to bare trees. We capture what we can, fireflies in a jar to illuminate the dark of winter coming.

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Rags to Risches Permalink to this item

Ruthie Johnson's letter to the editor caught my eye today, headlined with the name of our junor Senator, trotting for re-election this year. She responds in his behalf against a previous letter in opposition, apparently "condemning Sen. Jim Risch for being disgraceful and serving his country in public office." Whether it was by turns or at the same time, I'm not sure. Ms. Johnson's rebuttal had some odd features attacking the messenger, and contrasting the implication of Risch's performance with an even worse alternative, maybe leading our economy to collapse. Or not, who knows? But here's the positive pitch:

"Risch worked his way through college and then went to law school. He and his wife, Vicki, started out as two broke college graduates with the American dream. They have worked rigorously, not only on their own ranch, but in serving others throughout their life. It's easy to spend other people's money for good-sounding projects. It takes more courage to look at how the money is being spent and to hold the line and not pass on all the debt to our children and grandchildren."

You wouldn't know from her letter that Mr. Risch's great success has been in lawyering, not herding cattle, even to the extent of having his "ranch" thanks to one of his successful arguments. Perhaps he does work hard on the ranch, and perhaps he did work "rigorously" getting through school and so forth. Ms. Johnson should know that he doesn't seem to be working very hard in the U.S. Senate, but rather is famously on the record extolling the easy-breezy job he's got back in D.C. with the six-figure salary, free office space and generous staff allowance.

My re-rebuttal, just posted below the letter on the Statesman's website:

It's kind of a sweet letter, but the implication that Jim Risch is a hard-working rancher who goes to Washington to sacrifice himself for the good of the country is either remarkably credulous, remarkably ignorant, or just a run of the mill tout. There are some ranchers in the state, you know, and I dare say they would not recognize the good Senator out on the range. Whatever hard work he may have done is not in evidence in his current U.S. Senate job by any account, least of all his own.

21.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Give him the finger, shall we? Permalink to this item

This will be a clip-and-save column, the right half of the two guest opinions from candidates for Idaho Secretary of State: after some light opening blather about getting to know the staff and county clerks, Lawerence Denney tells us that one his priorities is "to work on measures to enhance the security of the election process, such as new technology that scans either signatures or fingerprints."

Because... the security of the election process has ever been a problem? The ALEC-driven initiative to require us all to show government-issued photo identification cards (or sign an affidavit) at the polls has not addressed the non-problem of voter fraud in our state?

Granted, some explanation is needed for why this state's citizens are so adamant about voting against their self-interest and filling in the "R" ovals, but you wouldn't expect the beneficiary to come up with something this cockamamie.

You want all voters to be fingerprinted, and submit to a fingerprint scan before voting? Really?

20.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your contribution urgently Permalink to this item

Photo of an Agaricus mushroom

It may be tiresome to review details of this endless political fundraising, which I could recount for both poles of our two-party system well enough, but it is a slightly fascinating subject to me. The lack of my identifiable contribution to the generic causes seems to make the pitches more energetic rather than less, but I'm not naive enough to imagine they'll let up if only I send the $5 or $3 or $20.14 "or ANY amount" they're asking for, just to gain a glimpse of those magic numbers I hold in my wallet.

They have no idea how inoculated I am to the pleading (not being readers of my blog, I see), and how interesting the particulars of the pleadings are to me. NRSC says they were OUTRAISED (their caps) by $1.6 million dollars last month, to which I say "that's nice." Today's penultimate link and the Kelly green Contribute button give notice that ALL DONATIONS TRIPLE MATCHED. You don't say!

Someone (they're not saying who) has three times my resources, or three times my enthusiasm, good for them. Carry on, as you please.

Slightly more preposterously, and looking for me to "chip in $25 or more," as if we were golfing buddies conversing on the links and lighting our cigars with ten dollar bills, Senator John Cornyn invites me (on the Romney for President Inc. "stationery," as an opinion and respresentation of the NRSC, and not an endorsement by Mitt Romney) to "Fix Washington." If only we could.

Update: My stars, Marco Rubio—Senator Rubio, don't you know—is applying his name to this same e-list, but now it's for the NRCC, wanting me to "chip in" $30 and offering the same triple match. By the end of the day, they'll be asking for $100. Subject "now?" (Answer, whispered: "not yet.")

19.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Finally, a use for NumLock Permalink to this item

While the wireless mouse was charging, and sure I could turn around and plug in that wired one that's sitting within reach, but just out of curiosity, I looked to see how I might move the mouse cursor without a mouse, there's a flipping 6-step recipe that I'm guessing is hard to follow without a mouse, but a preceding Tip that I can go Alt + Left Shift + Numlock and giddyup, except... this keyboard doesn't have a [Num Lock] which I've just about never wanted to use to unset the numeric keypad as what it is.

I plodded my way through the Control Panel path (having to use the "Search Control Panel" in win7, I think maybe that page was for a pre-7 version), turned on and setup the mouse keys, and found them to be not all that horrible. Good enough to tide me over anyway.

It would have been clever to make getting to Control Panel \ Ease of Access \ Ease of Access Center \ Set up Mouse Keys easier without needing to use an ersatz "point and click," but knowing the term of art, there's this: Use Mouse Keys to move the mouse pointer which is actually about using the numeric keypad keys to move the mouse pointer. ("Mouse Keys" being the euphemistic term of art you might not know ahead of time.) It also shows that the Ease of Access Center is one step behind Ease of Access, with unintended irony, I'm sure. You might also not intuit that the "Set up Mouse Keys" link to enable you to work without a mouse is one of the items under the Make the mouse easier to use page of control panel foo. Because that doesn't make sense, does it?

Anyway, just another jolly computer adventure to report.

Plug in, charge up, turn on Permalink to this item

The Idaho Sierra Club is hosting a "Plug into the Sun" EV rally tomorrow as part of the National Drive Electric Week, and announcing the opening of downtown Boise's first public charging station, at their office at 503 W. Franklin. They'll have models of the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric, Ford Fusion Energi, Tesla Model S, Toyota RAV4 V, Zero Motorcycle, and maybe a home-made or two on display. 11 am to 2 pm, check it out.

18.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Excuse me, are we acquainted? Permalink to this item

One of those "favorite book" list-makings has drawn me into reading George Eliot's Middlemarch, and her beautifully convoluted and florid style seems to be affecting my own forms of expression. Before I'm all the way through, I may need a dose of Hemingway to enable me to get to the point again.

In the meantime, the continuing torrent of political emails seem even more bumptious and crude than normal. One of today's from Governor Haley Barbour, has as its subject the one word interrogatory: Lunch?

I don't suppose it's really him writing to me, but given his generous girth, the subject fits the conceit. He begins by telling me that he "would love to meet and personally thank" me for my "efforts in supporting Republicans this election cycle," and beyond that surprising presumption what more could I take seriously?

You guessed it, more National Republican Senatorial Committee (a.k.a. and only "NRSC" in the fine print) fundraising frippery, "Chip in $5 or more for your chance to win!" a contest for which I'm subsequently assured there is no purchase necessary to enter or win, and what's more, making a contribution will not increase my "chances [sic] of winning." Paid for by NRSC, not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee, sent by Romney for President Inc., but not an endorsement by Mitt Romney.

Tell you what: you can put your own name, email, phone and address in the running right here and let us know how it goes.

17.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The singularity will not be televised Permalink to this item

Sunrise over Lucky Peak reservoir, Sept. 15, 2014

Nicholas Carr handily distills George Lakoff's argument out of Michael Chorost's take on your brain on metaphors, a topic bound to be a rich stew. The longer item addresses the response I had to Lakoff's conclusion that our machines won't become conscious because they don't have bodies: "roboticists ... have suggested that computers could be provided with bodies. For example, they could be given control of robots stuffed with sensors and actuators." We might provide for clouding their algorithms on an upset robotic stomach, or rebooting with a whack upside the noggin? We've provided for friendly physical interaction after all, tickling the keyboard and nudging the mouse, turning the mobile device the other way 'round and shaking to erase.

Responding is not feeling... yet.

One wag responded in the comment using the voice of "IBM Watson" and boatload of metaphors and adverbs, and after the kerfuffle over that was dispensed, the introduction of the "neo-phrenologists" is an amusing way of looking at the fMRI cited for the latest attempts to decipher how our minds work, and/or how we process language. Lakoff raises the issue of the granularity of our measurement systems:

Furthermore, Lakoff questions whether functional MRI can really see what’s going on with language at the neural level. "How many neurons are there in one pixel or one voxel?" he says. "About 125,000. They’re one point in the picture." MRI lacks the necessary temporal resolution, too. "What is the time course of that fMRI? It could be between one and five seconds. What is the time course of the firing of the neurons? A thousand times faster. So basically, you don’t know what’s going on inside of that voxel."

Which is to say you don't know what's going on inside of that brain, do you? Still, it's interesting to fish around, and difficult to predict where the plot will lead.

16.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fever pitch Permalink to this item

Hard to believe they can keep this up, let alone ramp it up from now until election day, but I suppose it's possible. Emails are cheap, and the Romney for President Inc. email generator might be bottomless. The Dems are at it too, of course, and both sides can experiment with positive and negative approaches. We're winning! We're losing! They're going to beat us! We're going to beat them! "[W]ith the support of President Obama and Harry Reid, the Democrats are fundraising at a historic pace."

And the NRSC's only chance to compete is if supporters like me step up- and now. There's also the oddly specific pitch. RfPI suggests a donation of $37.63 today, after noting I'm a "High Value" supporter (talk about your bold-faced lie!) with the "Record Number" 1234567, which would make me one lucky ducky.

It's game over people, Democrats win! (You wouldn't doubt the NRSC, would you?)

15.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Left Behind Permalink to this item

That's the subject of one of today's fundraising emails on the Republican channel I get, sent by the undead "Romney for President Inc." but says "paid for by NRSC," which is the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I think. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee, and is not an endorsement by Mitt Romney. Claim is I "signed up as a member of Mitt Romney's online community on 7/14/2012 0:00," but that doesn't seem likely, really. Midnight? (What time zone?) Bastille Day? (Checking... and judging by my blog entry that day, I'm thinking huh uh.)

The email starts with a breezy "Hey- where are you?" and claims I'm "missing out" even though I'm not, hardly. (I'm missing out on sending money to the NRSC or MittFor?) "Don't be left behind. Don't miss out. Make sure you're a part of history."

By sending money, is that how history is made?

11.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Correction Permalink to this item

One of the strangely memorable lines in a favorite Firesign Theater album of my younger days was George Leroy Tirebiter's campaign slogan: "You can believe me, because I'm always right, and I never lie." In my mind's eye, Tirebiter looks an awful lot like Richard B. "Dick" Cheney, for some reason.

Cheney was back in the news this week commenting on the the mess in the middle east, and beating his war drum to keep the Republicans from going all squishy and isolationist. The New York Times reported that

"Mr. Cheney’s brief talk during a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference was mostly about the need for Republicans to push to maintain a strong military, but he also argued that his party needed to stop the establishment of a terrorist state in the Middle East.

"He did not discuss the fact that many ISIS leaders were former Iraqi military officers who were imprisoned by American troops, nor did he dwell on the sectarian divisions and bloodletting since the 2003 American invasion. The crux of his argument, in fact, centered not on Mr. Obama, but on the isolationist voices on the rise in his party ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican lawmakers said."

That's maybe not as interesting as the fact that the Times accidentally left off the "Vice" in Dick's title on their first try:

Correction: September 9, 2014
An earlier version of a summary with this article misstated the former title of Dick Cheney. He was vice president, not president.

X marks the spot Permalink to this item

Now that we're in the Space Age, we can talk about space weather as well as the old-fashioned kind. Social media is abuzz with the latest weather headed our way, one of those big old Coronal Mass Ejections from our favorite nuclear reactor. Given the earth's diameter (12,742 km) and our orbit (152 million km), our planet blocks about half a billionth of the view of the sun. Which is to say most of what shoots out of it goes off in other directions. But as we watch our star, night and day, every so often something flashes right dead center, which means here's looking at you, kid.

image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

The good news, I see, is that at least one fellow who ought to know, Tom Berger, the director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado says "We're not scared of this one." Even though we're close to the peak of the sun's 11-year cycle, it's been a quiet cycle in our hometowns, and we've seen much bigger stuff. As recently as February. Maybe we'll have some nice aurorae?

That brief article tells us this latest shot is an X1.6, and compared to what: X4.9 in February, X28 biggest we've measured (11 years ago), and X40 (estimated) biggest we know anything about. That's as in peak flux in watts per square meter of 100-800 picometer X-rays out here at one astronomical unit from Sol central.

If you've got some time for the download, yesterday's time-lapse from the Solar Dynamics Observatory is pretty exciting. The flare lights up in the middle middle, serpentine before it pegs the imaging system.

10.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Liberal labyrinth Permalink to this item

When called upon to characterize my political views once upon a time, under oath, I used the shorthand that "I'm a liberal." The prosecutor excused me from jury duty, even though the accused was demonstrably guilty and I would have certainly returned that verdict from the facts that were presented in evidence.

I was reminded of my declaration by the Rev. Elizabeth Green's column last month, responding to the "joke" that "liberalism is a mental illness." Her conclusion was a worthy exhortation:

"Thank all the powers that be - within, among and beyond us - that there is much love practiced in the world. Day-to-day, embracing, courageous, approaching-of-others love. Practiced by liberals, conservatives, middle-of-the-roaders, and people who won't be labeled. Thank all the powers that be for the many people, of any and all spiritual or political paths, who walk the high road, who speak and act toward others as they would have others speak and act toward them.

"May we go forth and do likewise."

That's about as succinct a rebuttal to casual labeling and sloppy thinking as is needed, even if it can't address the deeper issue of the deliberate use of language to create pejorative associations with one's opposition. A topic for a larger essay, someday.

When I went to pin down the date of my declaration, I found that it was before the salad days of the web (let alone blogs), and probably before "liberal" had been promoted to the point of being an epithet and helping George W. Bush move into the White House. The fellow who I first saw in an orange jumpsuit in that courtroom was there because he'd robbed two Jehovah's Witnesses' Kingdom Halls (on the same day, no less) at gunpoint. By the time the jury prospects were let in, he was shackeled to the courtroom floor, after "dismissing" his court-appointed lawyer with a good punch.

But we didn't know any of that at the time. In spite of him being well-known to at least one of the two congregations, and armed robbery in two churches being enough for some good coverage in the local news, and a very long list of eye witnesses to the crimes, we were pretty much all usefully ignorant. My dismissal wasn't for "cause," but rather a peremptory challenge after I seemed too much a bleeding heart, based on a caricature of a question ("how would you characterize your political views?") and my three and a half word answer.

The web record of events has caught up with the case: you can read Leagle's summary of the facts of February 18, 1993, and some of the subsequent legal wranglings Mr. Hyde has attempted, and then you can fast-forward a decade to still more, and on it goes, to 2011, at least. He's got some time on his hands to work the legal system, if nothing else.

9.9.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You have not said the word "sloppy hack" in our conversation Permalink to this item

The exerpts of the interview of Obama by NBC News' Chuck Todd that we saw on last night's Newshour just had the President talking. I thought the images of Todd listening intently were kind of odd, but I figured whatever he'd had to say wasn't the point, right? Confirmation, of a sort from an intemperate post on Daily Kos. Eight-plus minutes in to the interview, Todd said to the President, "you have not said the word, "Syria" so far in our conversation." Look at that spot in NBC's transcript, ever so slightly highlighted by me:


"...We're going to have to train the military there more capably. We've got to do more effective diplomatic work to eliminate the the schism between Sunni and Shia that has been fueling so much of the violence in Syria, in Iraq. And so we put together a plan that is compatible with the kind of work that we're doing now."


You've not said the word, "Syria," so far in our conversation. Obviously, if you're going to defeat ISIS, you have used very much stronger language. It's gone through the week during your trip to Wales. You got to go to Syria in some form or another.

The mention in the second-to-last sentence before Todd said "you haven't" was the fourth time the President mentioned Syria specifically.

If it looks sketchy, it probably is Permalink to this item

That's a line that jumped out at me from a newsletter article about "data security procedures to implement immediately." Item #5:

Surf Smarter – again, it is THE YEAR 2014, learn from the frequent digital mistakes of the past decade. Be wary of email attachments and links, don’t download anything from an unknown source, and if it looks sketchy – it probably is.

Thanks to the longevity of my domain name and useful and/or interesting stuff I've posted over the last 14 years, I've had a variety of requests to provide links to other sites, almost all of which are transparently bogus, but some of which approach subtlety. It took me several tries to land on a shared term of art, but "spamdexing" seems to be it, and today's subcategory is link spam, "links between pages that are present for reasons other than merit."

Cat photos never get old

The number one reason other than merit is to pump up search results and sell stuff, eh? I should be flattered (there's almost always some flattery involved) that is deemed authorative enough to be valuable for promotion. But if I take the bait... there goes the neighborhood, and my good name goes down the drain. Tricking me would be such a minor achievement, and fleeting, besides.

Email today, purporting to be, and apparently actually from someone who is a "Media Specialist" at the Charlotte, Tennessee public library. She says she's "been using [my] page with information on copyrights and trademarks ( for our 'Intellectual Property' LibGuides."

"The library volunteers and myself have been looking for some additional references to include...we came across this guide on cyberspace laws:"

and a link to a supposedly "comprehensive legal guide to cyberspace law." She didn't see it listed with "my resources," would I mind including it? Since my index of "useful stuff of various sorts" has but a single link on the topic she refers to, a deep link into the National Paralegal College's online course about Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights (copyrighted 2006-2014, so they are keeping it up), this is passing strange. Before closing with "blessings" (she opened with "Happy Tuesday"), she writes:

"I'd like to show our volunteers their extra work is paying off. Let me know if you add it - I meet with them tomorrow!"

Looking at this reference work I'm asked to add, I see it's on the site of a criminal defense law firm in the L.A. area, and they've pulled together 3 dozen links from universities (mostly), governments and other organizations under a half dozen subtopics. The subtopic introductions are non-value-added blathering boilerplate, and formatted with the right margin justified. (Hint: that doesn't look "tidy" to me, it just looks stupid, because it's harder to read with the variable word spacing.) The three dozen links are not introduced or summarized in any way, just given by title. (I sampled a couple, and they seem relevant, but of variable depth and quality. I'm guessing "comprehensive" is a synonym for "we found a lot of stuff!")

Very shortly after loading the page, a pop-over enticement to chat with somebody helpful required my attention, and sure why not? "Joan" responded to me in a perfunctory, administrative (or perhaps robotic) way, eventually obtaining my name, location, and email address, but not the phone number she wanted. (I said "I'm not prepared to take a phone call, sorry.") I saved the transcript which isn't all that interesting beyond the opening call and response:

I got a curious link-fishing request to reference one of your pages, from, apparently the public library in Charlotte, TN. Do you have some sort of marketing arrangement? This is very strange.

We may be able to help you. May I know who am I speaking with?

And so on. (They may not be able to help me, too. Her job was just to identify the topic and get my contact info.)

If I were in the law firm, I wouldn't reply to that inquiry, I'd just ignore it. We'll see. For the volunteers at the Charlotte Library, let me suggest vetting those three dozen links on your own (and whatever) and come up with your own recommendations for worthwhile references on whatever topics are of interest to your library's clientele.

8.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

For the children Permalink to this item

Haven't ever dropped in on a Circuit Court proceeding before but a timely link to the Ninth today gave me a ticket to hear the oral arguments for Idaho's appeal of Latta v. Otter to a three judge panel. Private attorney Monte Stewart did all the talking for the defense, and did his best to resist withering questions from Judge Berzon regarding a case that the state has been steadily losing so far.

The plaintiff's lawyer was greeted with gentle softballs, and left with more time than she expected to deliver a summary.

The nut of the defense's argument today is that we have to send the right messages so that fathers take care of their children, and if the children of same-sex couple suffer in order to protect the future children of Idaho, well, we're sorry about that. We need to wave a stick around to keep people in line. And Mr. Stewart thinks "Idaho's crystal balls" are better than the Ninth Circuit courts' because the people voted on not letting people get gay married. In his time reserved for answering the plaintiff's argument, he waved a poster with a photo of a good old nuclear family in the air to support his position. It was a campaign poster from the 2006 constitutional amendment that gave Idaho "the most sweeping and draconian same-sex marriage ban of any state in the 9th circuit."

Judge Berzon had asked him whether there was some legislative reference to this child protective purpose that is the only argument they have left to stand on, and he thought he might be able to find something and turn it in later.

Stewart appears to be getting a nice two-for-one deal on his legal fees, arguing for Nevada's ban (on behalf of "Coalition for Protection of Marriage" rather than Nevada, since that state declined to defend its ban after it was thrown out by a court).

At the very end of the argument in the Idaho case, Stewart was speculating about what Justice Kennedy thinks, before Judge Reinhardt interrupted him to say "I think you're going to have an opportunity to find out what Justice Kennedy really thinks" to the amusement of all assembled.

Count Idaho as a sure-fire loser at the Ninth Circuit.

Here's background from Betsy Russell for the Sunday Spokesman-Review.

Tired excuses for chipseal blundering Permalink to this item

The local roads in Boise and surrounding municipalities are maintained by the Ada County Highway District, to which they and county gave a life of its own, and sometimes regret that decision. There's not likely any going back though; the roads need maintaining, and the cities and county would be hard-pressed to do it for themselves, let alone coordinated among the jurisdictions.

There are roughly the same number of people who are interested in and have something to say about the roads as the weather, and ACHD pubishes some give-and-take in its "Road Wizard" feature in local papers and on its website. It's informative, usually, entertaining, sometimes, and on the subject of the unpleasant rocky road flavor of the decade, annoying. A couple of weeks ago, they published and responded to a good question from "KCB", "do bike lanes need to be chipsealed?" S/he'd noticed an example where the shoulder (on Idaho highway 21, not in ACHD's care) wasn't, and gosh it's nice.

The short answer was that they might do it the right way, but slurry seal (with sand instead of rocks) isn't as immediately driveable, and to avoid the inconvenience, they settled on reduced rock size. And of course, the gospel of chipseal:

"Like main travel lanes, bike lane pavement benefits from a covering to seal in oil and protect it from the elements. Without that, bike lanes would deteriorate faster than the rest of the chipsealed road, which would present its own kind of rough ride."

Except... the wear and tear from cars and trucks is orders of magnitude greater in traffic lanes than on the road less traveled, and streets inevitably get jolly smooth out in the middle while they're still a rough ride on the edges, cracking as they go. The "seal" is pretty much gone in a year or two even as the chips carry on. KCB gave it another try in the September 7 issue, shorter = "horrible and bumpy." The dunce-capped RW responded with an appeal to authority ("Salt Lake City also reports," excuse me?) and a promise of continuing unpleasantness: "I’d expect the road to be chipsealed within the next few years." As in... rest assured, it's going to stay horrible and bumpy, kids.

Here's what I launched in RW's direction this morning:

I wasn't going to bother responding to the recent Road Wizard letter and response regarding chipseal on road shoulders, but seeing another reader's comment, and RW's non-responsiveness, I'm moved to add my voice, again, to a discussion that's been going on for almost the whole 40 years I've been in Idaho.

If the RW would get out its car and get some fresh air and exercise, it would experience first-hand just how annoying it is to ride a bike on rough roads, and could likewise see many instances where the car-traveled roadway is worn smooth while the bike-traveled shoulder remains "like new" in its coarse texture EVEN AS both portions of the roadway deteriorate. The "seal" is long gone before the chips are. I use the height and proliferation of weeds coming through the cracks as a rough measure. Or are you calling that "landscaping" now?

IT'S NOT NECESSARY, no matter how many times and how patronizingly you insist that it is. You COULD maintain our roadways for both durability and ridability, but you don't, because you don't really care, do you? You don't ride your bike on it.

Annotated detail of Ustick Rd E of Cole, Sept. 2014

7.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The gift that keeps on giving Permalink to this item

More political mail sourced from "Romney for President Inc." which might also be known as Zombie PAC, or else this is somebody's idea of a sick joke? Anyway, the singularly unappealing angle of "Your chance" for the subject, a guarantee that whatever lure they have to offer is fake, some tiny fraction of a percent chance at... well.

"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have lunch with Senator Marco Rubio?"

I'm guessing that even among the true believers on the Romney for President Inc. list, there are precious few who have, in fact, wondered about such a thing. But let's say I had, and I were interested. The link bait says "Just contribute $5 or more for your chance to win." Never mind the lunch, "one free overnight trip to Washington, D.C, where your flight, hotel, and ground transportation costs will all be covered" does sound sort of fun; I could just skip out on the lunch and go to one of the many interesting Smithsonian museums. What are the odds? They "depend on the number of eligible entries received." And below the "contribute" and "donate" links and the big blue button this fine print:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN A PRIZE. ... Making a contribution does not increase your chances of winning.

And so on. But sorry, not even that interested.

4.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

RUN, HIDE, FIGHT! Permalink to this item

That's the title of a presentation Officer Will Reimers of the Boise Police Department is scheduled to give to the Morris Hill Neighborhood Association next Monday. The subhead on the poster is "Surviving An Active Shooter." Are You Ready? Refreshments! "Protector" Gargoyle door prize.

"Bring your neighborhood-related crime prevention questions and come prepared to learn all sorts of valuable information to help protect you and your loved ones."

Not sufficiently motivated? Maybe reading some neighborhood crime statistics or checking stats and maps will get you going.

Speaking of education, and accountability Permalink to this item

One of the best teachers I know recommended her friends spend some time reading Marc Tucker's report, published by the National Center on Education and the Economy that he founded, Fixing Our National Accountability System. The four-page executive summary gives a good flavor of it, as does Joe Nocera's op-ed introduction that summarized the central idea.

The technology business is not as obsessed with "American exceptionalism" as the political class; ideas from anywhere are evaluated independently of their sources. "We've always done it this way" is a sure sign of trouble, and the idea that an in-house solution to a problem is inherently superior is justifiably treated as stupid, if not laughable. In spite of the jumbling together of technology (and business) and education these days, what's been known as the "not invented here" syndrome is alive and well in our education system, however. Nocera:

"Not long after founding the NCEE, Tucker began taking a close look at countries and cities that were re-engineering successfully. What he came away with were two insights. First was a profound appreciation for the fact that most of the countries with the best educational results used the same set of techniques to get there. And, second, that the American reform methods were used nowhere else in the world. “No other country believes that you can get to a high quality educational system simply by instituting an accountability system,” he says. “We are entirely on the wrong track.” His cri de coeur has been that Americans should look to what works, instead of clinging to what doesn’t."

The assembly-line mentality, treating teachers as if they were interchangeable parts that need to be procured as cheaply as possible (and then cost-reduced once they're put in place), while measuring "quality" with clockwork standardized testing isn't working, and isn't likely to work. From the executive summary:

"The test-based accountability system now universally mandated in the United States—a system that reflects in every way the blue-collar conception of teaching as an occupation—has had ten years to prove itself. The result is very low teacher morale, plummeting applications to schools of education, the need to recruit too many of our teachers from the lowest levels of high school graduates, a testing regime that has narrowed the curriculum for millions of students to a handful of subjects and a very low level of aspiration. There is no evidence that it is contributing anything to improved student performance, much less the improved performance of the very low-income and minority students for which it was in the first instance created."

Tucker's proposal is to use instead "a system in which teachers’ main line of accountability would be not to their supervisor but to other highly motivated teachers."

"Instead of testing all of our students every year with low-level, cheap tests, our students would take high stakes tests only three times in their whole school career. These tests would be much higher quality tests, testing much more of the kinds of skills and knowledge now demanded for careers that are satisfying and pay well. And these high quality tests would cover the whole core curriculum, so subjects like history, literature, science, social studies, music and the arts would not be slighted."

It's not what we experienced in school, and it's not what we're used to. So... what?

"[S]everal variations on the plan that is now proposed have succeeded, on a national, provincial or state scale, in most of the world’s top performing jurisdictions. Perhaps it is time to give up on a plan that, according to theory, should have succeeded, but did not, in favor of a plan that has been shown to work, not once, in one place, but many times, in many places."

Are. You. Kidding. Me? Permalink to this item

The Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction here in Idaho apparently copied chunks of her website from the Democratic candidate. Clark Corbin reported the story for Idaho Education News. Democrat Jana Jones' comment:

“I find that amazing. All I can say is, no, I wasn’t aware of that and that’s unbelievable. I don’t know what you’re supposed to say to that.”

On the plus side, it shows that Ybarra's campaign at least knows where to look for good ideas to copy.

Update: IEN updated their original post at that same URL, with a link to Sherri Ybarra's response to the effect that she takes responsibility even though someone else's mistakes were made, and her opponent using the p-word and the i-word. "Integrity matters." And competence should matter too, eh? Ybarra's campaign has been a disturbing sequence of errors, however sincerely she's concerned about the future of Idaho's children.

3.Sept.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just the facts, ma'am Permalink to this item

There was kind of a dust-up in the legislature last term about allowing guns on Idaho's college campuses, because if only we have more good guys with guns, there'll be more good in the world, and besides the Second Amendment won the day. See what you can make of this shaken, not stirred and very dry account from the Idaho State Journal, PPD release update on accidental shooting at ISU. An employee. With ample permission. A handgun. In the employee's pants pocket. Accidentally discharged. Injured in the foot. The good news is that it was "small caliber."

"The weapon, bullet casing and bullet were recovered at the scene."

The Boise School Board Permalink to this item

The datelined yesterday but updated today story about our local election yesterday says that voter turnout was "the best for such a race since '96," but not to be confused with "good": just 6.3% of registered voters cared enough to cast a ballot. Sure, it's "just" the school board, and at an inconvenient date after a holiday weekend, but not even one out of 15?! (Regardless of the storied history dating to 1881, and yes it was there before Labor Day, it might be worth reconsidering, don't you think?)

The people who did vote sent an unequivocal message, however: keep the two incumbents (with 40 and 33% of the vote in a five-way race) and bring in former Democratic state Representative Brian Cronin (with better than a four to one margin).

Let's just say there is some non-alignment between politics in Idaho and its capital city.

Revisionism Permalink to this item

Aug. 2014 photo near the Boise River

Two pieces under that category, juxtaposed by chance in today's amble through the NYT: a review of Bettina Stangneth's book, “Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer,” and James Grossman's take on "The New History Wars."

First up, it turns out that contrary to the conclusion in Hannah Arendt's memorable pairing, Eichmann's evil was not the banality of a "bloodless, nearly mindless bureaucrat" who "never realized what he was doing," but rather that of an enthusiastic true believer. From an interest in "the nature of lies," and attention to the detail in what's been made public (not yet including "the full 3,400-page file on Eichmann held by the German intelligence service, the BND," still classified), Stangneth unearthed the enormity of genocidal Nazi leaders.

Secondly, a member of the Texas State Board of Education up in figurative arms over the College Board "promoting among our students a disdain for American principles and a lack of knowledge of major American achievements," or, as the Republican National Committee puts it, giving “a radically revisionist view” that “emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history.”

If you've been ignoring something, is it "emphasizing" to stop air-brushing it out of existence? Or are we supposed to imagine that the Republican National Committee is capable of providing a politically correct version? James Grossman:

"Navigating the tension between patriotic inspiration and historical thinking, between respectful veneration and critical engagement, is an especially difficult task, made even more complicated by a marked shift in the very composition of “we the people.” This fall, whites will constitute a minority of public-school students in the United States. “Our” past is now more diverse than we once thought, whether we like it or not."

It's not that the past is a moving target, but we and our understanding of it are. That's more complicated than just swearing by King James' Bible, for example, but a necessary precursor to mental health.

"This essential process of reconsideration and re-evaluation takes place in all disciplines; imagine a diagnosis from a physician who does not read “revisionist” medical research."

Labor Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The land of make-believe Permalink to this item

For some reason that did not make any news account I saw, but presumably involving status- and fund-raising, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia visited Boise recently to help southern Idahoans celebrate the apparently successful adjudication of water rights on the vast and essential Snake River basin. There were plenty of knowledgeable parties on hand (not pictured) to talk about the necessity, the technical details the Native American reserved water right settlements, and basin-wide issues. Scalia lent the proceedings three cheers for private property rights and congratulations on keeping almost all the issues out of the Supreme Court, where the waters could only have been muddied.

Randy Stapilus' estimate of how we managed to distill success out of such a complicated sea was that it boiled down to "trust, cooperation, and luck," with a fair part of that luck being getting five good judges "in the order [we] needed them." If he's right, our experience may not translate to help for any other state's problems, no matter how fervently visiting Californians examine the record for useful ideas.

The SRBA wrap-up and dinner party is not the end of the story of fighting over water by any means, it just marks the end of one (very) large chapter. Water quality issues remain significantly unresolved as Richard Manning's reporting in the High Country News last month made clear. The role the Environmental Protection Agency will play in monitoring or encouraging improvements is contentious to say the least, so much so that Congress is imagining it needs to pass a law about what constitutes "science." (Perhaps the EPA will respond by defining what of Congress' output constitutes "toxic waste"; Administrator Gina McCarthy gave it a shot, of sorts back in April.)

The connection between these disparate dots is Adam Liptak's "sidebar" describing the Supreme Court's pulling "facts" out of its briefs, when said briefs support an argument they'd like to make. Scalia's self-satisfied mug adorns the story, for his criticism that as an appellate court, they shouldn't even be talking about facts that weren't originally in evidence. It wouldn't be the first time a strict legal argument swims against the flow of common sense, but both are subject to the tide of confirmation bias. And meta-confirmation bias:

"In the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. pushed back against the recent trend, refusing to consider “an intensely empirical argument” in an amicus brief. “We do not generally entertain arguments that were not raised below and are not advanced in this court by any party,” he wrote."

Which would be nice if it were so, but it is not so. College of William and Mary law professor Allison Orr Larsen, quoted in a colleague's blog post:

"This descriptive statement by Justice Alito about Supreme Court practice is simply incorrect. As I have documented before, independent judicial research – research beyond the records and outside of the party briefs – is very common at the Supreme Court. See Larsen, Confronting Supreme Court Fact Finding, 98 Va Law Rev 1255 (2012). In fact, Justice Alito himself was actually called out by Justice Scalia for his 'considerable independent research' on violent video games when the Court found such games protected by the First Amendment a few terms ago. Nor have the Justices been shy about citing 'intensely empirical' amicus briefs or even their own independently-discovered empirical studies in the past on subjects as varied as economics, medicine, psychology, and even terrorism-funding practices. In short, they do it all the time."

Note the citation, since "blog posts" are one of the sources deprecated here, along with "emails or nothing at all." Professor Larsen has another journal article coming on the subject: The Trouble with Amicus Facts. Shorter:

"[A]nyone can claim to be a factual expert. With the Internet, factual information is easily found and cheaply manufactured. ... The result is that the Court is inundated with eleventh-hour, untested, advocacy-motivated claims of factual expertise. And the Justices are listening."


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007