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30.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Silent Confederates Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten, February 2003

A colleague shared a fresh Snopes page about how images roll around cyberspace these days, from the copyrighted original work of an editorial cartoonist opining on one subject, to a mash-up derivative work combining the Confederate Battle flag trending down with the rainbow flag trending up, "found on Twitter" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, who felt a mea culpa was needed, and posted it on Facebook.

"Thankfully for us, an editor at the Hartford Courant generously asked that we only correct the record here, which we were eager to do.

"In sum: We apologize to Mr. Englehart and his colleagues at the Hartford Courant. Everyone here who liked that post should go over and check out his work. If that cartoon resonated, you’ll be pleased to know Mr. Englehart publishes multiple times a week."

So, there's still the person who made the derivative work (if that's what it is), quite different in overall message and impact from Englehart's original. In the FB comments, one person wrote "This is definitely the Cartoon of the Year," but didn't say which "This" she was talking about.

But what catches my eye is someone writing as "John Cox," the one and only comment on the Snopes article this morning, speaking for "millions of 'Silent Confederates' out there who vote."

"Those who back the desecration of the memory of the brave soldiers who fought to defend their homeland from the oppressive yankee invader, will let their will be known at the polling place.

"Many politicans who back this move to eradicate an honorable emblem of an honorable cause (Not slavery, but the rights of indiviudal states to dertermine [sic] their own internal polices without interference from an oppressive central government) will find themselves out of a job.

"Deo Vindice!"

In short, the Civil War is not over for quite a few people in this country, regardless of how many generations separate the actual yankee invaders and the brave soldiers fighting for states' rights. They do not accept that the states' right at issue was to recognize some human beings as property, and to have other states required to return said "property" if it ran off across a border. It was an honorable ideal, pure as the driven snow.

They will remember what I never knew, the motto of the Confederate States of America, God is our Vindicator!

While that particular motto didn't ring a bell for me, some of the others in the genre that Adam Lee deconstructed for Patheos in 2007 are familar, and his conclusion resonates:

"The hatred which religious partisans have for each other is literally undying. Frankly, I’d leave them to each other and say good riddance, if it weren’t for the fact that the rest of us are caught in between them, and innocent people who did not ask to be part of these battles inevitably end up suffering for their sake."

26.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And marriage expands Permalink to this item

After "decades of litigation and activism," it was far too soon for the Chief Justice and other members of the minority, who wanted states to all fight it out a while longer, never mind the accumulating body of judicial rulings mostly (but not entirely) for expanding rights, and the present chaos for couples crossing state lines. What Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The eyes of the conservatives on the court didn't see it that way, and Antonin "I could go on" Scalia (presumably without any sense of irony) railed against Kennedy's opinion as "couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic." It burns to be ruled by a majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the astounding hubris of "today's judicial Putsch." I guess it's more onerous when your chair is so close by? And complaining that there are no evangelical Christians ("or even a Protestant of any denomination") on the bench is a novelty for this Court with the Catholic super-majority. (Given that church's opinion on this matter, it's safe to say this was a legal ruling, and not a religious one.)

The Chief Justice celebrates the long-standing traditions that include "Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs," although he probably does not mean to extol traditions of slavery or human sacrifice. Was his question "Just who do we think we are?" rhetorical, or is he actually confused? More to the point at hand, and in context:

"In a remarkable and largely unbroken line of more than 40 decisions, state and federal courts relied on the Windsor decision to rule in favor of same-sex marriage," and thus expands the equal protection of the law, and this "keystone of the nation's social order." Hear, hear.

Insurance marches on Permalink to this item

"Congress pased the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent wih the former, and avoids the latter."

Thus spaketh Chief Justice John Roberts, in affirming the The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' affirmation of the District Court dismissal of King v. Burwell, and letting the ACA stand, rather than shooting it through the head. Reading the Act for its meaning

"compels the Court to reject petitioners’ interpretation because it would destabilize the individual insurance market in any State with a Federal Exchange, and likely create the very “death spirals” that Congress designed the Act to avoid."

Justice Antonin Scalia's head seems about to explode in his dissent. Absurd! It should be obvious! Why would this even be discussed in the Supreme Court? No semblance of shame! What the Court said back in 1925:

"[T]he plain, obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow, hidden sense that nothing but the exigency of a hard case and the ingenuity and study of an acute and powerful intellect would discover."

And he goes on, at some curious, narrow length about the meaning so obvious to him that two-thirds of the Court denies. Just as Idaho's Rep. Raúl Labrador professes to be stunned so Justice Scalia must stew in his own juices over the summer. Along with the rest of Idaho's Congressional delegation, at least. Disappointing! Broken! Severely flawed! Disaster! Full repeal! Full replacement!

Any day now, the Congress will get right to that, I'm sure.

On the one hand, the majority of the Court did Republicans one hell of a favor. If the Act had been destroyed by ruling in favor of the curious plaintiffs, to satisfy Scalia's pedantic proclivity, the GOP would have found out how unpleasant it is when the dog catches the car it is chasing. On the other, it's going to be a demanding test of stubborness. Are we seriously going to continue with incessant talk about "repeal" (never mind "replace"), blocking out every and any sort of possible improvement to the Act? That's all that Idaho's delegation seems to have.

24.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Two days with Les Schwab Permalink to this item

My not-favorite tire dealer just gave me a few more reasons to slide down the list. Once upon a time, the "free" service they offered seemed an inducement. "Free flat repair," for instance. Also free changing from regular tires to snow tires.

I had time to reflect on that bit yesterday, as I waited a lot longer than I'd planned (or wanted to), while they swapped my tires. (And yes, I know it's June, but they're "all season," no studs, I don't have to be in a hurry.) When that was done, they had "suggestions" about stuff they might do for me.

"I see you've got new rear struts," the nice tire jockey said, "and I couldn't quite tell, but if the new ones haven't been replaced, we could change those out. We have 'em in stock and, can do it today." Only $400-something with the alignment that would be necessary. No thanks, I said, and was on my way back to a lot of other stuff I had to get done.

The door sensor said something was ajar, and I figured it was the back hatch not closed hard enough, that's been an issue for most of the Windstar's 20 years. Just missing a light gave me a chance to turn to see that oh, the side door was indeed ajar. I put it in "park," unbuckled and climbed between the front seats to give it an open and re-close, but found that it wasn't just ajar, the rear traveler was out of its damn track, and the door was half falling off.

I guess the tire boys who used the side door hadn't noticed.

I had to dive into the nearest parking lot and call for help. Jeanette came to meet me, I fetched tools from home and fixed it, and was back on my way, another hour later than plan.

In a slight diversion from our highway route today, we took "the back way," and while cruising a gravel road, I noticed it was pulling crazy to the right. Did I have a flat tire?

Yes, I did. (Flat tires are so last millennium, but I've had two in three years now.) Not sure I ever used the jack and spare in the Windstar before, but I knew where to look, and took advantage of the instructions tucked in the pocket with the jack, waiting patiently for my attention for two decades.

Only trouble was, the spare was about flat, which is totally my bad for not checking the spare before we left, but who gets flat tires anymore? Also, it would have been real easy to check that pressure when the car was on the hoist yesterday, and aren't the guys at the tire store supposed to do that?

"Inflate to 60 psi" it says on the sidewall, and it had 5 or 10 in it. Nice to have some farm traffic on the road we were on, hey, do you happen to have an inflator? He had a compressor in the back, that was nice.

After limping in the last mile, and borrowing another car to drive to the nearest Les Schwab, the "free flat repair" was a bust. It wasn't repairable (he said... can I, uh, get a second opinion?). They of course have a NEW tire they could sell me, for only I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW MUCH TIRES COST NOW. Srsly? He said he could order something in a couple days, save me $20, which is slightly better than a poke in the eye, but really, I hadn't planned on EVER giving Les Schwab any more money for anything if I could help it.

Just this one last time, and really, that's it.

22.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some confusion about lobbying and bribery Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, 2015

Bill Dentzer's reporting and analysis is nominally about lobbying at the Capitol, but wait, it's about more than that. Whether or not our new Secretary of State's interest in the question was legitimate, a snit between him and another former Speaker of the House (who didn't get voted out of the position), or based on a rumor (a.k.a. "just casual conversation with several people involved"), there's this:

The particulars of who should have to register as a lobbyist concern me far less than having ANYONE "proffering gifts and benefits to legislators." How could that EVER be appropriate, let alone a good idea?

When I worked for BigCorp, we were told not to accept gifts of more than nominal value (which was more ambiguous than it probably should have been, but $25-ish; trade show schwag excluded, for example). Business dinners were the most abusive thing going, but more often on our own expense account, and typically vigorish that flowed both ways, about business between the two companies that were paying for it. There was another, equally famous BigCorp that had a policy of its employees paying for their own meals, and with fixed (and relatively modest) dollar limits of what would be reimbursed. That seemed overly fussy in the world I was in, but for our state (and federal) legislators, it seems wholly appropriate, does it not?

Our mutual instruction was to "conduct our business with uncompromising integrity." Shouldn't that be the starting point for any discussion of legislators' behavior?

As for state employees lobbying legislators, any inducements they might be in a positon to provide would be obtained with STATE assets, otherwise known as "taxpayers' money." It is not "lobbying" to give legislators favors bought with someone else's money.

Since Bruce Newcomb has been schmoozing long enough to have lost track of the basics I will explain that, first of all, you do NOT "take him to lunch or buy him a Coke." If he wants lunch or a Coke while you two discuss some legitimate state business, he can buy it himself. Simple.

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

U.S. Open Permalink to this item

Golf tournaments should all be in the Pacific time zone, because prime time conclusion! Not that I'm a fan, but I did tune in for the thrilling conclusion, because it was on in prime time.

Man, that is one dry golf course. As a former night waterman, I'm simultaneously appreciative and aghast. Are there boundaries to the "greens"? Or did they just stick a hole and a flag in the fairway?

The double boge. Tightening up.

"It's a little uphill, but you gotta give it a chance." (Hit it harder.)

The slo-mo replay of the player's face as the putt comes up short.

Practicing swinging right next to his caddy's foot, wtf?

The sound of drones (I presume). #annoying

How does it feel to yell "GET IN THE HOLE" right after somebody hits the ball? (Alternate expression: "GET IN THERE.")

Love the overlay trails of the ball off the tee. Teevee golf has needed that forEVAR. The crazy microphone conversation between the guy and his caddy, not so much. TMI.

Some dude shot a TWENTY-NINE on the back nine. Unbelievable. Louis Oosthuizen. Won the awkward interview with a gal in an embarrassingly short skirt.

But my absolutely favorite golf commentary preamble of all time was "I'm actually speechless." (He was not, actually.)

What are those concrete things? From WWII artillery bunkers?

It's not a fifteen foot putt, it's 15'4". (And he missed it by a little.)

Joe Buck commenting, no baseball today?

Last guy's got a putt to win it, that's about as exciting as golf can get, amirite? Worst case, two putt and an 18 hole playoff tomorrow.

Bummer. Three-putted. That's as awful as golf gets.

That gal with the skirt again. "How do you feel?" "Did you even bring a fifth outfit with you?" #awkward The winner said he figured his clothing sponsor would have figured something out.

Juneteenth.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

U.S. Blues Permalink to this item

Jack Jenkins provides "a white, male, South Carolinian with multiple ancestors who fought for the Confederacy"'s point of view of How The Charleston Shooting Is Linked To The Confederate Flag and a link to the state's 1860 articles of secession, which I had never before read. Our 21st century awareness is now almost twice as long from the start of the Civil War as the authors were from the Declaration of Independence. The states had rather "just said" they'd overthrow government deemed tyrannical, and they were ready to do it again. Jenkins' point, and there it is in black and white, "that, yes, the Civil War was about slavery."

First and foremost, South Carolina was a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE, they shouted, which had opted in to the Constitution of the United States, and could jolly well opt out. After the introductory history lesson, they protest that "fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations," most specifically the stipulation "so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made," in Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3, otherwise known as the Fugitive Slave Clause:

"No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

As Jenkins notes, "removing the Confederate flag from the State House won’t erase racism in South Carolina." But it would be a start.

"If y’all are looking for something to replace it with, might I humbly suggest not a flag of war, but a statement of peace. You could even try a flag with our own state motto, dum spiro spero — “while I breathe, I hope.”

"God knows we could use a little of that hope right now, because for too many South Carolinians who aren’t safe in their neighborhoods and in their churches, it’s getting really hard to breathe."

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now, with an arresting quote from the speech of one Alexander H. Stephens, in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, extolling the virtues of "this new consitution, or form of government" newly contrived, and founded "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition."

This country—our confederation of cultures—has shown a remarkable willingness to avoid meaningful action in response to tragedy, time after bloody time. As too many commentators have lamented, this latest sacrifice of human lives is likely to be no different. A symbolic act may be the best we can hope for, but one that could send a signal, to ourselves, and to our children. Something changed on this day.

"Take down the flag. Take it down now.

"Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now."

Update: Timothy Egan's got a good idea for another worthwhile symbolic act: apologize for slavery.

Home match Permalink to this item

Wish I'd brought my camera to capture the vibrancy of the fun at Sunset Park yesterday evening, but I was lugging a lot of stuff already, with my tennis bag, a cooler and a bag of snacks to share with the guys at our team match. We filled up the four courts (and sent the 5th match to another park), while a lively basketball clinic was going on next to them. Three or four young men were leading a couple dozen younger men and boys in drills vigorous enough to wear me out just watching, and then into a fast-paced game. On the other side of the basketball court, a co-ed softball game sprawled into the larger open field of the park and yeah, into the sunset. Half a dozen younger kids gamboled around the utility building, focused mostly on the water fountain, so nice to get a little wet on a warm evening. As I left, about 9pm, the crowd was mostly dissipated, a woman and her two small kids ambled toward home, through the parking lot, exchanging fun bits of family talk in a language I couldn't quite recognize.

All ages and sorts and colors of people, in a neighborhood that's changing with the times, richer for it, all happy to play in a beautiful, green park in the heart of a quiet, prosperous city. For that moment when the sun's long light filtered through the city of trees and held a hundred of its people in a warm glow, we were at peace in the neighborhood, joyous in each other's presence.

18.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Here's a reason to vote for Hillary Permalink to this item

On the verge of the Supreme Court's yay or nay on the incredibly cocked-up lawsuit to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which everyone knew as NancyObamacare, the yipping dogs of the G.O.P. are, um, wary about catching the car. All these years' talk of "repeal and replace" actually never had anything behind the "replace" curtain. Wyoming's Senator John Barrasso apparently drew the short straw for "devising a possible legislative response to the court decision," and says “Our goal is to protect people, not the law.”

“This is not a long-term solution,” Mr. Barrasso said. “We want to provide a temporary transition while this is relitigated [sic] in the 2016 elections — and give the new president time to come in and bring a new solution forward.”

The soap opera dramedy of American politics would be just too perfectly provided for if that new president with time to come in and bring a new solution forward were Hillary Clinton, amirite?

In the meantime, one "transition plan" is for the feds to send block grants full of money and the states will handle things. (Ironically, as you can see from the Who Would Be Affected? sidebar, ruby-red Idaho is one of the states that does not have a dog in the car chase. By standing up on our hind legs for a "state exchange," we can carry on with Obamacare even as 34 other states lose subsidies for their residents. Not that our Tea Party fringe needed more reason to despise Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, but Katie, bar the door for his role in convincing our legislature to participate in any way, shape or form.)

Should the SCOTUS rule against the government, and should the Republicans be aghast at the spoils of victory, there is a dead-simple alternative transition plan that meets the vaunted goal of being simple enough for everybody in Congress to actually read before voting upon: a one page bill to change the one phrase upon which this case dangles. Downside? It would require cooperation between Republicans and Democrats.

17.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Post Rachel Permalink to this item

San Diego, 2005

At first, it seemed like this story out of Spokane was our local (or at least our regional) thing. Not that Spokane's all that close to Boise, but it's the big city (and nearest large-plane airport) near where we used to live, we still have family up there and we follow the Spokesman-Review (ok, mostly for Betsy Russell's great reporting of Idaho politics, but not just that). Then, of course and inevitably, it went viral, and everbody had something to say about this white woman who was head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP (before resigning Monday in the firestorm). By Monday evening, it (and ok, the ridiculous responses to it, from Fox News) was pretty much the comedy lede for Jon ("WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!") Stewart, and Larry Wilmore and Awesomely Luvvie.

Between tragedy and comedy, there's room for some very interesting commentary, including Tamara Winfrey Harris' op-ed in the NYT: Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade;

"Some people have pointed to this strange case as an illustration that race is malleable. I submit that Ms. Dolezal is a reminder that it is not. Racial identity cannot be fluid as long as the definition of whiteness is fixed. And historically, the path to whiteness has been extremely narrow.

"The 'one-drop rule,' which, for much of American history, legally defined as black anyone with a black ancestor, was used to keep black people from adopting whiteness. Ironically, it has made it easier for Ms. Dolezal to claim blackness without others questioning the assertion. ..."

Through the post-modernism looking glass, that Ms. Dolezal can "identify" any which way is not an expression of her privilege as a (pretty sure she is) white woman, but as an "Africana" cultural commentary on how race is just made up anyway, amirite? And this gem, from her media tour yesterday:

“There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents,” Dolezal said in an appearance on NBC Nightly News. ...

“I’m not necessarily saying that I can prove they’re not,” Dolezal said. “But I don’t know that I can actually prove they are. I mean, the birth certificate is issued a month and a half after I’m born. And certainly there were no medical witnesses to my birth.”

So yes, we're all invited to this "deeper conversation about ethnicity and race," and "what it is to be human," and honest, and authentic, and confused, and on stage. Speaking of which, there just has to be a reality show in the offing doesn't there? Rumor has it. At least a book deal.

Update: team at the gray lady weighs in, all reportery and stuff, sidebars with other viewpoints, "a summary of cases relating to Rachel Dolezal" and so on. The quote for Today yesterday, wraps around the race-bending element nicely: “Well, I definitely am not white,” Dolezal said. “Nothing about being white describes who I am.” Other than that privilege of picking whichever color crayon you like, of course. Choices have consequences though, and her degrees of estrangement have no doubt expanded beyond the family members she's currently at odds with.

15.6.15 Permanent URL to this day's entry

800 years ago today Permalink to this item

In the history of famous dates rolling around my head, 1066 seems to be more firmly set than 1215, but since I probably won't be around for the millennial celebration of the Battle of Hastings (and the Norman Conquest), the signing at Runnymede will have to do for now. Two disparate takes on the Magna Carta found their way to me: Tom Ginsburg's dismissive NYT op-ed ("In fact, it was a failure.") and Mark J. Fitzgibbons' bit on American Thinker (touted by Richard Viguerie on ConservativeHQ). Ginsburg:

"Magna Carta has everything going for it to be venerated in the United States: It is old, it is English and, because no one has actually read the text, it is easy to invoke to fit current needs."

And as if on cue, Fitzgibbons illustrates the point, calling our Constitution its "cousin," and this:

"Magna Carta is celebrated as a great charter of liberty. Its influence in the founding of America is profound because Magna Carta did something that is essential to liberty, namely, it placed law over government. The Great Charter did not merely say that Englishmen have this or that right. It set forth certain things that government may not do. ..."

And things it may do, such as "prevent Jews from charging interest on a debt held by an underage heir" and "require the removal of fish traps from the Thames." Or so we're told (by Ginsburg); I haven't read the original in its Medieval Latin.

"We the people" back in the day were apparently "40 indignant English barons" unhappy with "their treacherous king," just as he proved unhappy with the document, repudiating it, and having Pope Innocent III nullify it to boot. ("In his capacity as universal feudal sovereign," as James V. Schall, S.J., puts it for The Catholic World Report.) It's all rather confusing when viewed from the vantage of a hobby horse. Fitzgibbons says we should be glad the Pope nullified the agreement between King John and the 40 nobles because "consent is not legitimate when given under duress." And glad that it was revised and adopted by Parliament to "place law over government."

It was the start of something big, in other words, that idea that rulers were not quite absolute, and would have to sign things they didn't like from time to time. That may amount to mere "retrospective significance" but such is the path that history follows.

“There’s no question that it’s had a substantial and enduring impact on the development of law in the United States of America,” said William C. Hubbard, president of the American Bar Association. “The idea that the law comes from the people, and it’s not the law of the king, is fundamental.”

Still sorting out said "people" are who shall be the source of law. More than 40 noblemen these days, but fewer than all of us.

Jill Lepore's piece for The New Yorker, The Rule of History, seems less hasty on the day-of. Start with her if you haven't made the mistake of taking an earlier jump out of here.

"Magna Carta has been taken as foundational to the rule of law, chiefly because in it King John promised that he would stop throwing people into dungeons whenever he wished, a provision that lies behind what is now known as due process of law and is understood not as a promise made by a king but as a right possessed by the people. Due process is a bulwark against injustice, but it wasn’t put in place in 1215; it is a wall built stone by stone, defended, and attacked, year after year. Much of the rest of Magna Carta, weathered by time and for centuries forgotten, has long since crumbled, an abandoned castle, a romantic ruin."

13.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An Eleventh Commandment Permalink to this item

Re-shot and retouched photograph from the 1975 re-issued original
FIGURE 4.—Ruins of one of the Hundred Dead Cities of Syria. From 3 to 6 feet of soil has been washed off most of the hillsides. This city will remain dead because the land around it can no longer support a city.

"Thou shalt inherit the Holy Earth as a faithful steward, conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation. Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, and protect thy hills from overgrazing by thy herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever. If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land thy fruitful fields shall become sterile stony ground and wasting gullies, and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off the face of the earth."

W.C. Lowdermilk, formerly Assistant Chief, Soil Conservation Service, in "Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years," Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 99 of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, issued August 1953.

12.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hatfield v. McCoy Permalink to this item

There's a lot of explaining to be done with regard to the deadly politics of the middle east, and while I know of a few reliable sources, I haven't tried to sort it out for myself. While reading comments under an article about something unrelated to geopolitics, the pseudonym Ecce Homo caught my eye, what with the workshop and the funny Google searching on Wednesday, and I followed the link back to the fellow's website to find that he doesn't write often, but when he does, it's interesting. Says his "day job is in government management," and he's employed "at will," so expressing opinions could be a career limiting move, sooner or later. Anyway, this, from a couple months ago: Houthis and ISIS. It's probably oversimplifying to boil it down to saying it's all Shi'a versus Sunni, but that seems to be a lot of it.

"Democracy does not spring fully developed from the brow of a tyrant. Even our own enlightened founders did not create a pluralistic democracy – it took four score, seven years and a terrible Civil War to end the enslavement of Americans by Americans. Building pluralist democracy is all the harder for a society emerging from decades of brutal dictatorship. ..."

"It has already taken a century and a half, and Americans have still not fully healed the pathologies of our slave-holding past. Sunni-Shiite hostility will not die quietly either. But in neither case does that mean we should not start. I believe that ISIS and Al Qaeda and all their ilk are products of those pathologies. The difficulty Shiite Iraqis are having sharing power with Sunnis – the difficulty that Shiites and Sunnis have sharing power anywhere – is another product of those pathologies."

For all the political hopefuls banging the drums of war and what-not, the idea of taking a long view is incomprehensible. That will not make news, for one thing, and lord knows the electorate's memory is deficient from hyperactivity. "Progress," such as it may be, will not often be featured in the nightly news.

Survey says... no vote! Permalink to this item

News is, the chairmain of the Iowa Republican Party said “I’ve said since December that we would only hold a straw poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year that is just not the case,” as evidenced by the unanimous (!) vote to skip it.

It's their party and they can cry if they want to, I guess, but gosh, a "tradition for nearly 40 years," over just like that?

"The termination of the straw poll reflects a trend in Republican campaigning that began in the 2012 presidential cycle, a nationalized nominating contest waged on the stages of debates and in the confines of the Fox News studios. The straw poll’s significance was diminished that campaign cycle when its winner finished at the bottom of the pack of caucuses contenders, and its cancellation in 2015 suggests a nationalized nominating battle may have finally arrived."

That winner turned loser was then-Representative Michele Bachmann, in case anyone needed a good reason for deep-sixing the poll. Still unconvinced? Former Governor Mike Huckabee won it in 2008.

There will still be "large investments" involved in the campaign, just not so many flowing to the Hawkeye state's GOP organization.

11.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Save Your Stuff how-to Permalink to this item

We went to an interesting program at the library yesterday, "Save Your Stuff: How to physically and digitally preserve family heirlooms." The resource handout and slide deck are free and available from Google Drive. At some point, under the topic of "family photo mysteries," they had a little demo of how you can put an image in Google's search and have it find similar ones. The sample they picked was the tryptic of a badly repaired fresco which Google quickly revealed has become a meme, "in which the ruined painting was edited in to other famous works of art, movie scenes or other memetic images." It's known as (take your pick) "Botched Ecce Homo" or "Potato Jesus." This morning while searching for a representative sample for you, I find the useful (and trademarked!) Know Your Meme® site, complete with more exegesis than we had time for during yesterday's q&a.

via Somebody on Pinterest

It's actually a rather sad story, but funny at a sufficient distance, and my goodness, KYM® is doing a heck of a job of documentation. It was first a thing about 3 years ago, and they have "notable examples," a Google Trends graph of search interest, and almost 2 dozen external references.

I don't suppose there were audience members with fresco problems, but old photos and documents, for sure, at least a couple of family bibles, and interest in quilts and furniture and videocassettes and musical instruments and vinyl records. Along with the certainly good advice, there were a few oddballs, like "relax strings of instrument if you are putting it away for more than a few hours. Then store on a clean padded surface or in well-fitting case." Better: instruments should be played, not treated as static objets d'art.

Not in the slide deck, but mentioned as a vague notion was the idea that some people are careful about even opening image files any more than they have to, something called "bit rot." Uh, no. This is good, though: JPEG Myths and Facts. No need for TIFF myths, because the Tag(ged) Image File Format (in spite of more variations than you need to care about, probably) is digital and lossless. Your TIFF of the Ecce Homo will not become toast no matter how many times you open or close it. Neither will your JPEG, unless you edit and re-save it for some reason.

10.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Majuscule Permalink to this item

Hallmark's video paean to Hermann Zapf starts with his hand, chalk and a chalkboard, and a fine illustration of the mastery described in Bruce Weber's NYT obituary for Zapf.

"Don't forget the form you have in your head should come to the paper. Nothing should come out and be a surprise."

And more, from a review of his "marvelous, if slightly arid exhibition at the Grolier Club," in late 2000.

"It doesn't take long to realize that his career demonstrates the combination of natural (probably prodigious) talent, early achievement and continued growth and innovation that we demand of major artists. And productivity: he has designed more than 200 alphabets, including those for Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Cherokee, and several for Greek. At the request of Microsoft, he has expanded Palatino for all languages using Latin, Greek and Cyrillic characters, which means that it now has a staggering 1,218 characters."

7.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of good things at the Library! Permalink to this item

This coming Friday, and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after, our local celebration of the national Week of Making, with a "focus on 3D printing and fun maker activities. Main Library, 1-5 pm. Wednesday, June 17 is "Girls Only." All ages welcome; children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Thinking about the rule of law Permalink to this item

Thanks to whoever prompted me to request a copy of Leonard Mlodinow's shiny new book, The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos from the Boise Public Library! Four chapters into Part 1 (of 3), it's a fast ride through prehistory, Culture and the birth of Civilization, to the brink of Reason.

Civilization came out of Mesopotamia, you may remember, where its birthing pain somehow persists these millennia after the fact. From this:

Edited from 'Code de Hammurabi, roi de Babylone ; face avant,' 2011 photograph by Mbzt

"The gods also worked through the city's earthly rulers, who derived their authority from their theological connection. By the time of the first Bablyonian Empire, in the eighteenth century B.C., a more or less unified theological theory of nature had emerged, in which a transcendent god laid down laws that covered the actions of both people and what we would call the inanimate world. That set of human civil and criminal laws is called the Code of Hammurabi. It is named for the reigning Babylonian king, whom the great god Marduk commanded to 'bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and evildoers.'"

To this:

"[Saudi Arabia's] Supreme Court's decision to uphold the sentence of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old father of three who was lashed in January in a public square, is final and cannot be overturned without a royal pardon.

"Badawi, imprisoned since 2012, initially was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures through a blog he created.

"After an appeal, a criminal court in Jiddah last year stiffened the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He also was banned from traveling abroad for 10 years after his prison term and fined $266,000.

"In January, security officials flogged Badawi outside a mosque in Jiddah. Saudi rights activists said it was meant as a warning to others who think to criticize the religious establishment, of which the ruling family derives much of its authority."

Mlodinow points out that the Code of Hammurabi, carved onto an eight-foot-high block of black basalt for public reference "wasn't exactly a model for democratic rights: the upper classes and the royals were granted leniency and greater privileges." The lesser classes, those out of favor, or those who transgress too far will also be used as objects for public reference. One round of 50 lashes might suffice. Nineteen more have been sentenced, and would surely reach "overkill" before completion.

In Saudi Arabia, deviation from Sunni Islam is "blasphemy," the same as "apostasy," punishable by death if the judges and king are sufficiently annoyed. Atheism is defined as "terrorism." Liberalism, in Badawi's estimation "simply meaning, live and let live" is still too dangerous an idea for some rulers to allow to spread among the general public, 3,765 years after they started having laws carved in stone.

6.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Catching wind and shadows Permalink to this item

WaPo's story on the latest national security news gives pause about the sort of government surveillance that we do need to worry about.

"China is building massive databases of Americans’ personal information by hacking government agencies and U.S. health-care companies, using a high-tech tactic to achieve an age-old goal of espionage: recruiting spies or gaining more information on an adversary, U.S. officials and analysts say."

"Big data" used to be the big thing. Now it's "big data theft." Chinese officials can't imagine what we're talking about.

China on Friday dismissed the allegation of hacking as “irresponsible and unscientific.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing wanted to cooperate with other nations to build a peaceful and secure cyberspace.

“We wish the United States would not be full of suspicions, catching wind and shadows, but rather have a larger measure of trust and cooperation,” he told a regular news briefing.

5.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All your base are belong to us Permalink to this item

Yet another data breach, four million government workers' information compromised, maybe by Chinese hackers, and oh, the government has secretly expanded its internet surveillance for computer intrusions, "suspicious Internet addresses" and malware. Here's a bit of déjà vu:

"Justice Department lawyers wrote two secret memos permitting the spy agency to begin hunting on Internet cables, without a warrant and on American soil ..."

And this delicate "classified annex to a policy report" six years ago,

“Reliance on legal authorities that make theoretical distinctions between armed attacks, terrorism and criminal activity may prove impractical,” the White House National Security Council wrote...

But only "addresses and 'cybersignatures'," whatever those might be. Join the club! It's not like every site, corporation and political party you visit isn't tracking what you do and where you go. Have you looked at your cookies lately? At least on the web you can sometimes get some glimpse of some of who's tracking you. Your cellphone isn't as forthcoming.

How is it that we're talking about yet another secret program? Guy named Edward Snowden, and the NYT gives him some op-ed space today, to celebrate the power of an informed public:

"Two years on, the difference is profound. In a single month, the N.S.A.’s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated. ...

"Since 2013, institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and imposed new restrictions on future activities. The United Nations declared mass surveillance an unambiguous violation of human rights. In Latin America, the efforts of citizens in Brazil led to the Marco Civil, an Internet Bill of Rights. Recognizing the critical role of informed citizens in correcting the excesses of government, the Council of Europe called for new laws to protect whistle-blowers."

"Everyone's online and everyone's vulnerable." President Barack Obama

But the beat goes on: "As you read this online, the United States government makes a note." Presumably, there are no alarm bells going off for run of the mill New York Times and fortboise readers, but you never know.

I do think Snowden provided an important public service, and that he should be pardoned and allowed to come back the country if he wants to. And I think that malicious actors in the cybersphere are a bigger threat to my personal well-being than the government's snooping is, but how would any of us know, really? Especially when the new "transparency" looks a lot like "opacity." Even if the White House posted an 8 hour video of the Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection held at Stanford in February, and has a section of their website devoted to the topic of cybersecurity. (There's plenty to read, for everyone, including two terms' worth of policy directives and executive orders, the most recent one, E.O. 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity signed on the spot.) Jump to 3:04 in the 8:10 video if you want to hear the President's remarks... or scan the agenda for what else might interest you. Whether he's transparent or opaque, he can at least be charming, as he starts out by celebrating my alma mater, Leland Stanford Junior University, as "one of the great universities of the world."

"I gotta admit, I kinda wanna... go here... Everyone's so friendly and smart, and it's beautiful. What's there not to like?"

He also celebrated the pioneering technological innovations that have come out of Stanford—and government-funded research and infrastructure. We can hardly imagine what it was like before this "hugely empowering, but also dangerous" always-on, always-connected computer network went live.

"Foreign governments and individuals are probing these systems every day," and it's "a matter of public safety" as the attacks and counterattacks of yet another arms race multiply.

4.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

You won't believe what happens next Permalink to this item

Bob Roohparvar's "Batteriser's" biggest hurdle may be the inevitable headlines that can't possibly stay out of your spam bucket. I clicked through on TechHive's This $2.50 gadget extends disposable battery life by 800% because I've found that channel fairly reliable, but yeah, it sounds dubious.

We don't use a lot of alkaline batteries, so this won't be life-changing, but it does sound handy to get 8x the life out of any old battery with a bit of clever, miniaturized electronics that keep the voltage topped up while you squeeze the previously untappable energy out of your little tubular storage device. The technical description sounds plausible, even though "8x" is a bit sketchy when they also talk about getting "the remaining 80 percent," which would be 5x. From the inventor's mouth:

"Roohparvar says the sleeves are thin enough to fit inside almost every battery compartment imaginable, and the combined package can extend battery life between 4.9x for devices like remote controls and 9.1x for various electronic toys."

And this, from a prof in the the physics department of San Jose State University: “We tested the Batteriser sleeve in our lab and we confirmed that the Batteriser taps into 80 percent of energy that is usually thrown away.” Is he saying that 80% of the energy is usually thrown away or that the device taps 80% of what's usually thrown away, whatever fraction that may be? A not subtle point, possibly lost on PC World's Editor-in-Chief who says "let's do the math" before garbling some "grossly simplified terms," including confusing a "patent" with a published patent application. From said application:

"FIG. 7 shows measurements that illustrate the advantages of the various embodiments. ... Active load circuitry that drew a fixed 50 mA current was placed at the output of these batteries and the voltage of each battery was measured over time. ... [W]ith the regulator, it [took] 4.5 to 7 times longer before the battery needs to be replaced. Thus, the total number of batteries that need to be manufactured and consequently discarded would be reduced by 4 to 7 times."

Not sure why he bumped the voltage up to 1.8 for his regulated measurements, but consider my enhancement of his b&w figure 7 datagraphic, showing the voltage drop curves for three different batteries under a constant current load. The dark shaded area is the energy (voltage x current x time) available if your device quits at 1.39V; the paler area is the energy available from the worst of the three with this invention. That would be a Very Big Deal.

But if your device keeps ticking below 1.39V (as you would hope, and as, ahem, it would have to, if it could work at all with NiCd or NiMH rechargeables and their lower voltages), the story's not quite so alluring. Figure 7b shows the comparison of available energy if the cutoff point is 1.2V rather than 1.39, and gosh, it looks like that battery extender is kind of snake-oily.

It might be really good for some devices and applications. And it could be more efficient as a system to have external, reusable voltage regulation circuitry, as opposed to circuitry in every device that runs on batteries... but it's not quite clear that this is a "2x" extender, let alone a 5 or 8x. It'll depend on the battery-powered device, its power draw, and how it handles decreasing voltage, at least.

2.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

FIFA's Blatter relieved Permalink to this item

Actually, today's headline news is that he says he's going to be relieved, which is to say "lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective Congress," but "continue to exercise my functions as FIFA President until that election."

Shades of the Idaho GOP chairman's succession plan! I would say, let's get those locks changed today, shall we?

Load 'em up and head 'em out Permalink to this item

Everyone who's traveled by plane in the last decade must have TSA stories by now. ABC News has one, about undercover agents testing the system and finding it comes up a bit short: "Red Team" members were able to beat the system in 67 of 70 tests which seems worse than you could do if you were failing on purpose. Back in 2013, the Transportation Security Adminstration's adminstrator was bragging up the Red Team, saying "they can create and devise and conceal items that … not even the best terrorists would be able to do."

Maybe they're just too good? Maybe we need a less daunting test team, guys and gals who will yawn and whistle in a suspicious way and see whether more than 3 out of 70 can get caught at that.

The story didn't say what exactly the 67 failures or 3 successes were about, but we have heard that a record 2,212 firearms were discovered at checkpoints last year. "And more than eighty percent of those guns were loaded." If the TSA is as good at finding loaded firearms as they are at stopping the Red Team, that would mean 95% "pass" rate applies, that would mean more than 41,000 loaded firearms went flying through our friendly skies.

If you asked the NRA, they'd probably say the TSA's apparent "Easy Pass" policy makes us all safer.

1.June.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is it too soon, or too late? Permalink to this item

It's not easy to keep the excitement going past Memorial Day what with all the outdoor recreation and motorized toys to employ. It's also not easy to take any dire warnings from the U.S. Senate very seriously when their response to impending crisis (or doom, as the case may be) is to take a week off. Who knows why the Majority Leader thought a special session on a Sunday was a good idea, but it didn't turn out as desired. (If you say "planned," you invite the sort of cheap shot Harry Reid delivered and that closes the NYT report: “The job of the leader is to have a plan. In this case, it is clear the majority leader simply didn’t have a plan.”)

We've got "demagoguery," "disinformation", and "a little too much political grandstanding," which is more par for the course than it is news.

It's also not easy to separate the grandstanding from the campaigning, but Jonathan Weisman gives it a go with a funny headline picking up Paul's derision for "the 'eye roll' caucus," alluding to now? soon to be? soon to have been? presidential aspirant Sen. Lindsay Graham's reaction:

"The Republican establishment seemingly rose as one in umbrage after he faulted Republican hawks for the birth of the radical Islamic State, or ISIS. C-Span cameras caught one of those hawks, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, rolling his eyes mockingly on the Senate floor as Mr. Paul denounced the post-9/11 national security state."

The "hawk" characterization is probably accurate enough, but Graham's personality seems more like a Mourning dove than a bird of prey. Still, a potentially nasty bird, not to be confused with a curmudgeon who had his main chance and didn't win:

"Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who sparred with Mr. Paul on the floor over procedure, said later that Mr. Paul was not fit for the White House job he seeks. “I’ve said on many occasions that I believe he would be the worst candidate we could put forward,” he said."

When it comes to the busload of Republican contenders, the nail that sticks up may get hammered down, and leave us the curious quintet of Bush, Walker, Rubio, Carson, and Huckabee ahead of the guy holding the Senate hostage. The good news, such as it is, from Qunnnipiac is that Paul is atop the second wave, ahead of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich. Kasich would be the 11th candidate "rounding out the top 10" according to Bloomberg's Ali Elkin, who points out the rather obvious fact that "national polls do not necessarily predict the outcome of the primary process" half a year later, but the more immediate reality that Fox News has threatened to draw a line under "the top 10 in an average of the five latest national polls" for their August entertainment. That leaves Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum as definitely out of the money.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007