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

Life is abbrev. Permalink to this item

Part of my job these days is designing user interfaces, which is an endlessly fascinating exercise, even as it is (and not just seems) mundane. The things that other people do in this realm often distract me. Case in point just now, a full-page print ad in the front section of last Sunday's New York Times, featuring life-sized, color images of an iPhone and an iPad mini 2, in a gray surround with red-letter large text offering "The Ultimate Mobile Experience." Never mind the slightly deranged concept of "ultimate mobile" including both the do-all, fits-in-your-pocket industry-leading handy and the also-does-all but does not fit in any pocket iPad mini 2, or what for all I know is a reasonable price of $199.99 for that mini 2. There is, of course, the inevitable asterisk and bottom-of-the-page finer print, but the asterisk does not point to the bottom of the page. (That bottom-finer print is just there.)

The asterisk at the end of the third line points to the fourth line of text, as if you wouldn't know to mentally carriage return and line feed if they didn't help you. From 36 pt. red, to 18 pt. black and then 24 pt. black, we step down to 9 pt. finery that says, and I quote:

*iPad req's 2-year agmt. Svc. activation req'd on both devices.

14 characters elided. In a line of text that left 32% margins, room for another 120 characters, give or take, with ample gray space above and below. (The first 3" at the top of page was nought but gray.) Is a requirement less heinous if it's only req'd? An agreement less burdensome if an agmt.? The abbreviation of service might well be truth in advertising.

The lines of concluding fine print demonstrate that they can run things out to the margin if they feel like it, which of course makes that fine print harder to read. Even though this is AT&T's deal, only leveraging Apple's vaunted design, that anti-usability is surely not reflective of incompetence. If they wanted to make it easier to read, they certainly know how to do that, and they bought plenty of space to do it in. The actual verbiage is more or less readable, and it spells out plenty of "terms, fees, restr's & options" as well as noting that they "may be modified, discontinued, or terminated at any time without notice." But they just can't help themselves from abbreviating some words. w/qual. Req's req'd no. acct w/in w/o Svc. Reg. Admin. gov't and of course those restr's.

Coverage & svc. not avail. everywhere.

Look and feel Permalink to this item

Word is, Win10 is out, and happily, I didn't experience the global internet slowdown resulting from its distribution that one friend said he expected; could still happen, I suppose. I wasn't keen to fetch it myself, even at the loss-leader pricing of $0, preferring to let some early adopters sort out the inevitable rough spots. I uninstalled the Windows Update that slyly put a widget in the systray. The NYT report says it "will have a familiar look and feel to the more than one billion people who have touched a Windows computer in the last two decades," which sounds good to me.

If you were swept up in early adoption and discovered that you don't have Windows Media Center and can't play that DVD you wanted to (SRSLY?!), you might like this TechHive article, How to play DVDs in Windows 10 for free.

29.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unfiltered Permalink to this item

Basketball is a simple game of (last I saw, which was not recent, but recent enough) barely controlled violence and strange bending of rules with a round ball, so the owner of a professional team would not be someone you look to for nuance. The Dallas Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban, is said to be a "fan" of none other than Donald Trump's bid to be POTUS, and in supposed possession of explanatory power.

"I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years."

Hooray for mindless blurting! Honest and unprepared idiocy. The reality show approach to a political campaign. It's not necessarily a good idea, but it is an idea, and it's going swimmingly for this summer's dog day entertainment.

In contrapposto news, not so much talk of the town, GOP back bencher Mark Meadows from North Carolina made a weirdly subdued splash with his bill of particulars outlining John Boehner's failures as Speaker of the House in a non-motion resolution "to vacate the Chair," just before all the members plan to vacate the House for the six-week (!) summer recess. Meadows "indicated Tuesday that he will not seek a vote before the recess—and he may not seek a vote after the recess." Still, we can consider the meat of his stack of whereasses:

endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent;

through inaction, caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American People;

uses the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker;

intentionally provided for voice votes on consequential and controversial legislation to be taken without notice and with few Members present;

uses the legislative calendar to create crises for the American People, in order to compel Members to vote for legislation;

does not comply with the spirit of the rules of the House of Representatives, which provide that Members shall have three days to review legislation before voting;

continues to direct the Rules Committee to limit meaningful amendments, to limit debate on the House floor, and to subvert a straightforward legislative process.

So, therefore! Whereas our House "requires the service of a Speaker who will endeavor to follow an orderly and inclusive process without imposing his or her will upon any Member thereof," "be it Resolved, That the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives is hereby declared to be vacant."

That sounds like the sort of bandwagon Idaho's Rep. Raúl Labrador would be keen to hop upon, although the story says the resolution "was filed without co-sponsors," and I couldn't track down the actual filing on

28.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Subalpine Permalink to this item

Went off the grid there a bit
Up into the sky with boots on the ground
Somewhere remote enough the parking was free
(but bring your own water)

Trimmed the news, weather and sports down to
just weather, what's that coming over
the ridge behind me, blue, white, gray,
benign or threatening, one evening rain shower
had a full-sky rainbow riding on it, once over
the color drained into the clouds and
night came, silent on an owl's wings.

I searched for vitamins in currant events,
thimbleberries in the implausible state
between unyielding and artifact, and
very many grouse whortleberries, delight
of obsessive myopes too far up the hill
for huckleberries.

"Do you know the riddle of the sphinx?"
I asked my friends. One said yes, one said no,
but forgotten memory or apparent in the moment
the answer was there on the tip of his tongue.
"I skipped right back to four," I appended,
clattering trekking poles on their maiden voyage
somewhere between curiosity, comfort and essential
on a trail "engineered" to be the quickest way
up (and down) a mountainside, in that moment
suspended between orogeny and destiny,
coalesced, molten, frozen, remelted, lifted up
polished by ice and peers and then cast down
standing while trees blink tall and
tiny red berries mark season after season
turned to sun, rain, snow, mist in the morning
stillness at night.

Above Rock Island Lake, 2015

23.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

So many friends to collude with Permalink to this item

These campaign news headlines just write themselves, don't they? Jeb Bush Speech Denouncing Lobbyists Was Organized By Corporate Lobbying Group.

Speaking at Florida State University, the former Florida governor derided what he called the capital city’s “comfortable establishment” that leverages lobbying power to unduly shape public policy. “I was a governor who refused to go along with that establishment,” Bush said.

The event was organized and arranged by the Florida Chamber of Commerce but not wink wink nudge nudge "hosted" by it "because it feared that Bush publicly promoting his presidential campaign to the corporate advocacy group might run afoul of federal campaign laws." You think?

“This will be a Florida Chamber event,” wrote Florida Chamber of Commerce economic development aide Carolyn Johnson to FSU officials. “However, Jeb Bush’s team has requested to pay the invoice and be the name on the contract. This is to avoid any legal gray areas.”

Yeah, I don't think you actually got that last part done.

Nothing can go wrong ... go wrong Permalink to this item

They don't say how many computers in a modern airliner by comparison, but "modern" cars now have 3x the lines of code as an airplane, running on 50 interlinked computers?! Gee, what could go wrong beyond JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING? This puts "infotainment" and "cut to the chase" in a slightly different light: Car hack uses digital-radio broadcasts to seize control.

The PBS Newshour reported on the story with visuals last night.

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

Nice work if you can get it Permalink to this item

My earliest memory of banking was the Savings & Loan about a mile north of our house, and a blue passbook from it that started with a three-figure deposit. The figures were "4" and two zeroes after a decimal point as I remember, and the 4% interest to be paid an immutable benchmark. (Come to think of it, this explains why the number 4 is my lucky Rosebud.) In a good month, that interest would cha-ching not just one cent, but two, and I did watch the balance month to month. Sure it was slow, but it was inexorable, and I had a lot of years ahead of me.

Flash forward through elementary school and my teenage years, a first whack at college, and I was in business at the turn of the 1980s, when interest rates had outstripped the paltry 4% "standard" return. Double digits! Junk bonds! (Also, stagflation! Malaise!) It was still half a decade before S&L had "crisis" added to its name, but rather than chortling over month to month posted interest, I was worried about inflation while trying to buy low and sell high and move inventory in the retail business, applying honest work as a mechanic to smooth out the vagaries of seasonality. Winter of '79-'80, my thought was that the more tangible goods I could have on hand, the better off I'd be. Rather than a bank balance deflating away value, I'd have stuff; stuff that would be worth more, come spring.

When I explained my business plan to my father, he did not seem as convinced as I was, but he was willing to back my budding career all the same. ("Investing" in a 20-something is rather akin to dumping money out the back of a truck, in retrospect, but I did actually pay him back. Without interest asked for, or paid.)

It turned out that being a bicycle mechanic for a little while was more about helping me find something else I wanted to do, but it was a great experience. I didn't lose my (or anyone else's) shirt, and made enough to live on for a little while, survived a couple burglaries and the raging inflation of 1979-1980.

As you are no doubt aware, inflation hasn't raged in quite some time, and there are no S&L passbooks cha-chinging up 4% interest. You may find "double digit" interest, but both those digits would likely be hiding behind the decimal point. All this springs to mind in reading the story under The Hill's headline that the banking industry is up in arms over a plan, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Barbara Boxer, to pay for a six-year highway transportation bill.

In order to be a member of the Federal Reserve, banks buy stock. That stock currently pays—wait for it—a 6 percent dividend. Before you ask whether you, too can be a member of the Federal Reserve, consider the proposal to reduce that dividend to the sort of thing you might get from a 3-year certificate of deposit right now, a paltry 1.5%. And yes, the bankers are howling like stuck pigs at the very idea.

"Dramatically reducing the rate to pay for a completely unrelated congressional priority will weaken the financial stability of banking institutions and reduce liquidity available in the financial system," wrote the top banking industry groups.

"This proposed policy change undermines a key agreement that has underpinned the United States banking system for 100 years."

That's quite a bit further back than my memory goes, but my goodness a guaranteed 6% for a century of ups and downs, uninterrupted by a Great Depression and a Great Recession and more market crashes than you can shake a stick at.

Never mind funding the transportation bill, do we really want taxpayers buying "financial stability" at that high a price? Maybe 1.5% is too low, but it does seem the rate needs to be pegged to something that reflects the economic realities of the people taxed with funding the bank support program.

And while we're talking about impending calamities, another lead story from The Hill: Only 18 legislative days until the government shuts down! My first thought was "in the middle of August?" but no. Unlike a regular job with a six-figure salary that involves 20 or more work days a month, the Congress has only planned to be "legislating" for 18 days between now and October 1st, when they'll face the stark choice between a government shutdown and an "inevitable" continuing resolution. (If you're betting, bet on a CR.)

The incredible shrinking government Permalink to this item

Idaho's "conservative" elite who run the government like to brag about how they "balance the budget," whether or not they actually do, and regardless of how much of the budget is built on money flowing in from the "hated" federal government.

The GARVEE Transportation Program is one example, apparently winding up a decade-long run at highway projects "that could not be funded through the state’s traditional pay-as-you-go approach." We're better off with 35 new bridges, 14 new or improved interchanges, and 119 miles of expanded highways, but not keeping up with a backlog of more than a quarter $billion a year, of which we've committed to raise $90-some million. The rest will crumble and fail in due time, I guess.

GARVEE stands for "Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle," which is a long way around saying "borrowing money," for which the "anticipation" is that someone else will pay it back. Yes, that's right, the revenue anticipated is mostly federal highway funds. Just one example, of many.

The other thing the Legislature and Otter administration have been doing with some regularity is lowballing tax revenue estimates, squeezing the budget, and then patting each other on the back when revenues come in higher than underestimated. The state Democrats juxtapose the Governor's self-congratulation with the effect on one of the state's mostly rural schoold districts, in Troy:

"Governor Otter brags about a budget surplus. Troy Idaho’s school district looks to fire eight teachers. These two stories are actually the same story."

Some districts (including ours, the Boise school district) can get voters to pass supplemental levies to make up for inadequate state and property tax funding. Some can't. The legislature's failure to meet its constitutional duty is our own version of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, litigated all the way up to our Supreme Court and back down to a quiet death in the Legislature, which the court is apparently unable to compel to action, thirty and forty years on.

21.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dummy doubles down Permalink to this item

When will we get to have the last word on Donald Trump? Not quite yet. He's still the GOP's front runner! He's a font of stupid quotes and a godsend to late-night comedy.

"The people I relate to most is the middle class," he said. That one might possibly be true, since "You know the funny thing, I don't get along with rich people. I get along with the middle class and the poor people better than I get along with the rich people."

Better doesn't necessarily rise to "well," and there are no doubt a lot more members of the middle class who want something from him, even if it's only cheesy entertainment.

My April 2013 photo

Lots of people (including me) assumed last week's gratuitous insults directed at John McCain would be it, that the Donald would melt down into a puddle of gold leaf and oily vulgarity. Not necessarily before he'd double down and refuse to apologize. Which would be even more entertaining! Twice the stakes mean twice the loser, eventually. It did serve the purpose of finally smoking out some indignation from the rest of the GOP field, a dish best served up in tweets, apparently. (H/t to Gov. Bobby Jindal for the best of that bunch. Maybe we just need him to pitch it as a reality series for Trump to agree to six years as a POW.)

It's nice to find out there's something they'll respond to, after the racist comments about Mexicans did not draw any clucks.

"The beauty of me is that I'm very rich," Trump says, uncannily summing up his skill at self-assessment and aesthetic judgment in one compact sentence. Trump embodies the quintessential ugly American, ironically attractive to a sizeable crowd of people willing to laugh (and sneer) with him as well as those there to laugh at him, and write down whatever crazy thing he'll say next. (Also, Hillary is a big fan.)

John Dickerson's analysis for Slate is precious and sincere and sensible, one of the "he cannot be serious because" analysts. Because of his lack of modesty, Dickerson says. Just as Trump imagines his (50% imaginary) TEN BILLION DOLLARS makes it easy for him to relate to the middle class, his purposeful immodesty makes it easy for him to relate to the politically incorrect who would prefer to stop apologizing for preferring sins to virtue. Trump embodies the "Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective," as Wikipedia describes the common element of the seven. That's the attraction, such as it is.

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

Topsy turvy Permalink to this item

My photo, from 2012

Some while ago, I read Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life, and wrote and talked about it, and so news of the Cambrian explosion’s strange-looking poster child getting sorted out caught my eye. The story and (especially) the embedded video of Hallucigenia out for a walk are perfectly satisfying, but I did take the jump to the latest paper (or technically, Letter) published in Nature, which I expected to be an abstract, teaser and sales pitch. Technology has marched on, and by virtue of that 256 character referrer_access_token I can actually look at the whole thing, but not print, or select and copy, or download as PDF. I could rent it for 48 hours for $4.99, or buy cloud access (with some restrictions) for $9.99 or buy a PDF (with who knows what all) for $32. Or buy the whole single copy of the journal for $10.

Anyway. The vocabulary is quite specialized, and in a field foreign to my erudition, but I can appreciate the way scientists explain to each other about having one's head up the wrong way 'round:

"Until now, this taxon's potential significance for early ecdysozoan evolution has been curtailed by uncertainty in its morphological interpretation: Hallucigenia has variously been reconstructed on its side, upside down and back to front."

The authors claim to have straightened out this 500-some million year old organism, and I say bully! Likewise, for Danielle Default's artistic rendering of the beast.

Perhaps she'll do another, for Collinsium ciliosum, with its 30 limbs and 72 spikes far outdoing its cousin.

Rump of the litter Permalink to this item

Donald Trump is the gag gift that keeps on making us gag, long after the uncomfortable laughter has drained from our faces. Through some combination of slow news days and whistling up the dogs of racism and jingoism, he ever so briefly led the league or Republicans extreme enough to be paying attention to the campaign just now, and then jumped clear over the shark with you-couldn't-make-this-up gratutitous insults to Senator, former GOP nominee, Navy officer, and ex-POW John McCain.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”

Not that his candidacy could have ever been called "serious," but stick a fork in it. And not that we need another hero, or that being captured (or spending more than 5 years a prisoner) makes you one, but really? Trump's narcisstic personality disorder is so far over the top it will disturb all but the most already disturbed or extreme. Did the Democrats come up with the idea of having Trump run again, nudging his ego into the foolish errand with trained sycophants? Or is a publicity stunt really enough to amuse The Donald for this long?

A week before the air went out of The Trump Balloon, David Remnick had this in The New Yorker:

One son, Donald Trump, took up his father’s example, slathered it in gold leaf and topped it with world-class cubic zirconia, cultivated a head of pumpkiny, multidirectional hair, accumulated billions of dollars (though likely fewer billions than he’s claimed), and, by the eighties, became the P. T. Barnum of his generation. My colleague Mark Singer once called Trump’s ascent a form of “performance art—an opera-buffa parody of wealth.”

That's all kind of funny, but when Remnick gets to William Kristol—William Kristol!—"counsel[ing] the Republican Party to learn from his blunt political themes," I laughed out loud. After Kristol's promotion of Sarah Palin to the national scene, what could he do for an encore, after all?

I do believe the rest of the field will be relieved to no longer have to "handle him as they would a live grenade." Trump is a dud. A dummy. There will be more spewing of toxic gas, no doubt, as his ballooon squirts around the room for a little while longer with a Bronx cheer sound effect.

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

Fine whines Permalink to this item

Inspiration wafted through the open windows
from the rising and falling, arhythmic pitching
of a gasoline-powered, motorized tool
for flaying non-woody plants into some desired shape.

On our side of the fence, the trees and shrubs
hesitated a moment in their transpiration, thinking
What   Is   Happening

And I remember the finest, most protracted sound
summer brought me as a child, the winding down of
the limb chipper, after it had been applied to
the remains of shaping elms into green aisles
of a chlorophyllic, gridiform cathedral.

Beetles and fungi conspired to bring down that church,
the pointed arch perfection extending to the infinite
now only in my mind, where high pitch heads lower
slower, fading, but not yet out of hearing
Until it blends with evening and crickets,
subsonic hum subsumed by stridulating chirps.

16.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Honor of old men Permalink to this item

It's a bit incredible to imagine the future of millions or hundreds of millions (or potentially, all of humanity) could hinge on tendentious negotiations in the basement of stone palaces at this late date, but here we are. David Sanger and Michael Gordon provide a tiny look behind the scenes of the Iran nuclear deal with its broken bones and home-front drum beating and MIT-themed gifts for a new grandchild. Representatives of The Great Satan and the Axis of Evil sketched their proposals "on rolling white boards so that nothing was on paper" and had lunch together at least once.

As difficult as all that was, and with a sausage of compromise out at the end, the Obama administration now has to deal with the grumpy old men (and women) in Congress, with their stock in trade of dramatic posturing to score points in the semi-daily news cycle. Some of them are reportedly actually reading the text of the agreement, which seems novel. (Is it the same in Farsi as in English, I wonder?)

Bill Scher thinks that Republicans can't stop the deal because of the president's executive power (granted by Congress) to waive sanctions. Handy explainers with data graphics aside, I'm sure that anyone who wants to can find things not to like in the deal, and amplify the dread warnings to any degree possible. Maybe Fox News reporting on Bibi Netanyahu's opinion provides the most extreme naysaying position? (Still, his "bad mistake of historic proportions" seems slightly tepid. The Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister did slightly better in her tweet calling it "a capitulation of historic proportions by the West to the Iran-led axis of evil." And yes, Israel "will employ all diplomatic means to prevent confirmation of the agreement," maybe even talking to John Boehner.

But the Fox News report ends with the same observation as Scher made about Congress' limitations:

"The Senate can weigh in on the agreement but can't kill it, because Obama doesn't need congressional approval for a multinational deal that is not designated a treaty.

"Lawmakers have 60 days to review the agreement, during which Obama can't ease penalties on Iran. Only if lawmakers were to build a veto-proof majority behind new legislation enacting new sanctions or preventing Obama from suspending existing ones, the administration would be prevented from living up to the accord."

15.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mixed Messages Permalink to this item

Every day, people want my attention
They send me messages
Fantastic Belize Vacation Packages,
they offer me, and diabetes treatment,
CleverGrip hands free, cure Herpes, and
Better Sleep. I might reverse hearing loss in 17 days,
if only I could concentrate that long.

But wait, there's more! Weird nerve - pain miracle
Summer Car Sale Happening Now!
Track-and-Find-Your-Items From Anywhere
Rise in crime at your locality?
It might be your Husbands stinky Feet!!!
Secure secure funding funding Brain Ammo
Be a Genius Never Lose Anything Male Enhancement
Why the Chinese don't lose their hair
Tomorrow Ends Rare Chance for Momentum Stocks
Power Companies Tried to Ban This Video
Delete all spam messages now

Yesterday evening, there were messages in the sky
arcs of color and billows and sweet rain
a mint field sent a message to us on the wind
the sun said "good night"
immediate action was not needed

On message Permalink to this item

There's nothing quite like Richard Viguerie's Conservative HQ missives to cast a light on another way of seeing the world. His headline for today's immediate release is Only Three of Twenty Presidential Candidates Are Message Carriers. (Not that you need me to convince you, but the previous headline is "Thank You Bobby Jindal For Investigating Planned Parenthood's Human Organ Trafficking," a story which the MSM inexplicably has not picked up and run with.)

"Message carriers" made me think of disease vectors... and there's something not to like for everybody in Viguerie's celebration of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders. His attitude seems to be that "a clear rejection of the status quo in their parties, and in the conduct of the federal government" can be presumed a Good Thing, which ever end of the political spectrum it does off. He loves the smell of "candidates are forced to listen and react," given his business of (trying to) force people to listen and react to his messaging.

Never mind how muddled his sense of "message" may be, with the jingoism and racism of Trump transformed into "populist." Cruz's attraction is the message of "getting government back within strict constitutional limits," where those limits are wink wink nudge nudge, and you have to wonder about Jeb! because "nary a mention of putting the federal government back inside strict constitutional limits" before Cruz's announcement and "practically every Republican has been forced to talk about the Constitution." The wind-up provides quintessential Viguerie:

"And a message isn’t always necessary to win an election; as we saw with the campaigns of Jerry Ford, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney a content-free campaign was enough to at least win the nomination, if not the general election."

That would make sense if he were arguing for the necessity of "a message," rather than having it be optional. You can win a nomination without a message, if your competition forms a circular firing squad of crazy. And then you could lose the election because you are associated with Those People and their messages, which you thought you had to co-opt to win the nomination.

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

Nice shootin Permalink to this item

From the New Horizons image gallery

From the NYT "Summer of Science" blog (I guess it is), on the topic of New Horizon's imminent flyby of the not the ninth planet (but still King of the Kuiper Belt) in our solar system:

"Nine and a half years and three billion miles later, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will zoom past Pluto on Tuesday. And mission managers are confident that they have aimed precisely enough that the spacecraft, traveling 31,000 miles an hour, will pass through a rectangle just 60 miles by 90 miles at its closest approach to Pluto.

"In terms of accuracy, that's like driving from New York to San Francisco and ending up within about five inches of the parking spot you had selected before setting out."

The fly-by is just under 13 hours away as I write, but I'm working to keep the fever pitch of excitement in check, since it's going to be some months before all the pictures get developed, and also because NASA's servers seem to be getting overloaded about now.

Inflated expertise Permalink to this item

The financial crisis in Greece has probably run long enough that much of the audience is past their attention span, and may not have even noticed the throwback Thursday story about Greece forgiving German debt after WW II. Seeing another wave of headlines this morning (another eurobailout? and stuff the parliament will have to approve), it occurred to me to wonder what Donald Trump had to say about the issue, given his demonstrated skill at leveraging corporate bankruptcy for his own benefit.

The eurocrisis isn't his rodeo, though, he'd let somebody else handle it. "This is peanuts for Germany," he said. Or Vladimir Putin could step in, because everybody knows how flush Russia is these days. If they run short of hot air, The Donald might be able to offer assistance in that regard, anyway.

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

Up a crazy river Permalink to this item

Since bridge 21.3 in Winchester canyon burned in a forest fire in 2011, the BG&CM RR's track up along Lapwai Creek has been a dead-end spur. It might serve the serendipitously named burg of Culdesac if that town had need of rail service, but it hasn't shown any of that lately. That leaves 15+ miles of a railroad (and some really nice bridges) to nowhere, up from the Clearwater, through the town of Lapwai and the locale of Sweetwater, available for raising poison hemlock and storing lumber rack flats not in current demand. Our Google eyes on the highways and byways show a history of this quirky economic indicator, such as a view from October 2009 near the grain elevators in Sweetwater with older, cheaper staked flats lined up, waiting for a stronger demand for wood products.

Tom von Alten Sept. 2013 photo

Jeanette's weekly volunteer stint at the downtown Boise Public Library! provides another indicator you won't find cataloged by the Census Bureau or anyone else: what books are being donated, and in what condition.

They come in batches, stacks of boxes, some with leftover ephemera tucked into pages, some like-new. Trends and themes rise and fall. "The Tim LaHaye books all hit in a rush, starting about 3 years ago," she says, "15 or 20 in a box, all virtually unread." No bookmarks, no creases in the spine. Two days ago, a bulk delivery from a private high school out of the Tim LaHaye "Left Behind Kids" collection, easier-reading or smaller bites of the original story, but not the possibly more attractive 48-page graphic novels, cranked out by the dozen by "leading designers and artists." The thrills of text describing such things as Rayford Steele embracing God, Chloe Steele and Buck Williams searching for meaning, or Bruce Barnes being introduced did not move them off the shelves. The non-graphic paperbacks are likely headed for the chop box, to be recycled into some other flavor of pulp.

Meanwhile, still in circulation, and related to different sorts of Christian fantasy, I started reading David Neiwert's 2009 book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right this morning. The opening anecdote in the introduction confirms the continuing relevance of Neiwert's work: the July, 2008 shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. The gunman's manifesto declared his opening round as "a symbolic killing," short of his desire to "kill every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media," to "stem this tide of liberalism that's destroying America." Deemed by his neighbors as "a Confederate" and a "believer in the Old South," the shooter transformed the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter into action. From Neiwert's book (p. 49):

"Transmitters like Limbaugh make two things happen: they inject extremist ideas into the mainstream, and they bring the two sectors closer together. Mainstream conservatives gain more sympathy for extremist beliefs, and the extremists gain more confidence because they are now within the mainstream. The result is that right-wing extremists wind up exerting a gravitational pull on mainstream conservatism—and by extension, the whole political continuum—that far exceeds their actual size or, for that matter, political viability. That the entire spectrum has shifted steadily rightward in the past 10 years and more could not be more self-evident. The results have, as in Oklahoma City, been devestating."

The "extraordinary boiled frog kind of tolerance for the increasing ugliness" of the conservative movement is evident in the slow and tepid repudiation (or endorsement, as the case may be) of Donald Trump's outrageous jingoism and slander on the campaign trail. We are certain to dredge further into the backwater of radicalized hate talk as the campaign simmers into 2016.

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

Not as bad as it may seem Permalink to this item

Linda Greenhouse's piece for the NYT Sunday Review last week is a good one, on The Supreme Court and the Politics of Fear.

"Not that any of the Republicans have asked me for advice, but I’ll give them some anyway: Fomenting backlash is not a winning strategy. Just as fire needs oxygen, stoking public anger against the Supreme Court can’t succeed in a vacuum. Backlash needs to be fed and sustained by fear: fear of crime; fear of a threat to “our Southern way of life”; fear, in the case of abortion, of a revolution in women’s traditional role in the family and in society.

"And what, exactly, are people supposed to be afraid of now? A same-sex married couple with affordable health insurance?"

The "ominous" meme is the one bubbling up out of Justice Alito and everyone tuned into the dog whistling. All those old-believer cling-ons are going to have to "whisper [your] thoughts in the recesses of their homes," lest you be subject to... others' opinions!

Greenhouse says Alito's opinion "exudes a sense of anticipatory victimization," which is about as delicious a phrase as I can imagine to capture the Zeitgeist surrounding the parade of GOP hopefuls. Jeb! is vicitimized by his worst-president-ever big brother. Donald Trump is all about self-victimization. Ted Cruz is a victim of his vocabulary, firing for effect with "hubris and thirst for power" when the target is not quite big enough to absorb the damage. Scott Walker is a victim of Wisconsin's sub-par economic performance on his watch. Clarence Thomas is haunted, forever, by the inevitable inference that he's where he is because of affirmative action. The Chief Justice is haunted by not being the chief of the court's opinions.

Being forced to participate in civility only sounds terrible. Once you get used to it, it's not really that bad. And in any case, there are more important and less settled matters than married couples with healthcare.

9.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

and then take it down for good Permalink to this item

My father was a patriot, and he was patriotic. Stationed in the Pacific in WW II, he earned respect for the flag of the United States of America and passed it on to his children without ever, that I can remember, making a big deal about it. Up to the last days of his life, he would raise the flag first thing in the morning, and take it down at sunset. I learned flag etiquette from the Boy Scouts, and stood arm in arm with one of my brothers when a Navy detail folded a flag in honor of dad's service and presented it to his widow at his funeral.

In between, and I've long forgotten how or why, but when I was a teenager, I had a copy of the stars and bars, hung in my room and enjoyed for its bold, graphic design and "rebel" feeling, I guess. Those were the days. My guess is it came from the "joke shop" in downtown Milwaukee, the slightly disreputable and tawdry place that also had joy buzzers and whoopee cushions and fake vomit and marked cards in its inventory.

It's more funny than embarrassing at this point because it was just in my room, and I didn't have a lot of outside visitors, and no one in the family ever said anything about my rebellious flag selection. I didn't take it out on parade, I didn't sew it into my jeans, I didn't get a belt buckle, or even a cigarette lighter with it on it. If I had taken it out of the house for some reason, one or both of my parents probably would have spoken up, and provided a bit more education. They were active in the Civil Rights movement through their church, and going to the inner city for a march led by Father James Groppi left a far more vivid memory for me than my clueless room decoration.

It's save to say that while I could estimate the first two digits of when the Civil War happened, and recognize the Gettysburg Address, I had no idea. Even as far north as Wisconsin, some of the fiction of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was probably stirred into what little attention that conflict was given in history classes. Perhaps the majority of us are finally ready to handle a bit more truth.

Congratulations to the South Carolina legislature for having found the will to override its earlier stubbornness to cling to a an overburdened symbol of the past. Having once required an act of their own body to do so much as take the flag to half-mast, they've now voted to remove it entirely.

A moment before we move on to all the important work left after this relatively minor but powerfully symbolic act, have a look and listen to Peter Mulvey's musical exhortation that preceded their action: Take Down Your Flag. Amen.

Pluto ♥s us Permalink to this item


Never mind the demotion from planet to "dwarf planet," with the New Horizons space probe closing in on the former #9, it's just been waiting to send us a big old love note, in its visage from eight million km away. Alex Parker spelled it out in a tweet, when the first picture came in following a computer hiccup and temporary loss of communications. (Talk about a hiccup causing heartburn!) The update from the BBC caught me up to the "five known moons" of "the Pluto system"; not sure I'd heard about all those. Charon, yes, but Nix, Styx, Hydra and Kerberos? Some kind of hot mess out in the cold distance, and we'll be zooming into 500x better resolution if the signals keep coming home. Even without any more hiccups, patience will be the order of the days:

"The distance to Pluto is vast—more than 4.5 billion km—and this makes for very low bit rates. It will take 16 months to send back all the science acquired over the coming days."

That vast distance is more easily cast in Astronomical Units (AU), where "1" is the earth-sun distance of 93 million miles. Pluto's elliptical orbit varies from just under 30 AU to almost 49. Lots more fun facts to know and tell on Wikipedia, on which the moons of Pluto have their own page.

8.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Market ups and downs Permalink to this item

NYT data graphic, used for accompanying commentary and analysis

Just as I was having a look at one of today's top stories, about the Chinese stock market's continuing plunge, threw a breaking alert at me that the NYSE had suspended trading. Blogging at the speed of I've got other things on my calendar today, the latter story has been updated enough to calm some fears, and leave others simmering. Not a cyber breach, apparently, a not-for-attribution source says they were told it was "related to software that was rolled out before markets opened."

Good news for cybersecurity if so, but some uncomfortable minutes stretching to hours for the programmers. One of the basics for software rollouts is to have a way back to "good enough," if things go pear-shaped. For my work, after I have something working and tested on my machine, and after I've got it going and tested on a demo server, I try to have a rollback plan in case something I didn't anticipate goes wrong. How can I put the database and the server code back the way it was before I put that new version up? The "always on" infrastructure has to be off, at least momentarily, and possibly for a bit longer. But then I don't work on anything as complicated as a stock exchange, or that involves multiple contributors combining their work, or that has hundreds of thousands (let alone hundreds) of simultaneous users clamoring for instant attention.

As for your NYSE trading "needs," they're not the only game in town. A Nasdaq spokesman said their systems are fine, and "are trading all symbols including Tape A (NYSE) securities." If you weren't waiting on an order going through, or an order cancellation being confirmed, no big deal. Never mind the non sequitur observation from "one prominent investor" you've never heard of, that “in a paperless (and ‘cloudy’) world, investors and citizens are not likely as safe as the markets assume.” Some of our complex systems have redundant functionality, and there are ways to route around damage, whether it involves paper or not, and whether skies are sunny or gray. Oh, and "markets" don't "assume" things, that's something people do.

Meanwhile, what about that ongoing crash in China? The "plunge" data graphic shows a steeper drop than the ride up (with the downside helpfully "shaded"), but not by all that much. It didn't make headlines that caught my eye when the Shanghai Composite Index rocketed north for the first half of the year, up more than 60 percent from January. If you're long on China it's a big deal, but if you're not... well, maybe investors will look to the U.S. for their safety, even if the NYSE had a hiccup or perhaps some full-on indigestion.

The NYT's non-zero-based, linear, 6-month data graphic is wildly peaky enough, but doesn't give the picture the text does (with my emphasis):

"In a rally that began roughly a year before the market’s high point on June 12, the Shanghai index jumped 157 percent. The Shenzhen index rose even more during that period, rising about 208 percent. A smaller stock market in Shenzhen called the ChiNext, geared toward technology companies and start-ups, began its own bull run much earlier, in late 2012, and soared about 540 percent before the markets began to falter several weeks ago. Based on company earnings, the prices of many Chinese stocks began looking incredibly expensive ..."

In roughly a year. Have a look at a percent-scaled graph of the Shanghai, Shenzhen and S&P 500 indices over the last 2 years (or whatever; make it 6 months if you want to see the bubble most directly), and the story is not about the current "plunge," as much as an inevitable (and age-old) popping of an invesment bubble.

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

It's a gobsmacker Permalink to this item

You can't make this sort of thing up. Idaho's Senator Jim Risch "introduced a bill in Congress that would define slowdowns as an unfair labor practice." Never mind that the concept is union-busting by legislation (going after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's dispute with port operators). A member. Of the United States Senate. Incensed by work slowdowns.

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

No free lunches Permalink to this item

Robert Reich, on Facebook today (with the NYT link provided by me):

"Health insurance companies are seeking rate increases of 20 to 40 percent or more for next year, according to the NY Times. The reason, they say, is their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected.

"Baloney. Health insurers have more dough than they know what to do with, which is why Aetna is spending $37 billion to buy rival Humana, Anthem has offered $47 billion for giant insurer Cigna, and health-insurance CEOs are raking in millions. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard took home $10.1 million last year, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini got $15 million, and the CEOs of Anthem, Cigna and UnitedHealth each pulled in more than $10 million. The rate increases they're seeking will give them and their shareholders even more, and cost you and me a bundle. They're using Obamacare as a convenient excuse."

Rate increases of "20 to 40 percent" and have been my experience on an annual basis since leaving my insurance-included corporate job in 2003. The only year that was an exception was when the run-up got so extreme I re-shopped and found that I'd been grandfathered (figuratively; a young couple had already accomplished the literal feat in 1996) and there was a pretty-much-the-same plan for a bit more than half of what I'd been paying. If the Affordable Care Act made a difference in my premium, there's no way to differentiate it from the trend it inherited.

(The NYT story mentions a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 11 cities showing "that consumers would see relatively modest increases in premiums if they were willing to switch plans," possibly with restrictions on doctors and hospitals. My switch didn't involve any of that.)

No surprise that insurance companies wanting to raise rates—and their profitability, and most importantly, their CEOs' salaries—and likewise no surprise that the P.R. department would work at prestidigitation to dodge blame.

It probably is the case that the health care "system" is dealing with "sicker than expected people," using more services. As the chief executive of an insurer in Texas noted, “People are getting services they needed for a very long time. There was a pent-up demand.” Insurance changes things (which was the whole point). One of the anti-Obamacare arguments was that we'd run short of doctors and nurses and such because of the people who would have access to care. The implied (at least) inhuman alternative, of rationing healthcare to just those who can afford it did get as much debate as it deserved? Also not-so-debated was whatever it was that would constitute the "replace" for the oft-touted "repeal and replace" flag at the head of the "repeal" parade.

The ACA also established a rate review process, "requiring insurance companies to disclose and justify large proposed increases," where the "large" threshold making them subject to review a mere 10%. We'll get to see a little, at least, of how and whether some of the increases are justified.

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

Things that go boom Permalink to this item


Quasquicentennial Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, 2015

Didn't know that was a word before today, and after our Lieutenant Governor had made a go at it and been spell-checked into getting it right. That'd be a 125-year anniversary, such as Idaho celebrates today, for its statehood in 1890. (Can't hardly wait fifty more years when we'll have our pick of wrong ways to say dequasbicentennial.) Some wag at the University of Idaho made a top five list out of it, including "You are finally out of those awkward centennial years" and "You have 25 years to practice saying sesquicentennial."

The History Channel's site (where history meets .com, and the answer to all FAQs is "This support portal is disabled") says Idaho was #43, and provides a quirky grabbag of facts with which to throw yourself back into olden times. White people were late arriving, and the territory was

"divided between a Mormon-dominated south and an anti-Mormon north. In the mid-1880s, anti-Mormon Republicans used widespread public antipathy toward the Mormon practice of polygamy to pass legislation denying the predominantly Democratic Mormons the vote.

"With the Democratic Mormon vote disarmed, Idaho became a Republican-dominated territory. National Republicans eager to increase their influence in the U.S. Congress began to push for Idaho statehood in 1888. The following year, the Idaho territorial legislature approved a strongly anti-Mormon constitution."

And the rest is more history. (In case you're not the sort to hover over an image to see if there's a title/caption, the image is of the diversion dam and powerhouse on the Boise River at the head of the New York Canal, construction of which also began in 1890.)

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

Takei v. Thomas on "dignity" Permalink to this item

In his dissent in the landmark Oberfefell v. Hodges decision issued last Friday, Clarence Thomas argued that "liberty" just means freedom from government action (and really, to the authors of the Constitution, just “the power of loco-motion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct; without imprisonment or restraint”). And he argued that human dignity is innate, and not something Government can dispense. It's a "dangerous fiction" to treat the Due Process Clause as "a font of substantive rights," and instead Government should have just butted out of the controversy and let... well, it would've been other, state, Governments that would have decided the matter in disparate ways, but he does not concern himself with practical matters as he mounts his rhetorical horse.

The idea of the inherent worth and dignity of every person is not foreign to me; indeed it is one of the stated principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, that I join in espousing.

It does not occur to me to consider that "enough said," or to accept that Government has nothing more to do or say than to acknowledge the principle. It's slightly incomprehensible to me that Thomas imagines his dissent was worth committing to the record, especially given that his forebears were not even considered fully human by the framers he imagines it is his job to channel to today's opinions. (He is bold enough to declare that slaves didn't lose their humanity, just because the framers of our Constitution denied it.) In his opinion, sanctioned marriage is just an "entitlement" that Government should be free to offer, or not, and not offering it to one class of citizens is therefore not "depriving" them of anything. And we have nothing to do about "dignity."

George Takei disagrees, and his response to Clarence Thomas is a powerful, dignified rebuttal to Thomas' irrelevant semantic nitpicking.

"To say that the government does not bestow or grant dignity does not mean it cannot succeed in stripping it away through the imposition of unequal laws and deprivation of due process. At the very least, the government must treat all its subjects with equal human dignity. To deny a group the rights and privileges of others, based solely on an immutable characteristic such as race – or as in Obergefell, sexual orientation – is to strip them of human dignity and of the liberty to live as others live."

Quotes of the Day Permalink to this item

It's a bit strange to go by an acronym, isn't it? That's why Tom Tomorrow says we like to call him John Ellis Bush-Bush, and this, below "an even more inspiring candidate":


I'm not sure why it is, but all-caps lettering in a comic never seems shout-y. Anyway. The field has also outnumbered the cast members of Saturday Night Live which goes to show there's safety in numbers.

The gift that keeps giving was also fêted by Jessica Mackler, president of American Bridge, reported in the NYT First Draft feature:

“Donald Trump is suddenly a force to be reckoned with in the G.O.P. primary, proving their rebrand is going splendidly. He’s a great example of everything Republicans stand for.”

If you might like a voyeuristic romp through Full Text Searchable Jeb Bush Tax Returns 1981-2013, American Bridge is making that available as a 166 MB PDF download. Also, a lighter outline of what else he's probably hiding with a news dump going into a holiday weekend. Zero federal income tax paid in at least three years, tax records for his businesses and LLCs, the Chinese and other foreign investors in his wheeling and dealing, what all (or what any) he did for Lehman Brothers before its bubble burst, and so on.

(The tax returns will keep some researchers busy, from the handwritten 1981 return with $41,508.43 in wages and a bit over $5k taxes, to the 62-page 2013 return reporting $7.3M income and $2.9M total tax.)

It's not the heat, it's the not cool Permalink to this item

7 day temperature/humidity graph at NWS BOI

Hot, hot, hot around these parts, including both ends of Idaho we've been in over the last week. Topped out at 110°F in Boise on Sunday, followed by not below 80 overnight. The "low 100s" over the next few days were not quite so extreme, but driving across town to play tennis Tuesday evening, the car thermometer read 106. (It didn't kill any of me or my teammates, or our opponents, so I guess we're all stronger.) Night before last was cooler, I opened up the house 3am-ish, and last night, finally, it was cool enough at bedtime to open all the windows, deliciously down to 70 by this morning.

The National Weather Service's observation history page has upgraded their temperature/RH/wind/precip charting to make them interactive in a clever way, hover for a timeline and spot data linked across the trio of charts.

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

We know some terrorists Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, copyright 2015

Yet another instance of Idaho politics in the New York Times, just about never good news. Unless you're "conservative"? It seems a "newly formed group" of a hundred or so are planning a door-to-door "information drive" to get the College of Southern Idaho's Refugee Center closed, because "bringing in Syrians, who are predominantly of Muslim background, may be opening the door to terrorists pretending to be refugees."

This from the heirs of white refugees who made their way out to Indian Country once upon a time. Never mind that

"[T]here has been no indication of any substantial links between Islamic State militants and the resettled Syrian refugee community, and U.S. State Department spokesman Daniel Langenkamp said refugees are the most carefully vetted of travelers to the United States."

Oh and Rick Martin, the head of this "Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center" also says

"We're not against legitimate refugees. They need to be treated with dignity and respect. But it would be easy for someone to lie about their background."

They just want them to be treated with dignity and respect somewhere else. But would it be OK if they were bona fide Christians, as many of the Syrian refugees are? Let's not let facts get in the way when we're talking about jihad, Sharia law and the Koran, eh?

"People need to wake up and realize what’s happening, said Carter Killinger. The United States is a Christian nation, he said, but Muslims have stated a goal of ruling the world and killing those who don’t subscribe to Islam."

Local coverage from a month ago did say the center had announced "it will likely receive 300 refugees – possibly from Syria — starting in October," but the Times says the director "said his group had no immediate plans to serve Syrian refugees, adding that he did not know the origins of the refugees it will serve for the upcoming fiscal year."

Over more than three decades, the center has helped thousands of refugees from at least 20 countries. (They don't list Syrians among the groups arriving in Twin Falls, but plenty of countries that, like ours, have bred some terrorists.)

Update: Deborah Silver, who has started a new group to support the Refugee Center comments:

"Earlier this year, the Refugee Center made its annual report to the Board of Trustees. They noted in the report that the Center will receive approximately 300 refugees in the coming year-the same number we have received over the past few years. That was somehow distorted in the news article and has been repeated again and again. The comment about the Syrians was also distorted again and again. The Refugee Center doesn't know if we will get ANY Syrians next year. But what if we did? In May, it was reported that there are 4 million Syrian refugees. Half of them are children. Since the Syrian war began five years ago, the United States has accepted only approximately 700 as refugees. So, it certainly appears we are doing our due diligence before accepting Syrian refugees for settlement in the United States. The guess is that we will continue to receive refugees from various countries and perhaps some might be Syrians. Many, many folks in Twin Falls are signing up to welcome the stranger, provide a voice of compassion for displaced families, and celebrate our valley's place in the global community."



Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007