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31.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

More smoke from land grabbers Permalink to this item

Not that there's anything wrong with an "Idaho Politics Weekly" publication being "presented by Zions Bank," but yeah, their motives may be suspect. The poll they just commissioned Dan Jones & Associates to take is certainly suspicious. Bob Bernick's report of it said "Three-fourths of all Idahoans want the federal land in the state turned over to state government management." Three-fourths!

The HELL we do.

The supposed precision in the "margin of error" (3.99%!) waves over the considerably more important aspects of exactly what questions were asked, with what context, of whom. They claim "603 Idahoans between April 8 and 19," which implies a ±4% interval as regards sampling error and its randomness. You have to ask the right questions, in the right way, to get a non-random answer, plus or minus anything. Any fish'll bite if you've got good bait.

A month after this poll was taken, the voters in that most Idaho of Idaho counties had a chance to weigh in and endorse their incumbent Commissioner who has been tirelessly promoting the idea of transferring federal lands to the states, or not. By nearly 2 to 1, Idaho County voted NO on Jim Chmelik in the primary, in favor of Denis Duman, a former Cottonwood mayor opposed to a specific land exchange at issue "and to spending county money to support Chmelik’s land-transfer efforts."

Yes, that's right, the county commissioner was using taxpayer money for his promotional touring.

"Chmelik blamed his defeat on sportsmen and conservation groups, which he said spent thousands on fliers and phone calls making misleading statements that he would support selling off public lands to private developers."

“I support a constitutional amendment banning the sale of these lands,” Chmelik said two weeks ago.

"Courtney Washburn, executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, gladly accepted the blame or credit, because she knows of no other groups that campaigned against Chmelik. Her group also targeted Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, who had sponsored a bill giving counties power to declare public lands a nuisance. Nuxoll lost to Carl Crabtree in the Republican primary."

“It’s obvious their approach to public lands wasn’t popular,” Washburn said.

I trust the Idaho Politics Weekly poll and its reported results a whole lot less than federal land managers. I'm more confident in federal management than I am in the state's, given its demonstrated preference for selling off its assets to the best-connected insiders. Consider this larger, broader, and better documented poll from 2014, by comparison, finding a majority opposed to state control and acceptance of the costs associated with it, a key linkage I'm guessing Dan Jones & Associates skipped over lightly, or completely. Poll results showing that yes, most of us would like a free pony if someone else has to shovel the pony poop is not exactly informative.

30.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Some things you should know about antibiotics Permalink to this item

Before we take that last step to untreatable infections, here's a useful NYT Health explainer with Short Answers to Hard Questions About Antibiotic Resistance. What is it, should you be scared ("not yet," it says, but seems like it's pretty close to time), how has it changed medicine, and so on.

Why aren’t there more new antibiotics?

"Most drug companies are not eager to make them. Compared with other drugs, antibiotics are not big moneymakers, and some manufacturers have gotten out of the business. Most people take antibiotics just once in a while, for a short time—unlike drugs for blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, which most patients will take every day for the rest of their lives. ..."

But that "fault" that people only take them once in a while, is not true for their use in agriculture, where livestock are routinely fed antibiotics for prophylaxis and to promote growth. That's done in regular, reliable, profitable quantity. (But it doesn't make much demand for new drugs.)

After a lot of debating about doing the right thing, and a lot of pushback from the industry, the Food and Drug Administration is going to wave in the general direction starting January 1, with a policy that antibiotics “medically important” for humans will no longer be approved for use to promote growth in livestock, and that veterinarians should supervise the use of (some) antibiotics in feed or water for livestock. The biggest loophole doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out: "Compliance is voluntary."

A few weeks ago, I stopped into a doctor's office for a bit of personal business and happened into the middle of a staff meeting. While one staffer went to tell the doctor I was there, and someone in the interrupted meeting offered some polite phatic, the cold I'd been nursing for a week prompted me to ask gee, what's the best thing to take for a cold? I was thinking about aches and pains, and hoping they might recommend one of aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen over the others. "Antibiotics," one of the gals chirped without missing a beat. (In case you slept through that health lecture, a "cold" is a respiratory infection caused by a virus—a rhinovirus, in particular—against which antibiotics have no effect.) I sure hope she worked in bookkeeping and not as a nurse.

Is there any real harm in taking an antibiotic for a cold?

"There are several risks. ... [H]ealthy people normally carry billions of bacteria in their noses, throats, skin, genitals and gut. Antibiotics change the balance of those microbes, killing off susceptible ones and allowing drug-resistant ones to flourish. Even after a person finishes a course of antibiotics, the excess of drug-resistant bacteria can persist for months. ..."

(Unhealthy people carry billions of bacteria in the noses, throats, skin, genitals and gut, too.)

We're number one Permalink to this item

Fig. 18 from Council of Economic Advisors report, Incarceration Rate by Country, 2015

As ever, it's the economy. The White House Council of Economic Advisors buried the lede in their April report on Economic Perspectives on Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System, camouflaging it with four pages of executive summary. Good on the Washington Post's Wonkblog and the Economist's Policy.Mic for highlighting the essential point: improving economic opportunity is a better way to reduce crime than mass incarceration. That's "better" from strictly economic measurements, no need to factor in justice.

A modest (and overdue) increase in the minimum wage could reduce crime by 3 to 5%, and provide a net economic benefit of $8 to $17 billion. Spending $10 billion more on incarceration could provide a smaller reduction in crime and would likely have a net economic cost, rather than benefit. Investing the same amount in police hiring could benfit society by two or three times the investment.

Oh, and more incarceration could extend our #1 position in the world, ahead of such bastions as Turkmenistan, Cuba, El Salvador, Thailand, Belize, Russia, Rwanda and so on. From the Council's summary:

CEA conducted “back-of-the-envelope” cost-benefit tests of three policies: increasing incarceration, investing in police, and raising the minimum wage.

29.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Trip preparation Permalink to this item

That's for my trip commemoration, 40 years ago next month, which was, as noted in my journal, "199 YRS. & 11 MONTHS" after the big day in 1776. As luck would have it, I was using a copy of the 1976 Wisconsin State Historical Society calendar for a journal that year. The pages are 6x8", one per week with a facing photo, and about 5½ square inches allotted for each day's engagements. Some ran long, and my block letter font that started 5 lines per day (and casually wasting 2½ of the four December days on page one) got smaller, and smaller... to 8 or 9 and sometimes 10 lines in the inch-high slot for one day, running over the lines as need be, measuring my commentary with an anxious thought to the space remaining. In late August, when I flew back to Idaho from Boston, the lines per inch relax just a moment, tighten, relax to 6 and 7 lpi by year's end, reaching 1977 with half a month to spare. Wish I'd written more while out on the road!

May-June 1976 page from my journal

This image of the rolling hills of Wisconsin was taken by Shirley Krempel, captioned "SPRING RENEWAL, Richland County," facing the calendar's last full week of May, and journal entries for 5-25 to 6-2. That was the week when bicycling everywhere, looking for a summer job, and spring rain on the Palouse combined to put the idea in my head of riding my bike across country and back "home" for the summer. I was well and truly moved to Idaho by then, a year into school in Moscow, but with 95% of my history in "America's Dairyland." I'd been out west on various family trips as a kid, and taken multiple turns hitchhiking and driving in 1973, '74, and '75. It was completely imaginable to go again, but on a bike this time, even if I had no idea what that would entail, and my longest ride in a day up to that point was 20 or 30 miles. Still, most town-to-town trips on the Palouse had enough vertical to bend you into shape. For my final training, I rode north one day, up and over the Moscow mountain grade, and the next day over and down to Troy and back, with books or something loaded on my Pletscher rack for good measure.

On May 27, my story rambled across the spaces for 5 days and a new moon, covering yoga, breakfast, a used vacuum cleaner (having just moved from a dorm to Arny's Trailer Court, some furnishing to do), a ride to Pullman, Washington (the one less hilly direction), seeing a peacock fly for the first time in my life, a screw falling out and a bent chainwheel, a tire going flat and a downpour, a quick ride from "a nice young man" who dropped me at my door after I hitchhiked to get home, where "I took the bike apart to diagnose its ills."


When I think back to that day, I can't remember the experience of most of what I wrote about, but I do remember the epiphany, walking in the rain, when the notion that "I'll ride my bike across the country instead" came to me. There's a mental snapshot of the low, gray sky over tree-lined Moscow streets, and the feeling of "right then," inside my rain jacket. I called my parents that evening (I'm sure, even though I can't recall any of the particulars of the conversation), proposed the idea as an alternative to a summer job at minimum wage, and was astounded to have my dad agree (and agree to cover my expenses) in an instant. It was many years later that I came to learn of his many cross-country adventures as a young man, and to realize how natural and satisfying it would have been for him to launch his youngest son on one of his own.

May 28th's entry is barely three lines. "Bought a tent today for.... Don moved in this afternoon." [Don who? No idea, but probably a dormmate, and the first of a succession of roommates in my trailer.] "I whipped up the 5 vegetable, chop & rice deluxe. I'd forgotten what a good cook I was. He's off to work. We'll do the bed in shifts." The 10x55' trailer had two bedrooms, but only one bed at that point, apparently. The ellipsis after the tent purchase was in the original, where the next four days are an ellipsis as well.

So, now that blogs are a thing, my plan is to recapitulate the story of my bike-centennial journey this summer, four decades on. We'll pick up on June 2nd, three days before departure, formatting TBD. (How can I keep the block caps without having it be all SHOUTY, I wonder.) See you on the flip side.

28.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Pre-holiday news dump Permalink to this item

Oh the humanity, irony, comedy, tragedy, all roiled into the figure of a nasty, orange-haired, small-mouthed, fat-headed clown with weirdly tiny hands. When I heard that the possibility of a Trump-Sanders debate was in the works, it seemed like a brilliantly manipulative move. Sanders has nothing to lose (even if he really doesn't have anything to win, either) and Trump loves the spotlight. But no! Safely in the pile of late-Friday pre-buried news, Trump issued a statement that "it seems inappropriate." Inappropriate! A statement!

Give him credit for finding a polysyllabic adjective for a change. Shorter epithets are more his wheelhouse, complaining about people and parties being "crooked" and "rigged" against him. Last month, when it still looked like the convention of his party of convenience might be contested, he was aiming at the establishment. Having outlasted his sorry opposition on the right, he's now more fully focused on attacking Hillary Clinton, and what do you know, the same grab-bag of verbal rocks and rotten fruit work for her. Or whomever. (No reason to throw them at Sanders—yet—since the enemy of his enemy is his possible quisling.) He'd be a riot at a G-7 meeting, wouldn't he? Or a summit with Kim Jong-un.

Shamelessly scraped from an unattributed share on Facebook

This shouldn't have been a surprise. The wind-up was there in Trump's own reality show, along with all the other ooze in the swamp of mass entertainment. From QVC to PPV cage matches, Fox News to the Drudge Report, you can get anything you want, and everything you don't want as well. One supporter explained that Trump's "shtick...isn't meant to offend anyone. He's just communicating." Offense! And insults! Outrage! Indignation! Derision! But mostly narcissitic personality disorder, celebrating political incorrectness, and every other form of incorrectness. We're so tired of being wronged, and told we're wrong. We want to WIN again (and I don't mean Whip Inflation Now). Trump gives his believers permission to be RIGHT about everything, and to care about nothing but themselves. It feels so good.

Slightly more (but still not too) surprising is the follow-on parade of cuckolded little men in funny hats who are backing the winning elephant in front, stepping gingerly to avoid the steaming piles of dung in its wake. At the top of the month the drama was precious. Paul Ryan wasn't ready! (Mitch McConnell was ever-ready to go along to get along from the get-go, same old same old.) Now Marco Rubio is all in, because he "respects the process" that delivered a “con artist” and “the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency” (as he put it just two months ago) out its rear end. It's an easy step to convert Obama Derangement Syndrome to Hillary. Stay thirsty, my friend.

We have all now lived long enough to see that reality can be far stranger than fiction. The "Rise of the Donald" was so far over the top, nobody would fall for it. "Just TOO BROAD. There may be a taste for a supersize American-cheese blowhard fantasy compendium of all the ills of Western civilization poured into one guy, but you need a MUCH lighter touch." The implausibilities metastasize.

27.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Schrödinger's Republicans Permalink to this item

Party loyalty (dare I say) trumps good sense more often than not. We should applaud those Republicans who are trying to resist being shanghaied onto the bandwagon for the presumptuous nominee, no matter how tortured their resistance may be. (We do have to note arguing that "support" and "endorse" are somehow distinct is among the least convincing of attempts. Ron Johnson.)

Thanks to WaPo's Amber Phillips for the mention (if not a direct link) to this, from Stephen Colbert, and his Late Show writers' brilliantly funny line about NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte's squirming:

"She's in some sort of political quantum state... It's like Schrödinger's Cat, except that she would rather endorse a dead cat than Donald Trump."

The whole 4½ minute piece from two weeks ago is a treat, including the escape clause in Ben Carson's ringing endorsement: if Trump turns out to be a terrible president, hey, it'll only be 4 years. Just after Ayotte's feline conundrum, note the wonderful "omg did he really ask me that?" pause before Paul Ryan's answer to Jake Tapper's question, after giving himself a little more time with that quintessential filler, "to be perfectly candid with you, Jake..." (Suggested reporter follow-up question the next time this comes up: "When you say 'to be perfectly candid,' should we assume that when you don't say that, you're lying to us?" Or Frank. If my name were Frank, I would pepper what I say with "to be perfectly Frank" just for fun.)

Did I say that out loud? Already? Permalink to this item

Senator Orrin Hatch's opinion piece (shorter, and cut through the b.s.: Judge Garland is a fine fellow, but I'm sticking to the party line and won't even consider his nomination) in the Deseret News would have been utterly unworthy of note, except for one thing: the bald-faced lie part. Hatch professed his commitment "to thoughtful consideration" in the absence of having any such plans.

Ah, but how can I read his mind and know his real intent, you're wondering? He wrote his op-ed about meeting with Garland before he actually had the meeting. I can't read the mind of the editor who "mistakenly" published it early, but I'd like to think it was done on purpose, to show what sort of political hack passes for an elder statesman these days. Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, no less.

As befits a dapper octogenarian from "the world's greatest deliberative body," it's a "principled position" Hatch has don't you know, complete with imagined "decades of established precedent" (which, never mind that it doesn't exist). He's grasping precedent so firmly, in fact, that he could envision the meeting ahead of time, and write all about it, save for those "final revisions and edits" that would have maintained the pretend sequence of events.

The editor notes the erroneous nature of the publication, and apologizes to Sen. Hatch and their readers, but really, no apology necessary to us! Consider it a public service.

And Senator Hatch, my god man, isn't it time for you to retire?

Speaking of canoeing Permalink to this item

Sara Kehaulani Goo waxes justifiably poetic in describing Hokuleˋa, the Hawaiˋian voyaging canoe and its crew, two-thirds of the way through a four-year trip around the world. Mostly about the boat, to start:

"She sails by the memory of the stars.

"Her bones are lashed together with 6 miles of rope. Her twin wooden masts are lowered and outstretched only by the power of muscled arms. And once fully extended, the red, V-shaped sails announce who she is. ..."

She of course sails by skill and memory of sailors, not her own. And always at the mercy of the sea. Her sailors have employed "wayfinding — an ancient Polynesian skill that requires memorizing hundreds of stars and where they rise and set on the ocean horizon" to cross an astounding 26,000 miles of ocean so far.

Even more astounding is the slender thread that connects ancient skill and memory to this journey, forty years after an ambitious group put their lives on the lines to show that the ancient myths were almost certainly true. In the mid-1970s, the story goes,

"[N]o one in Hawaiˋi knew how to build a voyaging canoe — none had existed for at least 600 years. No one in Hawaiˋi knew how to navigate by the stars. But they found a man named Mau Piailug in Micronesia, a wayfinder on a tiny island who agreed to teach them how to sail using cues from nature — not only by watching the stars, but by noticing the swells and bird species, and the smallest of details, like shifts in the wind pressing against their bodies."

By sailing from Hawaiˋi to Tahiti without any modern-day navigational equipment—a month at sea—they "sparked a revival of Hawaiˋian identity and culture" for good measure.

"Now they call Hokuleˋa the mother ship because she spawned a new generation. Since that 1976 voyage, 25 more deep-sea-voyaging canoes have been birthed across 11 countries. More than 180 crew members have taken a turn aboard the Hokuleˋa on its global trip. More impressive is the number who trained, applied but for whom there was no room: 4,000."

Original photo 1979 or '80, scanned/edited version 1998

This new boat's building and triumph was just about the time I was in the Hoofers sailing club at the University of Wisconsin, learning the ropes of the Tech dinghy and the rest of its fleet, and taking a brief turn teaching others how to launch, land, and come about. After applying what I'd learned to sailing bigger boats in the salt water around the San Juan islands in Washington and British Columbia, I had my own notion of sailing around the world (uninformed by this voyage in a catamaran canoe out in the Pacific) and was headed that way about 1980 when plans changed and the course of my life stayed mostly terrestrial. (Je ne regrette rien.)

The next leg of the Hokuleˋa's journey after the visit to D.C. is described differently in the text than on the map, which shows it turning around short of Maine:

"After New York, the Hokuleˋa will attempt to make it as far north as Nova Scotia, which, at 50 degrees north of the equator, would mark the northernmost point she has ever sailed ... [then] will go up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, then turn back down the East Coast and across the Panama Canal where she will return to her ocean, the Pacific. ...

"[The] elder crew members made a deal that this would be their last voyage. Anyone over age 32 will have to come off the boat as Hokuleˋa re-enters Polynesia at the last stop before home, in Rapa Nui. There, a new generation of wayfinders will come onboard and decide where she goes next."

26.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Triple Match Permalink to this item

If the real Newt Gingrich would stand up, would anyone notice? Maybe the students in one of the classes he's teaching, if he's still doing that. But after the 1990s "Contract With America" turned into a contract on Bill Clinton, and the impeachment debacle (all those closeted sex offenders outraged at Bill's pecadillos) led to his being deposed from Speaker of the House, he seemed done for. His revival as a seeming viable candidate in 2012 was a big surprise, but just the set-up for 15 minutes of infamy after yet another political implosion.

Today's Republican spam-bag has a fundraiser from him, offering to triple-match my donations. It's under the subject that worked on me to open the message: "My announcement..." but then disappointed. What announcement? Nothing I can see in the message other than he wants me to send money. I have no reason to search the headlines on Newt's behalf. (Perhaps he's joining the ranks of cuckolded Republicans now professing support for Donald Trump? Not news.) The email is just a couple of tired, fact-free talking points, culminating in the punchline that we cannot afford another Democrat in the White House.

That depends on what the meaning of "afford" is. You can (and should, please do) argue about causality and every other factor under the sun about why history is what it is, but the record shows that:

"The U.S. economy has performed better when the President of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican, almost regardless of how one measures performance. For many measures, including real GDP growth (on which we focus), the performance gap is large and significant."

So sayeth Alan S. Bliner and Mar W. Watson of the Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Economics at Princeton University in the abstract to their July 2015 paper, Presidents and the U.S. Economy: An Econometric Exploration (with my emphasis added). More specifically:

"During the 64 years that make up the core 16 terms, real GDP growth averaged 3.33% at an annual rate. But the average growth rates under Democratic and Republican presidents were starkly different: 4.33% and 2.54% respectively. This 1.79 percentage point gap (henceforth, the “D-R gap”) is astoundingly large relative to the sample mean."

My takeaway is that even with a triple match from who-knows-who, for me to "pitch in $25, $50, $100 or more" by sending it to the NRSC would be contrary to my self-interest.

Reflecting on the desert Permalink to this item

Not much to add to this link to a post on Viral Forest; check it out. This Is What Happens When You Put Rows of Mirrors on a Shack in the Desert. Attention to a weathered shack in the Joshua Tree, squared up the corners and... turned it into a remarkable work of art. The still photos are fabulous, and oh, there's a video, too, that gives you a look at the "before," the night-time show, what comes between, and the artist's statement. Wonderful. The "Lucid Stead" site has more high-quality stills and video of Phillip K. Smith III's work.

25.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Get some hustle on this weekend Permalink to this item

Who knew Forbes had an "under 30 network," but yup, and here comes Ryan Robinson ("serial entrepreneur, content marketer and business coach") with a guest post on 15 Easy Side Hustles you could start this weekend. If you're a millennial, so shucks, that leaves me out.

You could start being a Remote English Teacher, for example. Or an Online Dating Consultant, I bet you'd be good at that. You could learn how to make beer, pick up a starter kit and get creative. "Start small by setting up a booth at a local street fair and networking with local restaurant owners." (Can you make beer in a weekend?) Then see if the BATF shows up. Maybe buying and selling domain names could be your thing. Just make something up, buy it for $12 and sell for $16 million. Or "just under $1,000." Or something. Walk dogs. Write college admissions essays.

Nothing you like in that list? Here's a hundred more, starting with graphic design, web design, web development, and so on. How hard could it be? Business coaching. Pretty much anybody could do that.

24.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Protecting the Owyhee canyonlands in Oregon Permalink to this item

The now-more-famous-then-ever Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is in Harney County, Oregon, not next-door Malheur County. Malheur County is the SE corner of the state, next to Idaho's SW corner, Owyhee County. Those three counties are individually and collectively enormous, almost 28,000 square miles together; That's bigger than West Virginia and nine other states.

What connects them with each other (and northern Nevada) are the vast river canyonlands cut into the sagebrush steppe, through the recent (a scant 14 million years old) volcanic rock. The Wildlife Refuge is a drainage with no way out, Steen's Mountain and surrounding territory flowing down to Malheur, Harney and Mud lakes, with only the open sky (and irrigation works) for exit. The Malheur river starts in the next basin to the east, flows through Malheur Co. to the Snake, north of the many-forked Owyhee coming out of Idaho, and Nevada.

The vast majority of this land was not just made for you and me, we still own it, together, and manage our shared property with our Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies. But the state boundaries are in the way. When ranchers and environmentalists and recreationists of every stripe and land managers and politicians in Idaho were working to figure out the right kind of protection for this national treasure, we were talking to people in Oregon and Nevada, who were talking to their politicians, and so on. But Idaho (et al.) finding its way forward to an historic Owyhee Initiative that included half a million acres of Wilderness, 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, the release of 200,000 acres of wilderness study area and much more (via the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009) did not solve the issues in other states. (130 miles of the Owyhee in Oregon has been designated Wild & Scenic.)

But that initiative did show, quite remarkably, that cattlemen (and women), soil and water conservation districts, farmers, environmentalists, conservationists, outfitters and guides, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and the native tribes could work together and agree on some common ground.

More than fifteen years on, Oregonians are still working on it. In Malheur Co., there's been talk of a National Conservation Area, Wilderness, and Wild & Scenic River designation, or perhaps a Monument, or not a Monument.

Last summer, The Oregonian had a report of proposals ranging from a million to two million acres of Wilderness designation, within a National Conservation Area that might be 2.5 million acres in Malheur Co. This is a nice description from that:

An area larger than Yellowstone National Park with three paved roads crossing it, Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands of Malheur County is the largest undeveloped, unprotected expanse in the lower 48 states.

The area is known for red-rock canyons on the Owyhee River and its forks, as well as intact sagebrush uplands that are home to a rich array of wildlife, including native redband trout and one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep in the nation.

This is a rugged landscape that doesn't get a lot of visitors, but those who do visit love the Owyhee for its quite and solitude. Summer can be blistering hot, winter quite cold. Even the best times of year to visit, spring and fall, can be challenging because rare rains can turn access roads into quagmires.

For those who love the desert, all those challenges make the Owyhee just about perfect.

Photo courtesy of David Clopton

Map from Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands Campaign

Last month, when some of those challenges made our upper Owyhee boat trip "just about perfect," we had occasion to appreciate the good people of Malheur Co., especially the Sheriff and his deputies, and the county's Search and Rescue. We didn't get a chance to meet the Sheriff himself, but it did catch my attention to see him in the news, justifiably concerned about the possibility of people from outside the county causing trouble, à la the Bundy gang and its sorry episodes next door, and in Nevada. That may be true whether the parties directly involved find a way to do the right thing, or the wrong thing, or some compromise between right and wrong.

But my guess is that "the dozen ranchers predict[ing] their grazing rights would be eliminated if the monument is created" don't have anything to worry about. As noted, the Monument proposal is vague; the proposal from the Campaign for the Owyhee Canyonlands, however, is quite thoughtful and detailed, and includes preservation of livestock grazing as it is and private property owners' access and use of their land. The Obama administration has been quite measured in its use of Monument designation, and I expect Hillary Clinton's administration to be so as well.

23.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hot enough for you? Permalink to this item

Reported a month ago, on Bloomberg: three months in, it looks like 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

"I estimate [a greater than] 99 percent chance of an annual record in 2016," Schmidt wrote on Twitter last week, after NASA released its own record climate readings. A month ago—following the release of February's data—Schmidt wrote, simply, "Wow."

Since 1980, the world has set a new annual temperature record approximately every three years, and 15 of the hottest 16 years ever measured are in the 21st century. ...

Honey, they blew up the House Permalink to this item

Here's why anti-Obama fundraising is a more attractive pastime for Paul Ryan than running the House: "regular order" is looking like mayhem. The "not unless it's paid for" trope popped up to fight against the fight against Zika. Let's impeach the IRS commissioner! "Then, a gay rights amendment to a spending bill blew up on the House floor, forcing Republicans to run a last-minute whip operation to switch a handful of GOP votes and defeat the measure."

"On the one hand, empowering committees and allowing House votes on even controversial amendments affords lawmakers more independence and leeway to advance their own ideas, promoting good will. But it also means tough votes that can embarrass the party or trip-up lawmakers trying to survive re-elections in November."

I know, let's have some votes on the Confederate flag.

"Uber of X" is not a compliment Permalink to this item

Having never Uber'd, I can only guess at its pleasures and discontents. It's like a cab, only whizzier to call it, and cheaper (maybe), and the driver gets less money, and they're probably skirting regulations where they can get away with it. Right?

Vince Kuraitis deconstructs the Uber business model and outlines its swashbuckling dubiosity. Of course the valuation is inflated, we're used to that in new, new things, but Medieval platform governance, not so much. Looking at it from the perspective of possible challengers in the healthcare field, a defensive posture is understandable. “Uber's 'ask questions later' approach to regulation is particularly unsuited to healthcare. People’s safety and their lives are at risk.”

From Spacewars to Whole Earth to the future Permalink to this item

Twenty years ago, when the world wide web was just kicking into high gear, I was an enthusiastic early adopter among my peers in a big technology company. We all had been using computers in our jobs in lots of ways, but the memorandum was still in the ruling class of correspondence. There was plenty of email too (some carrying memos), but those messages were not as powerful as paper, multiple copies printed and distributed into mailstop folders. Important communication had to be on paper.

And now, well, you can't hardly explain this to anybody, because we all swim in it, all the time, every day. Except in Detroit, and a lot of places like it, where the "digital divide" is an enormous gulf, spanned by tenuous and rickety bridges at best. That NYT story made me think we need the equivalent of the Rural Electrification Agency for our depressed urban centers. Wikipedia's REA page says that in 1925, just over 3% of the more than 6 million farms in the U.S. had electric power from the grid. With broadband "now considered as basic as electricity and water," a quarter million residents of Detroit don't have it.

Here where we generally take our connectivity and all things web for granted, we can wander through our past and consider our future. The Guardian had a nice feature by Carole Cadwalladr about big idea guy Stewart Brand and his pre-web brainchild that looks like the web in print, now that we see it in the rear view mirror: the Whole Earth Catalog. Brand is now 77, which doesn't seem nearly as old as it used to. For all his Zelig-like presence in the history of technology, it seems like he'd have to be more like 177 by now. Brand was 20-something, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test came out the same year as the "mother of all demos,"

"when the world first saw what computers could do. Douglas Englebart astonished the 1,000 foremost computer scientists with the first computer mouse, the first teleconferencing, the first word processing, and the first interactive computing. (Being Stewart Brand, of course, he wasn't just there, he was operating the camera and consulting on the presentation.)"

Thirty years after that demo, I tapped into a colloquium at Stanford (via the web, of course), with Englebart, on the topic of his Unfinished Revolution, and now almost twenty more years later (where does the time go?), I'm looking at my notes, and trying to update the URLs. After trying to guess what (if any) credentials I might still have with Stanford, I noticed the target under the "Free Stuff" menu of the Center for Professional Development, Engelbart Colloquium at Stanford, which currently has an homage to the 1990s-era web and laugh-out-loud irony: "This page is under construction." (Along the way, one of the error pages also suggested that "If you are using an AOL browser you may not be able to gain access. Please try an alternative browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer.")

As Brand looks back, he concludes the '60s produced at least one good thing: The Grateful Dead: "Communes failed, drugs went nowhere, free love led pretty directly to AIDS. A lot of people thought Mao Tse-tung was a hero. Domes leaked. Graphic art was dreadful, except for Andy Warhol and Robert Crumb. The rest was basically tie-dye. ..."
From the Rolling Stone's 40th anniversary interviews.

Brand isn't mentioned in the SRI International page on the 40th Anniversary celebration, but there are working links galore, including to the Mother itself, back in 1968 (uploaded to YouTube for the anniversary).

"If, in your office, you as an intellectual worker, were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day, and was instantly responsible... responsive... instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that?"

Watching Englebart's machine-like delivery of those ideas that were pretty much mind-blowing at the time, particularly to those prepared to understand and expand upon them, I thought of Arther C. Clarke's and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which, wouldn't you know it, came out in 1968, too.

If I searched a bit more, I could probably turn up video of the day-long symposium in 1998, but I've got the notes I published on HP's intranet when they were fresh. 30 years on, asked (by Brand) if he knew how well his presentation was going over, Englebart said he couldn't tell, and that he was too worried about whether it was going to crash. The standing ovation "knocked me off my feet," he said.

The moderator, Paul Saffo, had set the context of the ACIS meeting by saying "The Dead played at Winterland a few nights ago, and Inagaddadavida is the hit song on the radio." It was the days of computer code on punch cards.

The first panelists were Stewart Brand; Jeff Rulifson (director of technology group at Sun, previously at SRI, Rolm, Xerox PARC); Charles Irby ("former Englelbart collaborator" at SRI, Xerox, Metaphor Computer Systems, General Magic, SGI of the Nintendo 64); Bill English (another collaborator and "the sort of engineer who can make anything work") and Englebart.

Photo from the MIT Museum Collections, link to source

Responding to the question of What was "it," the essential message of the demo?, Brand went back to the observation he'd made after seeing young men playing Spacewar! at Stanford in the early 60s, and said it was the first inkling that computers could increase human capability, rather than just humans increasing computer capability. From The Guardian's piece (which I just noticed was published in 2013):

"It wasn't until 1972 that Brand wrote about [seeing Spacewar! played], and he still wrote about it before anyone else, in Rolling Stone magazine, an article that is so prophetic, it's almost hallucinatory. Brand's revelation, that he understood before almost anyone else, was that cyberspace was some sort of fourth dimension and the possibilities were both empowering and limitless."

In 1971, Rolling Stone ran a piece about the imagined demise of the quintessential publication of the counterculture, The Last Twelve Hours of the Whole Earth, but it lived on, and on, as CoEvolution Quarterly, Whole Earth Review and innumerable offspring in the lineage, from Wikipedia to Wired.

Sadly, the 1972 Coverwall shows me that Brand's was not among the 13 articles Rolling Stone thinks were prophetic enough to put online. Happily, the web as a whole rarely misses or forgets. has it, complete with (badly scanned versions of) the photos taken by Annie Leibovitz when she was 23: Spacewar.

22.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Interesting notion Permalink to this item

Snapped and lovingly trimmed, today

There was an old VW camper bus parked on a nearby street the other day, and as I rode by on my bike, I saw a FOR SALE sign in the window. That brought back fond memories of the '65 not-camper bus I bought a million years ago and had made-shift into a campmobile of sorts. Fondness was all about oh, the places we did go, and not about the lack of a decent heater, the gutless engine tucked in the rear, the transmission that leaked dry and had to be filled with a helper, tubing, funnel, 17mm allen wrench and me on the ground underneath the blasted thing. Teaching my girlfriend how to drive a manual transmission was between the fond and unfond; it was rewarding in the long run, but for the short run it was hard to listen to the gears being ground.

Some time later I came back the other way and slowed down to see one particular, the $15,000 (I think it was) asking price. Whaaa?! That was that, until a couple days later, I saw another one, looking cherry (if "safety orange" can said to be cherry) and on offer, down another nearby street. After smiling by on the roll, I circled back, stopped and checked it out. The "Campmobile" has a freshly rebuilt 1.7 liter engine, a heater/defroster (which you'd only think would go without saying if you've never had one of these), AM/FM/CD, retractable seat belts and stuff. 1974. $16,500 / OBO. A couple Grateful Dead stickers pre-installed.

Send someone a message (literally) Permalink to this item

This just in from "Team Ryan"...

"President Obama swore an oath TWICE to uphold and protect the Constitution.

"And yet his signature health care law violated the Constitution by granting spending power to the Executive branch.

"To remind him of the oath he swore, we asked you to chip in so we could send him a copy of the Constitution. ..."

All I can say is, after all the crap you've pulled in the House, Paul Ryan, you ignorant slut.

21.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Tales of customer service Permalink to this item

As careful readers will have noticed, I've been in the Amazon Affiliates program since before the blog started, back when the web was still shiny and new. (They lowered the mimimum payment below $100 a long time ago, and I have collected a handful of $10-20 payments over the decade and a half; don't think I've cleared $100 yet, but halfway there, for sure.)

This site is most unlike the rest of the wild world web where yes you have noticed pretty much every site now has a jamboree of scripting to track your every move and auction off your eyeballs "real-time" to advertisers eager to throw images, video, and the kitchen sink at you to get you to buy, buy, buy. In the last several months, this jamboree has started to break things where we live, cross-site and cross-server buggery that has taken to hanging Firefox multiple times a day. (ctrl-alt-del and Task Manager's END THIS PROCESS has become a good friend. I start by killing Flash, and that fixes a good third of the problems; the rest go away when Firefox does.)

But anyway, I just wanted to set the context for talking about Amazon, customer service and recent experience. In their reply to feedback I sent by email, I noted the tagline that my "feedback is helping [them] build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company." I'd somewhat idly fed back the observation that niggling about shipping options on a big order I'd just placed seemed sort of silly. For my part, I could've gone ahead and paid another $5 or $7 for expediting, but I've been well-trained to want "free" (even when it obviously isn't free, but buried in the transaction as a whole). But for an order this big...

Russian Olive flowers, 2016

Their response was fantastic: they expedited the shipping without me asking (exactly) or expecting it. The response was quick and the change to "next day" happened, as promised, superceding what I'd specified/accepted for the order ("next week, probably"). When the stuff arrived (two separate shipments, oddly, the two-item "bundle" mysteriously unbundled for their convenience, and inefficiently in the big picture, with two trucks coming out to our house on the same day), opportunity #2 arose: I realized that I had ordered (and now received) something different from what I thought I was ordering.

It was all my mistake, and they might have said "oh, sorry, but we sent you what you'd ordered" in a polite way, as unsatisfying as that would have been. But I'd reviewed their return/exchange policy, and it seemed sensible to exchange one piece for another, and effectively change my "bundle" to the one I'd meant to order, for the same price, and just the inconvenience (for both of us) of more shipping and the cost and delay involved.

I replied (again) to the original customer service email they'd sent, and they picked up the correspondence quickly. "Per the policy," they said, "we are not able exchange the item."

In this case I´ve two options for you as mentioned below:
1) You can return the item for full refund.
2) You can return the item for replacement for same item.

Option #2 is nonsensical, given the facts. Option #1... could be expanded to have me go ahead and return the whole order for a full refund, and place a new order for what I wanted in the first place, but it would entail shipping back the larger, more expensive item that was exactly what I wanted, in "exchange" for the exact same thing.

Reconsidering all that, and including the time value of happiness in ownership (and discounting the extended pleasure of anticipation; it's just not the same the second time around), I decided to buy a third item to augment the first two, and make a larger "bundle" of my own. From my point of view, I'll end up better off, and I can start enjoying my new product today instead of blah blah blah.

At the bottom of the Message From Customer Service, there is a formlet with the single question: Did I solve your problem? and two choice buttons, Yes, or No. There is no "not exactly," and no "yes AND no," etc. Keep it simple.

After I'd solved my own problem, and went looking for that tagline about their customer service aspirations, I found these 7 customer service lessons from its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Cutting to the chase of the three-year-old article,

  1. Don’t Just Listen to Your Customers, Understand Them
  2. Serve the Needs of the Customer
  3. The Empty Chair: The Most Important Person in the Room
    (Um, what? "Early on, Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings and informed his top executives that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, 'the most important person in the room.'" Cute.)
  4. Never Settle for 99%
  5. Respect Today’s Customer
  6. Strive to Create a Customer-Centric Company
  7. Don’t Be Afraid to Apologize

So how did they do against their own measures? In the first round, with the expedited shipping, they turned a failure into a win, pretty much across the board. If they're smart, they could "think beyond the fix" with #6, and set a new threshold beyond $25 or whatever it is to make free (but slow) shipping available, one where they'll expedite shipping for free on orders over $200, or $500, or whatever makes sense, with no questions asked.

In the second round, it was #1 fail, #2 fail, #3 irrelevant, #4 fail, #5 meh, #6 fail, #7 fail. But their residual good will, the breadth of their offerings and network (I bought the 3rd item "used/like new" from one of their partner vendors for half-retail, with the assurance of "Amazon fullfillment" to save me the trouble of dealing with a new-to-me vendor) carried them past the failure well enough.

20.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Meeting of the minds Permalink to this item

Not sure what inspired him, or if he's just been this thoughtful and intelligent all along and I never noticed before, but Glenn Beck's report of his (and a couple dozen others') meeting with Facebook's senior staff is a great read. His main angle is what "disturbed" him about the meeting, and that's interesting enough.

There's an odd dog whistle about his bucking the trend of conservatives suspicious of silicon valley. Beck wonders, but can't answer why innovators and disruptors are liberal, but (at least?) "they're not Progessives, at least not the folks I met with today (though I’m sure there were a few)." It reads like "at least they're not the bogeymen we imagine and hate so much," but he didn't say that, exactly.

What Beck and others on the right don't seem to understand is that it is the nature of liberal thought to be more open to considering others' opinions and new ideas. It's BY DEFINITION eh, even if none of us ever live up to any ideal, and in spite of the polarized mode of thought that leads to demonization of liberals (and big or little p progressives) as being intolerant, because they don't or won't accept x, y or z. The good news is, we don't live down to the ridiculous stereotypes, any more than "conservatives" as a group do.

The truth, I think, is that conservative thought (again, by definition) tends to hold up RESISTANCE TO CHANGE as a virtue. If what you believe is virtuous, holding fast to to it is a good thing. But resistance to change is not a virtue all by itself, any more than willingness to change is. You don't want your mind to be so open that your brain falls out, but in order to learn anything, you have to change your mind. Literally.

The other massive point that he and many others who are complaining about its supposed biases don't seem to have stumbled upon is that Facebook is a BUSINESS, first of all, and an utterly unique, gigantic, and rapidly evolving leader of the "social media" that is not the same as what he (or any of us) imagines "main stream media" to be or what it ever was or will be, and not the same as the mainstream infotainment businesses masquerading as "news media" that he's leveraged so well in his own career. It's a market-based solution to the needs and wants of let's just round up to 2 billion individuals, and the myriad businesses and organizations that want to reach them for their own reasons.

Beck's own punchline is that he was disturbed by conservatives getting out the torches and pitchforks at the drop of a hat, and coming up with a crazy grab-bag of things they think Facebook ought to do to placate them. Yes, that's disturbing.

"I sat there looking around and heard things like:

"1) Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.

"2) Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.

"3) We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.

"It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges."

"The overall tenor," Beck said, "felt like the Salem Witch Trial: ‘Facebook, you must admit that you are screwing us, because if not, it proves you are screwing us.’"

With the... free-to-all-comers platform they've built, and are now monetizing to customers willing to pay to get attention from the huge community of users. If you don't like it of course, you're free to not buy advertising from them, or even not use it. (There's always Google+, right?) And it's a free country, you can still complain about what (you think) they're doing either way. And we're free to think what we like about you when you express your opinions.

You can talk to the animals Permalink to this item

and to your house, and personal digital assistant, so I hear, and will soon have some sort of choice, between Apple's thingie, and Amazon's Echo, and real soon now, Google Home. The (web) headline is about the clash of the titans; the URL touts "a smart speaker with a search giant for a brain." Said speaker is short of "many important details, including a price tag," and scheduled for release this fall, impossibly far away. But when it does come out, you'll notice "the top of Home is slanted downward, whereas Echo’s top is flat" and stuff. Also, "Google is allowing consumers to choose from different colors for the bottom part of Home, while Echo comes only in black."

Home décor is a big business, so don't underestimate color! Of course, the brains are "most important," right? Google inside versus Alexa, whoever she is. And oh, there are "voice commands that already work with Google’s assistant" I didn't know about, and they'll work with Google Home. We are soooo behind the times.

Just another iris photo, 2016

The test results gave an edge to Google, but we won't know about the canonical virtual assistant tasks—ordering pizza, setting your Internet-connected thermostat, and controlling smart light bulbs—until we find out whether "Google persuades third-party developers to create tasks that work" with their thing. Like, who would want to spend any time writing sortware that would integrate with the 8,000 pound gorilla of the internet? (As for smart light bulbs... if they're so blasted smart, why don't they control themselves?)

The NYT long-distance preview notes one thing that might hold teh Goog back: its assistant "lack(s) a friendly name like Siri or Alexa." You summon the daemon by just saying "Google."

Google me this, Einstein: 32 years after 1984, are we all sanguine with our prospects and faith that Apple, Google and Amazon won't be evil? Inviting them into our homes and taking them on as our personal assistants who will quickly enough know more about us than we know ourselves, what could possibly go wrong?

Missed it by *that* much Permalink to this item

I've got May 22d stuck in my mind, but I see (once again) that it was May 14, 2000 when I lit up what's become this fortboise blog. The dot-com bubble was full-on (and starting to pop), we were temporary relocated to paradise in Palo Alto, irises were blooming in Boise, and opting out of ad attacks was a thing.

Sixteen years and a week, then.

18.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In eastern Washington, mountain climbs you Permalink to this item

Thirty-six years ago today, in the course of a few moments on a Sunday morning, Mt. St. Helens rearranged local landscaping, scattering itself across eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and beyond. I was a witness to the cataclysm, driving toward, under and then into the ashfall that blotted out the sun in the middle of the day. I started the day in a place you might not be able to find on a map anymore, let alone on the ground, named (more appropriately than I could've guessed when the rides ran out and I settled in for Saturday night by the side of the road less traveled) "Dusty." About that time of the morning, with my first (and only) ride of the day, stopping at Othello, the driver brought me out of the gas and groc to show me the "big storm" coming.

One look at the wall of cloud in the distance told me what had happened, without a doubt. That was not water headed our way. "Mount St. Helens blew up." Whatever else I had to say after that doesn't stick in the mind. We drove on, wide-eyed.

The volcano had been simmering and threatening for two months, and was a regular topic in the news, but very few of us in the range of the Cascades actually knew what a major eruption would mean. As the "day" along my westbound route went to blackest night, back to gray twilight in the midafternoon, and back to black before a little bit of color in the sunset, I had my firsthand experience, extended by being forced to stay overnight in Ellensburg. The state patrol had closed the highways, without regard to the fact that we were no more than ten miles from the western edge of the ash. No one knew what would happen next.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter and the web, today's anniversary brought a remembrance from a reporter for The Oregonian back in the day (and still!), Les Zaitz. It was posted two years ago, but reading it today brought a thrill just as well. Along with the story of a young reporter getting his byline on the front page, there's a high (enough) resolution image of the May 19, 1980 front page, mostly filled with the towering ash cloud, viewed from the "clean" side. Black ink on newsprint is the perfect medium for a photo of the event. I guess I didn't have a camera with me... but would have had only an hour or two to photograph anything in any case. Bad lighting, most of the day. We do have a glossy copy of Don Wilson's quintessential photo that ran on that front page, on a glossy postcard.

The story has a handful of links in its sidebar, including ones about the latest swarm of earthquakes and the unliklihood of there being another big eruption imminent. But you never know. The article from last November has more beautiful, recent photos of the mountain and other Cascades volcanoes.

Data-driven journalist, reconsidering Permalink to this item

Nate Silver on making hypotheses falsiable, and how to respond when you're wrong: How I Acted Like a Pundit and Screwed Up On Donald Trump. "Failing forward" a catchier term for learning from mistakes.

"[W]e were basically acting like pundits, but attaching numbers to our estimates. And we succumbed to some of the same biases that pundits often suffer, such as not changing our minds quickly enough in the face of new evidence. Without a model as a fortification, we found ourselves rambling around the countryside like all the other pundit-barbarians, randomly setting fire to things."

I was reading on through the five sections of analysis and when he mentioned the complexity that resulted in Howard Dean losing big in 2004, even though "he might have become the nominee" if he'd held on to win Iowa, I thought "chaos theory." Two sentences later: "The primaries may literally be chaotic, in the sense that chaos theory is defined."

A model can be better than pundits full of opinions, but forecasts may be just as hard with or without a model. The map a model might provide is never the territory.

After he dips into Bayes' theorem and a nice explanation of prediction following a "uniform prior," he backs off, saying "we've gotten pretty abstract," but no complaints from me. I love Silver's nerdiness, introspection, and desire for improvement. Continuous improvement means continually changing your mind; no wonder we see so little of it.

"Basically, my view is that putting Trump’s chances at 2 percent or 5 percent was too low, but having him at (for instance) 10 percent or 15 percent, where we might have wound up if we’d developed a model or thought about the problem more rigorously, would have been entirely appropriate. If you care about that sort of distinction, you’ve come to the right website!"

Fascinating read.

The answer is "no." Permalink to this item

It hasn't been huge in the news, but I'm getting fundraising spun off both sides of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. "Team Ryan," declaring itself "a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Ryan for Congress, Inc., Prosperity Action, Inc., and the NRCC" (National Republican Congressional Committee) sent me one today, "signed" by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, under the subject "Should Obamacare be repealed?" And the body, under quote of the day from President Obama, "So sue me":

President Obama taunted conservatives when we expressed concern over his executive overreach. And when we sued him in federal court to protect the Constitution’s separation of powers, President Obama called it “a stunt.”

Now President Obama is eating his words.

Last Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Obamacare violates the Constitution by granting spending power to the Executive branch.

Thomas, I need to know if you stand with me in the fight to repeal Obamacare.

Ryan's a smart guy and an adept political hack. He knows as well as we would, if we'd bothered to dig into the less-than-headline news about a "victory" against the Affordable Care Act that the ruling was immediately stayed, and will certainly be appealed. Lo and behold, the "old-fashioned strategy" of "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" found something that could, two years later. Two more years, we might even have it scraped off and the wall repainted. (Blue's a nice color.)

Send more money and we can have more of this exciting political theater! Don't you want to poke your thumb in your own eye some more?

"Republicans are rejoicing," Russell Berman reports for The Atlantic, at their tentative success preventing the executive branch from reducing the cost of co-payments, deductibles, and other costs for low-income people. (The other half of this particular lawsuit, to try to get the Obama administration to implement the ACA faster had already been thrown out of court, to the disappointment of fans of irony.) Truly, cause for celebration of the rule of law.

To envision how brilliantly House of Representatives v. Burwell might one day turn out, we can look to this week's unanimous "decision" from our 89% SCOTUS to punt a mind-numbingly insignificant interpretation of the horrifically bad Religious Freedom Restoration Act, after varying decisions by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 3rd, 5th, 10th and D.C. Circuits, back to the four circuits for reconsideration. The chances the lower courts will agree on the second try and settle Zubik v. Burwell don't seem that great, by simple probability if nothing else. Some while later, it'll be back. Maybe we'll have a 100% and non-lame duck SCOTUS when it does, who knows?

As Tierney Sneed put it for Talking Points Memo, the unanimous message was "everyone is just going to need to get along and keep the Supreme Court out of it." It's almost as if the high court wants to mimic Paul Ryan's House of Representatives in its incapacity to do anything useful. A mere "stunt" or three would be a vast improvement over the quagmire the Republicans have constructed for government to slog around in.

17.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

That was interesting Permalink to this item

It's primary election day in Idaho today, and nothing to do with the Presidential race, but everything to do with contested state legislature races, precinct committee positions and judges. Having considered my options with aforethought, I had no reason to change my party registration (Republican, thanks to the right-wing partisans who insisted on closed primaries to try to amplify the polarization in the state), but planned on voting Democratic.

The usual gantlet of nice old ladies who dispense the ballots, one who said "I need to see a photo ID," and I thought "or have you fill out an affidavit of identity" which I didn't care to bother with this time. The ballot-dispenser was working ahead, and had looked at the sign-in sheet to see my (R), and handed me a ballot without asking my preference.

"I'd like a Democratic ballot," I said, cheerfully, and loud enough for everyone in the not-crowded room to hear. "But you're registered as Republican," one replied, "and it's too late to change." She held up her laminated decision-making flow chart with circles and arrows. I didn't make an attempt to decipher what it purported to say. I knew that it was my right and privilege as a ®egistered ®epublican to get any damn ballot I wanted, or at least any of the Republican, Democratic, or nonpartisan ones. Gosh, our Secretary of State's Citizen's Guide just says "You may be required to register as a member of specific political party in order to vote in that party’s Primary Election" without bothering to include specifics about the four recognized parties it enumerates. Things might change, and nobody in the office knows how to edit the document? Ah, here it is: Party Affiliation and Ballot Choice, very clear and direct and dated for today. Four choices (because there isn't a Libertarian ballot this time), two permissive, and two exclusive. Maybe they could have laminated up that information and had it at the polls instead of the circles and arrows thing. But back to our story.

"Nevertheless, I'd like a Democratic ballot, and I'm sure the Democrats are OK with that," I said.

They thought they were running this process, but my take-charge insistence set them back a bit, and prompted them to re-check the flow chart, now apparently reading it for comprehension for the first time. It's not like we haven't had at least half a dozen elections since the Republicans insisted on having the law their way. And these are mostly all the same nice ladies who run the polls at our precinct every time. What the hell?

Photo today

Had I been interested in comic effect, I would have unzipped my fleece vest and exposed my 1.20.2009 t-shirt with Barack Obama's likeness on it and said "the President says I can have a Democratic ballot if I want one, 'k?" But they figured out their own instructions and acknowledged that what do you know, I was correct, and gave me the ballot I asked for, without the need for further showmanship.

The other noticeable change at Leisure Villa (where time seems to be standing quite still, otherwise) was that they had an optical ballot scanner next to the exit table, for voters to submit their ballots directly for tallying, instead of putting them in a box that would be carried off and counted elsewhere, out of sight. Probably some added expense to have at least one of those in every polling place, but an obvious improvement to have things counted on the spot, as they're cast. (Even better would have been for it to show me—with suitable privacy—what all it scanned and have me hit a VERIFY button, or REJECT it as a miscount. Hmm, would it reject a spoiled ballot on the spot and give another chance? I'm told by someone who saw it happen that it would.)

Anyway, technology, and partisanship marching together into the future.

Fighting in the streets Permalink to this item

Back in the day, I went to a couple or three state party conventions, and found the experience interesting, instructive, a bit expensive (volunteers all pay their own way), and... rather tedious. That was when the intricasies of Robert's Rules of Order were an undiscovered country, along with the motivation for fine-tuning the language of platform phrasing and planks.

For a while this year, it looked like a lot of states' conventions and the national conventions would be very interesting, but the chance of indecision lasting all the way to July has waned to nil. At least for all observers outside Bernie Sanders' campaign. For Bernie's supporters, hope is still alive, and that hope included the possibility of working the Nevada state convention for a few more delegates than the February caucus had earned. (Not that that could change the ultimate outcome, but working toward it, and for what you believe.)

On the one hand, it might have been party politics as usual, ardent supporters doing all they could to network and bring others into the fold, working behind the scenes to meet arcane requirements. On the other... well, it devolved into rather epic chaos, and the first-person accounts have been flying follow-on after the fact. First I heard (when a Berner's social media thread and the question "did you hear what happened?" prompted me to go look), in an account in the Washington Post, it sounded like the Sanders people had tried to manipulate the system in their favor, and contrary to the caucus results, maybe within the rules or maybe not, and they'd been stymied. It also sounded like, hoo boy, if Hillary's campaign had done what Bernie's was said to have, there would have been howling and rending of garments in outrage.

I did not see a report in the NY Times, until this morning, when Alan Rappeport weighed in: From Bernie Sanders Supporters, Death Threats Over Delegates.

I've seen the difference between first hand accounts from people in the thick of things and media reports at a distance. Reporters never get everything right, because that's not possible, but I assume they get closer to what happened than random individuals, and specific participants. The context, at least:

"Although Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses in February, the Sanders campaign worked hard to win delegates at county conventions and was hopeful that it could emerge from the state with an equal number of delegates or more. But the state convention, held at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, deteriorated into chaos after nearly 60 of Mr. Sanders’s potential delegates were deemed ineligible amid a dispute over the rules. The convention concluded abruptly after security staff no longer felt it could ensure the safety of the participants, many of whom were yelling and throwing things."

Rules of Order only go so far in controlling a mob.

"Mr. Sanders faces a virtually insurmountable delegate deficit, but has pledged to carry on his campaign despite the long odds."

I can understand the motivation, the not giving up, after all these years, and this time coming closer than ever. But man, you fell short, you didn't get it, you're not going to get it, and it's all downside from here. No matter how heartfelt your belief in all your principles. If you chuck off the democratic principle (and yes, the rules that are sometimes byzantine and seem stacked against you), the rest won't mean very much. Nor does this statement put any shine on the situation:

“The senator believes that the Democratic Party all over the country would serve its own interests better if it were to figure out a way to welcome people who have been energized and excited by his campaign into the party. It would behoove the party to be more welcoming and engage those people.”

Behoove. It would behoove the senator and his sort-of adopted party to be part of the solution figuring out a way to keep his supports enaged and energized for the party even after his now inevitable loss in the primaries. It would be behoove Sanders-nauts to think a bit further than next week or next month and consider what trying to blow up the Democratic Party will do for the change they hope to bring. I know some of them think a President Trump would be a catalyst to the revolution they want to see, rather like fundamentalist evangelicals look forward to great battles bringing on Armageddon, so yay for that.

In the more ordinary tranche of the electorate, and among the citizens who will suffer the consequences, I am not feeling the Bern here.

Update: Jeff Stein's explainer for Vox covers the facts in more detail. The one that stands out to me was how low the stakes were that prompted an ugly fight. There just isn't a lot of upside for the Democratic Party to have more of this.

16.May.16 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Regional cray cray: up and to the right Permalink to this item

The idea of the Pacific Northwest-ish being a survivalist redoubt is not exactly new. There were whiffs of it 40 years ago, when I moved from the midwest to north Idaho to attend the University of Idaho. Post-Viet Nam, post-Nixon, mid-energy crisis, mid-extreme inflation, mid-mutually assured destruction standoff with the Soviet Union, the idea of economic collapse and societal breakdown did not seem that far away.

Who can say if it's closer or farther away today? I'm biased by all these years of it not happening, and expecting we'll muddle along, somehow. We survived Ronald Reagan and his cock-eyed "environmentalism" and "supply-side economics." We survived 3 progessively deteriorating terms of Bush. (And "they" survived two terms of Clinton, near enough.)

Last week, a special message from one of CHQ's advertisers came through, under the scare subject, "Obamas’ new law threatens all US citizens with this type of IRA/401k..." and with warnings from an unidentified "former U.S. Congressman" about the "INEVITABLE" currency collapse this summer, and how the crisis "WILL Cause Federal Gov't to tarket 401k's & IRA's for additional revenue." The dollar is "on its last days," don't you know, "as China prepares with this big announcement." And most... ominous? motivational? informational? of all,

Trump bashes Fed, endorses Gold Standard.

The click-through I did not have the temerity to follow was for my own personal Gov't Debt Survival Guide, which I gather has a lot to do with Gold. "IRS Loophole allows you to store your IRA at Home." Let's hope it's in gold, guns, and ammo, right? (All that gold under the mattress, you damn well better be locked and loaded.)

Back in the day, you didn't need to worry too much about sorting out the hippy Mother Earth News types from the "survivalists"; the latter were fewer and as far between as they could manage, while the former tended to cluster together, and share their pot...s and stuff. From my point of view, the survivalist whack-jobs were more like Sasquatch than an invasive species: shadowy figures you imagine shuffling near the treeline, but can't quite bring into focus, or convince yourself are real.

These decades later, with the planet's population almost doubled, there's a lot more outward pressure on sociopaths and the mildly antisocial alike. Two terms of Obama and the resulting derangement syndrome, on top of that pert-near global financial collapse at the end of Bush II-b has given us a new wave of survivalism, and new vocabulary to boot. Not to be confused with the adorable "preppie," we now have "preppers," those preparing for the apocalypse, essentially, and as Betsy Russell reports for the Spokesman-Review, they're "fleeing more populated states" and looking to our neighborhood as a "redoubt," "a place to settle and defend themselves when the whole country goes bad."

While we wait for that to happen, "there goes the neighborhood," eh.

The possibly good news is that for as much attention as these people are capable of drawing to themselves, there really aren't that many of them. A few dozen go a long way, but compared to what?

Longtime Bonners Ferry businessman and former Mayor Darrell Kerby said he’s only encountered about 30 [people who responded to the 5-years-ago call from "survivalist author and blogger James Wesley Rawles"]. But he notes that Boundary County, with its dramatic river and mountain scenery, has a population of just 11,000 – “and that includes cats and dogs.”

District 1 includes all of sparsely-populated Boundary County, and most of Bonner County to the south, with population 8,000-ish Sandpoint in it, to reach the equal population apportionment. Sandpoint still has some hippy resort/ski-town feel, what with Idaho's biggest lake, and 25 feet of snow in the average winter. But the top-of-the-state has two "ultraconservative" state legislators in our House, Heather Scott out of Ohio, and now in Blanchard; and Sage Dixon out of California, and now in Ponderay, along with the state’s longest-serving senator and now co-chair of the joint budget committee, Shawn Keough. Never mind that Keough is part of the Republican super-majority; her antagonists see a bogeyman in anyone too close to "establishment." A Palouse area blogger styling himself the "Bard of the American Redoubt" is sputtering so hard the adjectives cover as much turf as those applied to our feckless tyrant in chief:

[Alex] Barron slammed Keough as a “liberal authoritarian progressive” and accused her of “gun grabbing” and wanting to “tax more so she can spend more on her socialists, pro-homosexual union allies working in governmental schools.”

It doesn't have to make sense, or have any connection to reality. What's important is that they find "a patriot man or woman" to replace her. Keough has been elected 10 times, and is the executive director of Associated Logging Contractors in her regular job. Her far-right opposition for tomorrow's primary (not counting the faux-Democrats who've snuck in) claims his territory as "conservative constitutional Republican," as if it were his alone. (None of the "constitutional" types seem to recognize the centrality of public education in Idaho's Constitution, somehow.) He's lived in Priest River for... slightly longer than Keough has been in the Legislature, and just got a notion to run because the direction the country's going, and stuff.

The poster girl of the Redoubtables, Heather Scott, loves to wave her Confederate battle flag, and celebrate the "ton" of new arrivals (at 250 pounds apiece, that might be only 8, but she claims "probably 50 or 60"), from "all over." She's an A-plus voter by the Idaho Freedom Foundation's mindless anti-government index (vs. Dixon's slightly disappointing A-minus), and can rightly claim a good share of responsibility for buggering the end of the 2015 legislation and driving an expensive special session to accomplish what might have been business as usual.

Russell rounded up another quintessential spokesperson for Teh Crazy: Don Bradway, late of California (“what I call the occupied zone”) which must be mightly pleased to see the back of him.

“I make no bones about the fact I’m a conservative Christian and I like being around other people who think the way I do,” he said. Bradway, who is retired, estimated he’s met easily 100 other new arrivals who followed the same path, including many from California. He’s active in local politics, as are many, and was elected to the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

“I know there are a goodly number of folks who are able to retire, or self-employed, or come up here and try to find a job,” he said. He said California is “swirling around the drain of liberty.”

Bradway is convinced that a looming disaster, whether it’s a major earthquake or a financial collapse, will turn America’s cities into “just a mass of chaos,” with rioting and anarchy. “I know people who’ve said, ‘I’m looking for something that’s defensible, if the teeming hordes come surging out of Spokane,’” Bradway said.

Tom von Alten photo, Feb. 2003, Moscow, Idaho

These are people for whom the idea of a "proper role of government" seems an oxymoron. "A system of common schools, safe roads, infrastructure like sewer, water and now Internet" are a bridge too far.

Just to be clear: while we do have our share (or perhaps more than our share) of this particular brand of sociopathy, they are still a small and rather unwelcome minority to most of us in the great state of Idaho. I can't speak as knowledgeably about the rest of the broadly-brushed (and sparsely populated) region of (all of!) Montana, Wyoming, eastern Washington and Oregon, but beyond the scattered enclaves, I dare say the vast majority of the inhabitants are more normal, and more decent people in this region.

14.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

New worlds Permalink to this item

From a comparatively small patch of sky, the latest batch of planets confirmed in other solar systems by data and analysis from NASA's Kepler mission brings the total to more than 2,000. From the NYT's report this week (with my emphasis):

"So far, two dozen of the planets found and confirmed by Kepler occupy the so-called Goldilocks zones of their stars where liquid water and perhaps “Life as We Think We Know It” could exist.

"Extrapolating these results to the entire galaxy, Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist from the Ames Research Center, said there could be 10 billion roughly Earth-size planets in the galaxy within their stars’ habitable zones. The nearest habitable planet, she estimated, could be as close as 11 light-years. In the cosmic scheme of things, that is next door and reachable in our lifetimes with current or near-future technology."

Image from

Maybe 10 billion, in just this galaxy, out of the billions of galaxies in the part of the universe we can detect.

We called it our Age of Discovery when we were floating about and finding things on our own modest (but lovely) planet, centuries ago. And here we are, still discovering new worlds, with centuries' more discoveries to come.

There's still the nagging Fermi paradox: if life is ubiquitous (as the conditions for it seem to be), how come we haven't heard from anybody extraterrestrial? Give it time. We just figured out gravity and thermodynamics, after all.

13.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dude got off WAY cheap Permalink to this item

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that the first Oregon standoff defendant plead guilty with a pretty sweet bargain under the circumstances, which included the crimes being really well-document on social media. One count of theft, in exchange for some room and board, and assistance getting back on his feet.

"[H]e's expected to face six months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. He's agreed to undergo a mental health evaluation and spend up to 120 days at a residential re-entry program or treatment center. Willingham also has agreed to pay an undetermined amount of restitution..."

The treatment will hopefully bring him to reconsider "complet[ing] his duty to stop tyranny in federal law enforcement" and assassinating county officials he doesn't care for. And maybe getting his music career back on track?

Restraint of trade Permalink to this item

While everyone's going half-nuts about Facebook supposedly manipulating public opinion, how about this business decision from another of our galactic IT overlords? David Graff, Google's Director of Global Product Policy announced it in a blog post:

"We will no longer allow ads for loans where repayment is due within 60 days of the date of issue. In the U.S., we are also banning ads for loans with an APR of 36% or higher."

Tom von Alten, April 2014 photo

Back when "usury" was a thing we had laws against, that was the ballpark ceiling I remember. 20-something or 30-something percent is ginormous. 36% interest is enough to double the amount you owe in just 27 months. (Not that they give you that long to pay; you'd be rolling it to a new loan, with new fees, multiple times long before one year was up, let alone two.)

The report in the New York Times has some people and organizations praising the move, and some deriding it. The Community Financial Services Association of America (gosh that sounds like a fine organization, doesn't it?) which says it works to preserve “access to short-term credit for millions of Americans,” criticized the move, calling it “discriminatory and a form of censorship.”

But no, if a business decides they don't want to do business with you, that is not "a form of censorship." It's a "blanket assessment," sure enough, against loans with two months or less repayment, and usurious interest rates. The Online Lenders Alliance defends usury by citing the Federal Reserve's estimate that almost half of Americans ("47%" comes up again, hmm) "are not prepared to handle a $400 unexpected expense," so... companies willing to turn that into a $500 or $600 expense in short order are yeah, just providing a necessary service.

When the Pew Charitable Trusts looked at interest rates for online payday loans in 2014, they found "they usually exceed 300 percent annual percentage rates." And the NYT piece links to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's presser from last month, and their finding that half of online payday borrowers rack up an average of $185 in bank penalties

Dewey, Cheatham and Howe Permalink to this item

Used to think that was just a lawyer-jokey name, but it turns out far north Idaho has a legislator with the possibly unfortunate centerpiece for a surname. He's never really showed up on my radar, until this eve of the primary, when he made Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise blog with this: Rep. Cheatham’s campaign letter on what appears to be copy of official House stationery raises questions. Russell noted that if the bottom-of-page disclaimer on the letter is true ("All costs associated with this mailing, including stationery, envelopes, or postage, have been paid by Don Cheatham”), it wouldn't "technically violate the law against using public resources for private gain."

(Good thing he didn't put some Idaho® Potato livery on his letter; Mr. Potatohead would have come down on his sorry tater like a load of sour cream in defense of the state's commercial interests. We're not nearly as fussy about our House of Representatives.)

For Cheatham's part, he's doubling down, insisting that unnamed differences exist.

Asked why the letter says across the top, “House of Representatives, State of Idaho,” Cheatham retorted angrily, “Because that’s where I work!” He demanded a retraction and threatened to sue this reporter and newspaper for defamation; we stand by our story.

Hey, you can't buy campaign publicity like this!

Spoon-fed Permalink to this item

Farhad Manjoo goes off on the import of Facebook's "built-in bias," suitable for a wind-up to a Congressional inquiry. Since Congress doesn't seem to have much else to do, why not? While they're at it, bring in some of the Fox News wizards to explain how the news being fed to Roger Ailes' hapless viewers is "fair and balanced."

But facts. There should be some facts, shouldn't there? A billion-plus people "devour the Facebook News Feed every day," seriously? The "cargo ships of profit," those seem to be sailing, at least. But let's get the terms straight: the "news feed" on Facebook, is determined first of all by what you've configured, and who you've affiliated with as "friends." The subject of recent alarums is the "trending topics" box, which in my world has a (very) short list of headlines, a "see more" link, and pretty much zero mindshare. (Just now: something about earth mounds in Columbia turning out to be "worm excrement," a "red tide" spreading in Chile, and a mummy in Egypt.)

"Across the industry, reporters, editors and media executives now look to Facebook the same way nesting baby chicks look to their engorged mother — as the source of all knowledge and nourishment, the model for how to behave in this scary new-media world. Case in point: The New York Times, among others, recently began an initiative to broadcast live video."

Haven't seen any of said "live video," but I've watched a few of the professionally produced video pieces on the NYT, which are about as bear as much resemblance to the average video snippet on Facebook as... I don't know, Broadway to home video. But Manjoo insists that Facebook is the "maintreamiest of all social networks," and flying "under a veneer of empiricism."

"Many people believe that what you see on Facebook represents some kind of data-mined objective truth unmolested by the subjective attitudes of fair-and-balanced human beings."

And so on, expanding the wildest imagining of how Facebook might be manipulating us. Perhaps I missed the equal concern he must have expressed for how Fox and friends, the Koch brothers, the energy industry, the health care insurance industry and on and on have been poisoning the pool of objective truth. Seems just possibly a bit more alarming than Facebook's hive of like-minded individuals finding ways to amplify their confirmation biases and drive ad views.

There's no evidence, he admits, "but the danger is nevertheless real." Can it do what's never been done before? Probably. Can it do what has been done, many many times before, better? I'm sure. Will it? Why wouldn't it, if there's money to be made. Or even if its management, rich beyond the need of avarice, has a whim to experiment. There's this, though (with all the original links I didn't follow embedded):

The company is staffed mostly by wealthy coastal Americans who tend to support Democrats, and it is wholly controlled by a young billionaire who has expressed policy preferences that many people find objectionable. Mr. Zuckerberg is for free trade, more open immigration and for a certain controversial brand of education reform. Instead of “building walls,” he supports a “connected world and a global community.”

This is the ultimate market solution, promoting free markets with the best possible manipulation in its own favor. Senator Thune and the Senate Commerce Committee should be celebrating this most capitalistic bastian of success, rather than trying to "expose" something nefarious and spoil the show.

11.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not a reason, but maybe an explanation Permalink to this item

The public letter has the same attraction as the guy on a soapbox at Speakers' Corner; a pleasant diversion on a sunny day, and occasionally engaging if the topic and/or speaker are good enough. I've posted a few myself, so I can't be too critical of the absurdity of the genre. But still, George Rasley's Dear Mr. Trump has a certain... presumptive feel to it. Rasley speaks for all true conservatives, as "ConservativeHQ" editor and all, and responding to the "steady drumbeat of emails, phone calls and social media hits from close friends, vague acquaintances and complete strangers demanding, with increasing ferocity, that [he] “get on board” and support Donald Trump for President." He wants us to know that "We Vote For Eternal Principles, Not Self-Interested Politicians."

And by the way, he's not afraid of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. "My family stood against the tyranny of kings and popes, followed their conscience, and preached the Gospel when doing so meant fire and the stake." (Time for a third party candidate, hmm?)

"Perhaps fighting tyrants and being rebels is genetically encoded in some people, certainly country class Americans have a surfeit of that trait and my family is no exception to that."

"Country class Americans" is a term of art I hadn't come across before. Sounds kind of like you had a relative that came over on the Mayflower or something? But he goes on, in stirring detail about all the bona fides of his ancestry and class and politics, including having family members who attended the first Republican National Convention in 1856. As if... there really were a connection between that party and today's. Something we can agree on:

"Believe me, no one is more disappointed in the present state of the Republican Party than I am."

But perhaps for different reasons.

Fishing around further, I found this six year old special Summer Issue cover story in the American Spectator: America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution, which defines "country class" as the antithesis of the political (a.k.a. the ruling, or even more gloriously, the "regime") class. It is "the majority of Americans not oriented to government."

"The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners—nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity."

From Shrek, the Musical, produced in Spokane Valley last month

Not to get all theocratic on us or anything. But the part about "The Political Divide," in which we're told that "sooner or later, well or badly, that majority's demand for representation will be filled" starts to look prescient. George Wallace, Ross Perot, and now Donald Trump. This was the summer before Obama's first midterm, remember, when the Tea Party was forming its inchoate scream that became the Republican majority in the House (and eventually in the Senate as well), and our experiment to just say No, No, No to everything. The economic collapse from the creative finance real estate bubble, and the bailout of too-big-to-fail institutions (and none of the hapless individuals on the wrong end of the stick) was top of mind. The outrage of The Affordable Care Act was an open wound. (The Hill has a fascinating month-by-month selection of events of the year of the Tea Party events, winding up with Congress's job approval hitting the lowest ever on record, and the death of 6,000 earmarks.)

Most of the way through the summer special screed, and after the sins and the lust for power of the ruling class are well and truly itemized, we come to The Country Class remainder, "problematic because it is so heterogeneous."

"It has no privileged podiums, and speaks with many voices, often inharmonious. It shares above all the desire to be rid of rulers it regards inept and haughty. It defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers' defining ideas and proclivities—e.g., ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidizing political favorites, social engineering, approval of abortion, etc. Many want to restore a way of life largely superseded. Demographically, the country class is the other side of the ruling class's coin: its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice. While the country class, like the ruling class, includes the professionally accomplished and the mediocre, geniuses and dolts, it is different because of its non-orientation to government and its members' yearning to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others."

The Country Class "includes all those in stations high and low who are aghast at how relatively little honest work yields, by comparison with what just a little connection with the right bureaucracy can get you." The little guys (and maybe some gals), the honest Joes, the decent, the Moral Majority, all the people who root for underdogs. The fundamental indignation boils down to this: If the politicians are so smart, why have they made life worse?

Compared to what can't be answered, so it might as well not be asked.

10.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bias in social media? Shocking! Permalink to this item

Facebook is an advertising medium, enjoying the success that comes from its wonderfully engaging interface. It's not journalism, obviously, and the recent apoplexy from "conservative" types who've accepted the hearsay accusations is unexpectedly comic. There's some sort of feed of news stories, I hear, off on the right side? I never look on the right side, because that's where the ads come in, and I'm never interested in those. (Especially not when I shop for something I am interested in, and ads for said thing follow me around for days. What a racket!)

The NPR story on the reactions from people who feel like they're... being tricked? Being surpressed? Censored? has some crazy stuff. The Republican Party thinks Facebook might swing the election against them! And the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune of South Dakota:

"Facebook must answer these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news," Thune said in a statement, according to The Hill. "Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet."

Actually, Facebook need not answer those allegations, although if the Senators can find time in their busy schedule to have a hearing, it could make for some entertainment. If the company wants to be "neutral and inclusive," they can do that. If they want to be biased and exclusive, like Fox News (say), and run parody news and other sorts of nonsense, they can do that, too. It would be fabulous to have Thune's committee get schooled by some Facebook executive, maybe even Mark Zuckerberg himself, and get a little lesson in the 1st Amendment.

Also, a lesson in business. And "an open internet."

Grinding justice Permalink to this item

To the extent that the cattle running wild on federal land are actually property of Cliven Bundy or his family, they're not worth the trouble to track down and round up. They are a nuisance, whether running wild, or the basis of another standoff between federal land management and the right-wing seditionists. Putting them out of their misery would be an improvement for all concerned, by all factual reports. But the latest report picked up by The Guardian continues the tropes of the old west, calling Bundy's melon farm and gateway to public land a "ranch" and talking about the cattle as if they were a valuable asset.

Bailey Logue, one of Cliven’s daughters, scoffed at those allegations, saying the family’s cattle were in “great health”.

Really. Tell us, when was the last time you actually saw any of them?

From his jail cell, Cliven has come up with a new pettifogging angle: a conspiracy theory about Harry Reid wanting to steal his melons, which should be enough to get a new judge or something, right?

Sons Ryan and Ammon are not satisfied with prison food, calling it "unpalatable." We are not surprised. Nor are we surprised that creative, new legal arguments keep popping up in their case. They meant to "force a civil court to take up the constitutionality of federal land management policy," but apparently didn't get good advice on how to pursue that strategy. You could do that without leaving home, in fact. Ammon "isn't an extremist and doesn't hold anti-government views," the story now goes, but there is really no one credulous enough to entertain that. Or this:

"[His lawyers] characterize Bundy as a constitutional originalist who adheres to similar philosophies as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork."

Yay, verily.

How to make shopping as annoying as possible Permalink to this item

Time passes, and Jeanette's seldom-used frequent flyer account with United has some small number of miles set to expire. They're not worth much, but if it's possible to keep them alive without too much trouble, we'd like to. It all depends on what you think is trouble, I guess. First off, logging into the MileagePlus site. That should be easy, right? "" is new, of course, and it asks for a number, or username, I give it the latter, out of my PasswordSafe collection. It responds with a remarkable amount of red pixels. (Better go bold, too. User might overlook the fact that it failed.)

! The account information you entered is not valid. PINs are no longer accepted if you have updated your account security, and usernames and emails are currently not accepted. If you’ve forgotten any of your information, please use the links below for help.

MileagePlus Number (username and e-mail address sign-on are currently unavailable)

Fine, whatever. Second try with the good old number works. And now it wants to “enhance security” with a password update and some security questions. “You have 21 days to make these updates.” Or else. They won't ask so politely three weeks from now.

Ignoring that, and moving on to “shopping,” and the possibility of some affinity-tagged deal that will ping the account and keep it alive, I consider the possibilities and see Sears, reminding me I've been meaning to buy some vacuum cleaner bags. There isn't any particular discount deal for those (of course), but... just shopping at Sears looks like it should be enough. Maybe. I click through to... another login form. (Even though the top line shows the "Welcome back" message, indicating I am still logged in.) Don't fight it! Login again! And hey, you've got 21 days for that security update!

Through to, finally, and search for the part number, and find a surprising huge list of variations sold by third parties, the “Sears & marketplace” realm. Prices all over the place, WAY too many choices for quantity and type. Really out of control. How about... a dozen for $10.49, marked down from whatever. Free shipping, allow 10 days. Fine. Yay.

Any chance this 10 step process will actually stay tied to the MileagePlus deal? Seems exceedingly unlikely, and pretty much no way to know for sure. But we can hope. And see. Supposed to be 2 miles per dollar spent, so we should have a 21 mile keep-alive bump. By May 31? On the one hand, what's their incentive for alacrity? On the other, if it's not designed to "just work," how could it work 7 or 15 or 30 days down the road?

At least will have the vacuum cleaner bags.

Oh, I almost forgot: the MileagePlus Shopping Frequently Asked Questions. The "basics" list includes my favorite: Is this a scam? "No, but the process can be a tad confusing...." They answer the FAQ of "when" those precious miles will be posted to your account with "3-5 days," "typically." Or maybe "up to 45 days." One or the other, depending on the store.

Update (5/28): What do you know, it actually worked. I checked the account close to the due date, and 20-some miles had been posted and the expiration pushed out to the end of November, 2017.

9.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not quite breezing to a seventh term Permalink to this item

Terms in the U.S. Senate are six years at a whack, which makes the idea of someone "breezing to a seventh term" a rather amazing thing. You can't do that until you have most of thirty-six years in, for starters, and since you have to be 30 years old to get started, that would be a lot more than what passes for a whole career these days. Three and a half-decades, and pushing for more than four.

Chuck Grassley has been a merry old pol since well before the 1980 election. He put in three terms in the U.S. House, and a decade and a half in the Iowa state legislature before that. He's been a politician for more than half a century, and he still wants more.

That kind of tenure must come with a sense of entitlement that's hard for an ordinary person to imagine. The pinnacle of that expression would be his just saying "no" to even considering the president's nominee for the Supreme Court. Not voting "no," mind you, but trying to prevent anyone from voting, yay, or nay. As if the Constitution's "advice and consent" extended to the point of sabotage and dissent.

That sort of outrageous sense of privilege might be a bridge too far for the octogenarian. The NYT's First Draft column has a list of "surprises in store this week" for Grassley: a report critical of the work of the Judiciary Committee under Grassley; a Wednesday news conference with a group of former supporters now disaffected; highlighting polls showing that Grassley "has been hurt more than other Republicans by his position on Judge Garland," although, not enough (even 20 points not enough) to spoil his chances for another term. Is his goal to die in office?

What else does he have to show for that half a century plus?

The king of broken promises Permalink to this item

Donald Trump celebrates being the "king of debt," which he says he understands "probably better than anybody." He's yuuuge in debt. Having a business go bankrupt is no big deal for him; it's just another way to make a deal to his advantage. Can he work the same "magic" that's boosted his own inherited fortune on the U.S. economy?

Are we collectively stupid enough to sign up for that deal? Or to take him at his word, that he's really, really smart and everyone else totally missed the "opportunity" that only he can see? People who said he's crazy, they're the crazy ones.

"I love debt but you know, debt is tricky and it's dangerous and you have to be careful and you have to know what you're doing."

It's "a great thrill" to make money by buying discounted mortgages. That's all he was talking about. If interest rates go up, we can buy back our debt at a discount, and... issue new debt at the higher rate. Except he didn't say that. And the idea that his knowledge of real estate debt somehow translates to understanding of municipal (let alone international) finance debt is as preposterous as most of his clown show.

"All I said is that if interest rates go up, we'll have a chance to buy back bonds at a discount, which is standard. Certainly I'm not talking about renegotiating with creditors."

Good to know, even if that's not actually "all he said" last week. What the NYT said he said:

Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” He added, “And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can’t lose.”

So yeah, it was a vague and possibly meaningless enough hand-waving notion that of course he didn't mean anything by any of that. Just another win-win if you like Trump Kool-aid.

Is this all part of the wheeling and dealing, where Trump says one thing, and then turns around and says the opposite, or something equally bizarre in a different direction? It seems like a random walk by a deranged ego, but if it were a strategy... even if an accidental one, it could be unexpectedly brilliant. Does the power of contradiction explain Trump's smashing success? If you say everything, anyone listening can choose to believe whatever they want to.

"Blatant contradiction puts the responsibility back onto the shoulders of the listener. If I simply deny what I earlier affirmed and act as if nothing has happened, then you are left having to decide what I really meant. And psychology, as well as common sense, tells us that human beings are prone to “confirmation bias.” That is, we tend to interpret evidence so that it conforms to what we already believe."

Say it loudly, and confidently.

"Mr. Trump’s explicit lack of authenticity is what makes him so authentic. He is like a walking oxymoron (which is perhaps not surprising, given that reality TV is the medium in which he has most flourished). To some, that he is contradicting himself so freely shows that he really doesn’t care what “they” (read: the news media, liberals, women, minorities) think. The signal this sends is one of strength: Only the strong can afford not to care."

8.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Grandma's got a gun Permalink to this item

Nevada assemblywoman, Congressional hopeful, and ammosexual pinup girl Michele Fiore takes the "good guy with a gun" concept one step further. Really, you can only trust yourself, so hey, if a law enforcement officer points a gun at you, you're good to prepare to return fire. "She said that self-defense includes the right to aim back at anyone who points a gun at you first—and to put your own life ahead of theirs."

What could possibly go wrong?

Fiore made some news in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge story earlier this year, acting as a voice of reason, sort of. (It's a low bar.) One of the other actors in all that, fellow by the name of Michael Emry, is also in the news this weekend, getting arrested for having a full-auto .50 caliber machine gun. With the serial number filed off, to, uh, hide is tracks or something. As an added plot twist, the FBI rounded up Emry in John Day, home of the "constitutional" Sheriff who was sympathetic to the Bundy clan's anti-federal cause.

6.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let's make a deal Permalink to this item

The guy who wrote the book that nobody I know will admit to reading, and who presided over a ton of business failures while keeping his own account flush through bankuptcy after bankruptcy has a "brilliant" idea for how to make America great again, with less debt: "you could make a deal."

That's right, he thinks he could talk the creditors of the United States of America into taking a discount on our full faith and credit. Binyamin Appelbaum notes drily that "Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent." And more directly:

"Mr. Trump’s statement might show the limits of translating his business acumen into the world of government finance. The United States simply cannot pursue a similar strategy. The government runs an annual deficit, so it must borrow to retire existing debt. Any measures that would reduce the value of the existing debt, making it cheaper to repurchase, would increase the cost of issuing new debt. Such a threat also could undermine the stability of global financial markets."

Maybe one of the brilliant people Trump is certain to be hiring for his team could come up to speed by reading a Wikipedia article on the subject, or perhaps something from the government itself and learn that the apart from the 41% of Treasury Securities held by the Federal Reserve and intragovernmental holdings, there's the quarter held by banks and depository institutions, US savings bond holders, private and state and local government pension funds, insurance companies, and mutual funds.

Singling out the foreign and international investors he imagines could take a haircut with no recourse wouldn't be quite as easy as filing for another Trump Company bankruptcy.

5.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Welcoming our new galactic overlord Permalink to this item

The Republican Party has been barking at the bus and running after it for all these years, and now... they caught it! The day of reckoning, or at least one hell of a hangover must now be dealt with. They've run through denial, anger, bargaining and depression, mostly. Is it time for grudging acceptance? Reince Preibus came around quickly enough, but he's had some practice with contortionism.

Others are lining up to declare that party loyalty trumps sanity. Idaho's Tea Party darling Congressman (and "staunch conservative") Raúl Labrador gets a sentence, saying he would support Mr. Trump but derided him for “not knowing much about the Constitution or politics.” As opposed to... himself, some sort of Constitutional scholar and political whiz. (Tell us the one about the 2014 GOP state convention fiasco you presided over again, uncle Raúl!)

It's not about who turned out to be the nominee, or why things have gone so horribly insane, it's just about The Party, so never mind hating women and banning Muslims and mob violence and self-funding by the really, really rich guy who keeps declaring bankruptcy, it's time to raise money! And cut your losses if you need to. Or polish that résumé:

"Some staff members at the Republican National Committee were told Wednesday that if they were unable to get behind the nominee, they should leave by the end of the week."

Other political staffers are suddenly "too busy" to return calls, but the lubricious Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, found something to celebrate. Mr. Trump had “the opportunity and the obligation to unite our party around our goals,” the statement read, tiptoeing around the elephant, ever so carefully. The retroactively prescient William Kristol opined that he thought “people are underestimating the degree to which you could see a crisis in the Republican Party,” as if he'd fallen asleep last June and just woke up.

With a splitting headache.

And a lot to write about just how wrong everyone was about Trump's chances. No way. Zero chance. Absolutely a joke. Doomed, sooner or later.

4.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Semifinal Permalink to this item

As the vapors suggesting we might have not one but two contested national party conventions this time around burn off in the bright sun of the final primary contests (Bernie's "big win" in Indiana, after Hillary punted notwithstanding), there is some time to mine the last couple millennia of literature to make sense of our Zeitgeist. Andrew Sullivan has at it, at length, for NY Magazine, starting with Plato's Republic, where he finds that the apotheosis of democracy, "a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery" creating the fairest regime of all makes a fetid breeding ground for a tyrant.

"He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities."

Can it happen here? Did the Founding Fathers do their homework sufficiently well "to guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob" with the "large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power"? We seem poised to find out the answers, as this revolution will be televised. The "truly revolutionary form" of the "media democracy" that has run out ahead of our ability to understand what we're doing to ourselves, "everyone became a kind of blogger" as we enjoy "peer-to-peer" storytelling "almost completely free of editing or interference" and the editorial judgement of elites.

Eight years ago, the disparate possibilities were made evident between upstart celebrities. We "lucked out at first" by electing the one with "a preternaturally rational and calm disposition" instead of the outsider "tailor-made for reality TV, proud of her own ignorance about the world." But this "John the Baptist for the true messiah of conservative populism" did not disappear, she was "waiting patiently and strategically for his time to come."

This is an old, well-worn genre, for as much as it seems impossibly brand new. Plato, after all. Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. Eric Hoffer's 1951 classic, The True Believer. The Donald as Buzz Windrip, or less obscurely, Biff Tannen, "a blonde, casino-owning jackass living in a Vegas-style palace." We just don't know if we're on the verge of comedy, or genunine tragedy.

"Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. And so current poll numbers are only reassuring if you ignore the potential impact of sudden, external events — an economic downturn or a terror attack in a major city in the months before November. I have no doubt, for example, that Trump is sincere in his desire to “cut the head off” ISIS, whatever that can possibly mean. But it remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally."

Industrial strength white privilege Permalink to this item

It's one thing to get elected Governor in one of the states that started as a colony, and then to accept a "gifts in return for favors" (as Zephyr Teachout delicately puts it for the New York Times), or what we used to just call "bribes." The good, old-fashioned kind, too: expensive vacations, a Rolex, a $20,000 shopping spree, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding and tens of thousands of dollars in private loans.

Not sure how six weeks ranks for trial duration or complexity, but Teachout says "it was not a complicated case," and back in September 2014, a jury convicted Bob McDonnell and his wife for what they did.

Here's the privilege: appealing the case to the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds. Money talks, don't you know, and Bob and Mo were just enjoying the freedom of their expression.

"And the justices seem poised to agree. Their main worry appeared to be that Mr. McDonnell’s prosecution had criminalized what they perceived as normal, day-to-day political behavior — seemingly more concerned for the chilling effect of federal bribery law on an elected official who accepts a Rolex than for the citizens who are hurt by such self-serving behavior. ...

"In its Citizens United ruling, the court gutted campaign finance laws. It acknowledged that American politics faced the threat of gift-givers and donors trying to corrupt the system, but it held that campaign finance laws were the wrong way to deal with that problem; bribery laws were the better path. Now, though, the court seems ready to gut bribery laws, saying that campaign finance laws provide a better approach. But if both campaign finance laws and bribery laws are now regarded as problematic, what’s left?"

Maybe SCOTUS will come up with something, but if Teachout's read of their lean is correct, and the court enshrines a "right" to sell access to the highest bidder, count the credibility of our highest court among the casualties.

2.May.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bad ideas that won't go away Permalink to this item

Idaho Co. Commissioner's Jim Chmelik's raving conspiracy theory, dispensed at an "educational" event that just happened to look a lot like campaigning for a bunch of the folks who were there.

"As soon as they get done working on getting us kicked off these lands, they’re going to come after your private property. That’s their goal."

Funny thing is, I'm a lot more concerned about the likes of Chmelik coming after our public property than I am about ... is it the Army Corps of Engineers he thinks is going to implement the socialistic takeover? Dispensing below-cost rural electrification and irrigation projects to lull us into docility?

For his part, former Idaho Sen. and Governor-wannabe Russ Fulcher said some sensible things about the differences between the manufacturing and resource-based jobs of yore and today's "service-based" jobs. Before running off the rails himself. Not that there's anything wrong with honest service, but "if you want to focus on real wealth creation," apparently you have to dig it out of the ground, or cut it off the land.

"[Rep. Judy] Boyle [(Far right-Midvale)] argued that public lands are poorly managed by the federal government, and in turn they have been destroyed by wildfires. Critics argue that managing wildfires on public lands would put Idaho in debt. According to a 2014 study by the University of Idaho’s Policy Analysis Group, taking control of federal public lands could cost Idaho $111 million a year.

"Fulcher said those costs could be offset by cashing in on Idaho’s natural, albeit non-renewable, resources, including gold, silver and natural gas."

That's right. There's gold, silver and gas in them thar hills, and if we dig it up, why we'll be able to use it to manage land that the federal government should give us to manage, because we are So Much Smarter And Closer To It than they are. If you don't believe me, just ask Chmelik, Boyle or Fulcher.

May Day Permalink to this item

How did we overload the 1st of May and dancing strewn with spring flowers with a distress call, I wonder? They were intertwined in my mind yesterday, as I was making my third road trip in as many weeks, in a third direction: from Boise to Bend and back, to retrieve our river gear that the next party down the Owyhee R. behind us had picked up and hauled out. Their trip continued past Three Forks to Rome, where they took out on Saturday, searched up my phone number from what was in my wallet and called me on their way home to the other side of Oregon.

I could've saved myself the trouble of cancelling the credit card I'd carried, and replacing my driver's license last week, if only I'd known someone was going to collect it all, look after it, and get it back to us.

The drive gave me a chance to stop in Ontario and pick up copies of the Argus Observer; our story running in the Sunday edition, under the catchy headline "Stranded" at the top left of the front page. After a very brief initial report earlier in the week, based on what the Sheriff office's had given her, Mackenzie McCreary did a nice job of bugging me for more information and turning it into a feature. (She wanted to talk to me on the phone, and I put her off thinking I was too busy for that, then spent a lot more time writing up a long account and sending it by email. As often happens, it was only in the writing things down that many of the pieces fit together for me.)

One of the sidebar items for lessons learned got a bit confused, from my failure to make myself clear. Having stuff "in lots of dry bags" goes without saying on a river trip; the "know where things are" was about the fact that most dry bags are opaque, and our retrospective interest in distributing essential gear in such a way as to still have enough essentials if you lose a boat. (Lose a boat?! Yeah, that's beyond the typical calamity you plan for, but it could happen.)

The other thing clear in retrospect is the importance of communication in an environment where it's so hard to come by. Matt's and my final camp was downstream of where David had pulled out the remainder of our jetsam. I didn't know, and even though I went back and forth along the stretch where it was, I never saw it. It must've been in one of those stretches where big boulders along the bank made it easier to traverse up higher through the juniper, or smaller rocks. It was obvious from the river, not so obvious from where I was hiking back and forth. As far as I knew, our stuff was down a lazy river and beyond our retrieval.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007