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29.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of bad hiring decisions Permalink to this item

We now have THREE, count 'em, THREE of the black-robed nine in live corruption scandals. A full third of the high bench. (Not that "corruption" is even a thing anymore, thanks to... the Supreme Court's undefinition of it seven years ago!)

Mrs. Chief Justice John Roberts (a.k.a. Jane), made $10.3 million in commissions from elite law firms, whistleblower documents show.

Shamelessness is an innoculation against accountability, we're finding out. In that regard, a dishonorable mention to at least one more associate justice, Brett "I like beer" Kavanaugh, for whom the Senate investigation into assault allegations against him "contained serious omissions." That was kind of obvious back in the day, but The Guardian rounds up the usual cast of characters (*cough* Leonard *cough* Leo, Christopher Wray, and more) to flesh out the taint of Yale.

Just whisper it to me Permalink to this item

Kevin Richert reports for Idaho Education News that the State Board of Education has banned written ‘diversity statements’ for job applicants in our state's higher ed. Did we have any of those?

“The board is not aware of any specific concerns by faculty in Idaho, nor the extent to which diversity statements have been used for hiring decisions at Idaho’s public postsecondary institutions,” board staff said in a memo to State Board members.

But hey, no need to let facts get in the way. We need to nip this boogieman in the pre-bud.

Idaho’s four-year schools will no longer be able to require job applicants to sign written “diversity statements.” After brief discussion, the State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday banning the statements “as a condition of hiring.”

But by all means, let's “continue to create and nurture a safe, welcoming and dynamic learning environment of belonging for all students.” Since we don't have an Actual Problem (right?), we'll just have to imagine what a You Must Sign this Diversity Statement might have looked like, and sure, we could agree that it would be perfunctory at best. And this: "The resolution addresses only written statements, not questions in a job interview, said TJ Bliss, the State Board’s chief academic officer."

Funny he should bring that up; it brings to mind one durable observation from an Organizational Development class back in the day: job interviews are most effective for selecting candidates most like the interviewer. An unwritten homogeneity statement that nobody's going to be signing.

The other durable observation is that "diversity" is not a value, but a spectrum. Its poles can be oversimplified as Groupthink, and Civil War. You can have too little, and you can have too much. Those insights came over the course of the decades I was interviewing job candidates and helping to make corporate hiring decisions. I still remember the "best" candidates we hired from interview teams I was on, and that I thought they were a lot like me (only better, as it turned out). It's also why one bad hiring decision can spell disaster for an organization.

At the other end of Richert's piece, we read that enrollment in the U of I’s college of education, and student teacher placements remain "well below pre-pandemic levels." The new Dean blames the pandemic, and the "national assault" on the teaching profession.

"[Brooke] Blevins said salaries contribute to the teacher shortage — especially in Idaho border communities, where teachers can collect a $10,000 to $15,000 raise by crossing the state line."

Border communities such as... Moscow, Idaho, where the University of Idaho has been in business right next to the border for more than 130 years, 8 miles away from Washington State University in Pullman.

Photo from Moscow, Idaho, 2003

28.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Economics is now everyone's subject Permalink to this item

HCR's Aril 27 daily recounts the latest pyrrhic victory in our House of Representatives; Kevin McCarthy managed to squeak a winning vote on a debt ceiling bill that "everyone knew [] was dead on arrival at the Senate." Yay? The rest of her post is a good read, outlining National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan's explanation of the importance of America's economic leadership. Economics is about national security.

Earlier this week, I'd taken the trouble to write my congressman, Mike Simpson, and unlike the "2-3 weeks" his auto-acknowledgement says I should expect it to take for a thoughtful selection of boilerplate replies, he got right back to me. Two days! Says there I contacted him "regarding the federal debt limit and H.R. 2811, the Limit, Save, Grow Act."

I did not know about the House Resolution, which might be better titled the Symbolic Crash And Burn Act. SCABA.

"This legislation would responsibly raise the federal debt limit while capping discretionary spending levels over the next 10 years, rescinding some of the recent astronomical government spending, reining in bureaucracy, and unleashing American energy. H.R. 2811 passed the House of Representatives with my support on April 26, 2023, and is now under consideration by the Senate. You may wish to contact Senators Crapo and Risch with your thoughts."

Why am I thinking about Pontius Pilate just now? Anyway, it goes on at what passes for thoughtful length about how sensible and reasonable this DOA bill is. "House Republicans have set the table in negotiating a raise in the debt limit while curbing federal spending."

At best, that's disingenuous gaslighting. More to the point, a lie. He won't be getting back to me in two days for this next letter, I don't suppose.

Dear Congressman Simpson:

Thank you for the prompt reply to my email of April 25, with some detail about the just-passed HR 2811. It sounds like it had some good provisions in it, but taken as a whole, I'm sure you're aware that it will be dead on arrival in the Senate, for good reasons.

Here's the thing: you write that "House Republicans have set the table in negotiating a raise in the debt limit while curbing federal spending."

THE DEBT LIMIT MUST NOT BE SUBJECT TO "NEGOTIATION." THE FULL FAITH AND CREDIT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA MUST NOT BE MADE A PAWN IN A POLITICAL CONTEST OVER FUTURE SPENDING. You know politics is the art of compromise. The attempt to use the debt limit as a hostage to "negotiate" past decisions you don't like is a RECIPE FOR DISASTER.

I know you're aware of this; you have a lot of experience, and are a thoughtful person.

Raise the debt ceiling. Then work on legitimate negotiation for the budget.

Dan Froomkin describes the "both sides" game that's afoot: Republicans threaten to tank economy. Media blames Biden. The "good journalism" description of our current status, with my emphasis added:

House Republicans are refusing to let the government keep paying its bills unless the Biden administration rolls back some of its signature achievements.

It’s a demand that neither the Senate nor Biden will ever agree to.

Raising the debt limit is a procedural move that allows the Treasury to make good on existing commitments. It’s not a budget bill.

But House Republicans appear to be ready to default on the debt if they don’t get their way. Such a default would be catastrophic for the U.S and world economies, and could permanently damage the dollar’s status as the de facto global currency.

This is not "a normal, two-sided partisan squabble." Thom Hartmann suggests something darker: Why the GOP May Actually Want a Second Great Depression; it would be a great buying (and legislating) opportunity for the "morbidly rich." Or as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich toots succinctly, the GOP strategy is:

  1. Cut taxes for the rich & corporations, claiming they'll pay for themselves
  2. Explode the deficit
  3. Use the debt & deficit as an excuse to demand cuts to programs that millions rely on
  4. Repeat

They're trying to get away with it again. We can't let them.

Inevitably Permalink to this item

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26.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just another failed demagogue Permalink to this item

One of Carlson's faces

In part of Rachel Maddow's sendoff for the latest ("smaller and smaller") media demagogue, Tucker Carlson (I saw the MSNBC video excerpt on the Daily Beast), she's got a list of the current policy proposals Republicans are promoting.

Rolling back child labor laws, "to relax regulations that prevent children from working long hours in dangerous conditions," for example. Missouri Republicans trying to defund all public libraries. Taking away health insurance from millions on Medicaid. Making sure student debt remains a thing. Blocking rape victims from receiving emergency contraception.

"Because who among us doesn't see a mainstream American voting issue in forcing women who have been raped—forcing women who have been raped—to bear the child of the rapist against their will?"

And not just banning abortion, but changing the rules for voter initiatives to keep reconsideration of those laws from getting on a ballot. "And that's just... today, a snapshot of how things are going with the Republican Party in their effort to win over the American people to the popularity of their ideas."

The business of conservative media will proceed apace. And "the red states" (hello Idaho!) and the red-hijacked states (hello Wisconsin!) will be dealing with the fallout of extremist mismanagement for a long time to come.

Father Coughlin, May 1934 Radio Stars magazine

The references to Charles Edward "Father" Coughlin prompted me to look him up, and find the year-ago "This Day in History" PBS piece, The Father Coughlin Story. ICYMI Sunday afternoons in the 1930s and a "voice rich and vibrant" out of the National Shrine of the Little Flower that reached nearly one in four Americans:

“When we get through with the Jews of America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing,” he said in 1938. Moreover, “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted.” As for democracy, it was “doomed,” he asserted in 1936. “This is our last election. It is fascism or communism. We are at the crossroads. I take the road to fascism.”

He backed a candidate you doubtless don't remember, North Dakota's William Lemke, who asterisked out with fewer than a million votes. The page about Coughlin on Wikipedia is an interesting read. As is the fact that he was both authoritarian ("questioning the value of elections") and obedient in the end. After WW II started, and his boss, the bishop that supported his side gig was replaced, the Roosevelt administration worked to squelch him. The new boss did not stick up for Coughlin and he went back to just being an obscure parish priest.

As for the squelching of prior Tuck, it's not the Catholic Church, but rumor has it Fock Snooze has its ways. Maybe those rumors are "patently absurd and categorically false," but Occam's razor slices otherwise.

25.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bit part Permalink to this item

The 30,000 ft. view of the "information age" might be outlined as:

  1. Design, build, and distribute ever-cheaper computing power
  2. Connect that power, and all users
  3. Make the world's information readily accessible
  5. Empower everyone to generate tons of shared content
  6. Suck it all up into AI and see what happens
Desert View Watchtower, south rim of the Grand Canyon, March 2023

No one knows what will happen next, but everybody's trying to guess. My dad's early foray into business computing involved programs stored on cassette tapes. I punched cards in a FORTRAN class in the 70s, a programmable calculator for my engineering classes 42 years ago, and bought a "personal computer" (that cost $thousands, even with a 50% employee discount) the first year I worked for HP.

I did my part as a cog in the global machine for steps 0, 1, 2, 4. Spectating at first (while mostly doing my day job), and then participating in the wave of blogging, I could see how human discernment, packaged in searchable chunks of referrals, could be mined for its value to others. In a word, Google. Step 4 was a vast experiment in democratization, with predictably uneven (and sometimes disastrous) results. Back when the Internet was a pretty exclusive club, one of the worst things that happened was the MAKE MONEY FAST chain email. That was on the way to spam being more than 80% of email volume in 2011. (I'm surprised to see it has receded to "only" about half in the last decade.)

AI and spam have not yet merged, as a sample report this morning, with a subject "Letter For New ATM Card" and this resistable bait shows:

Attention Beneficiary

You are legally contacted regards to the release of your long awaiting payment of $10Million. After a detailed review of your file,I wish to inform you that your Swift Credit Card payment is being process and will be...

In between that and a message (not) from "CITIBANK OF AMERICA" that "is very urgent and urgent attention is needed," there are two pitches for AI Pro is Live- Create & Sell Marketing Videos, Images, Content In 3 Clicks, because AI and advertising are an inevitable couple. This one salutes us as "Hi Folks."

"Every business owner needs plagiarism free content, attention grabbing images, eye catchy graphics to get higher SERPs & engage maximum audience to their offers.But, Major third party platforms charge a HUGE monthly fee that is way..."

Hi, I suppose. So high that AI Pro apparently can't afford it for itself. because "plagiarism-free," "attention-grabbing," "eye-catching," a space after a period, and "major," not "Major" unless you're a politician riling the Base.

The barriers to entry (even setting up a free account to play) have kept me out of the fun, but Steven Rosenberg explains on Axios How we all became AI's brain donors. I took the jump at the second link to the Washington Post analysis (Inside the secret list of websites that make AI like ChatGPT sound smart), labeled "enter any domain name," to enter mine. As one does.

Excerpt of Fig. 2A from US Patent #5,901,916

In Google's "Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus" (C4, of course, the new plastic explosive), I'm told's rank is 627,729th (but hey, out of 15 million, that's 95th percentile, baby), with 37k "tokens" purloined, forming... 0.00002% of C4's verbal fuel, after being "heavily filtered," and having its gibberish, duplicative and naughty bits removed. Not sure if George Carlin could make "402 terms in English and one emoji (a hand making a common but obscene gesture)" funny if he were still around, but probably? Try to yuk it up with would be harder; that makes up the single largest tranche of C4, 0.46% of all its tokens, ahead of in 2nd place, at 0.19%.

A tiny fraction of the patents fraction came from me too, sort of; the drawings in my baker's dozen are more of my work than any of the turgid patent prose. See if you can get your AI to string together 178 words into one glorious sentence such as claim 1 of Tape cartridge reel lock, why don't you?

In the meantime, wave to the cameras everybody, YOU'RE ON LIVE AI!

24.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Waiting, still in the dark Permalink to this item

Saw the Space Weather alert yesterday, talking about all the way down to Alabama, and then comfortable in the evening a friend's one-word Facebook post, "AURORA." I hadn't heard back from my favorite dark sky guy about something go-to in our neighborhood, but looking over the terrain, for a view to the north, settled on the top of Horseshoe Bend hill as the best nearby chance. Our sky was still broken clouds, occasional showers, the crescent moon and Venus visible, dodging in and out. 11pm, the roads were mostly dark, anyway, and I zoomed into the night, saw the left turn sign for Summit Ridge Road, just after Spring Valley Summit, and figured that was it. So had three other carloads, and I found a place to pull off and park as quickly as I could, so I could turn off my horrid headlights.

Photo of a relief map, in Page, AZ

It had dark, pretty much. The small town to the NNE (I see it is now, from the map) has some wasted light, but not too bad. The moon was still setting, and the sky was mostly full of clouds. Alas. I walked down the road in the dark, listened to the frogs (or toads? idk), happy in the wet roadside drainage, walked back up the road. I forget whether it was before car #3 had packed it in, or after, but at car #2, somebody was outside, leaning against the front fender, gazing northward.

"How long are we prepared to wait?" was my conversation-opener in the dark so deep we could not see each other's faces. She said she'd like to wait all night, but the kids (who were with her and her husband) had school in the morning... I told her of that One Time I'd Seen the Aurora, on the way from Moscow to Spokane for an airport pickup, stopping on the old road outside Rosalia, and finding out the borrowed car's old battery was not going. So I had a good long while to enjoy the astounding show, and a good Samaritan.

She told me of the One Time She Had Not Seen the Aurora, a child of 8 or 9 traveling with her parents who did see it, but apparently could not rouse her to share the experience. (Oh, and that reminds me of the total eclipse that whooshed over Moscow one dreary, overcast morning. You can't not see a total eclipse, but nobody longs for the overcast version. Fortunately, I had a lovely anticipatory dream of seeing the corona, the night before.)

Sadly, she and they did not wait all night, and were gone before me, as I was walking down the road, and then back up, before slipping back home into the overbright city, leaving my headlights off as long as I dared, getting by car #1, waiting still.

As a postscript, while I've never been a fan of gigantic subdivisions spreading into the foothills around Boise, I will say that Avimor has apparently covenanted their way to subdued outdoor lighting.

And more to the point, I guess, yeah, other people had their night, in Utah, and Kentucky, maybe? but reported in the Louisville Courier Journal, "maybe" and 28 other states, but definitely with photos from the Petoskey News-Review in the Upper Peninsula (which are not on the PN-R pages that I can find, huh. File photos?!).

And here we had Idaho, too. In Atomic City, no less.

Earth Day +1, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Running out of time Permalink to this item

If I've accumulated any wisdom over the years (and how would I know, really?), there would be one fact in the mix: I am not going to finish the reading assignment. A large part of the problem is that I want to write about each interesting thing I come across, and keep interrupting myself. And being interrupted of course, by necessities, and commitments. That's starting to sound like the meta-column I allowed myself—just once, I hope—back when I was writing for an actual newspaper, and getting paid for it. (A student newspaper, ok, but now in its third century.) My oeuvre is probably too obscure for anyone to find another instance, but 23 years into this blog, there's plenty of repetition.

Tulips photo, yesterday

Now then, back to the week-ago Sunday Times. (After, excuse me, I wade through a long scroll in the Opinion section, and load another half-dozenmore than a dozen tabs, ICIMI.) Thom Friedman's two-page think piece, America, China and a Crisis of Trust is worth the time to read. After that headline teased the story from the section front page, the inside headline was "What Are American and China Fighting About?" Controlling the world, pretty much. (Of course, we want to do it in a good way, and we don't think China is as virtuous.)

It's probably not a shock to see it, but for context: "the two countries in 2022 set a record in annual bilateral trade." We're not letting a little authoritarianism get in the way of business, it seems, after the decade of Xi Jinping's having "centralized power into his own hands, crushed all the fiefs that had been created by different leaders of different government agencies and sectors of the economy, re-injected the authority of the Communist Party into every corner of business, academia and society and deployed pervasive surveillance technologies."

"Combined with China’s failure to come clean on what it knew about the origins of Covid-19, its crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, its aggressive moves to lay claim to the South China Sea, its increasing saber rattling toward Taiwan, its cozying up to Vladimir Putin (despite his savaging of Ukraine), Xi’s moves toward making himself president for life, his kneecapping of China’s own tech entrepreneurs, his tighter restrictions on speech and the occasional abduction of a leading Chinese businessman—all of these added up to one very big thing: Whatever trust that China had built up with the West since the late 1970s evaporated at the exact moment in history when trust, and shared values, became more important than ever in a world of deep, dual-use products driven by software, connectivity and microchips."

There's more than I'm going to summarize, so see for yourself. The one thing that jumped out at me this morning was in his wind-up, and meant as exhortation for the two sides to sort this out. (Not that Xi is taking advice from Friedman.)

"I believe that we are doomed to compete with each other, doomed to cooperate with each other and doomed to find some way to balance the two. Otherwise we are both going to have a very bad 21st century."

It's the "otherwise" that got me. I do what I can to maintain an optimistic outlook, but it's pretty well certain I won't see half of this century. The times are amply "interesting" these two decades in. Beyond the geopolitics, the international horse race, and Friedman's pet "flat earth" theory, as a fractious and warring "community," we have our sights set on mutally assured ecological devastation, with the bills coming due this century. It's nice to hear that he thinks Beijing and Shanghai are now "very livable cities, with the air pollution largely erased" and lots of new parks, and that "some 900 cities and towns in China are now served by high-speed rail."

But if we don't change direction, we're going to get where we're headed.

Also (considered) reading, or at least skimming:

And then today's paper, presumably.

Earth Day, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jesus take the wheel Permalink to this item

Reading some of last Sunday's paper newspaper (which I often don't get to) and in the old-fashioned "read everything" way, I didn't just do a quick eyeroll and pass Ross Douthat's offering by. Why DeSantis Has to Run Next Year headline-promised to tell us. (It was a NYT column; freebie link to the American Enterprise Institute, which reprinted it. With permission? Who knows.)

There's no religious angle in it that I can see, and I thought that was Douthat's regular beat. Maybe he's just a Sunday Catholic, and he wrote this on another day. It's just another load of horse race manure, and political calculation. Niccolò Machiavelli makes an appearance. Morality, not so much.

21.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And the walls came a-tumblin' down Permalink to this item

Song just popped into my head after reading HCR's 4/20 Letter. I'm not naïve enough to imagine accountability will just happen (Clarence *cough* and Ginni *cough* Thomas), but it's happening to some of the bad actors of late. A party depending on suppressing Gen Z voting indefinitely seems not so likely to maintain its minority rule much longer. They won't go quietly, we know that.

It's not easy to resist Schadenfreude while reading about Georgia's fake electors turning on each other; My Pillow guy losing $5 million on a contest he set up, thinking no one would take it seriously; Tennessee House members falling by the wayside for just cause; that judge in Texas who might not be as unimpeachable as Clarence Thomas; and the $787.5 million victory for Dominion over Fox News (with another, $2.7 billion suit from Smartmatic simmering).

Can it really all come a-cropper all of a sudden? Yeah, probably not, but it is nice to be at least some reckonings come due.

Duck and cover Permalink to this item

Not really my subject, but it's what came to mind when reading Oliver Willis Explains, "Conservatives, Not 'The Left' Are Making Young Americans 'Woke'." If I ever did an actual duck and cover drill, it was at most once or twice; I think I was just young enough to miss those. But not too young to wonder whether the family shouldn't maybe have a fallout shelter. We did have a basement, which was full of interesting adventures, but not somewhere you'd want to stay overnight, let alone for a week. Or month.

Fast forward a half century and then some, how we doin'? Not exactly laughing it off:

"This is a generation that has grown up with the concept of mass shooting drills in their schools. From an early age they’ve been taught lessons in survival that involve hiding behind school desks and barricading classroom doors so they can possibly survive a massacre instigated by an adult or one of their fellow students wielding a weapon like an AR-15."

I have no idea what that would be like, month after month, year after year. Just as I have no idea how Scott Walker, one of the anti-woke mob Willis highlights, could be so clueless, after spending a lot more time in Madison than I did. The "theory" that “radical indoctrination” by the left is causing Republicans to lose so many elections is the epitome of keeping your mind tightly closed.

"What is really happening in America is that young Americans are lashing out at the nightmares built by years of conservative policy and rhetoric, because those toxic ideas are making their lives worse. ...

"This is a generation of Americans who were on the frontlines of a global pandemic, who saw a conservative movement reject basic science when it came to vaccination. The right wing movement took up arms [literally!] over the suggestion that people use masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and they pushed quack medical cures while real scientific experts offered vaccines that ultimately proved vital to bringing the world back to normal. ...

"Young Americans have seen the conservative establishment openly embrace bigotry on a massive scale. ...

"The right could have a moment of self-examination. They could reflect on what they have built and consider moving away from their hardline, becoming less bigoted and exploitative of prejudicial fears and pseudoscientific bullshit. They could offer an alternative path to liberalism with real policy.

"Also, unicorns."

Tax Day, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Apologist in chief Permalink to this item

Looking back in the blog for when Jim "Gym" Jordan hit my radar, I'm not sure, but maybe Valentine's Day, 2019? Headline was As crazy as all that sounds, and it started with Liz Cheney mischaracterizing her opposition, back when she was still in leadership, and fundraising to take back the House. Things don't always go to plan.

For Jordan's part, he was accusing leaders in the FBI for having "poltted against the president," using as evidence the fact that the president in question had fired them, or they were demoted, and then quit or were fired.

Four years later, and Jordan is still trying to block and tackle for the now ex-president, twice-impeached, and up to his spray-on tan in legal troubles. Jordan took the weaponized House Judiciary committee on a field trip to New York to try some rat-a-tat-tatting at the city, and the Manhattan District Attorney. Because... mayhem is so high in New York City, why would anyone want to prosecute a "one-man crime wave"?

Jordan does not let facts get in his way. Others had to point out that "the murder rate in Columbus, Ohio — a much shorter trip from Jordan’s district than New York City — is three times higher than that of Gotham." (And whoops, "House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s hometown of Bakersfield, California, had double the murder rate of New York in 2020.") Michael Waldman, for the Brennan Center for Justice, opines on Jim Jordan’s Crime Misfire, depart[ing] from any recognizable form of congressional oversight" in an attempt to defend Trump by distracting prosecutors. It's going to be a busy job. After (or while) the prosecution for hiding hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels plays out (at some sort of glacial pace),

"The civil trial for alleged rape brought by E. Jean Carroll against Trump starts soon. A grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, will likely bring charges in May for Trump’s effort to undo the results of the 2020 election. Even the classified document probe seems to be heating up, with Trump’s lawyer recusing himself from the case, a sign he may be called as a witness in a criminal trial of his client."

That's "soon" as in next week. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, denied the request for a one month "cooling off" period for publicity to die down, ha ha, noting that

"at least some portion of the recent media coverage of Mr. Trump’s indictment was of his own doing. There has been no shortage of recent news articles focused on Mr. Trump’s own public statements on his social media platform and in press conferences and interviews he has given about his indictment. It does not sit well for Mr. Trump to promote pretrial publicity and then to claim that coverage that he promoted was prejudicial to him and should be taken into account as supporting a further delay.

H/t to KeithDB on Daily Kos for a link to Kaplan's memorandum and order.

17.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Off the rails Permalink to this item

It's not like there's no news on Monday, even though there's no local newspaper on that day of the week anymore. It must be nice to have a day off, but still, for a some-time ink-stained wretch, it seems strange. The Idaho Press (and doubtless many other papers) is filling the gap with an electronic edition, named NATIONAL NEWS, billed as "a supplement to your hometown newspaper," from the Adams Publishing Group. It combines facsimile views, slightly more readable text, and stuff. Not just national, either: the front page splash is "Europe's most powerful nuclear reactor kicks off," which I think is good news, out of Helsinki. They can use the 1600 MW, what with next-door neighboring Russia cutting off "oil, gas and other power supplies" to them. The image is of the turbine hall, under construction, 12 years ago. And G-7 news, out of Karuizawa, Japan. Page 2 has the interesting-to-everyone national weather map (Hello Wisconsin! is having some snow today, high/low 38/25 for Madison).

California's "super-bloom" is in the news, mention of images from space, which are not nearly as nice as the close-up view, which is not in the NATIONAL NEWS for the day. See here, on Patch: Super Bloom 2023: Photos From Space To A Bug's Eye View.

Sept. 2010 photo at Boise Depot

And the latest train derailment, because "Derailments and railroad safety have been a growing concern nationwide since the fiery Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment outside East Palestine, Ohio."

In case you missed it, the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads completed their merger on Friday, becoming Canadian Pacific Kansas City, unimaginatively. The day 1 derailment was three locomotives and "six train cars carrying lumber and electrical wiring" went off the track, and 3+4 caught fire. News from the AP out of SANDWICH ACADEMY GRANT TOWNSHIP, Maine, said oh wait, there were also "two cars carrying the flammable liquids ethanol and pentamethylheptane" that derailed, too. Fortunately, those "escaped the fire and no chemicals spilled," per a CPKC spokesperson. Officials said there was no public threat, or evacuation, just three workers treated and released over the weekend.

Back when it was the hot topic, some of the right-wing nut jobs were accusing the Biden administration of somehow orchestrating a conspiracy to punish Ohio through the NS derailment and/or response to the catastrophe. No, really. I'm not sure where I got the numbers, but I had a 2001-2022 time-series starting with seven years near or over 2,000 derailments a year. More than five a day. On March 9, after a derailment in Montana had made news, USA Today reported that in 1979 there were 7,482 derailments, more than 20 a day!

Earlier this month, there was another big derailment on Montana Raillink. It's hard to keep track.

Anyway, we're down to around a thousand a year, a big improvement, "only" an average of three a day. More than half of all RR accidents happen in rail yards, at low speed, and with minimal damage. Only a few dozens were classified as "serious" in 2022. And compared to what? "There were 67 hazmat leaks from highway transportation for every rail [incident?] last year, according to federal records."

The mass shootings will continue whether or not morale improves Permalink to this item

Perry Bacon Jr.'s opinion piece headline was still fresh in mind this morning: Only the Republican Party can end our mass shootings epidemic (gift link to WaPo). Any day of the week can include horrific details of "the ongoing national wave of shootings." Last Monday's shooting in Louisville, for example. After outlining the mayhem, and alternatives (countries and states with "dramatically lower gun-related death rates"):

"But we all know the problem. Such massive policy changes would require Republican politicians, powerful right-wing institutions such as Fox News and many hard-line conservative voters to stop acting as though radical gun freedoms are essential to a free society. In our current political environment, Fox and other conservative entities regularly suggest that conservatives are under mortal threat and that owning a gun is both good and necessary. Republican politicians also whip up pro-gun sentiment. And many rank-and-file Republicans both have fairly extreme views on guns and are pushed even further right by party leaders."

And so, the "self-reinforcing cycle of fervent opposition to gun control. Kentucky's legislature declared the state a "Second Amendment sanctuary." That's a hell of a religious edifice.

Bacon's punchline is that "for the United States to make progress on guns, the Republican Party has to change direction." They're not ready. In Heather Cox Richardson's Apr. 16 daily, a report from the never-ending hit parade, and the direction of the now extremist-led, Republican-leading NRA:

"Last night, the nation suffered one mass shooting in Dadeville, Alabama, that killed four people and wounded twenty-eight others, and another in Louisville, Kentucky, that killed two and wounded four. On Friday, Republican hopefuls for the 2024 presidential nomination courted members of the National Rifle Association, the NRA, at the organization’s 2023 annual convention, promising looser gun laws.

"South Dakota governor Kristi Noem complained about liberals who “want to take our guns,” and boasted that her granddaughter, who is not yet two, has a shotgun and a rifle."

John Stoehr of the Editorial Board spells out how southern states export the effects of their gun laws, project power and dominate America in depressing detail. "America’s “broader public opinion" means nothing to them."

"The truth is that America is not divided into 50 states so much as into a couple handfuls of regions (perhaps 10) that have, through our history, formed pacts with each other to compete against each other. The most powerful of these is the American south, the ex-slaver states, which has, since the republic’s founding, projected its power onto the other regions for the purpose of bending all these United States to its will.

"It’s still happening."

15.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Christians, the drug war, and the brink of destruction Permalink to this item

Next up at Boise Contemporary Theatre, with an April 22* to May 6 run: The Christians, by Lucas Hnath. Jeanette and I signed up to sing in the choir, and we had our first rehearsal yesterday. It's been... decades since we were last on stage, with Opera Idaho. This should be interesting.

(*Next Wednesday to Friday, there are "preview" nights, if you want to see the airplane being built while it flies across the boards.)

The timing seems impeccable, what with the Idaho legislature having just put the Sine die on its most Christian nationalist session ever. In case you missed that, Marc Johnson boils it down in his latest blog post on Many Things Considered: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet...

"Idaho is as good an example as any in the American West of a state whose politics have been taken over by a new “political elite” – white Christian nationalists – who have found the traditionally very conservative state rather easy pickings for a power grab that is becoming steadily more radical."

While the barking hounds of the far right have caught the car of Abortion and now try to dodge the backlash of the majority by pivoting to demonizing women, librarians, and the LGBTQ community and their allies, a sizeable portion of the populace has tuned out, turned on, and dropped into the dark night of drug-induced stupor. Heather Cox Richardson's April 14 daily recaps our status through the lens of the Biden administration's actions "to disrupt the production and distribution of illegal street fentanyl around the world." No small feat.

"Most of the street fentanyl in the U.S. is distributed by the Sinaloa cartel, which operates in every U.S. state and in 47 countries. This cartel used to be led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who began serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison in 2019 after Mexican authorities arrested him and extradited him to the U.S. Now four of his sons run it: Ovidio, Iván, Joaquín, and Alfredo, who are known as the “Chapitos.” DEA administrator Anne Milgram said they took their father’s “global drug trafficking empire” and “made it more ruthless, more violent, more deadly—and they used it to spread a new poison, fentanyl.”

The details are more than enough to make your head swim. HCR brings it back to our political Zeitgeist, noting that

"what jumped out at me about this story was the power of the Treasury Department to disrupt what drug trafficking is really about: money. At the end of the day, for all their violence and deadliness, the Chapitos are businessmen, and the U.S. can cut them off at the knees through our financial power.

"But that power is not guaranteed. Today, Sarah Ferris and Jordain Carney of Politico reported that House speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans continue to insist they will refuse to lift the debt ceiling unless they get massive spending cuts and policy changes. These are not normal budget negotiations, which Biden and the Democrats welcome, but a threat to let the U.S. default on its debt. Their willingness to hold the Treasury hostage until they get their way threatens to rip the foundation out from our global financial power.

"As I read about the U.S. Treasury sanctions on fentanyl supply chains today and then thought about how Treasury sanctions against Russia have hamstrung that nation without a single shot from U.S. military personnel, I wondered if people really understand how much is at stake in the Republicans’ attack on our financial system."

14.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A slit in time Permalink to this item

Image from the Barcelona subway, 2018

On LiveScience: Scientists create 'slits in time' in mind-bending physics experiment. Like the classic double slit experiment showing light's wave-partical duality that we've never quite wrapped our minds around, but with time instead of space. Small gaps of time. Extremely small, as in "just a few hundred femtoseconds long." Or, uh, wide? Along the way, we find out that "most phone screens" now have indium tin oxide (ITO), about which

"Scientists already knew ITO could change from transparent to reflective in response to light, but the researchers found it occurs much faster than previously thought, in less than 10 femtoseconds (10 millionths of a billionth of a second)."

Had to go back and review the prefixes down below micro. Nano, pico, femto (ahead of atto, zepto, yocto, ronto and quecto, the last two of those new last year). 10-15. A nanosecond is the time it takes light to go about a foot in air). 10 fsec would be 10 millionths of a foot then. A tenth of a thousandth of an inch. Three microns. Which, ok, that's "big" compared to the wavelength of visible light, 380-750 nm, give or take.

Connecting the dots then, a femtosecond is about the time it takes visible light to travel its own wavelength. "Roughly."

The abstract of the Nature Physics article published this month (all you get without a way through their paywall, Tirole, R., Vezzoli, S., Galiffi, E. et al. Double-slit time diffraction at optical frequencies. Nat. Phys. (2023)) is about as readable as the LiveSci popsci, it seems to me.

"Here we report such a time-domain version of the classic Young’s double-slit experiment: a beam of light twice gated in time produces an interference in the frequency spectrum. The ‘time slits’, narrow enough to produce diffraction at optical frequencies, are generated from the optical excitation of a thin film of indium tin oxide near its epsilon-near-zero point. The separation between time slits determines the period of oscillations in the frequency spectrum, whereas the decay of fringe visibility in frequency reveals the shape of the time slits."

12.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Amateur hour in the AG's office Permalink to this item

Not quite sure how CNN scooped all our local media, but scoop they did, last Friday: Idaho AG rescinds legal opinion that said health care providers can’t make out-of-state abortion referrals. He assured voters that he would be a partisan Attorney General, not an impartial one, and so here we go. Responding two weeks ago to an inquiry from one of our most extreme-right legislators, Rep. Brent Crane, "kw" put "RRL's" opinion on AG letterhead, and somebody put Raúl Labrador's signature underneath, and BY HAND DELIVERY over the top.

Photo of 'The Gospel Coach' at the Old Pen in Boise

Sure looks "published" to me. Did our Attorney General think he was just whispering in the cloakroom again? With numbered paragraphs and six citations of state code?

Planned Parenthood promptly sued. Labrador backpedaled furiously. CNN reported:

Attorney General Raúl Labrador said a letter from his office had been “mischaracterized as law enforcement guidance sent out publicly to local prosecutors and others.”

“It was not a guidance document, nor was it ever published by the Office of the Attorney General,” he wrote in the letter to state GOP Rep. Brent Crane, adding: “Accordingly, I hereby withdraw it.”

IANAL (like Raúl is), but I've worked in various kinds of "publishing" pretty much my whole life, and I have to say that's a published letter if I ever saw one. (Comprising strident guidance from the highest law enforcement officer of the state.) On top of Labrador's "accordingly," his attorney (that's right, our Attorney General has an attorney) waved his magic wand:

Brian Church, an attorney for Labrador, told the judge that the attorney general’s new letter makes it as though his March 27 letter “were never written.”

They hereby unring that bell. (The subjunctive case is a nice touch. You know, "that form of a verb which express the action or state not as a fact, but only as a conception of the mind still contingent and dependent," using the plural "were" rather than "was.")

Needless to say, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit aren't quite satisfied by the "undo" declaration. Bryan Clark opines for the Idaho Statesman and gets to the nut of it after brief exposition of the timeline, with my emphasis added:

Which version was right? I’m not a lawyer, so it’s hard for me to say. But there is one thing I can say for certainty: The legal advice given out by the Office of the Attorney General is at this point unreliable.

Easter Monday Permanent URL to this day's entry

In other media news-like substances Permalink to this item

I should have quit while I was ahead, taking a click-bait item from Mediaite, Bill Barr Says ‘Good Chance’ Trump Will Be Indicted For Obstruction — ‘Dug Himself a Hole’ on Docs and Jan 6, but OK, I wanted to see Bill Barr's latest performance after his flambéed legacy running interference for Trump, before bailing out at the end, when the lawlessness got too crazy. It was on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos (which was not with Stephanopoulos this week, but rather Jonathan Karl sitting in). The embedded video didn't work after multiple attempts at relaxing NoScript permissions, so I figured, I'd go to the source.

ABC wanted me to give it some gateway brand that showed my money was green. Said gateway wanted me to login, yet another "forgot my password" reset, enable another wave of third parties to drop cookies my way before the damn thing would roll.

It starts with enough whooshy cuts from all they're going to cover to last until next This Week, dwelling most lovingly on the rule changes in Major League Baseball, before, you know, the top story, Don John's legal morass. Lots of DJ publicity, then some horse race poll results. INTENTIONALLY ACTED ILLEGALLY is ahead of DID NOTHING WRONG, 53 to 20. VIEW UNFAVORABLY is 36 points up on FAVORABLY, 61 to 20.

Finally, one of Trump's attorneys, "Jim Trusty." What, is Charles Dickens picking the attorneys now? Trusty thumps the drum "if they can come after a lifelong criminal like this, they could come for you next," a line which really needs a laugh track added. It's "a whole new model of criminal justice in this country," don't you know. Excuse me, as an ABC viewer {this one time), I'd like to take over this interview.

"Mr. Trusty, with all due respect, that's nonsense. Mr. Trump and his family have a long history of fraudulent business dealings. The Trump Organization itself was just found guilty of 17 counts of tax fraud and other crimes. Yes, it is somewhat new for the criminal justice system to enforce accountability for those who have successfully abused the system for so long, but you're starting from a position with zero credibility. Would you like to take a second shot?"

Trusty said he's sticking to the legal lane, staying out of politics, but was ok referring to "this rancid ham sandwich of an indictment. Karl seems woefully underprepared, incredulous at the bad acts of attacking the prosecutor, and the judge, and the judge's wife, and daughter. Like the state of New York is just another mob family. Trusty says his vast experience as a criminal lawyer makes him not willing "to jump on any bandwagon," as if this is a wagon race. My ears started to glaze over, but I did catch his metaphor of motions to dismiss being a priority, "because they amputate this miscarriage of justice early on." His leg to stand on.

There are a lot of billable hours to be had before the next court date which, incredibly, is set for December. Oh, and Trusty represents former guy in the documents case, too? He tosses out some casual aspersions about the FBI and DOJ, brags about his team's "very professional searchers": "We've been thorough, we've been professional, we've been ethical, and uh, we're satisfied that, you know, ev- ev, there's no, no outstanding issue relating to compliance with the subpoena."

Me: Of course, you're not the first one of Mr. Trump's attorneys to make that claim, so we'll have to see what else turns up.

Trusty went on to accuse the National Archivist of "bad faith." Everybody else but his client, you know. Karl doesn't take the time to push back on any of that wagonload of horse manure.

It's time for Bill Barr, and his facile dismissal of the New York case as having "no merit," and "transparently an abuse of prosecutorial power to accomplish a political end." He has some experience in that field. He emphasizes that "falsifying business records is a crime if it is part of a fraudulent scheme," which, first of all, I don't think that's right. It's only a felony as part of a fraudulent scheme (which is to say another crime, but the falsification is still a crime). Barr emphasizes "fraud" over and over again, and that they haven't satisfied him in that regard. "These are his own business records, and he was paying himself the hush money." Say what now?

"So I found what's been put out very opaque, ah, and ah I thought, I think if he has a good case, he would specify exactly what his case is, but he's trying to hide the ball."

Another area of demonstrated expertise for Barr. A "clear example" of abuse; Barr exceptionally clear-eyed in assessing others' bad faith.

"Ultimately, the savvy Democratic strategists know this is going to help Trump, they want him to be the nominee because he is the weakest of the Republican candidates, the most likely to lose again to Biden."

Then his opining about the classified documents case, which he thinks is genuine trouble, absolutely contradicting Trusty's easy-peasy hand-waving dismissal.

Two screen caps from ABC This Week, mashed up

"The president [sic] unfortunately has a penchant for engaging in wreckless and self-destructive behavior that brings these kinds of things on him ... He, he's dug himself a hole on the documents, and also on the January 6th stuff. That was wreckless behavior that was destined to end up being investigated. It doesn't surprise me that he has all these legal problems. He was warned about this before he left office..."

And he'll just leave it there. Asked about the liklihood of an actual conviction, Barr imagines it will drag on past the nomination, and "even perhaps until the election." But Trump is "already a weak candidate that would lose, but this sort of assures it."

The interview ends with Barr cracking a smile after Karl wishes him a "Happy Easter," and I have to say, the grumpy stone face seems more real than Bill Barr smiling.

Old man shouts at cloud Permalink to this item

Judd Legum's email newsletter lede this morning (before getting into the apparent fact that the Tennessee House Speaker doesn't live in the district he represents, violating the state consitution, and fleecing taxpayers for per diem payments):

"On Friday, Elon Musk started restricting links to Substack, the service I use to publish Popular Information, on Twitter. Under Musk's direction, Twitter "began blocking users from retweeting, liking or engaging with posts that contained links to Substack articles." It's a direct attack on independent journalism. I spoke to the Washington Post about Musk's arbitrary and vindictive decision-making."

Photo of sign, 'DOOR DOES NOT OPEN'

Nothing says "social media" quite like blocking your competition, right? What made Twitter interesting and worthwhile was that it connected readers to new voices, and new sources. Musk Melon seems determined to reduce it to a walled echo chamber for personal aggrandizement, selecting for an audience of sycophants, and a decreasing cadre of corporate workers and "official" accounts with some reason to think they need to be there.

The WaPo story features Matt Taibbi, "chosen by Twitter owner Elon Musk to write segments of the controversial “Twitter Files” (and earned an appearance before the GOP weaponized House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government as a result), announcing that he's quitting Twitter, to protest the new restrictions on links to Substack, "where Taibbi is one of the most popular contributors." Whoopsadaisy. Taibbi tweeted his plans, after "@BigTechAlert, an account that monitors Twitter activity between Silicon Valley and media leaders [sic], announced that Musk’s Twitter account had unfollowed Taibbi." This is precious:

On Thursday, Substack writers discovered that they were no longer able to embed tweets in their Substack posts. Writers who tried were met with the message, “Twitter has unexpectedly restricted access to embedding tweets in Substack posts.”

"Unexpectedly restricted." When all else fails, insert adverb. By Friday evening, Twitter began marking links to Substack as “unsafe.”

It was more than 2 years ago that "Antisocial Media" made an appearance in a Harvard Business Review headline (surely not the first use of that term), with Sara Wilson's "Marketing" report of prior year findings showing "usage overall among Americans 12 to 34 years old across several platforms has either leveled off or is waning, [and] 2019 research from Global Web Index suggests that the amount of time millennial and Gen Z audiences spend on many social platforms is either flat, declining, or not rising as greatly as it has in years’ past."

Never mind the wide span of that last blow (either flat, declining, or maybe growth is slowing), and the pandemic that was dawning when the piece went live, this beautiful metaphor, introducing her "digital campfires" alternative to the mob scene:

"If social media can feel like a crowded airport terminal where everyone is allowed, but no one feels particularly excited to be there, digital campfires offer a more intimate oasis where smaller groups of people are excited to gather around shared interests."

The younglings are leaning into private messaging, micro-communities, and shared experiences, where "brands aren't invited," and leaning away from "open forums and feeds" where branded advertising is the not-so-secret raison d'être. Lots of examples of things known and unknown to me, including Fortnite, "a multiplayer video game that has more than 200 million users, up to 8 million of whom are online at any given time."

Not sure if that's good news or bad news, but it's more than three times the primetime viewership of Fox "News" in February of this year, according to adweek.

"Fortnite is a form of entertainment, but more than that, it’s a catalyst for bringing together like-minded people for a shared experience. And the game’s steep learning curve lends it an aura of exclusivity."

HBR is not written for the kids of course. It's business. "So how can marketers zero in on the right shared experience campfires for their audience?" Try selling "skins," branded mash-up game modes, limited-edition product drops. But keep it fresh; as the pull-quote Tip advises:

"Customization is key. Don’t simply replicate what you’re doing on other platforms — it will come across as ham-fisted. Instead, pay close attention to the behavior of the people in the campfire you want to reach, think about what value you can bring to them, then get creative about the products and messaging you’ll use to engage them."

8.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Life is good with your red underwear on Permalink to this item

We don't know where that headline came from, but it's what Jeanette popped off when I quoted from Heather Cox Richardson's daily how much I loved the fact that Associate Justice Clarence Thomas's excuse for failing to report an impressive amount of "hospitality" as he was legally obliged to do was that it was on the advice of “colleagues and others in the judiciary,” without saying exactly who was giving advice to the guy sitting on the highest bench in the land. Sweetly, "he says he will comply with new regulations in the future." Starting right... now? HCR dryly points out that

"Thomas said that he and his wife Ginni had been dear friends of the Crows for over 25 years, but he joined the court over 30 years ago, making more than one commenter note that the friendship certainly seemed to be based on Crow’s access to the Supreme Court through Thomas."

"Over 25 years" can cover infinite territory, right? Meanwhile, since this is apparently the week to dredge up old reporting that should have shocked the conscience but didn't penetrate the mad arms race for our attention, she refers us to a ThinkProgress item from a dozen years ago about how oh look there was a Second Harlan Crow Connected Group [with] A Perfect Litigation Record Before Justice Thomas. Surely just a coincidence of the sweet ideological congruence of the two close personal friends.

Wondering if that made it into my blog back in the day, I look to see not quite, but on Sept. 4, 2011, there was The Thomases vs. Obama, with "Thomas us[ing] the Court's 'honor system' to [decide] that he need not recuse himself for anything, thankyouverymuch, no matter what causes his wife promotes nor what donors are covering her travel expenses."

That was when the question of whether "Obamacare" would be able to withstand the Repbulican assault against the very idea of the government helping provide health insurance to more Americans was still open. Jeffrey Toobin's piece for The New Yorker, Partners wondered "Will Clarence and Virginia Thomas succeed in killing Obama's healt-care plan? Thomas' "difficult year" of 2011 started with him being "compelled to amend several years of [his required] financial-disclosure forms." Toobin wrote that by the fall of 2010 (with the link looked up and added, you're welcome),

Ginni Thomas’s activities had become so public that she began to draw journalistic scrutiny. On Saturday, October 9th, the Times ran a front-page story headlined ACTIVISM OF THOMAS’S WIFE COULD RAISE JUDICIAL ISSUES, which was a straightforward account of Ginni’s political activities. Still, the story may have unnerved its subject, because at seven-thirty-one that morning Ginni Thomas left a voice mail for Anita Hill, at her office at Brandeis University, where she teaches. “Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.” She went on to urge Hill to “pray about this,” and then signed off, “O.K., have a good day!”

That's right, Ginni Thomas called Anita Hill to invite her to apologize.

Typical Idaho headlines Permalink to this item

Run of the mill in the Idaho Press this morning. Broncos ("spring football" game today!) and Growth on the top rail, Idaho AG's legal opinion on abortion may violate First Amendment, Doug Gross and Mary Hasenoehrl recognized as Canyon County Farm Family of the Year (their photos featuring lots of potatoes, of course), Jury finalized for Lori Vallow trial.

Brian Myrick photo of AG Labrador

I can't find the top story on the IP's conventional website; it's in the facsimile edition (subscribers only) built on the concept that what people want in their browser is a newspaper-like experience. Really? There is Carolyn Kamatsoulis's April 5 piece, about Planned Parenthood's lawsuit.

Anyway, Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), described how Raúl Labrador's reach exceeds his grasp:

“Even if the state can prohibit abortions within its borders, it can’t prohibit people from talking about options where it’s lawful elsewhere,” Cohn said. “You can’t have borders on where you’re allowed to have information.”

The government can only restrict expression under very narrow circumstances, Cohn said. Content and viewpoint based restrictions are under the court’s highest level of scrutiny, known as strict scrutiny.

That means the government would have to have a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means possible.

“The attorney general’s actions here will never satisfy that degree of scrutiny,” Cohn said. “It doesn’t matter whether they want to or not, they do not have the right to restrict whether or not people can get information about what’s lawful elsewhere.”

7.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Supreme soliciting Permalink to this item

Photo from Wednesday, at Eagle Island

Someone took the trouble to find a stale link in my blog, an entry from June, 2012, and send a personal (misaddressed, but ok) invitation to update it. "After browsing for a while," she wrote, she found "the same report [sic] in PDF format" and provided a link on an unlikely site I'd never heard of, THe item in question, labeled "193 page decision" was to the Supreme Court opinion for National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the landmark case that upheld the "mandate" part of the Affordable Care Act. Sort of. A moment's search with DuckDuckGo gave me top links from,, Wikipedia and more, with making the 2nd page (surprisingly, for a site selling "high quality business and legal templates"). Their "Search Engine Optimization" gaming is making some headway it seems.

My original link was to, which should be a reliable source, right? Maybe it is for a while, and then they shove stuff into a different heap, and I'll be damned if I can find their opinion with their search tool. Under "Opinions of the Court," buttons go back to 2016, and then "earlier opinions" goes to a page headed US Reports, and good luck with that. Cornell Law School is probably the most reliable source for the verbatim opinion. (Do they keep up with SCOTUS' frequent after-the-fact revisions? DK.)

Before I tried the official .gov site with no joy, I had a look through the (excellent) Wikipedia page (mutable in its own ways) for National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, which is an interesting read for all sorts of reasons (a "landmark" decision, with a "complex division on the bench," and not the overturning the ACA detractors hoped for, nor the endorsement supporters dreamed of). But the Speculation over Robert's vote caught my eye.

"On July 1, 2012, CBS News, citing unnamed sources within the Court, said that over the course of internal deliberations Roberts changed his position from striking down the mandate to upholding it. The article, by journalist Jan Crawford, reported that during the Court's private conference immediately after the oral arguments, Roberts was inclined to strike down the mandate but, in disagreement with the other four conservative justices, was not certain this required striking down the law in its entirety...."

The CBS News link has gone stale, too. Back in the day, the worries about "damages to the court—and to Robert's reputation" had to do with substance, not the leaking to Crawford. Adam Liptak's "insinuation" (in a durably linked NYT piece) was that it was Clarence Thomas who blabbed to Crawford. John "Zelig" Yoo, formerly an apologist for torture in the George W. Bush administration, and now a UC Berkeley professor, got his 2¢ in, suggesting that letting Roberts be Chief Justice was "a catastrophic vetting failure" for conservatives.

Then I read Heather Cox Richardson's latest daily, which highlights another story about Clarence Thomas, back when we first heard regular folks showering a Supreme Court Justice with gifts, with my emphasis added:

"David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times recalled that his newspaper had disclosed the close connections between Thomas and Crow in 2004, noting, for example, that Crow had given Thomas a $19,000 Bible that had belonged to the famous formerly enslaved abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass and a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln. After their story appeared, it seems that Thomas did not stop accepting expensive gifts and travel from the wealthy mogul, but instead stopped disclosing them."

One of the nice people who Thomas has been privileged to hobnob and share free vacations with over the last two decades, Leonard Leo, "leader of the Federalist Society who has orchestrated the court’s hard-right turn. Leo is now overseeing Marble Freedom Trust, established to disburse funds from a $1.6 billion bequest to manipulate elections in favor of Republicans."

That's a lot of power for manipulation. So, did that LA Times story show up in my blog, ever? It did! On Jan. 7, 2005, I blurbed the week-earlier, story (with a link that still works, yay), Justice Thomas Reports Wealth of Gifts, including a $1,200 set of tires from a trucking executive, $1,200 worth of batteries from former law clerks (that's a lot of batteries), the Bible and bust "valuable historical items," and a handy "$5,000 personal check to help pay a relative’s education expenses," "from a mobile home enthusiast." (Maybe they met while RV'ing in a Walmart parking lot.)

"He also took a free trip aboard a private jet to the exclusive Bohemian Grove club in Northern California -- arranged by a wealthy Texas real estate investor [Guess who!] who helped run an advocacy group that filed briefs with the Supreme Court."

Unlike the subsequent largesse from Harlan Crow, worth more than ten times all that, Thomas reported those pre-2005 gifts. My pithy old post also had John Yoo in it, defending Thomas and deriding the suspicions of corruption as "a bizarre effort to over-ethicize everyday life. If one of these people were to appear before the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas would recuse himself.”

Safe to say no one ever accused Yoo of "over-ethicizing" anything. Thomas has recused himself at times, not quite twice a year in the last three decades, by HuffPost's count. But Thomas' "dearest friends" don't generally appear before the court; they do their work behind the scenes.

6.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Corruption to beggar the imagination Permalink to this item

ProPublica's blockbuster report on our "regular guy" Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, and his BFF billionaire Harlan Crow.

"For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

"The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said."

Thomas didn't respond to their questions. Crow issued a statement harumphing about the "hospitality" he's extended to Thomas and his political activist wife. “No different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

In the past, Thomas has styled himself as preferring the "regular parts" of his home country over, say Europe, or island hopping in Indonesia on a private yacht. RV parks are his thing, or Walmart parking lots, rather than "beaches and things like that." "I come from regular stock, and I prefer that—I prefer being around that," Thomas told his hagiography's filmmakers.

Mixed messages Permalink to this item

After our governor signed the bill criminalizing gender-affirming care for youth, ignoring all of the worthy arguments against it (other than a toothless caution about "allowing the government to interfere with loving parents and their decisions about what is best for their children," exactly what HB 71 will do). he went ahead and vetoed HB314, the "School and library protection act," for some of the good reasons I mentioned when I wrote to him. Not that he would have actually read my (brief) email, but what I said:

"I'm writing to urge your VETO of HB314, which would continue the baseless attacks on libraries, employing the vigilante model of private litigation without protection against frivolous lawsuits. It's a recipe for disaster.

"And it's a cowardly attack on the first amendment by the legislature, using citizen proxies to enforce what they know would not stand up as law on its own."

In his (non-)transmittal veto letter, Gov. Little wrote:

"My main concern is that the bill's ambiguity will have unintended consequences for Idaho libraries and their patrons. This legislation makes sweeping, blanket assumptions on materials that could be determined as "harmful to minors" in a local library, and it will force one interpretation of that phrase ontol all the patrons of the library. Allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collet $2,500 in automatic fines creates a library bounty system that will only increase the costs local libraries incur, particularly rural libraries. These costs will be forced onto property taxpayers of Idaho or cause the libraries to close to minors altogether."

He said he supporte "the sponsors' intent to keep truly inappropriate materials out of the hands of minors," but noted that "harmful content can be much more eaily accessible to youth on their phones and the internet, not at their libraries."

The bill's "sweeping, blanket assumptions," bill included in its definitions of obscene content, "any act of ... homsexuality." Holding hands? Kissing? Getting married?

I appreciate the governor speaking out against the vigilante "bounty" model that Texas pioneered, and that the Idaho legislature imitated in several bills this session. In today's Idaho Press coverage, Laura Guido exposes this deliberate strategy that the Idaho Family Policy Center and Idaho Freedom Foundation are following, with a video recording of the Feb. 16 "Capitol Clarity" meeting. It's on the "Idaho Freedom TV" channel, no less.

Janice McGeachin, and Wayne Hoffman of the IFF

First off, Brian Almon's introduction informs us that CC was started by our least worthy lieutenant governor in recent decades, Janice McGeachin. Since she seems to have shot her wad, the corporate shilling IFF has picked up the torch. That brings up failed representative and still extremist Ron Nate, now a "Senior Policy Fellow" for the IFF. Nate introduces IFPC President Blaine Conzatti, who enthusiastically launches into his speech, extolling the bounty system that would allow "any minor" to sue for damages. (Can minors actually bring lawsuits?)

"We can't rely on prosecutors to enforce these types of laws," he says, after noting that our current law has a loophole exempting libraries and schools. "We have to give recourse to the families," he said. Even though "nobody is talking about banning any books," really? Just applying the standards that the Supreme Court spelled out 50 years ago, to minors.

Sen. Cindy Carlson, who sponsored the bill, brought some of the books she wants banned, with sticky notes on the pages with "appalling" parts. "The problem is, there are a lot of people who are not appalled," she said. "Let's stick to arithmetic, and reading" she said, as the crowd interrupted her with applause, "and traditional values." "Let's give the parents and the kids a choice," she said, by removing the books she doesn't like (or they don't like) from library shelves, what?

Asked who is behind the supposed nefarious plot the bill is intended to thwart, Conazatti calls out the American Library Association, who as recently as 1998 (you know, 25 years ago) sued the federal government to overturn a requirement for libaries to put filters on public computers. Half of the ALA's most recent Top 10 most challenged books were challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, so go figure. Here's the ALA's stated position:

“Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources. Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.”

45 minutes into the 55 minute recording, Conzatti opines that "the best way to enforce [their desired] policy... is through that civil cause of action." the financial hit "will be a very strong incentive," figuring such lawsuits would cost "between $25,000 and 200,000," all told, "per incident. You have a couple of those and that's going to be a signficant hit to the school district, or the library district's budget." That'd be the taxpayers, right?

Conzatti says no, it'll be insurance companies that pay, so, free money? "It's unlikely, very unlikely that taxpayer dollars specifically are going to be used to pay these damages."

"Now here's where things get kinda cool, the way we designed this bill. Ah, insurance companies don't want to pay out damages. They don't want to defend their clients. And so what they will do, they will change their policy, the policies that the schools or libraries will have to abide by, if they're going to be insured by the carrier, and the policies are going to say 'you have to remove these books. Right? And it's going to be the insurance companies that are going to create the policies that end up driving the schools and driving the libraries to finally pulling these books off the shelves because they don't want to be exposed to liability, and here's what's gonna happen: if a school, or a library keeps making this material available to kids, they're going to lose their insurance coverage."

The audience applauds. He celebrates a library in Boundary County having already lost its coverage, "because they refused to pull pornographic and obscene books from the shelf." What Boundary County Library Director Kimber Glidden said when she resigned last August, in part:

"[N]othing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community.”

Spoiler alert: the insurance company is probably more concerned about the people attacking the library than any books on the shelves. Last year's criminalization of librarians bill, HB 666 is discussed, and when he notes it never got a hearing in Senate State Affairs, but "that chair woman has retired," and Sen. Patti Anne Lodge's retirement gets some applause, too.

The House failed to override the veto of HB314, in spite of getting 6 more votes in favor than the original, 40-30 vote. 46 is one shy of clearing the two-thirds requirement. One of those "yes" votes was from Democrat Rep. Brooke Green of Boise, who wanted to change her vote to "no," but was out of order. (Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa, in one final sore loser move, objected to her request for unanimous consent.)

Even better news: the legislature has adjourned, sine die.

5.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The moral panic advances in Idaho Permalink to this item

It was 8 years ago that former Idaho Governor Phil Batt spelled it out for the the Canyon County Lincoln Day Banquet, one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states of the union, and I noted that "the current legislature has no plans to honor his 88th birthday this month through action in keeping with his principles, but who knows, maybe they'll find their way by his 89th. Or 90th." They did not. Nor his 91st through 96th, this year, on "Idaho Day," or any other day. Our current and three former governors heaped praise on his memory last month, for his leadership, mentorship, and his work against bigotry.

The Republicans in the super-majority of our legislature carried on as usual, not giving a moment's thought to updating the Idaho Human Rights Act to protect the tens of thousands of Idahoans subject to discrimination for their sexual or gender identity.


Instead, they joined the secretive, multiyear, national campaign of religious extremists seeking to demonize transgender individuals, led here by the Idaho Family Policy Center. Their home page features the line-up for the BIBLICAL ACTIVISM BOOTCAMP scheduled later this month. The execrable Doug Wilson is first, before Theo Wold, a former aide in the Trump administration, who our new, rank partisan Attorney General, Raúl Labrador picked to hold the new office of "Solicitor General" without him having yet passed the Idaho Bar. Between them and one legislator from each chamber (Rep. Tina Lambert of Caldwell, and Sen. Ben Adams of Nampa), there's IFPC president Blaine Conzatti, who wrote a slew of culture war bills and presented them in committee meetings this session.

Perhaps the worst of the lot was the so-called "VULNERABLE CHILD PROTECTION ACT," HB 71, criminalizing gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The legislature passed it, and despite thousands of phone calls and messages from Idahoans to Gov. Brad Little, he signed it into law yesterday. The Idaho Capital Sun reported that the governor's office said they received more than 14,800 emails (including two from me), and more than 6,500 calls, with 3,200 in favor and 1,500 against the bill.

The response was great enough that they set up a phone menu system, [1] for Yes, [2] for No, so easy-peasy for biblical activists to punch in their opposition. Blaine Conzatti was happy to tell the Sun about the “massive grassroots mobilization campaign” his organization launched to support the bill.

“So far, we’ve had nearly 2,500 Idaho residents send emails to Gov. Little through our web-based Action Center, which was promoted through our email newsletter and social media advertisements,” he said in an email Tuesday. “Additionally, we launched a nearly $5,000 robocall with an automatic patch-through to the governor’s phone lines.”

That's one hell of way to decide a question of human rights. From the Mother Jones piece, links in the original:

"Gender-affirming care is supported by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, the Endocrine Society, and other major medical organizations. And studies have found that it is associated with better mental health outcomes over both short and longer-term periods."

The only good news is that the new law does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024; I hope (and expect) it will be challenged in court.

No joke Permalink to this item

Now we know what some Tennessee Republicans think brings "dishonor to the House of Representatives": a modestly disordered protest in favor of gun reform. As opposed to yet another school shooting, with six dead.

Then there's the Tennessee representative who figured he could win a debate with student protesters by pointing out lots of different kinds of guns could kill them, not just assault rifles. Socratically. “If there is a firearm out there that you’re comfortable being shot with, please show me which one it is,” he said.

Arraignment Day, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Half a century of it Permalink to this item

WaPo was ahead of the game, they put out Fifty years of shady Trump, visualized on April Fool's Day. What a long, strange trip it's been.

This the first of four (or five?) major cases out of the starting gate, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK -against- DONALD J. TRUMP, comprises 34(!) felony charges of FALSIFYING BUSINESS RECORDS IN THE FIRST DEGREE. They got the murderous Al Capone for cheating on his taxes, will they get the psychopathic and seditious Don John for dodgy recordkeeping? I have to think the NY DA (1) has the records in tangible form, and (2) can show they're falsified, so chances seem better than even that one or more of the charges will stick. "We shall see."

I don't need any of the "live" updates, and I definitely don't need to see the accused make a media appearance, but I did get a kick out of the WaPo photo gallery, Trump returns to New York for arraignment on criminal charges when I got to John Taggart's image on page 8, with George Santos and some guy in a signed MAGA hat pushed their way into the flash, with The Daily Show's man on the street, Jordan Klepper caught in the background.

John Taggart for the Washington Post, reproduced for commentary

Update: There was of course a late night smörgåsbord to offset the sad trombone of the former guy in the dock. Haven't seen them all, but Seth Myers, Roy Wood Jr. with a special guest, Jordan Klepper, and Stephen Colbert for starters.

3.April.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A giant nothing-burger Permalink to this item

Nicely done social media click-bait brought me to the Big Think this morning, to read that “Nothing” doesn’t exist. Instead, there is “quantum foam.” I have thoughts. (Therefore I am, you know.) Including the song cue from the subhead:

"When you combine the Uncertainty Principle with Einstein's famous equation, you get a mind-blowing result: Particles can come from nothing."

Still from 'The Sound of Music'

There's Capt. von Trapp and Maria in the gazebo still, singing Richard Rodgers' "Something Good." "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could; so somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must've done something... something good." Says there it was the "final cut" for the film, which is as perfect as the performance.

The Big Think asks us to wonder "What would happen if scientists took a container and removed all the air out of it, creating an ideal vacuum that was entirely devoid of matter?"

It's an easy-breezy little thought exercise, including cooling the container to absolute zero, which, you can't really do. But you can remove (most) "all of the air" from a container, and then try to remove the adsorbed water, and whatever. That was my last job at Big Corp, in fact, creating an Ultrahigh Vacuum in a chamber with a servo-controlled, nanopositioning test system inside. First you had to clean everything, and then bake out as much water as possible. We also used a UV lamp to drive off the adsorbed water. The "pumpdown" started with a turbopump, a spinning machine that moves gases. That gets you down to a thousandth of an atmosphere relatively quickly, and possibly further, not so quickly. Then it runs out of gas (ha ha) to pump, and you need an ion pump, which is essentially fly paper. You have to wait for stuff to run in to it.

Of course, your "container" must not leak anywhere, because the atmosphere will be very determined to get back inside. Work at it long enough, and you might get down to a trillionth of an atmosphere, give or take, 10-9 mbar.

Lecture 4 from Physics 9826b at Western University, Ultrahigh Vacuum Science and Technology, has a "Universal density scale," going from the Big Bang (infinity, give or take) down to "water on earth" (1 g/cc), air (0.001 g/cc), vacuum in laboratory (10-18 g/cc, one quadrillionth that of air), and continuing to interstellar space, the whole universe, and "empty" regions of space, which are not really empty even without Big Thinking. 10-33 grams per cubic centimeter. It's not much, but it's not nothing.

So, first off, you can't really get to an empty box. (This will save on refrigeration costs, and the wear and tear of Big Thinking.) And shorter, spoiler alert: something comes from nothing. Get used to it.

Pictorial view of the 3D model of a UHV system we built

The Very Expensive test system we built came to nothing, ironically. We donated it to the University of Oregon, who I hope found some useful things to do with the parts. All that's left of it is hopes, dreams, and a simplified 3D model.

April Fools, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your retribution Permalink to this item

Hoar-frosted Ponderosa pines in the Boise mountains

At the end of her March 26 Letter from an American, discussing VP Kamala Harris' trip to Africa and that continent's prospects for widening democracy (vs. continuing exploitation by world powers), Heather Cox Richardson provides the remarkable demographic fact that the median age of Africa's population is just 19. In 54 countries.

In contrast to the Biden administration's initiatives to make a difference in Africa, our former guy casually dismissed the continent (along with Haiti and El Salvador) with an obscenity. (Allegedly. Occam's razor says... it's totally Trumpian, and the chances his opposition conspired to make it up are about nil.) HCR's closing contrast:

"[T]he danger to democracy at home was crystal clear last night, as former president Trump held a rally in Waco, Texas, where in 1993 a 51-day government siege of the headquarters of a religious cult gave birth to the modern anti-government militia movement. Since then, Waco has been a touchstone for violent attacks on the government. There, last night, Trump stood on stage with his hand over his heart while loudspeakers played not the national anthem but a song recorded by January 6 insurrectionists. Footage from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol played on a screen behind him."

Five years on from the America First and Only playground bully foreign policy of Trump, everything, and nothing has changed. Our once comic flirtation with authoritarianism continues to metastasize toward civil war. Closing CPAC's meeting last month, Mr. I-alone-can-fix-it upped the ante: “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.”

That was before the indictment. After it... the cuckolded Republican Party is right behind him! Lindsey Graham, the very model of indignation since his perspicacity faded, spluttered that "it's duplicious charging!" and "they're trying to smear the guy!" and "this is literally legal voodoo." Sic 'em, Lin!


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007