August 31, 2007

Lab tests cost!

I was finally assigned a new doctor, after the former one moved back to the mainland to care for his or his wife's aging parents. As part of her "getting to know you" drill, she ordered several lab tests.

  • Transferase; aspartate A -- liver function
  • Creatinine; blood - kidney function
  • Glucose; quantitative B - blood sugar
  • Lipid panel - cholesterol levels
  • Electrolyte panel - fluid balance
  • PSA - prostate specific antigen level
  • uric acid; blood - for my gout tendency

And my co-pay for all this? $94.46

Maybe not so bad for someone whose company pays for the bulk of the monthly premium, but that someone ain't me. It's on top of the $300 per month I pay in dues.

Is it any wonder people are reluctant to go to doctors until they have to?

Update: The blood was taken at about 11:00am. When I checked my e-mail after dinner this evening I had a notice that the results for four of the seven tests were accessible at my personal pages at the Kaiser website. Cool, huh?

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Bush and Katrina

Here's a damning timeline of the events during and directly following Katrina's arrival two years ago and the Bush Administration's response.

All our favorites are there, with links: the guitar-playing, the McCain birthday cake presentation, Condi Rice's theater-going and shoe-buying, and Bush's flyover.

That was the beginning of the end of this Administration's popularity, for sure, but there are still nearly 500 days to go. How many wars can he start, how many incompetent cronies can he install, how much more sheer mismanagement can the country bear?

Stay tuned.

Update: Paul Krugman writes:

Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins. Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

On the other hand, generous investment tax breaks, supposedly designed to spur recovery in the disaster area, have been used to build luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, 200 miles inland.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

That condo story is quite illuminating, by the way. Most of the condos are being bought by

. . . real estate investors who are purchasing the condos with plans to rent them out.

And they intend to take full advantage of the generous tax benefits available to investors under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, or GO Zone, according to Associated Press interviews with buyers and real estate officials.

The GO Zone contains a variety of tax breaks designed to stimulate construction in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. It offers tax-free bonds to developers to finance big commercial projects like shopping centers or hotels. It also allows real estate investors who buy condos or other properties in the GO Zone to take accelerated depreciation on their purchases when they file their taxes.

The GO Zone was drawn to include the Tuscaloosa area even though it is about 200 miles from the coast and got only heavy rain and scattered wind damage from Katrina.

The article goes on to say it's all quite legal. That may be, but it smacks of well-connected ethically-challenged cronyism to me.

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August 30, 2007

Why careerism stinks

As pointed out here, there are conservative Democrats who can't seem to recognize that the Administration is Constitutionally so far out of line that it has to be stopped. That's bad enough, but when one reads an analysis (accurate, I'm pretty sure) which says:

. . .political fear still hovers over any legislation that touches on the fight against terrorism, which, for Democrats, may be the new third rail of politics.
which is then followed by a line like this:
"People say to me, 'Well, what about the 30-second spots?' " said Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to attack ads.
One wonders why the speaker wanted to get into public service in the first place.

Jack Kennedy would be hard pressed to find subjects for an updated edition of Profiles in Courage among the current members of Congress.

On the other hand, at least one Democrat fully recognizes the problem:

"We can do this, but you have to keep in mind Republicans care more about catching Democrats than catching terrorists," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "They have spent years taking Roosevelt's notion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself and given us nothing but fear."

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August 29, 2007

Idle thought

When served with lobster, why is melted butter called "drawn" butter?

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August 28, 2007

Recent reading

I'm reading the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust. Here's a fansite with many many spoilers.

These are fantasy, so the stories take place in an alternate universe with no relation to ours. They have swords and sorcery, but those aspects are nearly incidental to the interior dialogues our hero is having with himself. He starts out as an assassin working for his universe's equivalent of the mob, but by book four he's not very happy with himself, even though he's doing quite well financially, expanding his territory and collecting his rents. That's as far as I've gotten, but I'm savoring each one. They have marvelous bits of comic dialogue, snarky little asides, and a wonderul cast of characters.

It got me to thinking how much easier it is to like a character whose occupation would otherwise offend the reader if he's set down in a fantasy world. Vlad's a guy who kills others for money, routinely busts up guys who don't pay their debts, and is generally a murderous thug, albeit with a growing sense of ethics. If the book were set in our universe in the modern era, he'd hardly be sympathetic (who liked Michael Corleone once he started taking over the family in Puzo's The Godfather?). But in fantasy, his deeds can be observed at a remove. Even when one reads modern crime fiction featuring a lovable rogue, he's usually a con man rather than a killer. In fantasy the author doesn't have to worry about the readers' sensibilities in quite the same way.

That doesn't explain why the American public was so enamoured of Jesse James, John Dillinger, or Bonnie and Clyde.

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Networkers, speak up!

So who among you has succumbed to YASN* disease? I'm now on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Won't you be my neighbor?

*Yet Another Social Network

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August 27, 2007


Greg Sargent at TPM's Election Central declares Rahm Emanuel's response to Alberto Gonzales' resignation the Quote of the Day, and it's hard to argue against him:

Alberto Gonzales is the first Attorney General who thought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth were three different things.


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August 26, 2007

Sunday with Sondheim

From the library, with help from The Sondheim Guide:

  • America - Chita Rivera and Girls; show - West Side Story; album: Best of Broadway
  • Being Alive - Barbra Streisand; show - Company; album: The Broadway Album
  • Everything's Coming Up Roses - Ethel Merman; show - Gypsy; album: Best Of Broadway
  • Not While I'm Around - Barbra Streisand; show - Sweeney Todd; album: The Broadway Album
  • Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch - Barbra Streisand; show(s) - Sweeney Todd/Company; album: The Broadway Album
  • Putting It Together - Barbra Streisand; show - Sunday in the Park with George; album: The Broadway Album
  • Send In The Clowns - Barbra Streisand; show - A Little Night Music; album: The Broadway Album
  • Small World - We Five; show - Gypsy; album: You Were On My Mind
  • Something's Coming - Barbra Streisand; show - West Side Story; album: The Broadway Album
  • Somewhere - Barbra Streisand; show - West Side Story; album: The Broadway Album
  • Somewhere - We Five; show - West Side Story; album: Make Someone Happy
  • Tonight - Carol Lawrence/Larry Kert; show - West Side Story; album: Best Of Broadway
  • Tonight - We Five; show - West Side Story; album: You Were On My Mind

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August 25, 2007

This was bound to happen

I finally found a Linda Ronstadt album I didn't immediately love: Trio, a 1987 release with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. On first listen, it seemed like there was too much Dolly singing lead. I like Parton in small doses, but there seemed to be an awful lot of her. On further review, however, I've decided that it's pretty darned good. The voices meld beautifully, and there is a handoff of lead vocals that's so seamless it's often hard to determine which woman is singing what when. Trio II, a 1999 release by the same three singers, is more to my taste.

Western Wall | The Tucson Sessions is a collection of duets between Ronstadt and Harris, and it's a winner. Maybe it's just that the songs on this one are far more modern (Trio was far more country/gospel than Trio II, which included a masterful version of Neil Young's After the Gold Rush). Maybe Linda and Emmylou unconsciously deferred to Dolly's style and musical preferences with the first album? Given the status of the three women on the musical landscape, that's hard to believe, but it's possible.

This was my first experience borrowing CDs from the library, and it's certainly a good way to determine whether an album's worth buying. Somehow I miss the tactile sense of holding an unopened jewel case and fiddling with the insert for the first time, though. I didn't try it, but I did wonder if there was anything on the CD which would prevent me from copying it. How do libraries handle that issue, I wonder?

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August 24, 2007

Taco stories

Kevin Drum finds a paragraph in Youngblood Hawke about the scarcity of tacos in New York City at the time the novel was written (1952). What follows in his comments is a marvelous mish-mash of culinary history from his readers as various regions of the country weigh in. Do read it.

The New Yorker's Martin Schneider notices Kevin's post, picks up the taco shell and stuffs it with more NYC facts!

My first memory of eating a taco is from about 1960, at a prototypical family-owned Mexican restaurant named Gonzalez' in San Pedro or Long Beach in California. It had the red vinyl tablecloths over the tables with aluminum-formed legs, cheap red candle-holders wrapped in white mesh, and wooden bowls of salsa and chips.

When we moved from there to Northern Virginia in 1962 there wasn't a Mexican restaurant to be found. After much searching, we found one called Ernesto's in Georgetown in DC. It was on the second floor of a walkup building, and the food wasn't as good as that we'd had in Southern California. What a surprise.

So when did you first eat/see a taco?

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August 23, 2007

Bush don't know squat about 'Nam

Enough with the Vietnam comparisons. Here's all you need to know: in each conflict we entered it for spurious reasons. We backed faulty horses after we got in. We poured billions of dollars into each out of a misguided sense that America doesn't lose wars. We alienated the population we were trying to help to the point where they began to sympathize with and provide support to the insurgents who were fighting us. And we had no idea how to get out once we got in.

Fortunately, there's still a little room on the National Mall for another wall.

Posted by Linkmeister at 09:56 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 22, 2007

The courtesy of a reply

Glenn Greenwald has been busily debunking the idea that the reason Congress is deemed unpopular is that it's spending too much time investigating and not enough time doing. See here and here. He points out that people who self-identify as Democrats are at least as unhappy with the Democratically-controlled Congress as the self-identified Republicans are; however, he comes to a different conclusion than that of the esteemed pundits. He looks at the polls and finds that, in fact, the majority of Americans (both Dems and Repubs) think the President and his Administration should be investigated for possible wrongdoing in Iraq and at DOJ, to name two areas (see the second link for details).

Speaking as one of those who's unhappy with the Democrats because I think they've been entirely too acquiescent to the Bush Administration (see below), here's another reason for my discontent: I wrote the following to our senior Senator after his vote in favor of giving AG Gonzales authority over wiretapping Americans without notice:

Dear Senator Inouye
I'm writing to express my disappointment and consternation at the Senator's vote in favor of the FISA bill as demanded by President Bush.

Why on earth would the Senate cede more authority to an Administration which has already shown its contempt for the Constitution and the Legislative branch of government?

I made a call to Australia the other day. The passage of this bill would allow the NSA to listen to any such call I might make in the future with no oversight by a court at all.

Is this the kind of society the Senator approves of? What's next, the East German Stasi?

I'm angry about this, Senator Inouye. What on earth were you thinking when you voted for this?

That was on August 4, 2007. It's nearly three weeks later. I've yet to receive a response.

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August 21, 2007

In my next life I want talent

If you're a reader with an acute knowledge of both Winnie the Pooh and H.P. Lovecraft (and how could the literate reader be other?), go over to this thread at Making Light.

Read and be enlightened, horrified, and laugh-your-backside off amused.


In Rabbit's meadhall /friends and relations
sang of heroes /and held a banquet
Rabbit, father of warriors, /Ring-giver, far-sighted
from carven seat /saw his house carouse...
but from the mere /slowly moving
came Roo's mother, /monstrous creature,
Kanga her name /in horror created
born in darkness /and darkness bearing
in blood she wished /to bathe the warriors...

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Patience, grasshopper

You know how it's claimed that Americans have short attention spans, always wanting everything RIGHT NOW?

Count me in. Occasionally I have a need or desire to use my old film camera, and then I agonize because I still have fifteen exposures left on the roll of film that's in there. I don't want to wait until I find enough photo-worthy pictures to use the roll up naturally, so I end up taking a bunch of pictures I don't really care about in order to get the ones I want developed.

Yes, I have a digital camera, but my mom likes prints, and I've tried printing some of the ones I've taken digitally and been less than impressed.


Posted by Linkmeister at 02:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 20, 2007

I'd feel poor too

Does it strike anyone else that members of the Bush Administration occupy a different financial planet than most of us? Back when Tom Ridge resigned as head of the Dept. of Homeland Security I think he said he needed to make more money as his kids started college. When Tommy Thompson resigned as head of HHS he said much the same thing. Now we have Tony Snow saying "I will not be able to make it to the end of this administration, just financially."

Snow's salary is $168,000. Assuming that Cabinet secretaries are paid at the highest level in the Senior Executive Service, DHS Secretary pays ~$186,600, and HHS Secretary the same.

Just can't keep up with those mortgage payments on the second homes, I imagine.

Posted by Linkmeister at 09:30 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 19, 2007


Okay, there was Bo Derek. But the memory I have of Ravel's Bolero is this one:

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August 18, 2007

Shuffle, shuffle, toil and trouble

What the library spat out this afternoon:

  • Twilight Double Leader - Jefferson Airplane; composer: Paul Kantner; album: The Essential Jefferson Airplane
  • My Generation - The Who; composer: Pete Townshend; album: Live At Leeds
  • A Child In These Hills - Jackson Browne; composer: Jackson Browne; album: Jackson Browne
  • Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) - Linda Ronstadt; composer: Wilson, B; Asher, A; album: Winter Light
  • Small World - We Five; composer: Stephen Sondheim; album: You Were On My Mind/Make Someone Happy
  • Plastic Fantastic Lover - Jefferson Airplane; composer: Marty Balin; album: The Essential Jefferson Airplane
  • Tell Me On A Sunday - Sarah Brightman; composer: Andrew Lloyd Webber; album: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection (from Song and Dance)
  • Camelot - Richard Burton; composer: F. Loewe/A.J. Lerner; album: Best of Broadway (from Camelot)
  • June Is Bustin' Out All Over - Christine Johnson, Jean Darling & Chorus; composer: R. Rodgers/O. Hammerstein II; album: Best Of Broadway (from Carousel)
  • Runaway - Bonnie Raitt; composer: Del Shannon/Max Crook; album: Bonnie Raitt Collection
  • I Keep It Hid - Linda Ronstadt; composer: Jimmy Webb; album: Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind
Posted by Linkmeister at 12:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2007

Sector madness

Back in the 80s Fidelity Investments (among others) was flogging sector funds like crazy. These were mutual funds which were designed to invest only in companies within specific parts of the economy (telecomm, pharmaceutical, medical supply, health care, etc.). The broader the sector the more leeway the investment manager had within it; thus somebody who had healthcare as his purview could invest in pharma, medical devices, biotech, and even hospitals, whereas telecomm meant essentially phone companies and their suppliers.

One of the sectors was finance, which often meant banks, mortgage companies, and anything else which moved money around. I felt then and I still feel that banks and lenders in general should not be anybody's choice as an investment. My reasoning was that they are often perceived as conservative with other peoples' money, but they really aren't. They tend to chase higher returns by following trends, and we've seen that recently.

The whole concept of lending money to people who can't afford to repay it goes against everything most of us ever learned in our economics or accounting classes, and yet that's precisely what the mortgage industry and the banks have done over the past few years, which is why we have a mess on our hands today. They were able to do this because they could make a mortgage loan and immediately offload it to somebody in Wall Street who'd package a bunch of similar loans and turn them into something called Mortgage Security VI, or MtgSecVI for short, and then offer that package to brokers who'd turn around and sell it to investors both large (mutual funds) and small (individual investors). The pitch was that "these are mortages! People will stop eating before they stop repaying their loans!"

Right. Since MtgSecVI was made up of nothing but subprime (read: shaky) loans, the chance that the borrowers would be unable to repay was much higher than it would have been had the loans been at prime plus one to people whose incomes were substantial and secure.

Moral: do not invest in publicly traded banks; their managers are as stupid as anybody else.

Posted by Linkmeister at 01:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

Gosh, can this be so?

It doesn't surprise me, but the guy who owns that mine in Utah has a history of fudging, prevaricating, and contributing to Republicans (these three acts seem to have some correlation). From the Huffington Post:

In 2003, when safety inspectors ordered the owner of a Utah coal mine where six workers have been trapped for more than a week to shut down one of his Ohio operations because of repeated safety problems, local press reports say he did not hesitate to flex his political muscle to get the inspectors off his back.


Murray has personally donated $115,050 to Republican political candidates over the past three election cycles. He has given another $724,500 to the GOP over the past ten years through political action committees connected to his businesses.


Murray's Galatia mine in southern Illinois has racked up 2,787 violations over the past two years. MSHA has proposed more than $2.4 million in fines at Galatia, according to Gehrke's reporting.

Another Murray-owned company - Ken American Resources - and four of its top employees were convicted in a federal court in Kentucky of conspiring to violate federal mine safety rules.

Sounds like a charming man.

Posted by Linkmeister at 10:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 15, 2007

Relief in sight

Flossie was downgraded to tropical storm status overnight. At 0500HST she was about 270 miles due south of Oahu and continuing to move west at about 15mph.

Dodged that bullet.

Thanks for all the good wishes. Only 3 more months till the end of this year's hurricane season!

Posted by Linkmeister at 08:37 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 14, 2007

Do I want to know?

Ok, Flossie, we're ready for you now.

Well, at least we'll know what you're doing, anyway.

The Weather Channel® Stormtracker™ Series Weather Alert Radio’s by Vector help keep informed with public broadcasts of all-hazard emergency alerts through The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio. By leaving the Stormtracker in alert/lock mode 24/7, when an all-hazard emergency or weather alert is broadcast by NOAA, the Stormtracker sounds an audible alert to notify you a message is pending. Move the switch or depress a button, (depending on the model) to hear the NOAA report.

The Stormtracker units are always ready to use. The main power is a dry cell or rechargeable battery, 12 volt DC power or 120 volt AC power. The rechargeable, hand-crank battery is a secondary power source for emergency use when the battery, 12 volt DC power or 120 volts AC are not available. When the power goes out for a long period of time and all battery sources have been depleted, a built-in hand-crank provides back-up power for radio, LED area light and cell phone charging functions.

And it has a 5" TV screen and AM-FM radio, too. It's not cable ready, but whaddya want for $60?

Posted by Linkmeister at 08:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 13, 2007

An ode to storms

Flossie's now less than 500 miles from the Big Island. It's expected to weaken to a Category 1 and pass about 100 miles offshore, according to this morning's update.

In honor or supplication, here's Ella Fitzgerald singing "Stormy Weather" accompanied by Joe Pass on guitar.

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August 12, 2007


We Hawai'i residents are in watching and waiting mode, as Flossie seems to be moving northwest along the same track as the island land mass. Hopefully it remains a few hundred miles south.

The trouble is, many of us still remember Iniki and its sudden turn north (see its storm track in the upper left corner of this page). Predicting a hurricane's direction is an inexact science, as NOAA's summary of that 1992 storm shows.

We've got a survival kit, but there aren't many shelters, and none are really prepared for a huge disaster. We're crossing our fingers that it doesn't come to that.

Posted by Linkmeister at 10:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 11, 2007

Dance, baby, dance

Gah. With the Dodgers losing badly on Fox this afternoon, I need cheering up.

Loggins and Messina, "Vahevala", from the 2006 tour:

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August 10, 2007

Republican fund-raising letter

Hey! I got it too!

"It" is a fundraising letter from the Republican National Committee, but it's accompanied by a two-page "Voter Registration Verification and Audit Form." Talking Points Memo has a copy here.

The thing is funny, but it could be intimidating if you didn't know better. It says the RNC's records show the recipient "registered as a member of our Party in Honolulu County. But a recent audit of your Party affiliation turned up some irregularities."

Oh noes! Irregularities!

It goes on:

I am writing to find out where you stand. For example, we have no record of your support for President George W. Bush.

In fact, we have no record of your support for a Republican Presidential candidate going back to President Ronald W. Reagan!

And despite several requests, you have never made a dues payment to the Republican National Committee (not even a partial payment).

I know this can't be true but you can see why I think there are irregularities in your record, especially when our local (redacted) Republican canvassers indicate that you view yourself as a Republican! (Some of our 72-Hour Task Force folks have even used the word "strongly" to describe the intensity of your support for our Party).

Oh, really? Well, lemme tell you, Mr. Bill Steiner, Director: Strongly would be the word I'd use to describe my antipathy toward your Party, not my support. At least, that's the word I'd use in mixed company.

Posted by Linkmeister at 08:14 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 09, 2007

The gods occasionally smile

Well, Canon couldn't find the right part to fix my Powershot SD110, so they asked if I'd like a refurbished SD600 instead. Not being a complete idiot, I said sure. Yesterday I picked it up.

It's got a much larger LCD screen than the SD110 and a 3X zoom rather than the 2X the SD110 has; that's equivalent to 35mm-105mm, which makes it the same as the one my Canon A-1 has. 'Course, it's got 150 pages worth of manual to page through; the A-1 has a 48-pager that I could carry in its bag.

Overall, I'm delighted. The one regret I had after using the SD110 after a while was the lack of zoom length, and that's been resolved at no cost to me. Woohoo!

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August 08, 2007

Thirty-three years ago today

When honor (or at least a sense of political embarrassment) still existed.

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August 07, 2007

Homeowner's lament

Last month the camera, the fridge and the television all went on the fritz; this week it's the toaster oven.

The ground prong of the plug (the long round one) became unseated and got stuck in the wall outlet the other day. I gingerly removed it from the outlet and tried to reseat it (there are two tiny holes in the plug and two corresponding tabs which should fit into them). Didn't work.

I called Black and Decker (this thing was a Christmas gift last year, so it's still under warranty); the customer service guy I eventually reached (20 minute wait, probably about average) told me to cut the cord about three inches below the plug, put it in an envelope, mail it to Ohio with a check for $7.50, wait 7-10 days, and receive a new toaster.

Cool beans!

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August 06, 2007

You want immunity too?

Jack Balkin finds this nugget in the President's message issued upon signing the FISA abomination:

When Congress returns in September the Intelligence committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director McConnell, including the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

What? Anybody Bush claims has helped us in the GWOT (sic) should get blanket immunity from whatever actions they might have taken ever since then? This seems to be a "Get out of Jail Free" card for every torturer, every war criminal, every contractor who overbilled the US government, every foreign agent he likes, and, crucially, anyone in his Administration up to and including himself.

Holy Mother of God, the man really does think he's King.

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August 05, 2007

Grumble, grumble

Since I'm furious with our elected representatives, let's have a little music to soothe the savage breast. Did you know that's the correct quotation? According to this phrase site which has the poem from which it's taken, there are more than twice as many hits for the incorrect phrase "soothe the savage beast."

Two of my favorites: Jackson Browne and Joan Baez sing Browne's beautiful "Before the Deluge."

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August 04, 2007

What on earth are they doing?

The next time somebody accuses the Democrats of being poll-driven, refer the accuser to this shameful capitulation. Despite Bush's poll numbers being down in territory Richard Nixon would recognize, the Senate caved in to his demands and gave him the revisions he wanted to FISA, the wiretapping law.

The legislation, which is expected to go before the House today, would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas.

As currently written, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act already gives U.S. spies broad leeway to monitor the communications of foreign terrorism suspects, but the 30-year-old statute requires a warrant to monitor calls intercepted in the United States, regardless of where the calls begin or end.

"Oh, it's temporary! We'll revisit it in six months," Harry Reid and other members of the Democratic leadership cry. And what will have changed in six months? Will you clowns suddenly grow a spine?

You know that call I had trouble making to Australia last week? With this law in place, it could have been monitored by Bush and his minions without any oversight. Why would the call have been monitored? Because the NSA wanted to. It wouldn't have to show any kind of probable cause that my call should be monitored.

When will the Democrats stand up to this man?

Update: Roll Call vote here. One of my Democratic Senators voted in favor; I've already expressed my unhappiness to him. I urge you to do the same (and if you don't have your Congressmembers' names and addresses in your mail program's address book, now's the time to add them).

Update 2: The House approved it too. Way to go, legislators. You have handed over full authority to an out-of-control President and Vice-President.

And to cede power over this program to Alberto Gonzales? The same man you've been ridiculing and calling a liar for weeks?

Gutless, the lot of you.

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August 03, 2007

Penny saved, pound foolish

You just knew this was going to be discovered.

Structural deficiencies in the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed Wednesday were so serious that the Minnesota Department of Transportation last winter considered bolting steel plates to its supports to prevent cracking in fatigued metal, according to documents and interviews with agency officials.

The department went so far as to ask contractors for advice on the best way to approach such a task, which could have been opened for bids later this year.

MnDOT considered the steel plating at the recommendation of consulting engineers who told the agency that there were two ways to keep the bridge safe: Make repairs throughout the 40-year-old steel arched bridge or inspect it closely enough to find flaws that might become cracks and then bolt the steel plating only on those sections.

But no, it was decided drilling all those holes might weaken the bridge further, so the DOT opted for inspections.

At some point, "study study study" needs to change to "repair repair repair." And it's not just Minnesota; every state in this country has tried to avoid doing maintenance work on our infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers' latest report card

Between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of the nation's 590,750 bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete decreased slightly from 28.5% to 27.1%. However, it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies. Long-term underinvestment is compounded by the lack of a Federal transportation program.

That's just bridges. The total estimate to fully repair America's infrastructure is $1.6 trillion dollars over the next five years. That's aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water systems, the national power grid, hazardous waste removal systems, navigable waterways, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, security, solid waste, transit, and wastewater systems.

That's unquestionably a ton of money. On the other hand, think of the jobs that would create. The construction industry would boom like it hasn't in years, and just in time to take up the slack in the housing industry. And of course there's a ripple effect; all the materials that construction and repair would require have to be produced, purchased, shipped and stored.

Helluva lot better than spending $1 trillion on Iraq.

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August 02, 2007

Influential people you've never heard of

You probably have to be mired in the depths of the textbook acquisition process to recognize the name Norma Gabler. I didn't know the name off the top of my head, but I remember hearing and reading about her and her late husband. From my point of view they were right-wing zealots who had an inordinate amount of influence on the kind of schoolbooks approved for kids in this country. They were "watchdogs" who managed to get language into textbooks which emphasized a conservative religious point of view.

For more than four decades, the couple influenced what children read, not just in Texas but around the country.

The reason was Texas’ power to be a national template; the state board chooses textbooks for the entire state, and of the 20 or so states that choose books statewide, only California is bigger than Texas. It is difficult and costly for publishers to put out multiple editions, so a book rejected by Texas might not be printed at all.

They got their start when their son brought home a textbook which had a partial text of the Gettysburg Address; it omitted the phrase "Under God," and that offended them. They moved on from there to such questions as

Why did a history textbook give more space to the French Revolution than to the American Revolution? Were not Vietnam and Watergate overemphasized? Was Robin Hood a hero, as the text claimed, or a dangerous advocate of income redistribution?

She has died at age 84.

Update: I should have known that PZ Myers of Pharyngula would note her passing. He also reposted his thoughts upon the death of her husband three years earlier.

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Minneapolis-St. Paul photos

A Minneapolis blogger lives across the street from the bridge which collapsed Wednesday evening. Before he was evacuated he helped rescue people and managed to take about 35 pictures as well, which he sent to a friend who posted them to Flickr. The photos are closeups, not the distant shots the cable networks were showing all evening.

His blog post is here.

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August 01, 2007

Mystery conventions

There seem to be dozens of science fiction conventions every year, but this is the first I've heard of a mystery convention. I'm sure there are a fair number, but I've missed the memos.

Anyway, there's an organization calling itself Left Coast Crime which is planning its 2009 meeting in my neighborhood! It would mean a plane flight a hundred miles or so southeast, but that would be no hardship.

So, mystery aficionados, come to the Left Coast Crime annual convention at beautiful Waikoloa on the West coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i, north of Kona on the Kohala coast! The event will take place beginning March 7, 2009 and run through March 12.

The honorees this time are Rhys Bowen, author of the Constable Evans and Molly Murphy series, and Barry Eisler, author of the John Rain series.

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