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»  September 30, 2008

What the...?  

I Will Drive 5,000 Miles: Just four days short of six months of smart car driving, and the odometer turns over to 5,000 miles when I'm in an extremely slow construction zone backup on Washington Street in downtown Portland.

I've found the clement early fall weather useful, because the crutches just don't fit well into the smart when there's a passenger, but you can stick them out the cabrio top in back if temperature and precipitation are favorable. A passenger can fit in front with them if the top's down, but they tend to be eating the rubber pads.


What the...?  

Python Sketch: One year ago today: The parrot tree in Hyde Park. They're there, believe me.


»  September 29, 2008

What the...?  

Funkadelic: One year ago today: Barbara waiting for that perfect photo in the London Eye above Parliament.



Not McGovern's Job: Former Sen. George McGovern, the guest for the "Not My Job" segment of this week's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!"

Darrel Plant and George McGovern


»  September 28, 2008

What the...?  

Holes: One year ago today: Mom across from the Royal Albert Hall, standing in Hyde Park, London.


»  September 27, 2008

What the...?  

Yesterday's Fortunes: The Fu Jin reopened Friday after their annual vacation.

A cheerful message is on its way to you.
Use your abilities at this time to stay focused on your goal. You will succeed.


»  September 26, 2008


Change You Can Believe In: The title of this ad was "Change":


What the...?  

Font Geek Humor:


»  September 25, 2008


Suckers: From Marc Maron — the only reason I ever listened to Air America — and Sam Seder, whose new Maron v Seder project goes live 1 October:



Cover: From Entertainment Weekly's interview with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you think anything will change if the Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress?

JON STEWART: Look at what they promised when they took over Congress. I've never heard such hardcore rhetoric. "The era of the blank check is over! And we will send a sternly worded memorandum — nonbinding — to somebody at the White House. Not necessarily the inner executive circle, we certainly don't want to offend, but..." And then they got in and were like, "Really, you want to eavesdrop? Okay, we'll let this one go. But this is the last blank check! Unless you want another. But let me say this: The next one will not be blank, because we'll just write in the memo line. Can we write in memo? Would you be bothered by that?"

Stewart & Colbert recreate the Obama's New Yorker cover

It's hard to tell from the small photo, but I don't see much American flag burning in the fireplace in the recreation...



The Soviets Knew Where to Stop: I guess I'm going to need another line in the war timeline:

Pakistani and American Troops Exchange Fire

WASHINGTON — Pakistani and American ground troops exchanged fire along the border with Afghanistan on Thursday after the Pakistanis shot at two American helicopters, ratcheting up tensions as the United States increases its attacks against Qaeda and Taliban militants sheltering in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas.


American and NATO officials said that the two helicopters were flying about one mile inside Afghan air space to protect an American and Afghan patrol on the ground when the aircraft were fired on by small-caliber arms fire from a Pakistani military checkpoint near Tanai district in Khost Province.

In response, the American ground troops shot short bursts of warning fire, which hit well shy of the rocky, hilltop checkpoint, and the Pakistanis fired back, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the Central Command.

But a spokesman for the Pakistani army, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said Pakistani forces fired warning shots at the American aircraft after they crossed into Pakistan’s territory in the area of Saidgai, in North Waziristan’s Ghulam Khan region. “On this, the helicopters returned fire and flew back,” General Abbas said.



Good Enough: Twenty months ago, Democrats attained majorities in both chambers of Congress (although admittedly only by the skin of Majority Leader Harry Reid's dentures in the Senate). That was after — although not necessarily because of — presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the possibility of the impeachment of President Geroge W. Bush "off the table" in the weeks before election, saying in a 60 Minutes interview that it would be a "waste of time" and that making the Administration "lame ducks" would be "good enough" for her.

That part about it being "good enough" for Pelosi is probably true. After all, what could a lame duck administration manage to do in the twenty-seven months between the November 2006 election and the inaguration of a new president (whoever that might be) in January 2009? What could possibly go wrong? Or get worse?

As the House Judiciary Committee considered whether to impeach President Richard Nixon in early 1974, it prepared a report entitled Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment. One section of the report discussed the intentions of the Constitution's framers and the purposes of impeachment.

A man who became one of the earliest Supreme Court justices, James Iredell, made this comment during the debate over the impeachment provisions in the Constitution:

[The President] Must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into meansures [sic] injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them, - in this case, I ask whether, upon an impeachment for a misdemeanor upon such an account, the Senate would probably favor him.
This, at least, was the impression given in the years after the invasion of Iraq, not simply about the rationale for the war itself but practically every aspect of the conduct of the war. Time and again, claims by the president and other administration officials were exposed as false, yet after control of Congress passed to the Democrats, there was nothing but smoke and bluster.

In so doing, the Democratically-controlled Congress kicked the can down the road, saying that everything would change after "More and Better Democrats" were elected to the House and Senate (never mind that the Same Old Democrats in control of both chambers aren't going anywhere). Meanwhile, anyone who's been watching the housing market bubble over like an unwatched pot — combined with the uncontrolled spending on things like, say, the completely unnecessary Iraq war — the past few years could have anticipated that the economic chickens were going to come home to roost one of these days. It was just a matter of when.

Well, they're here. Seven hundred billion chickens. Or maybe one point two trillion. Who knows? After the first few hundred billion you kind of get tired of counting.

This financial disaster has been a long time coming. There's no doubt that the situation in the economic markets has increased in severity over the past year and a half, while both the administration and Congress have done essentially nothing. We'll never know at this point if action taken a year or more ago might have substantially reduced the risk the American taxpayers are being saddled with, but it's a reasonable assumption.

Last summer, Sen. Ron Wyden complained to the town hall participants calling for Bush's impeachment that an attempt to do so would be long and drawn-out, and detract from the important business of Congress. I have no real illusion that an impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have been successful, or even that a President Pelosi would have done anything different on the economy, but a Congress that wasn't afraid to exercise the oversight powers granted to them by the Constitution (and one that was actually operating in the interests of its constituents) might have been able to head off this fiscal nightmare with a few hundred billion less, or even realized that the ten or twelve billion dollars spent in Iraq every month wasn't helping matters one bit.



Space: Maybe it's time for Obama to put a little more space between McCain and himself:



Quote Of the Day: Charlie Claiborne, a trucker from upstate New York, on NPR's "Morning Edition" today talking about executive compensation and the bailout, mentioning his colleague, Leon Martin:

Leon could have probably run AIG and ended up in a better position than what they did. And probably for about thirty million less!


»  September 23, 2008


A Billion Dollars a Word: Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio on the bailout:



Bernie Sanders' Petition: The only actual socialist in Congress (despite the ravings of people like Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a petition out calling for strictures on the Wall Street bailout plan. It's primary points include:

  • A five-year, 10% surtax on income over $500,000 per person;
  • Safeguards to make sure bank assets are realistically appraised;
  • Taxpayer equity in bailed-out companies;
  • A general economic recovery package focused on rebuilding infrastructure and renewable energy development;
  • Repeal of the banking and investment deregulation that led to the current crisis;
  • Breakup of companies that are "too big to fail" so that failing companies don't need to be bailed out in the future.
Keep trying, the server's kind of busy.


»  September 21, 2008



U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Securities, and Government Sponsored Enterprises
Committee on Banking and Financial Services
Washington, DC.

Just for local color, an exchange between Oregon Rep. Darlene Hooley and Ralph Nader, who was advocating for "a more rational and stronger regulatory system" for the GSE (Government Sponsored Enterprise) entities Sallie Mae and Freddie Mac, and warning that they had become corporations "where much of the risk remains with the Government and the taxpayers while the profits flow to private shareholders."

Ms. HOOLEY. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a question for several of the members of the panel.

Thank you very much for being here. This has been very helpful.

Mr. Nader, what do you think is the most egregious benefit that the GSEs receive?

How does that negatively affect the consumer and home buyer?

And what would be the benefit of eliminating whatever benefit you think is the most egregious?

Mr. NADER. Well I mentioned them in the testimony. I do not want to take the time up just to repeat them. But there are two ways to look at the benefits.

One is, what is the quid pro quo? If the Government is going to in indirect and direct ways subsidize these corporations, what are we getting in return? What is the taxpayer getting in return?

And the second is whether these subsidies can be reduced or eliminated and still, given the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have a lot of public subsidy built into their net worth over the years, still hold them to fulfilling certain housing goals, as the witnesses have described. That is the way I would frame it.

I think now they are so rich and so powerful that they can be held to these housing goals without basically having an implied bailout potential.

There is a fellow named Stanton who wrote a book about fifteen years ago on the really risk levels of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and do we want to go through that route again?

I mean, do they operate in a way where they say "Uncle Sam will bail us out? We can have low ratios in terms of our capital," and so forth.

You know, that is what you have to ask yourself. I mean, are you ready for it if something happens? And if that is going to be the case, then you have got to hold them to a much higher standard than private corporations are held.

Ms. HOOLEY. But the question is, how will the consumers benefit if you eliminate those benefits? I mean, that is what I am interested in is how are we going to benefit the consumers?

Mr. NADER. Apart from the taxpayers, you mean? How are you going to benefit the consumers?

Ms. HOOLEY. How are we going to benefit the consumers?

Mr. NADER. Well if you withhold the subsidy, you benefit the taxpayers. The consumers relate to the housing goals of HUD and how that relates to Fannie Mae. Those are two different subjects.


»  September 19, 2008


Stupid Foreigners: From Sean Hannity's interview on FOX News with GOP VP candidate Gov. Sarah Palin (via Crooks & Liars):

Hannity: Is Senator Obama then using what happened on Wall Street this week? Is he using it for political gain? Is there a danger of a presidential candidate is saying to the world that America’s situation of economic crisis is the worst that we’ve seen in decades — which was words that he was using yesterday — is there a danger in terms of the world hearing that?
Like the rest of the world couldn’t figure out that there was an economic crisis in this country without Barack Obama telling them...you’d think the bailouts and failures of multiple investment and banking institutions might have clued them in.


»  September 18, 2008


Yesterday: There's been a lot of snark about John McCain doing an interview with a reporter from the Spanish (as in, from Spain) newspaper El Pais, and seemingly getting confused over what continent Spain is on, and whether he'd be willing to meet with Spain's President Zapatero. McCain answered non-comittally that he'd be willing to work with "leaders who are our friends...in the hemisphere" and some stuff about Latin America and drug cartels, even as the reporter attempted to clarify that they were talking about Spain, but McCain wouldn't budge (text via Americablog):

QUESTION: Okay... what about you, I'm talking about the President of Spain?

MCCAIN: What about me what?

QUESTION: Okay... are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

MCCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those that do not.

McCain's neo-con handler Randy Scheunemann has come out saying that McCain wasn't disoriented in the interview, just that he's a hard-liner. That, of course, confuses people, because Spain does have troops in Afghanistan, as well as being a member of NATO.

But I suspect that what most people have forgotten is a little something called the Spanish-American War. But John McCain hasn't, because he's so old he remembers it like it was yesterday.


»  September 16, 2008


The Not Really News Department: Now they tell us. From The New York Times web site:

Thomas Friedman: Making America Stupid


»  September 11, 2008


»  September 10, 2008

What the...?  

First Steps: My brother told me my niece's first steps were taken on Plymouth Rock last week, where at least some of our family is reputed to have have arrived nearly 400 years ago.

Meanwhile, sometime this winter I'm going to have to relearn a few moves myself, after fracturing my knee (yes, on the same leg I broke the ankle of six years ago) last week.

I used to use this image for the background of my business cards:



It's Like He Lives In My Brain: Too broken to write. Just read Dennis Perrin:

You could start by asking all those liberals now appalled by McCain's politics why they gave him a free pass and enthusiastic praise for so many years. Like Joe Lieberman, McCain hasn't changed all that much. He's simply become inconvenient. Back in the '90s, when liberal McCain love was strong, libs yelled at me for not showing this war hero the proper respect. Couldn't I see that McCain wasn't like the other Repubs? The man not only slaughtered Vietnamese so we could enjoy faster service at Wendy's drive-throughs, he had conviction, morals, and personified patriotism. Well, that's all down the memory hole; now it's the media's fault for pushing this war-crazy old man and his gun-toting MILF on the rest of us.



Huey Long Died 73 Years Ago Today: On this 73nd anniversary of the death of Louisiana Senator Long (he was shot on 8 September 1935 but died two days later) I feel it's important to encourage people to look at the actual accomplishments of the man, and not what people who were threatened by his agenda accused him of.

To that end, I humbly submit my 1992 review of T. Harry Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Long (the review's been on the web so long it's still on the first Google page of searches for "huey long"). If you can find a copy, one of Ken Burns's earliest projects was on Long. While it's hardly a detailed study of Long's policies or actions, it's particularly interesting for the interviews in which members of the state's ruling class express their hatred for Long and his intrusion into their turf, which puts one in mind of the Washington elite's attitude toward Clinton.

There's much more out there, but, as always, I like to close with words from Huey Long himself, from his autobiography Every Man a King:



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,427,500,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man's forturn to something like $50,000,000 [$713,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

"The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime."

—Ridpath's History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:



»  September 8, 2008

What the...?  

First and Six:

AMC Pacer in University of Washington colors

Driving up north the other day, I saw a familiar squat shape pulling onto I5 between Tacoma and Seattle, and as we pulled up next to it, it was indeed an AMC Pacer, which was the first car I ever had (and which had been my father's car for several years). Regrettably, a lack of money for regular maintenance didn't do my Pacer any favors, and I didn't have it (running) for many years. We went a couple years without a vehicle of our own, then bought a relative's Volkswagen Rabbit -- which broke down one too many times and ended up being replaced with a new Ford Escort hatchback. The Escort was dependable and sturdy, managing to take out an SUV and a van in the only accident I've ever been involved in. In a tragic mistake, we replaced it with a used Escort hatchback that we were able to buy outright with the insurance money. The transmission on that baby stripped out on us on a dark September Friday evening near Mary's Peak. For the past decade, we've been driving its successor, a trusty (new) Escort wagon.

My sixth car is the smart. And you can see its dash reflected in the window of the photo, bringing the car line full circle. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Pacer, though.



All the World's a Game:

Spy Trackdown

I went up to Seattle on Saturday to get my copy of Spy Trackdown, a new game from Wild Planet's Spy Gear series of toys (I have to get the remote-controlled camera/tank to go with my shocking tanks).

I even got a chance to play it with my friend Jon and his son Dane, and I think a fun time was had by all, despite the fact that I won the game rather handily and that we're all well above the age range at which the game is targeted. I guess that the hours I spent coding for the prototype engine paid off, and the developers even told me that the programmers who wrote the final version for the chip that runs the game's electronics used my my original Flash code as their template.

In Spy Trackdown you're one of up to four agents travelling across the world's continents (except for Antarctica), going from city to city (referred to as "zones" in the game but associated with city names on the board). Each continent has a number of zones, ranging from about ten down to four for Australia. A "covert agent" is placed in a random zone on each continent; the "enemy mastermind" is placed randomly in an unoccupied zone anywhere in the world. All the players begin in the same randomly-chosen location.

The whole game is controlled by the Spy Phone: a device with a speaker, an 'X' and an 'O' button, and an 'Enter' button. There's a little cradle on the board that the Spy Phone fits into; it has its own function in controlling how loud the speaker is and also triggers modal changes.

Spy Phone

During setup, players identify which of the four agent colors are playing (by pressing X or O) and player order is randomly assigned. A player turn consists of two code entry sequences: the player enters a four-character sequence of Xs and Os (it's binary numbers! for kids!) then either confirms the action with the Enter key or puts in a new code to override. Zones have from one to four travel modes available (motorcycle, sports car, helicopter, jet), all to different destinations, and each mode has its own unique four-digit binary sequence, which means that as the codes are entered, the chip can keep track of where each player is.

Most of the time, the Spy Phone is in its cradle and the instructions and information it reads out can be heard by anyone, but when a player ends their turn, the Spy Phone tells them to pick up the phone and press Enter to hear their secret messages. Most of the time, all the player hears is the shortest number of zones separating them from the covert agent on their current continent. By triangulating (and sheer dumb luck) the player can figure out how to end their turn in the covert agent's zone. The first player to end their turn on a covert agent zone on that continent is entitled to four Covert Action cards; the next player there gets three, and so on. The catch is that they don't get the cards immediately, they only get cards when they leave the continent.

The Covert Action cards themselves have other codes on them, giving players the ability to set traps (which lets them steal cards from other players), take extra turns, find out how far away the mastermind is, what direction the mastermind is, and to capture the mastermind. Capturing the mastermind wins the game.

All in all, a pretty nice game of logic and luck, based on a great concept by some folks I'd last worked with ten years ago. I wrote a little ActionScript A* path-finding algorithm that ended up getting replaced by lookup tables in the chip version (because the chip didn't have the processing power to do the path-finding). The prototype had voice fragments that I could string together and generate sentences which the final version does as well. I'm proud of the way the whole project went.


»  September 4, 2008


Palin for President: As anyone who's been paying attention knows, my own pick for president this year is Christopher Walken, but there is a shiny, newish face on the scene as well:


»  September 1, 2008


Kerrying McCain's Water: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, discussing the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the GOP's vice presidential slot:

KERRY: What John McCain has proven with this choice — this is very important, George. John McCain wanted to choose Tom Ridge. He wanted to choose Joe Lieberman. He wanted to choose another candidate, but you know what? Rush Limbaugh and the right wing vetoed it.
Why carry McCain's water for him? Saying that he had to choose Palin because he was told to choose her lets his judgment off the hook and leaves the impression that Kerry thinks McCain would have made a good choice if left on his own. It promotes the idea that McCain's essentially a decent guy, just a "prisoner of the right wing," and that he'd be better if they'd left him alone. This kind of constant excuse-making is why the Democratic party is still saddled with people like Joe Lieberman. It's why they have a hard time making a case for effective change (presuming they want to).