Sunday, July 30, 2006

an afternoon with Maisie

Karen went to Pasadena for a couple of days, to help her Mom out with a party, celebrating the small improvements in the bone density of her femur, broken in a fall in Manzanita two years ago.

It's a long story.

At any rate, it's been a quiet weekend, with Karen gone, Ben only occasionally checking in via phone, and Dylan off with his buddies, since Friday night.

Yesterday, I had to hang around the house, waiting for the electrician to come and rebuild a line that was ripped out, when the big maple tree next to our house dropped a giant limb on the power line from our house to our out-buildings. It's a long story, too, and, to finish it up, was fixed with ingenuity and $100.

I did a bunch of yard-work yesterday by myself, then had a pleasant evening watching the DVD of the old Brian DePalma thriller, 'Blow Out', which I had, inexplicably, never seen. It was most enjoyable - great film-making and competent acting by Travolta and, as a dastardly Bad Guy, John Lithgow. Hitchcock will always be with us.

I got up this morning to a quiet house, lounged around reading about XML processing in Python (it's an aquired taste) until it was time to get back to work. I spent about three hours cleaning up our compost area, which was being overrun with morning glory, blackberries, and laurel. It made a big difference to that sector of the yard - a place I have to attack with extreme prejudice, about every two years.

By then it was around 1 pm, and I was ready for a break. Made myself some lunch, then lay down on the living room couch, to enjoy reading, for the first time in many years 'Across the Wide Missouri', Bernard DeVoto's seminally entertaining history of the fur trade during the 1830s (hey, it's a lot more entertaining than you could possibly imagine).

Maisie wandered into the room, jumped up on me, and made herself comfortable for a snooze, lying in the crook of my arm. For those of you who are either new here, or have short memories, Maisie is our old, old cat, who we were convinced was about to die (or be euthanized) before we left for Spain.

Maisie is still hanging in there, not eating a lot, and looking very skinny and bony, but still with us, providing purrs and the presence that only a cat can bring to a room. I didn't want to disturb her, since she appeared so comfortable, so I just lay there, putting down my book, and savored the heat from her little body and her soft breathing.

Her tumors, first identified in early June, have grown. She is clearly going slowly downhill, but we are putting off taking any action as long as she does not appear to be suffering. The vet, back in early June, thought she would not survive our two-week absence.

Next weekend, we go to Manzanita for a week, leaving dog and cat in the capable (we hope) hands of Dylan. Yesterday, I went to Safeway for grocery shopping, and bought a great number of little cans of dog and cat food. I guess the dog will always be happy to eat cat food, but I wonder how many of those little cans will be eaten by the old cat.

At any rate, the two of us had a long time to enjoy each other's company this afternoon, before I had to get up, do more yard-work (finished turning the compost piles), make some dinner, and sit down to write this.

Karen returns tomorrow afternoon. Our out-of-town guests begin arriving Wednesday and we leave for the beach Friday afternoon. I am savoring my solitude and freedom this weekend.

Also rented 'Crash' from Blockbuster - will watch it tonight, after 'The Splendid Table', now on my local NPR station, finishes. See you in a day or so.

Friday, July 28, 2006

an interview with My Hero

Gore Vidal, in the August 2006 'The Progressive'.

Classic GV quote: "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

Don't just stand there - do something!

This morning, on the Thom Hartmann show on Air America, he rebroadcast an interview with a guy who has been trying to publicize alcohol as a fuel, since the early 80's.

You remember, the early 80's, when Reagan undid all the initial steps that Jimmy Carter started, to begin to end America's 'addiction to oil'? A time when there was budding interest in home-distilled alcohol fuels, like in this actual article, from 1980, for Christ's sake?

Over 25 years ago, when gas was cheap and there was no end in sight? When Iraq was our ally?

Anyway, the guy being interviewed wrote a book back then, and had prepared a multi-part TV series, which was actually broadcast on a local (San Francisco) PBS station. When oil company lawyers heard about plans to show it nationwide on PBS, they forced the book's publishers to stop printing, and the sseries has never been seen, since the original local airing.

The book is finally about to be released, all these years later. Here is the web site - I urge you to read the FAQ. The basic message is that alcohol as an auto fuel IS the solution that benefits everyone on earth who does not depend on Big Oil's dividends and largesse to support their opulent lifestyle.

Home-grown fuel - talk about democracy being on the march! Oh, by the way, alcohol-burning engines last longer, so Jiffy Lube is also threatened. Why this technology could be 'disruptive'.

God forbid.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

it's a beautiful day when...

Molly Ivins publishes a column saying something that I said many months ago. The ideal candidate for President is Bill Moyers.

Astonishingly deep integrity and intelligence, and no significant political baggage. What a contrast between a man who says Jesus is his 'favorite philosopher' and a man who held his own in an in-depth series of interviews with Joseph Campbell. (I have the entire 'Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth' on videotape, if you're interested).

bad link on 'nail' post, below

Loyal reader Squirrley informs me that the link doesn't work for her - probably because of cookie issues. For the curious (I know you're out there), here is the text of the linked article:

Global Warming -- Signed, Sealed and Delivered
Scientists agree: The Earth is warming, and human activities are the principal cause.By Naomi Oreskes, NAOMI ORESKES is a history of science professor at UC San Diego.July 24, 2006

AN OP-ED article in the Wall Street Journal a month ago claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had been refuted. This charge was repeated again last week, in a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago in the journal Science, and I'm here to tell you that the consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal didn't even get my name right!)
ADVERTISEMENTMy study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause.

Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.

In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth is warming."

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.
Earth scientists long believed that humans were insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason, many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding to be achieved. Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.

A historical example will help to make the point. In the 1920s, the distinguished Cambridge geophysicist Harold Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence of the reality of continental motion, even though the physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal acceptance.

Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he had become a scientific mule. For a while, journals continued to publish Jeffreys' arguments, but after a while he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics. The scientific debate was over.
So it is with climate change today. As American geologist Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.

Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in solar irradiance or other forces we don't yet understand. Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding glaciers. But "perhaps" is not evidence.

The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing in "Principia Mathematica" in 1687, he noted that once scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by "general induction from phenomena," then those conclusions had to be held as "accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined…. "

Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they like, but it will not change the facts nor "the general induction from the phenomena."

None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always uncertainties in any live science. Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not "whether" but "how much" and "how soon." And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the fix is in

Is there any doubt that the overall mission of the Bush administration is very simply "steal everything"? They never pass up any opportunity to expand their ability to loot everything in sight.

As one pundit stated: "these people would steal Jesus if he wasn't nailed down."

sorry, can't resist...

Just in case our friend Mad is still lurking, here's another nail. Read it and weep (for all of us).

Heard on NPR (where else?) this morning, that 'An Inconvenient Truth' has now made over 20 million dollars, and that a fresh ad campaign is underway, to keep the momentum going.

What was that quote from Gandhi? "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Let's hope it's not too late.

In the meantime, the Israeli government is now realizing the depth of their miscalculation, both in terms of international opinion (which was never a big factor in their decisions) and military strategy (which, in the past, they were so successful at). Oh well, at least it pushes the disintegration of Iraq over to page 3.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


It's all escalating, and, despite the genuine justifications for retaliating for incursions on the Gaza and Lebanese borders and the attacks on Haifa, Tiberias, and Safed, the destruction in Beirut and of major infrastructure throughout Lebanon, with the attendant loss of civilian lives, overrides those justifications.

The photographs of mutilated infants are going to be reproduced on web pages for years to come, and the caption will always make it clear that 'the Jews did this'.

The roots of injustice go deep and memories are long. The danger with today's situation is the wild cards of two major nuts in charge of Iran and the US, and the post-World-War-II nuclear arsenal, so lovingly (and profitably) built up over all these years, is just sitting around taking up space.

Imagined conversation from the Halliburton boardroom: if Tel Aviv is too radioactive for our guys, we'll just subcontract everything out to someone dumb, for the first 20 years. Either way, we win.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Thursday, July 20, 2006

an inconvenient irony

Back in college (during the Nixon administration - yikes!), I had a Psychology professor who startled me with an assertion about human behavior that I still fondly recall.

He said that humans appear to have a need to maintain a certain level of anxiety, and that, no matter what the level of your particular civilization, you will find something to worry about.

Which brings me, once again, to Global Warming. It's something I think about daily, with fear and trembling. A few years ago, the concept that occupied that place was -- wait for it -- Nuclear Winter.

Reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone where people are suffering from unbearable heat. It seems that the Earth has changed its orbit, and is gradually getting closer and closer to the sun. People lie there, listlessly and sweating, dealing with their inevitable doom from heat.

Then, it is revealed that that situation was a person's dream, and she describes that dream to the folks around her. Everyone nods in understanding, as it is revealed that, really, the Earth's orbital change is taking it further and further away from the Sun, and they are all, really, suffering from terrible, irreversable cold.

Or maybe it was the other way around. You get the idea.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

great summary of the current consensus on Global Warming

From the New York Review of Books. Doubters, please read.

It's almost August again

August, 1914, that is.

Think about it - small events snowballing into larger and larger issues, as the deaths begin to mount, sides dig in, and more and more countries get into the act.

Seems like the Earth is, once again, telling us that there are too many humans around, and that it's time to eliminate a few millions.

Sort of a do-it-yourself project, with munitions instead of paint. Same old story.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Modest Proposal

There's only one person on earth who has even a remote chance of restoring order to Iraq. Here's all we have to do:

1) Put his statue back up and let him out of jail
2) Write him a check, for, say, half of what we would be spending there over the next 5 years.
3) Leave

Win-win (or is it a Lose-Lose?) Heck, it doesn't matter.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bush is on a roll

In the grand family tradition of 'embarassing behavior when out of the country', W outdoes his father's barfing on the japanese dignitary, by...well, you have to see it to believe it.

The whole world knows now that the Clothes have no Emperor.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

watching the Israel-Lebanon situation

Having Haifa hit and Israeli citizens killed is a bad escalation. We are listening to NPR news reports hourly.

If, as CNN is reporting, there is the possibility that the rocket contains parts from Syria and/or Iran, this is bad.

The Rapture folks are going nuts with delight. The 'End Times' scenario is playing out, right before their eyes. Osama bin Laden, if still alive, must be shaking his head with astonishment, that everything he has desired is coming to fruition, with the US and Israel on one side, and everyone else on the other. It's no accident that chess came from Islamic Persia.

We saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' last night, in a largely empty theater in Tigard (the 'Joy', not the cineplex). It was almost as good as seeing Gore deliver that presentation live, as we did a while back, but it's a forceful film and needs to be seen.

One would think that even doubters would look at this and resolve to act, on the 'small chance' that it is correct.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Great to be back

Just one hour from Sacramento to Portland, and another hour to get off the plane, get bag, take bus to parking, and drive home.

Not ready to plunge into work this morning. Will drive Dylan to summer school, then probably take myself out to breakfast. Three days of 'motel breakfast buffet' makes me yearn for a damn egg.

Meanwhile, the Middle East simmers, Nigerian pipelines are attacked, and oil tops $78 a barrel. In a few months, $78-a-barrel oil and $3-a-gallon gas will seem like a fond memory.

Thanks, George - the world has definitely been affected by your tenure in office. History will not fail to take note of you, if that was your goal.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Heading home

Sitting in the Sacramento airport, a half-hour before boarding the plane back to Portland. The past three days have been unbelievably intense, but the atmosphere in the room was supportive, as everyone struggled with their particular technical issues.

I completed the piece assigned to me at 5:40 pm, and left for the airport at 6. It wasn't until about 1 pm that all the pieces were in place to permit me to finish my task - after that, it was a race against time to grind out and test the code.

I sure have refreshed my memory on using the XML DOM, something that I played around with a bit, in Lotuscript, back around 2001, at Enron Broadband. Fortunately, I was able to steal two crucial bits of code from a web site, and the rest was able to flow from that. Funny how that works.

While working, I was periodically checking my email and the headline news. It sure looks bad in the Middle East, but the news of Valerie Plame suing Rove, Libby, AND Cheney warms my heart.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? At the moment, since I was awake from 3-5 this morning, struggling with database issues and refining my final group of questions, all I can think about is heading home, to my own pillow and bed, and to the bosom of my family, including the pets.

Life is good.

life on the road

I've been down here in Davis, California, working on a new computer project with an intense team, since Tuesday. Today is the last day - heading back to PDX tonight.

We've accomplished a lot, and I have a pretty good idea of the remaining questions to be resolved today. I ought to, since I was up from 3 to 5 this morning mulling over database issues and formulating questions. Pretty compulsive.

Watched the Bush-Merkel news conference live on CNN. What a contrast between the eloquent (at least according to the english translator), businesslike responses of Merkel, versus Bush's repeated folksy references to the upcoming pig dinner.

Then, I went back to sleep for an hour, before getting up, packing up, and heading off to the breakfast buffet. Back at the room, CNN has now digested that long press conference into today's sound bites, and they managed to capture the 35 seconds when Bush didn't look like a shambling idiot.

The escalating violence in Israel-Gaza-Beirut is rapidly crossing some kind of threshold, and I sense that this story is far from over. Hard to imagine tempers cooling, now that Lebanon has been bombed. I suppose there must be some sort of brilliant strategic reaoning behind Israel's acts, but, at the moment, it appears to be hot-headed recklessness. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Free Speech in western Oregon

This is outrageous, and, if it can happen to anyone with a bumper-sticker or decal that doesn't support Der Fuhrer, we are in a heap of trouble.

It took me 20 seconds to locate this man's home address (nobody is anonymous) and I wrote him a letter enclosing a $20 bill.

In other news, I am heading to the airport in an hour or so, to fly to Sacramento. I plan to drive from there to Napa, to have dinner with friends, then to a motel in Davis around 10 pm.

Then, until Thursday evening, I'll be doing an intensive programming gig at UC Davis, with a bunch of other programmers representing a number of conservation agencies in Northern California. Should be fun, and an opportunity to share technologies and tools with other geeks.

Back to Portland late Thursday night.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006

Remembering 7/7

This, of course, is the English equivalent of 9/11, the day when Everything Changed.

NPR news headlines at 6 am this morning led off with the tolling of bells and a British announcer solemnly reflecting that today's remembrance demonstrates the resiliency of the British people.

Fine, but consider this. The death toll from that single day in London is repeated virtually daily for the folks of Bagdhad. Tony Blair's official statement was that this was a chance "to offer comfort and support to those who lost loved ones or were injured on that terrible day".

Too bad nobody in government or media is able to express any similar words to the people of Iraq. Why? It's simple - in Iraq the common folks aren't like us (i.e. they dress funny and don't speak English - the language in which God wrote the Bible).

Hypocrits or Clueless - you decide.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

deja vu

The NY Times reports on the Mexican election. The leftists are (rightly) claiming that 'mistakes' have been made in the tallying of votes. In one case, officials decided to pick 6 random boxes of votes, and compare their contents with the associated tally sheets,

In all 6 cases, the actual count of votes yielded a different outcome from the initial tally. It also appears that errors, somehow, seemed to consistently favor Calderon, the candiate of (ahem) 'Big Business'.

Let us hope that the citizens of Mexico can demonstrate for an apathetic American public how to go about registering outrage, that an election is being stolen in broad daylight. I don't wish for chaos and bloodshed, just a growing sense, among the people of both our countries, that "we're as mad as Hell, and we're not going to take it anymore."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

RIP, Kenny Boy

Heard the news early this morning - don't know what to think. My paranoid side is demanding a certified DNA test on the body they are going to bury, not to mention the release of the autopsy results. At least it wasn't a small-plane crash - too obvious.

Hard to get focused on work today, after several days of relaxation and social get-togethers. I have edited my 424 Spain/Morocco photos down to a more-manageable 209, with further cuts to come before I call it The Official Presentation.

In the meantime, here is the magical sunset in Marakesh, from the roof of our guesthouse, ten minutes before the sunset Call To Prayer went out across the entire city, from dozens of surrounding minaret loudspeakers.

Monday, July 03, 2006

what is Israel doing?

You have to understand, that, as a jewish kid growing up in the 50's, the State of Israel was presented to us as a miraculous, holy Land, filled with grateful survivors of horrible events and young, cheerful, hard-working, robustly-singing communal optimists.

Now, almost 60 years later, the citizens of Gaza are experiencing horrible events. Yes, there is blame on both sides, but it appears that Israel is intentionally acting to dramatically increase the local misery of the Gaza public, with electricity and water shortages accompanied by the uncertain fear that random bombing brings to children.

Are things really this desperate, that they must prosecute this war like this? For many years now, I have felt like the glorious Israeli republic of my youth has morphed into just another hated oppressor, like the many such tyrannies chronicled in our holy book.

No, I have never visited Israel, and, no, I can't understand how things must look to Israeli citizens. I am unqualified to make any judgements, on this and many other topics. The world is a big, complicated place, and its inhabitants have long memories, elaborate communications channels, and great weapons.

Meanwhile, the stories about flooding in the Northeast US are being supplanted by stories of flooding in India, and NPR is running a story about the Army Corps of Engineers and their endless War on Flooding.

Sure looks like it's going to be a lovely day in Portland. Around 6 pm, about 20 people are converging on our house - we are hosting a 50th Birthday party for one of our best friends. Since we got back from our trip, we have been working, both in the yard and in the kitchen, to get ready for this.

Happy holiday weekend, everybody.

Saturday, July 01, 2006