Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rank has its privs

We were visiting the Gettysburgh battlesite and I finally understood how rank influences. It became clear to me that Colonel Sanders has a fried chicken place, but General Pickett has an entire buffet.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


As a result of a resounding loss at the polls in November, the leaders of the Republican Party have been pushing an intense effort to reexamine the Party and position it to win in the future. Some of the talk comes from talking heads on radio and television who claim affiliation with the Party but have no actual position within the leadership and have no elected position; they continue their rants about returning to the roots of the Party, being true to the ideals of Ronald Reagan, and defending American culture from further erosion. The talking heads seem to want to re-energize the base, to strengthen the appeal of the GOP to the existing Party members. The discussion that comes from people actually in the Party leadership or holding office is more subtle and looks for ways to broaden the appeal of the Party outside the base. In both cases, they often talk about the "brand" of the Republican Party.

A "brand" is a symbol of a corporation or organization that is intended to communicate the essence of the entity to a consumer. In modern practical usage, brands are often false. It is not true that using a certain shampoo, toothpaste, or car will make a consumer happier or more attractive to partners, but branding is often constructed to give precisely that impression. The essence of the company or the product remains unchanged while branding manipulates only the perception of the product.

When I combine these two ideas, it is clear that some "leaders" in the conservative movement of the US are attempting to redefine and change the perception of the Republican Party. They are not attempting to understand the underlying issues nor craft new proposals to solve the problems. They are not attempting to make their current positions more clear. They are changing the wrapping without changing the contents. Their goal is to win elections and thereby impose their will. This is not democracy and these leaders should be called to answer for their attempt to confuse and outwit those that they pretend to serve. Some of the self-described leaders of the Party are intellectually and ethically bankrupt if they think that changing the perception is the same as changing the reality.

Much better would be Republican leaders who revisit the principles that lead to the losses and the polls, determine if they are relevant or stale, and freshen the ideas of the Party. Instead of putting lipstick on the pig, they should think about an exercise program to get that pig lean and in shape for the next competition.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


I didn't realize it until now. My last post before the lapse was about Lincoln and his fight for the Constitution. I described how Lincoln was an instrument of fulfillment of the original vision of equal rights. My first post after the lapse was to welcome Barack Obama, the first non-white president of the United States.

Lincoln may now rest easy. His task is accomplished. Our task has begun.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Change has come to America

It took something monumental to get me off my stupor. Today is monumental.

I've been chewing my nails all day. I was worried it was going to be a squeaker of a race - that it would be down to hanging chads and failed voting machines with cheesy keys and without backups. But I was wrong and how wrong I was. It is such a relief to have a definitive result - a landslide - and not to be worrying about the final votes in the final states. I haven't seen the participation numbers, but I'm optimistic that voting proportions are up dramatically.

Change has come to America.

Barack Obama has run an outstanding campaign. Not just a technical tour-de-force but a campaign of dignity and style. At the end, in his concession speech, John McCain attempted to make up for his rotten campaign, but he'll be remembered as he has acted. A sad end to a noble career. Eight years ago, four years ago, he might have taken it all, but he was up against a sleazy politician from Texas and Maine, a pampered scion of wealth who came equipped with all the dark tools of a brutal trade. Maybe John McCain could have faced such a foe again to win, but Obama took a different road.

I hope this is the end of the sleaze merchants. I'm not sure, and we won't know for another few years, but I hope. In the meantime, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

George W. Bush has had eight years of practice, and he's not going to stop now. Lack of small-d democratic support has never slowed him down. He's going to try to pour regulations and policies into the system that will gum up the works and take years to undo the damage. The transition team has to learn their new jobs AND watch for devious tricks by the out-going administration. This won't be sophomoric tricks like glue on the toilet seats or tape on the phone, but will be one give-away to his cronies here and a defanging of a protection there. Words will be redefined to be meaningless and entire laws will be disabled. This will not be a cooperative transition, it will be passive aggressive to the end.

But it will end. The people have spoken. Welcome, President Barack Obama.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lincoln 1865

The day raced past before I could get organized enough to write a post, but I wanted to write about Mr. Lincoln. It was 143 years ago in the theater box shown here that Booth struck out one of the lights of American history.

I learned the usual school-kid history and it really turned me off to anything historical. Time passed and I've developed a revived interest in the past. It started with Angel in the Whirlwind, a book I recommend to those interested in the American Revolution. It gave a realistic picture of George Washington in context - so much more interesting than the drivel fed to our schoolchildren. A few years living in metropolitan Boston, and my interests advanced to the American Civil War.

I find so few people understand that war - it is so easy to get lost in the distraction of state's rights and completely fail to see the real reason for the war. Even Lincoln took a while to come to grips with it, but in his wavering he gives us such deep insight and reveals the truth. All men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Every time a commentator talks about "original intent" as a valid interpretation of the Constitution, I remember Lincoln. It was a rail-splitter from Kentucky and Illinois who showed us that we must not be satisfied with the insights and limitations of the founding fathers, but each generation must add its own brilliance to enhance the luster of the gift they gave us.

The Constitution is one of the great documents of history, but it is only a diamond in the rough. It is an on-going challenge to us to develop and improve the spirit and intellectual quality of the original document lest it become a quaint and curious aged bauble. If the party of Lincoln is to be a true party of conservatives, they must rediscover the struggle to preserve and defend the Constitution, they must watch over it and guide it to new greatness instead of smothering it in uncertainty and blather. To lock one's self to some concept of original intent is to regress to the antebellum mindset.

Lincoln sacrificed his life for the rights of others. Let us hope we are sufficiently strong to continue to fight for the rights of all men and women.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dome Sweet Dome

We live in the shadow of mounains - when the sun is low in the sky and the clouds are missing, anyway. To our east is the Cascade Range through which cuts Stevens Pass. Because we don't have enough to do, someone invented skiing and put a ski resort in Stevens Pass. It's nice, but not crazy enough, so we go snowshoe hiking there. Lovely, hilly, with great views. It's nice, but not crazy enough, so I took a class in January and built an igloo in March. I would have built the igloo in February, but there was so much snow in the mountains that avalanches closed the pass and I couldn't get there. Building an igloo is nice, but not crazy enough, so I slept in the igloo with my co-builders.

We had a great time building the igloo and camping out there in the wild. We were fortunate that it was cold that night - I'm guessing around 20F or -7C for a low temperature - and that our igloo didn't drip.

There's a secret hidden in the picture. If you look closely at the photograph, I'm looking at a particularly bright spot, a hole in our igloo. For a number of reasons - just assume that they are good reasons and not merely poor construction techniques - we accidentally left a small hole near the top of our dome. Under normal conditions, an igloo dome should be intact so as to contain as much heat as possible. It's supposed to be warmer inside the igloo than outside. However, as we had three full-grown adult men in this igloo, there was plenty of excess heat. As a result of our little hole, we had a constant draft all night. I believe this kept our igloo from overheating and drip-drip-dripping on us all night. (Note to experienced igloo builders - another of our construction, uh, innovations was to forget to smooth the inside of the dome to eliminate drip points.) It was cold, but we wrapped up tightly. The other benefit of the hole was to help release the pressure of the combined snoring of three full-grown adult males and I think this helped protect eardrums. (There's no physics or medicine behind that statement, just a personal awareness of the power of the adult trachea.)

The blue is a little exaggerated. I used the "snow/beach" setting on the camera to adjust the exposure. The texture of the blocks is really there, and there's a distinct blue glow inside the igloo, but it's not quite what you see here.

Photo taken about 7:30am at about 4000 feet near Stevens Pass, Washington, in mid-March, 2008.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Odd anathema

It strikes me that anathema is not a noun. This has confused me for some time. reports it as a noun, but I don't believe it. Consider their example sentence: That subject is anathema to him. Put another noun in its place: That subject is steeple to him. Put any adjective in its place instead: That subject is beloved/disgusting to him. If it were a noun, the example sentence would read: That subject is an anathema to him. Anathema just isn't a noun because it's not used like one as it lacks an article in common uses.

(Steps down off soapbox.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Unfortunate headlines (1)

The BBC news site had this interesting headline today:

Afghan becomes open heart surgeon

This was a fascinating evolutionary advance for dog-hood until I read the subtitle:

An Afghan doctor has qualified as his war-torn country's first-ever open heart surgeon.

That's what I get for letting my mind wander when I'm tired.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

143 million pounds of beef on the wall

CNN has reported that 143 million pounds of beef are being recalled. This beef includes meat from cows that were "downed" - unable to walk, many carried to the slaughter by forklifts. Dr. Dick Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, is quoted as saying "We don't think there is a health hazard, but we do have to take this action." Evidently this is because they think most of the meat has already been eaten. Of course, most of the meat went to school food programs, prisons, and Native Americans.

The Bush administration has spent years trying to dump regulations and cut funding for government organizations like the FDA (as recently as 2006, until public outcry caused a policy change).

Of course, Ron Paul is on the forefront of this issue. He says "I oppose legislation that increases the FDA‘s legal powers. FDA has consistently failed to protect the public from dangerous drugs, genetically modified foods, dangerous pesticides and other chemicals in the food supply. Meanwhile they waste public funds attacking safe, healthy foods and dietary supplements." Go Ron! Keep us safe. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, will a fine keep Hallmark from doing this again? Or prevent anyone else from doing it? How long does it take to produce 143 million pounds of beef? They've been doing this for a while, clearly, so the practice is well-entrenched and must be visible to management. I propose a prison term for the CEO. If I did this as an individual, I'd be wearing an orange jump-suit, so why not apply this to the Corporate perp?