Archive for August, 2007

You can’t make this stuff up

Events, Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Aug 29 2007

Like something out of Kafka, the families of the trapped and likely dead miners in Utah are being denied the right to appoint the United Mine Workers as their representative in upcoming federal investigations. Not because this is a non-union mine, of course, but because the trapped and likely dead miners did not sign the forms themselves:

The federal agency tasked with investigating the Utah mine collapse denied a request by the families of six trapped miners that the United Mine Workers represent them in the probe of the matter, the union said Monday.

All six of the families had signed documents designating the union as their representative in the investigation, UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said. The Mine Safety and Health Administration told the union’s attorneys on Monday that the agency would not heed the request.

“MSHA requires that miners sign these papers, but the miners in question were unable because the are trapped inside the mine,” Smith said.

Of course, if the trapped miners could get out and sign the papers themselves, there wouldn’t need to be an investigation.

Rally Report: More Like “Soak My Bones.”

Interesting, Local | Posted by admin
Aug 19 2007

As things stand, the 2007 Rattle My Bones Scooter Rally in the Twin Cities, is wrapping up. Visitors from out-of-town, including someone from Kansas City and a couple from Winnipeg, are motoring home. At last count, the rally had one-hundred and seventy registrants. That was with full knowledge that a lot of (300 accessories) rain would try to dampen spirits. Far from it, however. The numbers were on the high-side of rally attendees over the past eight years running. Some of us speculated how many more would have come out had the forecast been for clear skies and mid-70ºs.

I rode to the Friday night shindig, whacked-out back and all, on a newly-decorated Stella, courtesy of a fine artist who had experience painting an “art-car” or two… that’s Michelle. I went with a partial racing stripe upwards from the ground to the name badge, with retro-1950s stars, the kind that look similar to jacks, filling out the top of the legshield. Some fellow scooterists commented that they thought the work consisted of stick-on vinyl decals. They were surpirsed and impressed that she had done it, by hand, just the night before.

While Friday was dry, Saturday and Sunday alternated between rain and drizzle. Instead of falling back on the wimp-out excuse of my fear of getting wet, I had a novel, equally lame, wimp-out excuse courtesy of my back muscles. Friday morning I did the totally freaky “sneeze while bending over to pick up my boots” act and hit the floor like a bug caught under a shoe. My back muscles snapped like a rubber band in that moment. Whoa… That was painful. I’m still nursing it back to health and have even resorted to opening the medicine cabinet. All is well if I a) sit up, b) lie down, or c) stand up, but any angle that is between one and eighty-nine generated a lot of low-volume “ow… ow… ows” from me.

Since going to work was out of the question, I rested up for Friday night and rode there on my scooter, only to experience another freaky problem: My headlight kept going out when I shifted into third and fourth gear. It’s a common problem on scoots with gear shifters on the left-hand side of the handlebars, because that’s where the low-high beam switch also happens to sit. Periodically, a wire will work itself out after a certain number of twists up and down the gears. With a little electrical tape, a tiny swiss-army knife screwdriver, and five or ten others watching or assisting, we fixed the problem… mostly… it still flickers a little in fourth gear. Hey, it’s better than driving in the dark with no lights.

Someone commented on the Saturday ride (a.k.a. “The Big Ride”) that there were two kinds of scooterists out there in the driving rain: Scooterists with rain pants, who were happy, and scooterists without rain pants, who were not happy.

Seven or eight bands played each evening over the course of events. We had both kinds of music… no, not “country and western”… more like punk and ska. Michelle and I made it to those.

Overall, a good weekend was had by all… even with bad backs, mechanical problems, and weather-related inconveniences.

Compare and contrast

Interesting | Posted by admin
Aug 18 2007

Mitch Perlstein, Center for the American Experiment and consistent “No new taxes” proponent, in a column today in the StarTribune’s Opinion section:

It would have to be demonstrated, for instance, that decisions by the Minnesota Department of Transportation about what to do about the bridge — whether to repair it, how to repair it, when to repair it — were made on the basis of what such steps might cost. But I know of no evidence that money played any role in determining what state officials or anyone else did or didn’t do in maintaining the bridge.

StarTribune front page news story, same metro edition:

Dorgan and senior engineer Gary Peterson denied in interviews that money was a factor in deciding what to do with the Interstate 35W bridge, which was not due for replacement until 2022. They provided a written timeline showing that MnDOT supervisors on Nov. 1, 2006, funded the reinforcing project for $1.5 million, with work to begin in January 2008.

But at least three internal documents suggest that money was a consideration.

On using cost/benefit analysis in determining whether to repair or replace the bridge:
Perlstein:

Likewise, to draw any suspect connection between the collapse and the consistent preference of large numbers of Minnesotans to hold the line on taxes, one would have to assume that inspectors and other officials charged with protecting and serving allowed anything other than their professionalism to determine how they gauged the sturdiness and fragility of the state’s infrastructure. Without a morsel of evidence that any of them compromised their integrity, it’s slanderous to imply that any of them did.

News story:

Earlier, when MnDOT and its consultants were zeroing in on reinforcing the bridge, an internal MnDOT “investment strategy” meeting was held on July 24, 2006, in which officials debated various approaches.

* * *

The “risk” of that approach was described this way: “Must pay approximately 2 million dollars to get the job done.”

* * *

A logistics and financial issue also was discussed. MnDOT officials said that if the bridge was simply inspected, the benefit would be: “Don’t have to pay for steel, stockpile steel, or install steel.”

On the timing of repairs:
Perlstein:

And then, of course, even if Pawlenty broke his no-tax pledge 20 minutes after taking office in 2003, and even if MnDOT’s budget doubled in a single bound, does anyone really believe that federal, state and local bureaucracies would have moved fast enough so that anything other than maybe talking about a new 35W bridge would have happened by now?

News story:

The men and women whose job was to ensure the safety of Bridge 9340 were meeting once again. Just after noon on Dec. 6, they filed into a conference room in Roseville to divvy up the final prep work for a dangerous steel reinforcement project high above the Mississippi River.

A senior engineer was going to pull property records in order to contact landowners beneath the bridge. Detours were coming for West River Road. The Coast Guard was about to get heaps of paperwork on what tasks would be done from the river channel. Truck drivers would soon learn of pending weight restrictions.

* * *

• Jan. 17, 2007 The turning point occurs during a conference call. Dorgan and staff opt for inspection only. He says the decision is based on URS assurances that inspectors can detect and isolate cracks before they reach a dangerous length.

* * *

“We regret the additional work this has caused you and others in the district,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail, “but I’m sure you agree that based on this new information it [is] appropriate that we postpone the project until we can determine if another option may [be] as safe and a more cost effective approach.”

On the long-term results here:
Perlstein:

….if we got our priorities straight, enough money would be freed to adequately build what we really need and maintain what we have.

News story, quoting State Bridge Engineer Dan Dorgan:

“You can’t help but ask yourself … what should have been done differently,” he said. “As an engineer you can’t be at peace until the cause is found. And even then I have doubts that will bring peace.”

Quick question: When is $168K not enough?

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Aug 17 2007

I wish I had Tony Snow’s problem.

Financial Pressures Force Snow Departure (Washington Post):

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Friday he’ll leave before the end of the Bush presidency because he needs to make more money.

“I’m going to stay as long as I can,” he said without elaborating on a departure date.

Snow’s comment caught White House colleagues by surprise, and they said they could not hazard a guess about when he might leave.

The 52-year-old Snow, the father of three children, earns $168,000 as an assistant to the president but made considerably more as a conservative pundit and syndicated talk-show host on Fox News Radio. He was named press secretary on April 26, 2006.

White House press secretaries in recent administrations have found the speechmaking circuit to be lucrative once they’ve stepped down. Snow was eagerly sought by Republican audiences before the elections last year, and in a break with tradition he made a number of fundraising speeches for GOP candidates.

How much more moola does Snow need? Maybe we can all band together and chip in a few bucks apiece to help him along, or we could hold a bake sale. Better yet, how about we demand that Congress pass and the president sign a bill allotting a salary that will be able to support a press secretary and his or her family, because a low, six-digit income for spinning the administration’s lines just isn’t cutting it these days.

Gosh, just how does the rest of America get by on dual-income, five-digit incomes?

Do you feel it? A scooter rally approaches.

Interesting, Local | Posted by admin
Aug 16 2007

It must explain why I am wandering into the strange-yet-oh-so-cool offerings on the web.

It’s either that or the results of Michelle’s foray into the art of painting up scooters… particularly mine… with kick-butt, 1950s-jazz-lounge-era stars on the legshield. Pics will be forthcoming.

Who gives a furry rat’s gluteous maximus about fishing openers or deer season. Scooter rally season is where it’s at. Rattle My Bones is its name. Three days of Pabst, Bloody Maries, and two-stroke fumes (especially if you find yourself behind one of those vintage Lambrettas, which can create a heat-island effect without ever leaving first gear.

Check it out. Heck, come on out Saturday morning before The Big Ride and walk among the scooterista. Most hail from our fine Twin Cities, but there are plenty of out-of-towners who make their pilgrimage up here. Most of those come from Chicago (those would be the ones who ride in slouched positions, wearing worn-out Chuckies, and managing to keep their cigarettes in their mouths while at cruising speed) and from Denver (those would be the ones who put their seats up to either air out their gas tanks or keep the sun from baking their black vinyl seats; I haven’t figured out which it is, yet).

(Thanks to Clunkyrobot.com for finding that “rad for so many reasons” video. Enjoy all those hits you’ll get… from all three of my readers.)

Some things just should not be made more efficient.

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Aug 15 2007

The death penalty, as one example, clearly fits this bill.

Gonzales to Get Power In Death Penalty Cases (Washington Post):
Rules Would Expand Fast-Track Authority

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, under political siege for his handling of the U.S. attorney firings and other issues, is to get expanded powers to hasten death penalty cases under regulations being developed by the Justice Department.

The rules would give Gonzales the authority to approve “fast-track” procedures by states in death penalty cases, enabling them to carry out sentences more speedily and with fewer opportunities for appeal if those states provide adequate representation for capital defendants.

Such powers were previously held by federal judges, but a provision of the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill approved by Congress last year hands the authority to the attorney general.

Under the regulations, death row inmates would have six months, instead of a year, to file appeals in the federal courts, and federal judges would have less time to consider petitions in capital cases.

The proposed changes, reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times, would hand new authority to Gonzales as leading Democrats and some Republicans have called for his resignation and questioned his truthfulness. Earlier this month, Congress gave Gonzales greater powers in overseeing the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.

The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), asked Gonzales in a letter sent earlier this month to delay implementing the new death penalty rules until October at the earliest, “to guarantee adequate representation of death row prisoners before certification occurs.”

If our states and nation insist on having a death penalty for crimes, they better make damn well certain that every aspect of a conviction is thoroughly examined and considered between throwing those switches.

This isn’t so much about the person who committed the crime. It’s more about maintaining our integrity as a nation that professes to stand for liberty and justice, due process, and equal justice under the law. Executing those who are found out to have been innocent of committing a crime, even if as rare as hen’s teeth, completely violates that principle.

Add to that how the current Attorney General has a penchant for refusing to offer any information on almost anything he does at the Justice Department, and we have mapped a path for our nation to add summary executions to secret trials based on secret evidence. I’m not ready to see our nation go that route. Not now. Not ever.

Blogging while oblivious

Interesting | Posted by admin
Aug 12 2007

Shorter Jeff Kouba: “Why, no, I’ve never received anonymous email with images of my face photoshopped onto a mutilated and ejaculate-covered corpse with my home address posted below. Why do you ask?”

It’s worth remembering that the blogosphere is still so new it baffles spell check. For that matter, if I type “blogger” on my screen, my retro software offers alternatives like “loggers,” “floggers,” and “boggler.”

It “boggles” my mind to realize how quickly a piece of Internet terrain has gained power in politics. By now, the political blogosphere is to the left what talk radio is to the right. It is a forceful, sometimes demagogic, message-monger organizing tool for the progressive end of the Democratic Party.

Nevertheless, there is another, less flattering way in which broadband has followed broadcast and the liberal political bloggers mimic the conservative talk-show hosts. The chief messengers are overwhelmingly men — white men, even angry white men.

I began tracking the maleness of this media last spring while I was a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. An intrepid graduate student created a spreadsheet of the top 90 political blogs. A full 42 percent were edited and written by men only, while 7 percent were by women only. Another 45 percent were edited or authored by both men and women, though the “coed” mix was overwhelmingly male. And, not surprisingly, most male bloggers linked to male bloggers.

Next year, Yearly Kos will undergo a name change. The assembly of progressive bloggers will call themselves Netroots Nation. But when will the members of these netroots look more like the nation?