Friday, May 26, 2006

Angel looks down on you

Angel looks down on you
Originally uploaded by BernalKC.
From her perch atop Bernal Hill.

Clearly I'm not the only one that loves getting up on the hill. Angel is actually starting to show her age on these walks. She doesn't have quite the energy anymore, and sometimes lags behind. But look at her. She loves it up there!

Downtown panorama from the hill

Downtown panorama from the hill
Originally uploaded by BernalKC.
As long as we're talking about Bernal wine blogging, why not feature some more local content. Here's a shot from a day ago on one of those glorious mornings when I'm so glad I have a dog to walk. I lived here for a decade before getting Angel and hardly ever got up on the hill. Now, it's one of the things I love so much about this place.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

k / o tells us about Ready Return

Here's a really good idea being hawked by Kid Oakland. Such a good idea that it's probably doomed! k / o: Ready Return:

For the majority of wage earners with basic taxes, people who receive standard paychecks from one employer, the State of California already has all the information needed for them to file an accurate return. The principle behind Ready Return is straightforward: instead of making these taxpayers come up with their tax information do the math and paperwork on their own...why not send them the accurate information the government already has? Why not let them file their return right then and there on their home computer? It's a simple and elegant solution in a zone, taxation, where simple and elegant solutions are hard to come by. More than that, it's a government program that works for working people.
Check out the full post. He give more links and an analysis of why it faces an uphill battle.

I remember reading a similarly heretical idea in the NYT Business section way back in the early Clinton years. They suggested hiring Intuit to revamp the whole tax filing process. In their incarnation of the idea, they'd merely redo the forms in a way to make the important, relevant questions clearer and more prominent while relegating the obtuse stuff, like the RR retirement BS to some appropriately obscure compartment. This Ready Return idea updates the notion to take advantage of our data mining, total-info-aware Big Brother's ability to know what they know about us, and make it work for us. Cool idea.

And while we're at it, why not put the same subversive notion to work to reform Customs and Immigration? Instead of erecting every more Kafkaesque paperwork barriers in the way of immigrants, why not let the private sector turn the agency into a customer-centered service? Why not let DHL run immigration services? Bring state of the art IT to bear to increase the accuracy, timeliness, and utility of the INS databases, while streamlining the process to help immigrants?

Winemaking in Bernal?

This is unepxected. Not only is the author of this blog, Vinography, a Bernal denizen, he's writing about a fellow Bernal resident who makes wine here. check it out

'You've got to be kidding me,' I said. 'No. Seriously,' he replied, and proceeded to tell me all the different places he had put vines into the ground, including a patch not 200 yards from my door in Bernal Heights. 'I eventually had to move those plants to the Inner Sunset,' he admitted, after the politics of the Bernal Heights community garden got finicky, 'But I kept making wine from them along with the guy whose yard they ended up in.'
I bet the finicky garden politics had to do with pest control. But I have no doubt that grapes would do well here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Who said this?

Take a guess—who said the following? Then chase the link: "Liberals must never abandon their core principles of justice and equality. But union leaders who still see American businesses as the enemy must update that vision."

Secrecy News on Pentagon's Black Budget

Pentagon's Black Budget Soars to Cold War Heights:

The Department of Defense budget request for 2007 includes about $30.1 billion in classified or 'black' spending, according to a new analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

'In real (inflation-adjusted) terms the $30.1 billion FY 2007 request includes more classified acquisition funding than any other defense budget since FY 1988, near the end of the Cold War, when DoD received $19.7 billion ($29.4 billion in FY 2007 dollars) for these programs,' wrote author Steven Kosiak.

Another page from the Ingsoc canon, War is Peace

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

General Hayden's unexpected friends

There is a surprising level of support for the nomination of General Hayden for the Director of the CIA among the military and intel experts I read on the web. These are relatively liberal people who you would expect to balk at the militarization of the CIA. Maybe it is statements like these that make people believe he will be plain-spoken, professional, and independent:
Secrecy News: The Hayden Confirmation Hearing:

"'I do think we overclassify, and I think it's because we got bad habits,' said Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the nominee to be the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency."
Or take this endorsement from Willian Arkin of the Post: Go, Mike Hayden!:
Let's hope that the Bush administration comes to rue the day it nominated Hayden to be CIA director.

How many times have we heard a serving Bush administration official actually admit a mistake, criticize a government effort, point to a false direction?

When Gen. Michael V. Hayden called the tenure of Porter Goss at the CIA "amateur hour on the top floor," or when he criticized a Rumsfeld inspired ad hoc intelligence office set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to "find" Saddam Hussein links to al Qaeda and build the WMD case for Iraq, they were small but rare and delicious moments.
All this praise in spite of his direct role in the NSA wiretaping / imbroglioglio makes me think this guy must be pretty sharp. I'm not the least bit mollified about the domestic spying issue. I guess it's one thing to disagree on policy matters and another thing to give the man props for his professionalism, integrity, and competence.

Helena Cobban: The elephant in the Iraqi chamber

Another inisghtful post from Helena Cobban: The elephant in the Iraqi chamber:

It is blindingly clear to me that the fact that Khalilzad felt he had to go into the chamber (and not just as a passive 'guest' or 'observer') signals a deep failure of Washington's political project inside Iraq. If you look at those two mechanisms of indirect control of a parliament that I identified above[controlling access to the chamber and bribery], it is clear that the US forces completely control physical access to the Iraqi parliament, which is located inside the 'Green Zone'. But what the US administrators in Iraq evidently lack is any confidence that the parliamentarians gathered inside the chamber would, if left alone out of Khalilzad's sight, act at his bidding.

That, despite the huge amounts of money the US has always had available to hand out as bribes to Iraqi political figures!

In Lebanon, throughout the long years of Syria's overlordship there, financial incentives were a strong feature of parliament's every-six-years 'election' of a president. It was quite a common observation that the Lebanese MPs would be engaging in an elaborate game of financial 'chicken', since the price paid for each individual MP's vote would increase steeply as the Syrians (or in 1982, Israelis) came close to meeting the number needed for the election to succeed-- but once that number had been reliably reached, the price would suddenly plummet to zero.

Gosh, playing that game that must have been one of the hardest and most stressful jobs those MPs ever had to do during their very lengthy terms in power...

But in Iraq, despite the huge amount of money the US administrators have available, and the evident current penury of most Iraqis, Khalilzad can't even be certain he can reliably line up a parliamentary vote in the direction he wants without being physically present inside the chamber?? What is happening here???

Powe opts for NBA

So it's official. Good luck, Leon. Too bad the Warriors already have somebody so similar to him in Ike Diogu, otherwise maybe we'd take him at #9? OK, maybe not that high. But the up side of going later in the 1st round is he'll end up with a decent team.

The Aging Of Alfred E. Newman

heh heh heh...

Friday, May 19, 2006

In praise of liberty

Matthew Yglesias, subbing for Josh Marshall, has a forceful defense of liberty in this post:

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don't have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what's the point in defending it?
Well said.

I been Cork'd

Damn! I had this idea too, and tried talking it up with some of my wine friends a few months back: Cork'd - "The simple way to review and share wine"

Oh well, probably woulda been too late to the party anyway...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Andrew's New Zealand shots

Originally uploaded by arjones.
And while I'm on a Flickr kick, lemme give a shout out to Andrew and his copious photo catalog from his New Zealand trip. A lot of excellent shots Andrew!

Best Dim Sum

Best Dim Sum
Originally uploaded by BernalKC.
What a nice Mother's Day we had. Great Dim Sum followed by a walk on Ocean Beach on one of those rare still, warm, sunny days along the shore. Picture perfect!

Hey family—check out my updated Jones family gallery over on my Flickr page. (The Flickr "gamma"upgrade is really cool!)

Miller's 9/11 Story That Got Away?

This AlterNet story was totally unexpected: The 9/11 Story That Got Away

In 2001, an anonymous White House source leaked top-secret NSA intelligence to reporter Judith Miller that Al Qaida was planning a major attack on the United States. But the story never made it into the paper.
I'm perfectly willing to believe that there was ample evidence within the counter terrorism community that Al Queda was planning a domestic attack during the summer of '01. It makes perfect sense that some spook tried to feed the story to Miller, to user her. The picture it paints is pretty damning for the Bush administration, so I guess I understand why AlterNet would run the story. But it does feel like someone is manipulating the media here. Someone who might want the public to give the NSA and the counter terrorism programs more latitude? Why is this story coming out now?

Regardless, it is an interesting read. Miller comes off as connected but used. Clearly there were signs that Al Queda was preparing an attack. Clearly the Bush administration was asleep at the wheel. 9/11 did not have to happen.

What would president Gore have done?

Himalayan forests vanishing

New Scientist News - Himalayan forests are quietly vanishing

The Himalayas may never be the same again. The forests growing on the roof of the world are disappearing, and the rate of deforestation is so rapid that a quarter of animal and plant species native to this biodiversity hotspot, including tigers
All for frikkin firewood? All while the local governments turn a blind eye and make their hydro electric plans that will make it worse? Ouch.

Salam Pax returns

Good to hear from him again. Even if the news is so awful:
Islamists:2 Freedom & Democracy: Nil

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mark Cuban's expensive blog

Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban is a blogger. I've been aware of it for a while, but the other day when he was fined $100K for one of his posts I had to check it out. Now his blog is in my lineup.

Today's offering is pretty tasty. In the post, Where Newspapers kick the Internets behind he makes a points I totally agree about the lameness of on-line sports media, and the great value of newspaper sports writing:
Which is all the more reason that rather than focusing on speed and breaking stories, I personally think newspapers and websites need to define their brands to heavy readers like myself through depth and differentiation. Brand yourself as the home of unique stories, not for breaking news. We have been trained that the net has all news 15 milliseconds after its "broken" elsewhere. But if i know that you are the sole home of in depth coverage on things I care about, you got me.
OK, it's a tortured stretch to say that this blog offers depth and differentiation. In fact, this blog is totally scattered and lacking in focus. So Mark won't be hanging on my every post. I can live with that.

But one of my motivations here is to relax the ridiculous time constant of the blog media. The fast twitch memetics of the blog world—which is actually a web disease that predates blogging—take slashdot for instance—makes the blogosphere almost unbearable. Millions of ditto-heads on the left and the right trying to post nearly identical thoughts on the meme-of-the-moment makes for a droning, featureless bore.

Buried in this cacophony are bloggers who differentiate, who speak with a more grounded voice, who have something to say. That's why I obsess on blogs. That's what I try, with only occasional success, to report here. You would not come here to catch the newest ripple in the blog pond. But I might be able to link you up with some bloggers who have something to say, something worth reading. Like Mark.

Flickr gets a make-over

Flickr has been updated and the new site rocks. Simple, almost subtle improvements that make a difference.


Think Progress » Bush Memo Authorizes Telcos To Lie

This gets more and more like 1984 all the time. Now Bush is, in his absolute power, giving telcos the right to lie in order to protect his butt. Makes perfect sense to me, after all, Ignorance is Strength.

War and Piece on the subject of domestic surveillance

I like to quote excerpts and add my pith to the articles I cite. But there is simply no way to improve on this, so I'll quote the whole thing: Another thought on the subject of domestic surveillance...

These policies of vastly expanded warrantless domestic surveillance may have been undertaken in good faith, but they have a way of taking on a life and logic of their own totally divorced from their original purpose, and becoming self-justifying. Consider that, as the government has apparently gone to some length to track every single AT&T and Verizon customer's communications, it has still not managed to find Osama bin Laden, the ostensible reason for the war we are involved in in the first place. Bin Laden probably doesn't even use a phone, so he's seemingly a difficult target for the NSA. We Americans and our telephones and Internet, on the other hand, offer a target rich environment, it's hard not to see, given the devotion of what seems increasingly substantial US government resources to targeting our communications. Kind of like when there were not enough good targets in Afghanistan, the Defense Secretary expressed the thought that Iraq might have some better ones.

I guess this is a long way of saying, they've got a hammer, and they appear to be searching for the perfect nail. And it may be us, because the terrorists don't seem to be very suitable nails at all, or else conceivably we would not be hearing bin Laden and Zarqawi and Zawahiri on TV so recently.

And isn't it how these things always go? The war turns inward. I saw it in the Balkans, and those a little older saw it with McCarthy, Watergate, Nixon.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Political Animal: head-in-the-sand voting

What he said: "The technical details don't even matter here. A company that doesn't believe anyone would ever try to steal an election shouldn't be in the voting machine business. Jeebus.

More fun with my FZ7

Cesar Chavez ES
Originally uploaded by BernalKC.

NSA Sweep "Waste of Time,"?

Here's an excellent post on Defense Tech reviewing the NSA wiretaps. Defense Tech: NSA Sweep "Waste of Time," Analyst Says

It'd be one thing if the NSA's massive sweep of our phone records was actually helping catch terrorists. But what if it's not working at all? A leading practitioner of the kind of analysis the NSA is supposedly performing in this surveillance program says that 'it's a waste of time, a waste of resources. And it lets the real terrorists run free.'
Even if tracking who everyone is calling is legal, he argues that the technique is so imprecise that it will trigger massive rights violations as a fog of false positive signals lead law enforcement and intelligence agencies to target innocent citizens.

Even if the NSA datamining dragnet is thoeretically possible, what are the chances that it can be run cleanly and optimally? There are so many dangerous dimensions to this story, it boggles the mind.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Big Brother in the flesh

Ars has a good short synopsis of today's revelations about the NSA domestic wiretap story: TIA (aka Topsail) unveiled: the real scope of the NSA's domestic spying program

Think about that for a moment: the program is secret, and there is no judicial or congressional oversight (as of today, there's not even any executive branch oversight from the Justice Department), so the national security establishment has arrogated to itself carte blanche to snoop your phone activity and possibly to detain you indefinitely without a warrant based on what they find.
Holy F---ing S--t Batman.

Cool time-lapse view of Mt. St. Helens

APOD has a page of info on the ongoing eruption at Mt. St. Helens where I found this cool time-lapse movie of the growing lava dome crowned by a huge rock slab. Check it out...

Tumbs up for Atrios' platform

I love this proposal from Atrios:
We're the Decider

...I think the "liberal netroots" does have a fairly clear consensus on a number of issues. I'm not going to claim every liberal blogger or blog reader agress with everything on this list - that'd be ridiculous - but nonetheless I'd say there's a pretty obvious general consensus on the following:
  • Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration
  • Repeal the estate tax repeal
  • Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI
  • Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)
  • Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation
  • Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.
  • Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code
  • Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.
  • Reduce corporate giveaways
  • Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan
  • Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.
  • Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too.
  • Imprison Jeff Goldstein for crimes against humanity for his neverending stupidity
  • Paper ballots
  • Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter.
  • Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.
I'm sure I could think of a few more things. I left off foreign policy because I find that most people who write about it imagine they're playing the game of Risk. It's nice to have nice bumpersticker doctrines which are ultimately meaningless, but basically "put grownups in charge" is my prescription. Kick the petulant children out.
...adding a few more things which would be obvious if we weren't living in the Grand and Glorious Age of Bush:
  • Torture is bad
  • Imprisoning citizens without charges is bad
  • Playing Calvinball with the Geneva Conventions and treaties generally is bad
  • Imprisoning anyone indefinitely without charges is bad
  • Stating that the president can break any law he wants any time "just because" is bad
...oh, and I meant to include:
  • Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.
That's a party platform I could get excited about!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

EdmundsTest the Gas Saving Tips

Edmunds has some practical advice for saving gas in the article We Test the Tips. They took a list of ideas for improving gas mileage and put the to the test.

The good news is that you can drastically improve your gas mileage. The caveat is that you have to change your driving habits. If you are willing to change, you'll find many related benefits too: no speeding tickets, greater safety, reduced stress and lower repair bills for tires and brake pads. In the long run this will save you money. And who knows? You might like the new you.
Many years ago, my first job in San Francisco included developing and running a railroad simulation that—among other things—simulated energy consumption. The one thing that stood out from those simulations, the one guiding rule was very simple: don't apply the brakes. All the energy you dissipate via braking is energy you might be able to save.

And how do you avoid using the brakes? Coast. Use the terrain to brake. Which implies that you go slow. All of this is pretty consistent with what Edmunds determines from their tests. Even their bottom line results matched my simulations. The railroads could save about %30 of their energy use by careful use of coasting, and Edmunds comes to the same conclusion.

One factor I wish they had tested more clearly was the idea that jackrabbit starts waste gas. In my simulations they did not. Provided you stop accelerating soon enough to avoid excessive braking, hard accelerations was fine — and the railroad operators we were working for definitely liked minimizing trip time. So do I.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Keepin it Clean?

Here's a quick survey you can take to see if you are a Bay polluter. I was not too surprised to get a pretty mediocre score, but some of the issues did surprise me. Check it out.

OK, I'm officially obsessed

Another beautiful day beckons...

The wrongness singularity | Cosmic Variance

This was a fun read. Not that often that you run accross an intersection between politics and physics quite this amusing:

The wrongness singularity

So in fact, Reynolds has managed to fit five units of wrongness into only four declarative statements! This is the hackular equivalent of crossing the Chandrasekhar Limit, at which point your blog cannot help but collapse in on itself. It is unknown at this point whether the resulting end state will be an intermediate neutron-blog phase, or whether the collapse will proceed all the way to a singularity surrounded by a black hole event horizon. We may have to wait for the neutrino signal to be sure.
Hat tip to Pharyngula for the link.

Loving my new Lumix FZ7

My new obsession is my brand new Panasonic Lumix FZ7 camera. It's my birthday present to myself. I'm loving it. I could bore you with the details of why I bought it, how I shopped for it, etc. But why bother when I can just post a couple shots:

And I'm just scratching the surface of what this camera can do. I did spend a night scanning the manual so I have a good idea of how it works. But there are so many possibilities. Already I'm loving the quick lens, the light weight, and the simple easy to use controls. Best of all, no shutter lag. Can't wait to try some action shots.

Sistani fuels Iraqi homophobe murderers?

What a chilling story. Iraqi police murder a 14 year old boy in cold blood for being gay? Apparently this is not an isolated event. And this part of the story really sends a chill up my spine:

Campaign groups have warned of a surge in homophobic killings by state security services and religious militias following an anti-gay and anti-lesbian fatwa issued by Iraq's most prominent Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
No wonder Salam Pax's blog has gone silent, and he appears to be touring the west.

What have we done to Iraq?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Smells like hookers to me

Goss' goose cooked by hookergate? Sure has that odor to it, doesn't it? But the press sure is acting dumb for now.

Treehugger: Green Museum to Open in San Francisco

I had no idea that the new Academy of Sciences was going to be a green building. That's the news from Treehugger:
Green Museum to Open in San Francisco

But what is the best part of Piano’s design? It takes advantage of the museum setting, highlighting, rather than hiding, sustainable design elements. Therefore, part of the museum experience is discovering and exploring what the market currently has to offer, when it comes to green construction.
Sounds really cool. There's more about it here, with some cool renderings here, here, and

Thursday, May 04, 2006

NBA Draft Early Entries

As I scan this list of NBA draft early entries I'm wondering how many of these kids are impacted by the new NCAA rules that require scholarship students to be progressing towards a degree? Do schools revoke scholarships now when athletes fail to keep up?

Diebold does it again

TalkLeft notes the latest SNAFU: Voting Problems in Ohio (Again)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Saving the planet?

Treehugger recently ran a fun series of echo self-help tips: 25 Ways to Save the Planet (25-16), (11-15), (6-10), (1-5). I'm surprised at how many of these ideas we do. So I decided to fill out a scorecard:

  1. a programmable thermostat
    Maybe. We have one upstairs and a dumb one downstarts. We don't use the upstairs one. Instead we just live without heat. And since we have two heaters we save even more energy than we would by programming.
  2. Draft excluders at the base of your doors
    No. And we need it on one of our doors.
  3. Use "Tupperware"-style reusable food containers
  4. get a rainwater storage tank
    No. Not sure it makes sense in SF, unless the fog drizzle would yield enough water in the downspout to help the garden. I'll have to look into this.
  5. use a water filter
  6. A low-flow showerhead
  7. go for a potted flower (not cut)
    No. And we've been buying cheap Trader Joe cut flowers that I bet come from Mexico, which probably has a worse eco footprint than most cut flowers.
  8. you can't beat filtered tap water in a reusable bottle
  9. replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents
  10. place a brick or similarly voluminous object in the tank of your toilet
    Maybe. We have a low-flow toilet. Displacing any more water from the tank would make it even more feeble. Bad idea.
  11. we can still make a difference with the rugs and carpets we put down
    No. We have a few area rugs, but this item is really for homes in colder climates.
  12. Use recycled paper
  13. a spinning clothes dryer that uses centrifugal force
  14. Get an efficient space heater to cut down on the cubic area you need to heat
    No. But again, who needs heat in SF?
  15. Fill your kitchen with bamboo
  16. [Buy and eat] local food movement.
  17. If given the choice, go for organic fruits, veggies, meat and dairy over conventional food
  18. Use rechargable batteries instead of single-use batteries
    Sort of... in some cases.
  19. Skip the energy-hogging clothes dryer for a drying rack or clothes line instead
    Sort of... Most clothes go in the dryer, but we do have a rack we use sometimes.
  20. Eschew air conditioners
  21. Use eco-friendly household cleaners
  22. Ride a bicycle
    Mostly no... I need to get a new one...
  23. Buy clothes and other linens made from organic cotton
  24. Compost your garbage instead of throwing it all away
  25. Get a reel (human-powered) lawn mower
    Not relevant.
Final score: 11 Yes, 8 No, and 6 in the middle. Not too bad, frankly...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Culture of Corruption, now with HOOKERS!

I should send you to the reality based, sober, hard working lefty blogs that are really breaking this case open. Instead I'll let Wonkette dish it up: Boring Ol’ Congressional Corruption Case NOW WITH HOOKERS - Wonkette

k / o on the Colbert moment

So much blog chatter today about Colbert's roast, and how the media is ignoring the story. I downloaded the clip and loved it, so I'll join to chorus with two links:

  • Kid Oakland nails it with this:
    Hell, letting Steven Colbert up there in 2006 is like somebody inviting Jello Biafra to give a speech on the same podium as Ronnie Reagan in 1983. Colbert's über-Americanism is an updated version of a punk pose made popular by songs like the Dead Kennedys' 'California über alles'...who in turn took chapters from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Shakespeare's Hamlet...'a play's the thing, to catch the conscience of the king.' At a certain point the hypocrisy and corruption of the establishment becomes so blantant the only thing to do is to use a 'play' to explode the comfortable lies of the powerful from within...taking up their own rhetoric, their own pose, and using it against them.

    The truth can't hurt, can it?

    Of course it can. Ask the jester. Ask the clown.
  • Boig Boig passed on this link to the where you can add your 'thank you' to a huge list. Let the world know that Colbert's truthiness can't be ignored.

Bush Declares Law Day?

File this under Freedom is Slavery