Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cold Snap

It was 16 degrees this morning. When I tried to open my door the handle snapped. Later, a friend called me to jump her car and the wires on my cheap car safety kit jumper cables smoked and melted free from all four clamps. I arrived home to a note from my neighbor informing me I had been irrigating my roof after the shutoff valve for my sprinkler system froze and split resulting in an attractive geyser.

I was already laughing, I had to laugh harder. Perhaps a bit maniacally, but I was laughing. What else can you do?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Home Again

Boise Train Depot at daybreak.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Success By the 6 P's

Without doubt this was my best trip east, at least for my parents and my relationship, since I moved back west to Idaho more than three years previous.

It required strategy.

The problem I face with both my family and my friends is time. Invariably I short change one or more of my friends and I always leave my mother feeling jilted.

This trip I took a different tact. Instead of emailing my mother my flight schedule the second I purchased it, I emailed her an itinerary of our time together. The main problem is one of expectation. Once she sees I will be home from a-z, she plans out every moment between the two and when I schedule time with friends from c-g and m-t she feel short changed. So this time she didn't even see my flight schedule until she begged for it, and in the process she learned she had an additional evening with me on my arrival date. Once on the east coast, she discovered she had another part of a day with me. It may sound small, but this peace is huge. This is the first trip I didn't spend half the vacation stressed out trying to appease everyone and failing miserably.

One negative to this plan is I had several very tempting offers to hang out with friends I couldn't accommodate because they violated the pact we had already established. It stunk to tell my friends no, but in the end I think it was worth it.

I am such a spur of the moment fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person it is almost unfortunate this succeeded.

I am already in trouble for my trip home for Christmas. My mother knows my flight times and I haven't scheduled one visit with friends yet. This could be bad.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Privatization of the Commons

I was both appalled and delighted five years ago when "The Avenue" opened in White Marsh, Maryland. It is everything that was great about early 20th century small town America, packaged up by big box stores and dropped onto a sea of asphalt like a parked starship. But it also represents acknowledgment of what is needed in America.

It is not a smattering of box stores, it is not a strip mall, it is not even a mall, but instead an artificial public space built on a human scale with mixed uses. If you stand in the right spot and don't notice the acres of asphalt stretching into the distance you just might mistake your reality for a place of substance. But there is no five and dime, and certainly no one is going to know your name at the corner pub.

This is a good step forward and I want to embrace it. But then I start thinking more about what we are doing in packaging what was public space. Make no mistake; this is not Main Street America. This is no more Main Street than the 7/8th model Walt built. You can't picket, parade or protest in this space. This is private property.

The Avenue is no longer alone. This trip I discovered a richer "Town Centre" in what was once Hunt Valley Mall (and a vast improvement on the original). Yes, there is still a large parking lot, but it is no longer simply a redesigned shopping experience. The "street" aligning the shops sits at the end of a light rail line that runs to Baltimore and nearly respects the existing street pattern of the community. The development contains many retail stores, but also a bevy of restaurants, bars, a large supermarket, a department store, and a megaplex.

Harford Mall is currently receiving a similar, alas much smaller make-over.

Maybe there is hope for good design. At least for upper middle class white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who are happy with the status quo to enjoy. Maybe with time we'll even start building our businesses on public street fronts again without the need for stadium-sized parking lots.

Heck, college students are now coming up from Baltimore to go to the bars in Bel Air. When I was young the biggest thing happening in Bel Air was the Rock Spring McDonald's.

Lost in Place

One thing I abhor about coming home is change. The Harford County of my youth is gone.

In my youth there were cows in downtown Bel Air. That field is now a Chili's, Taco Bell and strip mall. And for Bel Air today that's an old development.

There are whole communities built and inhabited between my visits.

Just recently it started creeping toward my parent's house. Mini-mansions are popping up like dandelions. My favorite gravel roads are paved, woods flattened and creeks culvertized. It depresses me.

When will we find a way to develop in synergy with the land? Ian McHarg did a fairly good job directing growth in Baltimore County. Suburban expansion was restricted to clusters around urban cores which encouraged mixed use (with limited success). The rural areas however became outlets for the rich and gentrified estates quickly replaced family farms.

We need smarter people working on building livable communities. Without strong leadership from Planning Boards we'll get the same cookie cutter subdivisions and strip malls. Anymore I'm not certain if I'm in Peoria, Columbus or Abingdon. Everywhere I find the same characterless boxes.

I'm convinced it can be done well. I've seen it.

The answers lie in mixed use development of urban cores, strong value placed on rural agricultural production and high speed efficient mixed-mode transportation networks.

Of course none of this will happen until we break off our love affair with the automobile. When will that happen? When gasoline and highways charge their true cost. Federal underwriting of the two results in the Mickey Mouse development we currently endure:

  • Subdivisions without sidewalks, or worse yet sidewalks that lead nowhere.
  • Box stores standing like islands in a sea of asphalt
  • Stop lights every 100 yards on multilane "highways"
  • Neighborhoods where garages are all that address the street, and all neighbors know of their neighbors are the makes and model of their automobile.

We know good design when we see it. In fact, we flock to communities built on a human scale. Heard of Disneyland? Not only is Main Street follow a nostalgic archetype, it's built at 7/8th scale. A human dimension.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cheap Chicken

I've been having a great time visiting this week. With a little time, it's easy to forget just how many great friends you have made in past lives. Spending a week back home it is so utterly delightful to fall back into these friendships like no time has passed. Almost enough to make me want to move back.

Then I got stuck in traffic. At 1:30 in the morning. Ah, Delaware.

Back when I was debating whether to leave my old job in Delaware and move to Idaho I did pro-con analysis. Idaho had great skiing, wilderness, hot springs, a laid-back lifestyle, promised the ability to bike to work, a job that truly was doing some good in the world, less stress and more time. And on the other hand Delaware had cheap chicken.

I left one off though... some really, really, great people.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

State College

Road Trip + Algiers Reunion + ABC + Ratchet + Tailgate + Justice of the Peace + Beanbags + Flip Cup + Drinko + OG in Beaver + Naptime + Lucky + Pong + Gaff + Rail Grind + Dance, Dance, Reach-Around = Good Times.

 >> Now I have to make a Griz Bean Bag Game. That's quality.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Stupid Business Models

I'm visiting my parents this week and they only have dial up. No problem I figured, just head into town find a nice cafe and work from there on their wireless. Wrong.

I try my best to avoid corporate food and coffee. So first I tried four or five different local cafes, none of them had wireless. By this point I am frustrated and wardriving around town to corporate coffee, bagel and bookstores. At all of them I discovered fee walls.

This makes no sense. Wireless is a value-added thing. Like heat, comfy chairs, or good music it draws people in and gets them to spend more time in your establishment. You don't pay for wireless.

It became a principle thing. I have no problem dropping a good tip for letting me sit there for a while, but I am not going to pay by the minute for wireless.

Frustrated, I walked into a Starbucks/Barnes and Noble and asked them directly, "Who do I have to sleep with to get online?" The barista handing out samples looked at me very confused and asked me to repeat the question, so I did more plainly, "I see you are charging to get online. If I go up to the counter and pay $4.79 for a $1.00 coffee will you give me the password to get online?" No was the best she could do for me. So I drank the free sample she whored me and left.

After another thirty minutes I stumbled upon the aptly named "Open Door Cafe" and free wireless. Three hours and a four coffee refills later I asked for my bill, it came to $1.20. I left her a five.

If you need to get online in Bel Air, MD here's the spot:

Thy Despot's Heal is on Thy Shore

I'm visiting my home state of Maryland this week, and I have to say we have by far the best flag in the union. I'd long known it to be the combination of the Maryland founder's crests, but it wasn't until this afternoon that I stumbled across the rest of the story.

As it turns out our state flag, like our state song (a rehashing of O' Tannenbaum or as my Uncle sings, "Oh, Maryland, Oh Maryland, how lovely are thy branches") harkens back to the days when Maryland was forcibly held in the Union. I could tell the tale in detail, but I think the state song does it far more colorfully in, "Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!"

Maryland My Maryland
Written by James Ryder Randall

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland, My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
Maryland, My Maryland!
My Mother State! to thee I kneel,
Maryland, My Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird they beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,-
And all they slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Come! 'tis the red dawn of the day,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Come with thy panoplied array,
Maryland, My Maryland!
With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
With Watson's blood at Monterey,
With fearless Lowe and dashing May,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Come! for thy shield is bright and strong,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Come! to thine own heroic throng,
Stalking with Liberty along,
And cgive a new Key to thy song,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain!
Maryland, My Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain-
"Sic semper!" 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I see the blush upon thy cheek,
Maryland, My Maryland!
For thou wast ever bravely meek,
Maryland, My Maryland!
But lo! There surges forth a shriek
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the vandal toll,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland, My Maryland!
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland, My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

The flag is in fact a post-civil war compromise between the Calvert yellow and black which came to symbolize union stewardship over Maryland, and the red and white cross bottony which was worn by Maryland Confederate troops at a time when red and white were synonymous with Confederate sympathies. In fact, the original Crossland Crest is a red and silver cross bottony, not red and white.

This flag made it's first appearance in 1888, when the Maryland National Guard carried it at the dedication ceremonies for the Maryland monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield. The Fifth Regiment adopted it shortly thereafter.

From the Maryland State Department:
The adoption of this new flag by the Fifth Regiment helped popularize the design. The Fifth was the largest component of Maryland's military after 1870, and it played a conspicuous part in major public events both in and out of the state. Organized in May 1867, the Fifth Regiment was the successor organization to the Old Maryland Guard, a military unit formed in Baltimore in 1859 that dissolved when most of its officers and men went south in 1861 to join the Confederate Army. More

Capture the Flag

Now that progressives have retaken the legislature, can I have my country back?

O'say does that Star-spangled banner
yet wave o'er Fort McHenry
Five years ago I was late leaving for work, the TV was on. My girlfriend at the time came running down the hall screaming, she knew friends in New York. I was living in Delaware, which many of you may not be aware is the financial back office for most of Manhattan's banks. I had many friends working in DC, a couple in defense agencies. I'm not that old. The cold war was scary, but I'd never seen my country attacked.

In the end, no one I knew directly died in the attacks, but I had friends and co-workers who lost family members and friends.

I can't describe the feeling. I'm not especially nationalistic... but for about a month I seriously considered signing up for one of the government intelligence agencies (with my skills in GIS and remote sensing it is where I'd do the most good). We had the world's good will behind us. And then I watched as the neo-cons took all that political capital and burned it and all our nation stood for... they might as well have burned the flag. Oh, the irony.

When I was young, America was the beacon of hope, democracy and justice in the world. It was where oppressed citizens of corrupt governments around the world dreamed of going. I am only a generation or two removed from immigration. My grandparents were filled with pride to be Americans. When I was tracing my ancestry, I remember hitting a brick wall with my great-grandfather who would only provide, "If I liked it so much I wouldn't have left."

He was proud to be an American. And so was I. I want that back.

I wouldn't hesitate to die for the ideals of this nation... if only we still stood for them.

A few years ago when I went abroad I concealed the fact that I was American. Outrageously, I've heard some Americans even sewed Canadian flags to their packs. When asked, I'd clearly state I was an American, but I'd follow it up with "I'm sorry my President is an idiot, I didn't vote for him." That same sentence I had a on a business card in four languages. Amazingly, I was welcomed. Universally I was told, "I love Americans, I just despise your leader. Are Americans really that stupid to vote for him? Or where your elections just hijacked." Oddly, Europeans are better informed on US election fraud than Americans.

In the land of "freedom fries" are we smart enough to make the distinction between a country's leader and policy and their citizens?

We aren't exporting democracy to Iraq. To quote GW, "We're exporting war." And we're exporting capitalism. Don't confuse capitalism with democracy. A free market does not necessarily bring justice and liberty.

We have a window, I'd even argue progressives have a mandate.

I want my country back. Let's capture the flag.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What I Learned in my Crawlspace

I was innocently doing laundry Saturday morning when I first noticed the smell. At first I just thought Kootenai had a bad case of gas (she can clear a room quick on a good day). But then it didn't go away.

Entering my front bathroom I discovered excrement had filled my bathtub. The shower down the hall enjoyed the same fate. Delightful.

Some spelunking in the crawlspace led to the discovery of a wet spot in middle of the newest addition. Some pulaski digging under constrained conditions quickly yielded a nest of roots, a half dozen of which had a circumference that surpassed the thick end of a baseball bat some 15' from the nearest foundation wall. This is not good.

As it turned out when they built the last addition in the 1970s they decided to forgo any kind of coupler and just butted the new plastic pipe up to the old cement sewer line. Naturally, the trees were big fans of this year-round nutrient and water source.

But why stay just on the outside of the pipe when you can slip your way in and access solid material as well? And there was my problem.

Digging out the pipe and disconnecting it revealed a 12' long solid section of tree roots saturated in excrement. Now that's delightful. Especially delightful when removing this clog lets loose all the material behind it. And even more delightful when you realize the ramifications. You get to carry two gallon bucket after two gallon bucket of feces through an obstacle course of wires, pipes and cement walls to the backyard. At times the passage is less than 18" high. That's the way to spend a Saturday.

Of course no plumbing problem is ever simple, so naturally I had to wait until Monday for indoor plumbing since the connection from plastic to cement pipes requires a custom fitting that only the special plumbing supply store carries.

Top Ten Things I Learned From This Job

10.) A great appreciation for indoor plumbing.

9.) A modified bleach bottle makes a really good pooper scooper.

8.) Trees really, really like a constant supply of moisture and nutrients.

7.) Dogs and buckets of feces don't mix.

6.) My gag reflex is even better than I thought.

5.) Excrement turns black in sewer pipes (why would that be?)

4.) Exactly what happens when I flush the toilet or wash dishes.

3.) If you have to fix a sewer pipe, at least make sure you know the person intimately, for if not, you soon will.

2.) Who are my friends (after I asked to use their shower.)

1.) Why an exposed crack doesn't bother plumbers in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Idaho Election 2006 as Ratios

After thinking about these maps last night, I realized though accurate the maps I made (see Mapping Idaho's Election 2006) were completely misleading. If by winning a county the candidate received all the electoral votes in that county (like states in national elections) the maps I made would have been appropriate, however that is not how statewide elections are tallied. Instead it is total vote count across the entire state (or district in the case of the US Representatives).

Exhibit Two: Maps by Sum, Proportion and Vote Differential
         I also improved the layout and quality a bit

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mapping Idaho's Election 2006

UPDATE November 10, 2006: I have made vast improvement to the quality and clarity of these maps, see Idaho Election 2006 as Ratios.

I just slapped these maps together using unofficial totals available on the Idaho Secretary of State's website.

The results for the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Proposition 1 are particularly interesting. Apparently, liberals, college students, Mormons and socialists were the key supporters of both Jana Jones and Proposition 1.

If you'd like to see the results of any of the other races let me know.

(select a map to view full-size)

Snow in Them Thar Hills

The leaves have left most of the trees and this morning I awoke to snow in the hills. Bogus Basin's webcam shows the first frosting of winter. High of 32 degrees and low of 27 today at the resort. Winter is on the way!

Autumn is my favorite season, but I find as one season turns to another I am always looking forward to the next. Recently, I can't get the thought of cutting turns on the slopes of Anthony Lakes from my mind. I'm also pretty stoked about getting out into the backcountry this winter. It'll be my first year trying my hand at ski mountaineering.

The Stupid Dingo has been quite absent from my posts of late. In her honor here's a couple of my favorite powder hound snapshots:

Ok, so it's not a winter shot, but check out that glissading dingo!

Long Time Coming

Burns and Allen conceded! Democrats control the House and the Senate. We finally have a system with checks on the executive branch!

Forget about impeachment, I just want my rights back. Let's start by renewing Habeas Corpus.

We've waited a long time for this.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Red State Blues

It was a bittersweet victory for progressives in Idaho. We took control of the House, and it appears we may have control of the Senate as well, but Idaho's Democratic candidates did not fare so well.

In the 1st Congressional District we had a very strong contender in Larry Grant. His contender, Bill Sali is one of the most conservative members of the Idaho legislature. During an argument on the floor this year Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb of Burley, a Republican, was quoted saying, "That idiot (Sali) is just an absolute idiot. He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body. And you can put that in the paper."

Sali won last night by 10,000+ votes.

U.S. House - District 1 - 452 of 470 Precincts Reporting
Name Party Votes Pct
Sali, Bill GOP 111,669 50.04
Grant, Larry Dem 99,687 44.67
Olson, Dave Ind 6,592 2.95
Hedden-Nicely, Andy UNT 2,823 1.27
Smith, Paul CST 2,379 1.07

U.S. House - District 2 - 428 of 482 Precincts Reporting
Name Party Votes Pct
Simpson, Mike GOP 115,410 62.76
Hansen, Jim Dem 61,629 33.51
Forth, Cameron Ind 4,568 2.48
Hedrick, Travis CST 2,298 1.25

And we had a good shot at the Governorship as well and lost that too. All told the race was much closer than usual in this very red state.

Governor - 880 of 952 Precincts Reporting
Name Party Votes Pct
Otter, C.L. Butch GOP 218,750 53.19
Brady, Jerry Dem 179,365 43.61
Richardson, Marvin CST 6,585 1.60
Dunlap, Ted Lib 6,582 1.60

There were small victories. State Representative District 17B, the district I worked heavily in 2 years ago to win for Sean Spence and ended up loosing by 7 votes, Sue Chew won easily for the Democrats. We picked up several House seats around Boise.

And we are progressive in one key important backward way. We don't have electronic voting machines! We even have hundreds of people manually checking the ballots for hanging chads! How hip is that?

In fact, many things about Idaho remained constant:
  • We hate gays. HJR2 added even more wording around marriage to a code that already forbid gay marriage in Idaho. Some day our children will look back at laws like this with the same disgust we view slavery, suffrage and racism.

  • We hate taxes. Proposition 1 failed, which attempted to direct fund exclusively to public education. Funding education!? My word! What a waste of our tax dollars educating our youth!

  • We hate outsiders. A campaign funded by a wealthy New York lawyer to rewrite takings laws and negate zoning failed to pass (this is the one good thing in this list).

  • We're stupid. Idaho voters gave their support through an advisory vote for Jim Risch's move to transfer property taxes to sales taxes. This results of course, for everyone who isn't a millionaire vast increases in taxes. But with some careful wording Idaho voters were too stupid to realize that "property tax relief" only applied to Potlatch and Simplot.

To wrap-up, Idahoans confirmed that they are homophobic, taxophobic, xenophobic and downright stupid. But alas, hope springs from the most unlikely of fountains. From the New York Times this morning:

New York Plans to Make Gender Personal Choice
Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: November 7, 2006

Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.

Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.

Applicants would have to have changed their name and shown that they had lived in their adopted gender for at least two years, but there would be no explicit medical requirements.
More (after advert splash)

Here's the loophole my gay and lesbian friends. (I know, I know, it requires one of you reverse gender. So it's a little complicated, sorry about that.)

But wouldn't it be worth it to apply for a marriage license in Idaho?

After all, you would legally be a man and a woman. Married in what our newly-elected Governor triumphantly labeled this morning, "The reddest of the Red States."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Steal Back Your Vote

Republicans began today with a 5% advantage or 4.5 million votes thanks to a series of moves (described below) which allowed them to purge poor, black, latino and jewish voters from the registries.

There is something you can do about it, and today: VOTE. And don't let them hand you a provisional ballot. Go home, get ID and a utility bill and demand a real ballot.

As Greg Palast points out, "you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. If you can’t get the 55% you need for regime change, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to take charge."

For specific advice on How to Steal Back Your Vote, go to

Published by Greg Palast November 6th, 2006 in Articles
by Greg Palast for The Guardian (UK), Monday November 6, 2006

Here’s how the 2006 mid-term election was stolen.

Note the past tense. And I’m not kidding.

And shoot me for saying this, but it won’t be stolen by jerking with the touch-screen machines (though they’ll do their nasty part). While progressives panic over the viral spread of suspect computer black boxes, the Karl Rove-bots have been tunneling into the vote vaults through entirely different means.

For six years now, our investigations team, at first on assignment for BBC TV and the Guardian, has been digging into the nitty-gritty of the gaming of US elections. We’ve found that November 7, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. Four and a half million votes have been shoplifted. Here’s how they’ll do it, in three easy steps:

Theft #1: Registrations gone with the wind

On January 1, 2006, while America slept off New Year’s Eve hangovers, a new federal law crept out of the swamps that has devoured 1.9 million votes, overwhelmingly those of African-Americans and Hispanics. The vote-snatching statute is a cankerous codicil slipped into the 2002 Help America Vote Act — strategically timed to go into effect in this mid-term year. It requires every state to reject new would-be voters whose identity can’t be verified against a state verification database.

Sounds arcane and not too threatening. But look at the numbers and you won’t feel so fine. About 24.3 million Americans attempt to register or re-register each year. The New York University Law School’s Brennan Center told me that, under the new law, Republican Secretaries of State began the year by blocking about one in three new voters.

How? To begin with, Mr. Bush’s Social Security Administration has failed to verify 47% of registrants. After appeals and new attempts to register, US Elections Assistance Agency statistics indicate 1.9 million would-be voters will still find themselves barred from the ballot on Tuesday.

But don’t worry: those holding passports from their ski vacations to Switzerland are doing just fine. And that’s the point. It’s not the number of voters rejected, it’s their color. For example, California’s Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson figured out how to block 40% of registrants, mostly Hispanics. In a rare counter-move, Los Angeles, with a Hispanic mayor, contacted these citizens, “verified” them and got almost every single one back on the rolls. But throughout the rest of the West, new Hispanics remain victims of the “Jose Crow” treatment.

In hotly contested Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell, Secretary of State and the Republican’s candidate for Governor, remains voter-rejection champ — partly by keeping the rejection criteria a complete secret.

Theft #2: Turned Away - the ID game

A legion of pimple-faced Republicans with Blackberries loaded with lists of new voters is assigned to challenge citizens in heavily Black and Hispanic (i.e. Democratic) precincts to demand photo ID that perfectly matches registration data.

Sounds benign, but it’s not. The federal HAVA law and complex new ID requirements in states like New Mexico will easily allow the GOP squads to triple the number of voters turned away. Rather than deny using these voter suppression tactics, Republican spokesmen are claiming they are “protecting the integrity of the vote.”

I’ve heard that before. In 2004, we got our hands on fifty confidential internal memos from the files of the Republican National Committee. Attached to these were some pretty strange spreadsheets. They called them “caging lists” — and it wasn’t about zoo feeding times. They were lists (70,000 for Florida alone) of new Black and Jewish voters — a very Democratic demographic — to challenge on Election Day. The GOP did so with a vengeance: In 2004, for the first time in half a century, more than 3.5 million voters were challenged on Election Day. Worse, nearly half lost their vote: 300,000 were turned away for wrong ID; 1.1 million were allowed a “provisional” ballot — which was then simply tossed out.

Tomorrow, new federal ID requirements and a dozen new state show-me-your-ID laws will permit the GOP challenge campaign to triple their 300,000 record to nearly one million voters blocked.

Theft #3: Votes Spoiled Rotten

The nasty little secret of US elections is that three million ballots are cast in national elections but not counted — 3,600,380 not counted in 2004 according to US Election Commission stats. These are votes lost because a punch card didn’t punch (its chad got “hung”), a stray mark voided a paper ballot and other machinery glitches.

Officials call it “spoilage.” I call it, “inaugurating Republicans.” Why? According to statisticians working with the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will “spoil” this way is 900% higher for Black folk and 500% higher for Hispanics than for white voters. When we do the arithmetic, we find that well over half of all votes spoiled or “blank” are cast by voters of color. On balance, this spoilage game produces a million-vote edge for the GOP.

That’s where the Black Boxes come into play. Forget about Karl Rove messing with the software to change your vote. Rather, the big losses occur when computers crash, fail to start or simply don’t respond to your touch. They are the new spoilage machines of choice with, statistically, the same racial bias as the old vote-snatching lever machines. (Funny, but paper ballots with in-precinct scanners don’t go rotten on Black voters. Maybe that’s why Republican Secretaries of State have installed so few of them.)

So Let’s Add it Up

Two million legitimate voters will be turned away because of wrongly rejected or purged registrations.

Add another one million voters challenged and turned away for “improper ID.”

Then add yet another million for Democratic votes “spoiled” by busted black boxes and by bad ballots.

And let’s not forget to include the one million “provisional” ballots which will never get counted. Based on the experience of 2004, we know that, overwhelmingly, minority voters are the ones shunted to these baloney ballots.

And there’s one more group of votes that won’t be counted: absentee ballots challenged and discarded. Elections Assistance Agency data tell us a half million of these absentee votes will go down the drain.

Driving this massive suppression of the vote are sophisticated challenge operations. And here I must note that the Democrats have no national challenge campaign. That’s morally laudable; electorally suicidal.

Add it all up — all those Democratic-leaning votes rejected, barred and spoiled — and the Republican Party begins Election Day with a 4.5 million-vote thumb on the vote-tally scale.

So, what are you going to do about it? May I suggest you… steal back your vote.

It’s true you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. The regime’s sneak attack via vote suppression will only net them 4.5 million votes, about 5% of the total. You should be able to beat that blindfolded. If you can’t get 55%, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to win back America.

For specific advice on How to Steal Back Your Vote, go to

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Restoring Justice

This is a powerful video on Common Ground, a grassroots collective working with the residents of New Orleans to rebuild their communities. As I wrote earlier, this spring I will be returning again to Louisiana to volunteer. I invite you to join me.

My plan is to arrive with everything necessary to rebuild several homes from demolition to drywall. I'll need tools, supplies and motivated individuals. Join me and Common Ground to make true positive change.

Common Ground: Solidarity not Charity
Common Ground Collective, 22 min.

download or view on google video

'Weener Wrap-Up

Halloween. Two costumes, three nights, six parties. The highlight reel:

Caesar Salad prepped for the H3 Halloween Ball

Decorating pumpkins. Some use finger paint, some use knives...

Real men use power tools

Carving Party Ignited, sawzaw creation lower right

Stand back landlubbers, Mer-Man is ready to hit the town

The City that Care Forgot

Last March I went down to New Orleans to assist with the rebuilding as a volunteer. It was gratifying and frustrating at the same time. The city is truly destroyed. It was outrageous then and even more so now over a year later.

Now Greg Palast has uncovered that it is not because New Orleaners aren't able to rebuild, but instead because it is not in the best interest of wealthy speculators and those in power to let it happen.

Private security firms like Blackwater run fenced RV parks for evacuated residents (often against their will) miles from the City. The only way in or out of these prisons is one bus, that only goes to Wal-Mart. Here Palast explains, residents are trapped:

They may only have a crappy little FEMA trailer, or they may be stuck somewhere else but if they come in (to New Orleans) they loose what they've been given. They're basically being paid. Like for example, the little tiny stipend, like $2,000 from FEMA. You go back to your place you don't get it. You don't get that rental subsidy, so what happens is that you are basically being paid to stay out of the city if you're poor.

You are being paid to stay out of the City.

But I want to emphasize, it's not just the poor, everyone's been hit. This is a city that is 2/3rds demolished, and they haven't taken out the debris yet...

There's is this idea that New Orleaners are saying, "Gimme a handout, gimme a handout."

Every New Orleanen I spoke with: white, black, rich, poor said, "We don't want a handout. Would Mr. Bush please get his foot off our neck and let us rebuild."

All we expect of the federal government is to fix the levees, so that we don't drown again. Tell us, see what the Bush administration has done is they have not made it clear where you will be allowed to rebuild. Some people are rebuilding houses not knowing if they are going to be told, "Sorry you can't move in."

So tell us what the rules are so we can move back in. Fix the levees so we don't drown while we're rebuilding. And then get out of our way. They're not asking for some big handout. Rahim and his group (Common Ground Collective) are building units with the local people. I met people who are doing it themselves, you saw Mr. Irving and his home... basically the federal government is taking every bureaucratic step to keep people from doing it themselves. Cause that's what they want to do.

New Orleans: Big Easy to Big Empty
Greg Palast, 25 minutes with 30 min. interview following

download or view on google video

I am going to return this spring and volunteer again, only this time not with ACORN whose St. Louis staff's non-existent work ethic frustrated me but with those locals who have returned and are working to rebuild New Orleans, the Common Ground Collective

I'll be putting together a crew to head down there this spring. We'll bring our own tools, find our own lodging and work like dogs. But there's many hours in a day, and I can sleep when I'm dead. Most of Common Ground's work right now is in Algiers and that means we'll only be a couple blocks away from crawdads and Abitas on the porch at the Old Point Bar.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Defiling the Beautiful Game

In September, I resumed playing football (or soccer as us Yanks are forced to call it) with a co-ed club after a long hiatus. I didn't realize how much I missed it.

Kicking the ball around is such childish fun. It's as if I'm back playing with my Tonka trucks in the sandbox. Last week was by all measures bad, but five minutes of chasing a ball around and stopping a shot with my genitals still couldn't wipe the smile of delight from my face.

Our first game is this Sunday and I'm a little worried. The one problem with having played so much competitive ball in my past is invariably I get too tied up in the competition and in it I loose the simple joy of playing. I'm hoping the fact that it is a co-ed league will keep it light. Apparently the guys on any one team can only score two goals total each game. This should present a fun challenge.

The only true negative in all this is that we'll be playing the bastardized version of the game known as "indoor soccer." The boards remove so much beauty.

Along the same lines, I just saw the blokes at Top Gear had a second Car Football Challenge and as always it's brilliant entertainment. Not quite as amusing as car darts or driving Minis off ski jumps but it sure looks like one heck of a good time. If I ever come into money this is what we'll do at parties my friends.