Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bush and the FISA Court

It appears that Bush's decision to bypass the court is based not so much on the inconvenience, but on the probability that his request will be modified or rejected by the court. Brad DeLong quotes the UPI story:
U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.

Is there any possible way to justify this?

Maggy's Home

Maggy's home. One beautiful ice candle survived the unseasonably warm weather.

And the Christmas tree is decorated.

Monday, December 26, 2005

South Padre Island

From Pratie's Place came a link to this story at Nature Noted about Willacy County Texas beginning condemnation proceedings against the Nature Conservancy's 1500 acre preserve on South Padre Island Texas to facilitate building a ferry dock to enhance the tourist trade.

The Houston Chronicle's December 18 article says:
Willacy County officials who want to ferry people to the pristine beaches of South Padre Island have astonished conservationists by taking the first steps toward condemning an entire 1,500-acre nature preserve.

Please read it and tell me this can't succeed.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Koufax nominations

Coturnix at Science and Politics, bless his heart, has nominated this blog for a Koufax Award in the category "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition." While it's hard to imagine this going very far, it certainly is flattering.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I And The Bird #13

Thanks to Cindy at Woodsong for a fabulous new edition of I And The Bird#13 including lovely graphics and helpful comments. And thanks to the dozens of writers for sharing their experiences. I'm hard put to choose a favorite. But the photography at 75 degrees south is worthy of a special mention. I hope Maggy's on the way to the bus station so she won't click on that link. The plight of the penguins in the pictures, though beautiful, is very sad.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


The solstice ice candle was beautiful.

Christmas tree decoration proceeds apace. We added lights last night.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Star Map

Omigod. Another cool tool from Heavens Above. This is customizable for exact location. (It's interesting to see the difference in exact latitude, longitude and elevation between Dryden and West Dryden. Okay. Maybe not all that interesting to everyone.) Anyway, you can then select date and time you plan to be looking up and voila!

It's hard to take a picture of the sun. But here's a good idea of the highest point the sun will reach today. I found a spot sunny enough to show the sun's angle. Here's ten inches of a fifteen inch ruler casting a twenty-seven inch shadow.

Great New Toy

From Clear Dark Sky comes this fabulous forecast of skywatching conditions. (See the bottom of this page for a more readable, full-size version.) The first row forecasts cloud cover, hour by hour, from white for completely overcast to darkest blue for clear skies. Visit the site for explanations of transparency and seeing. Darkness accounts for moonlight as well as sunlight. The bottom three lines (wind, humidity, temperature) give you an idea how comfortable you might be outside. This would be useful, also, for bird-watching. The forecast is available for thousands of other locations as well.

I'm linking to this forecast at the bottom of my main page. So you'll always be able to see it if you scroll all the way down. I'm tempted to put it at the top. But, face it, not all my readers are that geeky.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Here's the star on the tree - the only decoration, so far. I don't rush into anything.

And here's a new thing I'm trying for Solstice. I'll be celebrating the ability to make ice - one of the few things winter's really better at than any other season. I got this idea from an article I read a long time ago. The author lived in Alaska and made candle holders by filling a container with water and partially freezing it. With the weather we're having it takes about twelve hours to freeze sufficiently. Then break the thin ice on top and pour out the slushy ice in the middle. The remaining ice container is a perfect votive light holder.

When I was planning my house without electricity, the final obstacle was refrigeration. As you know, I gave in and included electricity in the design. But if I hadn't... We'd build an icehouse and cut blocks of ice from the pond. It would be stored in the icehouse, insulated with sawdust in hopes of using some and preserving some through the summer 'til the return of cold weather. So I'll be celebrating the ability to make ice.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gale Norton and ANWR

Tuesday morning, when I was feeling kind of warm and fuzzy following the rational discussion of treatment of prisoners, C-SPAN ran the speech of Gale Norton at Heritage Foundation regarding oil drilling in ANWR. C-SPAN describes the event this way:

Secretary Norton spoke about U.S. energy policy and proposals to expand oil exploration and production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In her remarks she outlined the benefits of future oil drilling in meeting U.S. energy requirements in and increasingly tight global market. She also talked about the potential impact on oil prices and estimated size of the reserve.

Heritage described it this way:

Opening ANWR to limited drilling has been strongly advocated by the Bush Administration and those who recognize the necessity of moving toward genuine national energy independence. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has long believed that energy production and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive goals. Join us as the Secretary addresses the critical role the Department of the Interior plays in advancing a sound natural resources policy essential to achieving the security of our nation's energy supply.

The person introducing Gail Norton described drilling in ANWR as a "win-win situation." The government gets billions of dollars by selling drilling rights and we get the oil. What's missing from that analysis? The "negligible" environmental impact.

I understand when someone wants to present only one side of an issue. But I don't excuse deliberate deception. Norton says, "At peak production...the oil from ANWR would supply every drop of oil used by Florida for twenty-nine years, New York for thirty-four years, Illinois for forty-three years, California for sixteen years or New Hampshire for three-hundred and fifteen years. Catch the tiny "or" in there? By the way, why is Florida using more oil than New York? When asked later how long the oil from area 1002 would serve the entire country, Norton replied, that looking at it that way presents "a somewhat deceiving picture." She said that although it would supply the country's entire need for a only short time, it would contribute to the economy for decades. Surely she could do the math with the same figures used to calculate the state-by-state statistics. My understanding is that it would supply a fraction of a percent of US consumption for about ten years.

After emphasizing how cold the area is, Norton goes on to point out the it contains "no trees, no deep-water lakes and no mountain peaks." That apparently means it has no value except for the oil.

Norton goes on to describe the environmental protection measure that could be used in ANWR including ice roads and machinery with oversized tires. Hmm...Description of existing environmental on the North Slope

I realize whenever I talk about ANWR that it comes down to whether or not you value the land for it's own sake -- whether, in legal terms, it has "standing" or rights of its own. If it was a life and death struggle between the human race and the land, the human race would have to prove that it had done everything in its power to survive without damage to the land. Man, are we a long way from that.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Dinner Party

My friends are absolute champions at dinner parties - both giving them and enjoying them. The table is set while we enjoy a cocktail.

Here's the beautiful view from Leslie and Ally's east door.

Congratulations to Chris on his prize winning gingerbread house.

Pets are welcome to join in. I'm sorry the flashing lights on Tia's antlers don't show up.

My favorite Republican. Well, the only Republican I know except the ones I'll now be working with on the Dryden Town Board. Never mind that he's sharing Tia's costume.

Those of us who were there will remember Joe and Ally making snow angels. The rest of you will have to imagine.

And here at home, my Christmas Tree is up, thanks to Belinda. Watch this space for decorations.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Snow Day

It looks like a snow day to me. What do you think?

By default my camera turns on to automatic flash and I always forget to change it before the first picture. I sometimes get unexpected good results. What you can't appreciate from the picture is the way the snow actually looks in the second that the flash fires - each snowflake a bright light.

Here's what it looks like in the summer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Charlie's coat

It was one degree when I got up this morning. An hour later it had dropped to zero. That was discouraging. So now Charlie's got a coat. He didn't seem to think he needed it. He wouldn't stand still 'til I put a halter on. I think he thinks it's sissy. It's up to fourteen degrees now, but he's stuck with the coat for a while.

Here's my new, new best friend. Look, Maggy, you'll be able to wash your hair while you're home. It's not that the shower is new. But the nozzle, after twenty-three years of hard water, even though I clean it occasionally with vinegar, had seen better days. I didn't really notice the decrease in water pressure day by day, 'til I realized it was really just gravity getting the trickle of water to my hair. (Notice I'm not saying the "Theory of Gravity." Gravity's a real thing, just like evolution.) Anyway, for $1.99 at Target I picked up this cool nozzle and now showering is a pleasure. Ah, the simple pleasures.


The story of the man who was shot by an air marshal has been reported in two different ways. One version reports that the man "claimed he had a bomb in his backpack." The other reports that the man "said there was a bomb in his backpack."

I don't which is true and I have no tone of voice to work with. But I can imagine, "I have a bomb in my backpack," sounds either threatening or maybe bragging. "There's a bomb in my backpack," sounds scared or surprised, particularly when you're thinking of the man being paranoid.

I'm not saying it would have made a difference to the air marshal. But it certainly does make a difference if the journalist is trying to rationalize the air marshal's response.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tone of Voice

I wish I could put my finger on a description of the difference in tone of voice between when someone is speaking informatively or argumentatively. I'm getting close to understanding what's so annoying about Bush's speech pattern. But it's hard to describe in writing. His voice rises at the end of sentences. Not in the manner common with young people implying "Do you understand?" at the end of each sentence. But more like an exasperated parent telling a child for the fourth or fifth time to do something. "GO - CLEAN - your ROOM!" Like, "What's wrong with you that you don't understand what I'm saying?" "I - HAVE a PLAN!"

Bush does it more when he's speaking ex-temp than when giving a prepared speech. A few months ago I realized Scott McClellan was speaking that way, too. Now it seems like most Bush supporters are speaking that way. I have to tell you, it's really annoying. It's insulting

I raise the issue because this morning I heard a good speech by Congressman Schiff (D CA) at the Brookings Institution Forum on the Future of the Geneva Conventions. You can watch or listen to the speech on C-SPAN - Brookings Institution on Detention and Interrogation of Captured Enemies. The entire program is an hour and a half. Schiff's speech is about 45 minutes into it but all the speakers are worth listening to: the lawyer defending Kuwaitis held in Guantanamo; Brad Berenson, former assistant to Gonzales; David Cole, Georgetown law professor; David Rivkin, born in Russia, international law attorney and former State Department official.

Schiff lapses into an argumentative tone midway through the speech. Still I'm happy to hear someone speak so clearly about the question of what treatment of detainees is permissible and who gets to decide.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Braedy Patrick James

Welcome to the world!

Born November 29, 2005. Good luck to him and his mom, Emily, and her mom, Ruth.


I've had these glasses for twenty years - a dozen each of three sizes. Raised kids with them and no one ever broke one. 'Til last night.

It was pretty impressive. I dropped one on the slate floor and it shattered - kind of like safety glass - into lots of small pieces. The pieces scattered from one side of the room to the other. I imagine I'll be finding more pieces over the next few days. Luckily they aren't very sharp.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Weblog Awards

Some mornings I can be completely mesmerized by Washington Journal and blogs. This morning it's the Weblog Awards. After reading Coturnix's favorites, I started looking at some of the nominee's for Weblog Awards.

The Best Blog category is mostly the biggies you already know. But new to me is a military blog, Mudville Gazette - certainly a different perspective. And Captain's Quarters which may satisfy my search for a tolerable conservative blog.

In the New Blog category Respectful Insolence is certainly worth a bookmark. Performancing has some good info about blogging - geared, actually, for professional bloggers. Yellow Dog Blog is fun Democratic raving.

Best Liberal Blog and Best Conservative Blog - you look at them. I'm tired of politics.

Best Media/Journalist Some of these are packed with good stuff. Especially Poynter, Pundit Review and maybe Amy Langfield if you like New York.

Most of the finalists in Best Photo Blog are worth looking at. Especially Chromasia and Sopheava de Lumiere

Best of the Rest would be my category - TTLB ranking 8751 or more. But, hey, I like my blog. So, probably some of these are worth a look. I like Oval Office 2008, a Brit blogging objectively about the upcoming presidential election. And My Election Analysis, a self-declared conservative blogging objectively about upcoming elections.

Some criteria for blogs I like:
  • Regular, preferably daily, updates. Even tho' I don't visit most blogs more than weekly, the ones I really like have so much to say, they pretty much have to get it out daily.
  • Good writing and good ideas.
  • Some technical knowledge.
  • Some info about the author and a picture of some kind.
  • Sidebar content: I can do without the ads, but I like to see good links and categories.
  • Objectivity, tho' I admit it's hard for me to recognize objectivity in conservative blogs even when it's there.

And ones I don't like:
  • Bubble-gum pink.
  • Typos, maybe. But spelling errors more than once or twice and grammar errors almost guarantee that I won't read it again.
  • Vulgar language. I just don't need it.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Canadian elections

I've been reading about the upcoming Canadian election. There comes a point when you just have to share. I think you should know:

It is illegal to eat your ballot in a federal election or by-election. Six members of the Edible Ballot Society, a protest group, were charged after the 2000 election under paragraph 167(2)(a) of the Canada Elections Act for willfully destroying a ballot; two were found not guilty for lack of evidence, and charges against the other four were stayed.

But seriously folks... A few things you might want to know...

Canadians elect only the 306 members of parliament. The prime minister and senators are appointed by the Governor General, who is appointed by the Queen.

Canadian elections are not regularly scheduled. Elections must be held at least every five years, but may be held sooner if called for.

The election must be held no less than thirty-six days from the dissolution of the current parliament. I don't know if there's a maximum limit but obviously, it's practical to have the election fairly soon after it's called for. The election now scheduled for January 23, 2006 allows for an unusually long campaign period - perhaps to allow for some leeway around the Christmas season?

In this interval, the non-partisan official in each "riding" (electoral district) must establish an office, hire clerks and registrars, update voter registration, etc. 170,000 temporary positions are filled.

And in about eight weeks the whole election is over. How cool is that?

A few more things about Canada that I find interesting:
  • Canada has about the same area as the US and one-eighth the population. So, the population density in Canada is 9 people per square mile as opposed to 83/sq mi in the US.
  • Life expectancy is about 3 years longer in Canada and infant mortality is lower.
  • There are about 5 passenger cars for every 10 people in Canada as opposed to 8 cars per 10 people in the US.
For more information:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Blog Categories

I may have found a more graceful way to design blog categories without using Technorati or I went to Skeptic Rant to read his (her?) Skeptic's Circle post and was immediately attracted to the use of tags there. I spent a while figuring out how to do it, then found the post explaining it.

This involves using Google Blogsearch and in the process I learned a bit about Google search operators. So, my tags are links to a Google blogsearch for the subject word with 'inblogtitle:" Five Wells" ' (it looks like this: bird OR birds inblogtitle:"Five Wells" ). There are some powerful advantages to this system.

1. Search results include articles using the search word whether or not I've included it as a tag. So the tag is really only necessary if the category word is not part of the text of the post. Or as a convenience to readers looking for similar posts.
2. You, the reader, can use it to search for a subject I haven't organized as a category or tag - solving what Coturnix lists as the biggest obstacle to categorizing, namely choosing the categories. Notice Coturnix has twenty categories - entirely reasonable compared to Brad DeLong's sixty-four categories.
3. One interesting way to come up with the categories is to Google your blog for words you think might be important and see how many posts come up in which you've used the word. Caution: use "OR" liberally, for example: bird OR birds.
4. It's a good idea to be sure you link to the search sorted by date rather than by relevance.
5. Reminder to self: until I remember how to force the link to open in a new window, use shift+click link.

Tags: Blogging