Saturday, January 31, 2009

January LWV Liveblog

January LWV Liveblog

The Johnson County tradition kicks off for the session: the last Saturday of the month League of Women Voters forum. Cosponsor is Iowa City school district.

Who's here: Reps. Marek, Mascher, Jacoby, Lensing, Willems, and Sens. Schmitz, Dvorsky. Sen. Bolkcom is at an environmental conference and notes that it's his first absence in 11 years. Other notables here" Mayor Regenia Bailey, Supervisor Rod Sullivan, and Patti Fields from the school board. Hahn and Kaufmann are MIA, so attendance is Dems, 7 of 8, GOP, zero of 2.

Marek leads off and calls himself "the senior freshman." Voted no on the sales tax bill: "I voted my district, and for the people of my district who go north to shop it would have been a tax increase. But for the people of Johnson and Linn I'm glad it passed."

Lensing next. Budget's rough, UI flood recovery is rough.

Willems: looking at campaign finance reform, perhaps through constitutional amendment. Doing non-headline work on Judiciary and court/corrections budget. Wants to push Fair Share and prevailing wage on Labor. "There are constitutional implications" to indigent defense and public defender cuts proposed by Guv. "We will have a debate in Des Moines as to what the purpose of the rainy day fund is."

Schmitz: Chairing Education where allowable growth, dropout age and writing assessments are big.

Dvorsky: "Johnson County will probably have sales tax on the ballot on May 4." "There's not enough resources from the state or even the feds" for flood recovery, but "finally after all these years we have a partner in DC."

Mascher says the flood recovery and sales tax bills were passed "with record speed" and now it's up to voters. "There are many, many needs out there." IPERS lost $4 billion last quarter. Menal health parity finally moving ahead.

Jacoby says Iowa's "sitting better than 46 other states" because of rainy day fund, Predicts a 27-24 Arizona win tomorrow.

Education questions lead off. Mascher talks about 7% allowable growth and says the instructional support levy is good because "it's an income tax based on ability to pay." (As for my ability to write, laptop heat issues are interfering.) Legislators are split on dropout age. Fields says fully funding the instructional support levy would be $900k to Iowa City district.

The anti-smokers don't give up even though they won last year, but the question focuses on funding cessation programs rather than the casino ban. Mascher says $'s tough, but the tax increase helped. Says some of the rural legislators are getting pressure to repeal. Lensing says border areas too especially quad cities.

Interesting: the anti-smokers seem more sympathetic to me now that they have the ban. Last year they couldn't talk more than three sentences without seeming contemptuous of smokers. But now their concern for cessation seems sincere.

Sullivan talks mental health funding: "there's no way we can more forward without a waiting list." Mascher: "I look at this as a federal issue, we need health care for all" including mental health. She offers praise for Daschle (who's in a little hot water now; part of me hope's he won't survive and Howard Dean will get his role yet). Willems notes his frustration: county supervisors came up to him at campaign time saying, raise the property tax cap so we can deal with mental health funding, we'll take the heat. But now that he's in the legislature, it's a nonstarter because "ooh, that's a tax increase."

Susan Enzle continues the mental health thread.

Mike Carberry next with the Sierra Club's general spectrum of environmental question. Marek talks wind energy; "Every nine turbines is a job." As for CAFOs, "there's a few bad apples but most farmers are doing a good job. We need one set of rules across the state." The bikers continue the environmental discussion. Mascher says bike-friendly stuff is moving, but Bolkcom's the point guy on that.

One of the traditions is that the junior high kids ask the last questions. Interesting questions usually, even though they sometimes slop over into non-state issues. Special ed funding, water pollution, smoking, DNR funding, economy, flood recovery, feed lots, fair trade. All the legislators take a crack at one or two. "You've done more homework on these questions than some of our colleagues," Lensing tells the kids.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Steele Elected GOP chair

New RNC chair has no ties to Bangles or Deeth

Let me immediately stop any rumors that new RNC chair Michael Steele is any relation to my wife Koni Steele.

I know the GOP was in search of a new direction with their new chair, but what are they thinking, going with the bass player from the `80s all-gal band the Bangles?

What's that?

Former lieutenant governor of Maryland?

So one of the two black guys beat the all-white country club guy and the Barack the Magic Negro guy. So give them credit; the GOP, or at least a plurality of the national committee, has realized that the appearance of a lily white party is a problem. And if they were going that route, better Steele than Ken "Vote Suppression" Blackwell.

Chris Matthews didn't win any friends among the viewers of the official Democrat channel, MSNBC, by noting not once but TWICE that he voted for Steele in the 2006 Maryland Senate race (That sound you heard was Mathews' old boss Tip O'Neill stirring in his oversized grave). Steele made that race much closer than he should have, and almost pulled it off in a very blue state in a horrible GOP year. (Some of that was residual racial politics; Democrat Ben Cardin narrowly beat former congressman and NAACP chair Kwesi Mfume in the Democratic primary.)

I'm old enough to remember Jack Kemp, in the "enterprise zone" days, saying he wouldn't rest until the District of Columbia voted Republican. But that vision died with the Reagan Welfare Queen speech and Willie Horton and the Jesse Helms white hands ad. But this isn't about actually winning black votes. That dream is way on a back burner, with the pilot light out, through the Obama era. It's about addressing the Nixon-Wallace-Reagan alignment era perception that the Republicans are the White Backlash Party. It worked for the GOP from 1968 to 2004, but it works against them now. Moderate whites are uncomfortable in a Trent Lott party, and Steele makes it looks like they're trying. And if that kind of mindset is banished beyond the pale of American politics, it's good for all of us. (The next, and harder, trick for the GOP: balancing a growing Hispanic voting demographic with the nativist, don't make me push 1 for English mood of the GOP grassroots).

Of course this isn't just, or even mostly race, politics, and it's certainly not tokenism. Steele seems to have been the best of the bunch (but that's not really saying much). Chair matters more in the out party than in the in party. Steele should be a good talking head on the Sunday shows, more appealing than, say, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner.

A Talking Head.

That's only part of the job; running the party is the other part. Krusty has some insightful comments on what this means for Iowa:
Some are quick to think that the election of Steele means the end of the Iowa Caucuses. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment even though I’m worried. If Steele is a chairman who enforces the rules and doesn’t allow any shenanigans from a few larger states wishing to crash our party we will be fine... To be really honest with you, if (Michigan candidate) Anuzis would have been the one that put Steele over the top I’d be more worried than I currently am.

But the real question is, can he walk like an Egyptian?

1981 Internet

The future of journalism

Wonder if these reporters still have jobs. They called it, but underestimated...

Oh so much fun here: the hair, the acoustic modems, the green CRT screens.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reid Should Force Filibuster

Make Them Talk, Harry

President Obama's stimulus plan has passed the House with only a handful of Democratic defectors and unanimous-UNANIMOUS-Republican opposition.

We're in a much stronger position than we were in 1993, when Bill Clinton's tax bill passed with zero Republican votes and only one vote to spare.. Back then there was still a sizable bloc of old-school Southerners. Yesterday saw a comfortable margin and only eleven defectors:
Allen Boyd (D-FL-02)
Bobby Bright (D-AL-02)
Jim Cooper (D-TN-05)
Brad Ellsworth (D-IN-08)
Parker Griffith (D-AL-05)
Paul Kanjorski (D-PA-11)
Frank Kratovil (D-MD-01)
Walt Minnick (D-ID-01)
Colliin Peterson (D-MN-07)
Heath Shuler (D-NC-11)
Gene Taylor (D-MS-04)

Mostly Southern, mostly red red districts, mostly easy to explain (except... Kanjorski?). We're lucky to get votes for Speaker from Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Walt Minnick of freakin' Idaho, one of only five truly red states left.

It's clear that the GOP, seeking an identity in the post-conservative era, is repeating the mistakes of the Alf Landon era by positioning themselves as agin'ners. Past of it's the dynamic of the districting process. With nothing left but deep-red districts, and most states carefully gerrymandering the lines, the surviving Republicans are further and further right. There's just no Jim Leaches left. The big fear isn't getting knocked off in a general election—it's getting primaried by the ideological anti-taxers in Club For Growth. Thats' why Democratic naysayers Minnick and Kratovil are even there; Kratovil beat the winger who knocked off moderate Wayne Gilchest in the primary, and Minnick beat freshman Bill Sali who turned out too conservative for even Idaho.

So they're playing to the dwindling base, the 20-percenters who stuck with Bush to the end. Fine by me—they bottomed out at 88 seats in the 1936 election, and this map shows me a Landon-like 519 to 19 electoral college landslide for Obama over Palin (you know they're going there) in 2012.

But a state is a state and you can't gerrymander the Senate. The ball is now in Harry Reid's court.

Conventional wisdom holds that you can't get anything done in the Senate without 60 votes to stop a filibuster. But you almost never see the actual filibuster, the Jimmy Stewart standing up for hours Mr. Smith Goes To Washington style. What matters about the filibuster is the threat. “Ooh, we can't do that. That might hurt my dear esteemed honorable friend from the great commonwealth of Kentucky's feelings and he'll (shudder) filibuster.”

Why not let them? Unlike Jeff Smith, they won't look like the good guys as the high drama plays out. Let every newscast show Mitch McConnell reading the phone book into the record, blocking the agenda of the wildly popular new president. Let them shut the whole show down, and let people see it.

Sure, Newt Gingrich overplayed his hand in 1995 with the government shutdown. But the dynamic is different now. That “crisis” was artificial and ideologically driven. This thing is real. And the Contract On America agenda was polarizing, with nothing like the 80 percent or so approval Obama now enjoys.

It's a win-win. You show the Republicans for the obstructionists they are, and damage their brand even further. Pretty soon, someone with a tough race in two years, a Specter or a Gregg (or a Grassley?), cracks.

So Harry, make them squirm. Make them talk. And get Senator Franken seated while you're at it.

Snark of the Day

Morning Snark

Iowa's Newz Liter gets the best caption of the day with the Guv: "$5 Footlong."

Politico's lede is almost as good:

Chuck Grassley knows it when he sees it.

The “it,” of course, is pornography.

And the scientific community is united in that fact.

Culver, meanwhile, has cast the one vote that matters in the state chair race. I'm not a big fan of one-voter elections in general, but they're kind of inevitable when you're in power.

The Republicans are continuing their national chair race, and Iowans should note Ambinder:
An RNC rules maven contacted me with the following perspective on the RNC chair race that might explain some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

It has to do with, natch, the presidential primary calendar.

Nothing specific about Iowa, but all who want to keep us first--on both sides of the aisle--should follow this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Judiciary OKs Holder

Judiciary OKs Holder

17-2, with the nays Cornyn and Coburn. Which means Grassley was a yes.

National Notes

Just a few clips to get you through mid-week:

  • Nate Silver is already analyzing presidential support scores on Day 8: " If there's news, it's that Judd Gregg may have emerged as a top-tier potential filibuster-breaking vote."

  • Jim DeMint is 100% anti-Obama, and the Politico seems to say even his fellow GOoPers thing he's, well, a jerk in his effort to be the most rightwing of the rightwing. But one tidbit leads me to think that my primary to Bob Bennett guess may be right:
    Asked in early December for his thoughts on DeMint, Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah — a close adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — said: “I have no comment. That should be a comment in and of itself.”

    After learning of the Utah Republican’s comments, DeMint said that Bennett is “a good guy, but I think sometimes he’s part of the problem.”

  • Ballot Access News says that Nebraska is keeping its district electoral vote system, since no repeal bill got filed before the cutoff date for bills. The backstory is, this is a year when there was a big term-limit driven turnover, and the n00bs in general didn't introduce much.
  • Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Machiavellian Chicken and the Stimulus Plan

    Machiavellian Chicken: Letting The GOP Hang Itself

    President Obama's economic stimulus package is taking heat from the Republicans who want it to include tax cuts, tax cuts, and some more tax cuts too. Some of us lefties are exasperated as the prez chants his mantra of bipartisanship.

    But consider this possibility:

    Obama's giving them enough rope to hang themselves. A couple weeks of this, and he turns the tables: "See? You can't work with these people. They represent the same old politics as usual, the same old answers that didn't work. I gave `em a chance and they blew it."

    Obama tipped his hand Friday with the "I won" line, and he's got the votes in the House. (The weak link, as usual, is the Senate, where Harry Reid is more likely to cave because of the personal relationships. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings in the Senate, ya know, unless it's a total non-ballplaying, put a hold on my earmarks asshat like Tom Coburn.)

    But still, I think what's really going on is a Machiavellian game of chicken, with Obama seeking both the stimulus package he wants and the rhetorical high ground. Remember, this is the guy who won the toughest nomination contest in history, and he's got the hardest of the hardballers, Rahm, as consigliere.

    And the Republicans are playing right into the trap by appealing to their base, because they don't know how to do anything else anymore. Does no Republican see the void here? The politics of the Nixon-Wallace-Reagan alignment (1968-2008, RIP) are still playing out in the GOP: fewer members, elected from custom-gerrymandered, more conservative districts, eternally playing to their talk-radio constituency in fear of being primaried by the Club For Growth.
    [Tangent]I'm wrong on one thing in my Sunday speculation on which GOP senator gets a from-the-right primary. Cross my bet, Richard Shelby of Alabama, off the list, along with Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. A guy (in the original article Cook specified guy) worried about a primary challenge wouldn't have voted FOR Tim Geithner, against most of the Senate GOP.

    My new bet is Bob Bennett of Utah, from new Rep. Jason Chaffetz who just knocked off Chris Cannon in a House primary last year. Insert the Dennis Miller disclaimer.[/tangent]

    No matter what the question, Republicans answer "tax cuts." How do you land an astronaut on the moon? Tax cuts. Cards or Steelers? Tax cuts. Tastes great or less filling? Tax cuts. Tax cuts are a floor wax and a dessert topping.

    You know who the real losers are these days? Deficit hawks. No one cares about the freakin' deficit anymore. The American people know all about deficit spending--it's what they do when they live off their credit card after they get laid off. "Screw the deficit," they say, " I need a job."

    So in the end, Obama doesn't spend political capital to get the stimulus plan--he gets the plan and MORE capital.

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Geithner Confirmed

    Geithner Confirmed

    60-34, Harkin no. Harkin no? Along with Byrd, Feingold, Sanders. Still trying to figure that one out.

    Here's the roll call. Chuck's a no but we knew that. No Republican pattern leaping out at me yet either.

    Feingold Amendment would eliminate Senate appointments

    Feingold Amendment would eliminate Senate appointments

    Wisconsin's Russ Feingold has introduced a constitutional amendment that would end appointments to the U.S. Senate and have states go straight to a special election. It's a good idea that probably won't get far.

    Appointments have been in the spotlight lately, with a big cluster of four appointments connected to the new presidency and unusual controversies. Only Colorado appears to have pulled it off without too much trouble; we've seen a botched internal knife-fight in New York, cronyism and seat-warming in Delaware, and the whole bizarre opera buffa in Illinois.

    The last time the issue of Senate appointment was this high-profile was in 2001, with Dick Cheney breaking a 50-50 Senate tie, and open speculation that GOP control depended on 98 year old Strom Thurmond maintaining a pulse (South Carolina had a Democratic governor at the time). Jim Jeffords broke that impasse, and in 2009 Democratic control is strong enough that it doesn't hinge on any one breathing body.

    In fact, Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight points out that at the moment, appointment is a wash: "There are now 14 Republican senators that could and presumably would be replaced by Democratic governors if they deceased or decided to resign from the Senate... likewise, there are 14 Democratic senators who would presumably be replaced by Republicans." If you were numbers-geekier you could try to break that out by average age, but if neither John Deeth or Nate Silver is numbers-geeky enough to do it, you probably aren't either.

    Lest we forget, senators were elected by state legislatures until the 16th Amendment, one of the pet issues of the Progressive Era (let us soon be calling that the First Progressive Era) in 1913.

    Silver also has a map of the laws in different states.

    Senate Appointments and Party Switches

    Ohio 1974. Nixon names Republican William Saxbe as Attorney General; governor Gilligan (Skipper!) appoints Democrat Howard Metzembaum. Metz loses the primary for the full term to John Glenn. (There was a long tense history there; Metzenbaum beat Glenn in the 1970 primary but then lost the general. But then he came back in 1976 for three full terms alongside Glenn. Homestate senators of the same party don't always luuuv each other.)

    New Jersey 1982. Democrat Harrison Williams of ABSCAM fame resigned one step ahead of expulsion. The GOP governor named Nicholas Brady, whose name you still occasionally see on money as he was later Treasury Secretary under HW. (I think that's a prerequisite for Treasury Secretary: tiny handwriting so you can sign all the money. Maybe that's why Grassley voted against Geithner; his writing might be too big.) Brady was a placeholder who didn't run, and Democrat Frank Lautenberg won a full term in November `82.

    Washington 1983. Old-line Democratic hawk Scoop Jackson died just after being re-elected. Republican Dan Evans, a universally respected former GOP governor (Iowans: think Bob Ray), is appointed and wins the rest of the term in a November `83 special. Evans retired in `88.

    Nebraska 1987. Moderate Democrat Ed Zorinsky unexpectedly dropped dead. GOP governor Kay Orr appointed unknown David Karnes, who almost lost his primary and then got steamrollered by Bob Kerrey in 1988.

    Pennsylvania 1991. John Heinz died in a chopper crash, and governor Bob Casey Sr. named Harris "who?" Wofford. Wofford started out 20 or more points behind former governor and sitting U.S. Atttorney General Dick Thornburgh. But in a November 1991 special that was widely seen as forecasting Republican problems in 1992, Wofford won a miracle. He was even, briefly, mentioned as a possible VP candidate in 1992. His luck ran out in `94 when he got Santorumed.

    Georgia 2000. Paul Coverdell died, and Democratic governor Roy Barnes appointed his predecessor, Zell Miller. He may have been the only Democrat capable of holding the seat in the fall 2000 special, but in the end it barely counted as a Democratic gain and Zell ended his public career by endorsing George Bush in 2004 and challenging Chris Matthews to a duel.

    Asterisk: Minnesota 2002. Yeah, I know Jesse Ventura sent fellow Independence Party member Dean Barkley to DC for a lame-duck session in 2002. But the appointment was the day before the election for the full term.
    Some of the states with laws beyond unrestricted gubernatorial appointment had special circumstances in their histories. Wyoming, for example, passed its same-party law after a Democratic governor appointed himself to the seat of a deceased Republican Senator-elect. (We saw this in action in 2007 when Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal had to pick Republican John Barrasso from a list of three submitted by the Wyoming GOP.) Hawaii has a same-party law because it has a veto-proof Democratic legislature, two octogenarian Democratic Senators, and a Republican governor. And Massachusetts passed its no appointment law in 2004, so that Mitt Romney couldn't replace President John Kerry. Worked out so well for both of them.

    None of the 2009 appointments changed party control My semi-comprehensive mental review (see sidebar) shows only six times in the last 35 years when a Senate appointment has switched the seat's party, and that's if you count Zell Miller as a Democrat. (And whenever you mention Zell Miller you have to show the clip.)

    None of those appointees lasted longer than the partial term (though some won special elections to complete said term).

    As for the chances for Feingold's amendment, it's hard to tell yet. Amending the Constitution requires a big supermajority: two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states. Disregarding the weird, 200-year process of the 1992 27th Amendment on congressional pay raises, the last time there was that level of critical mass was at the height of the Vietnam War when we decided old enough to fight, old enough to vote. (But apparantly not old enough for a beer.) As soon as an issue becomes partisan and controversial in any way, like the ERA did in the 1970s, that supermajority is gone.

    And unless an issue is constant front page news, like the Vietnam War, the critical mass doesn't accumulate. Right now Senate appointments aren't even to the level that congressional pay and the check-bouncing scandal were in 1992. Even the months of coverage of the 2000 Florida recount weren't enough to get rid of the Electoral College. Right now, Senate appointments are just a personality story, fueled by Caroline Kennedy's fame and Rod Blagojevich's chutzpah.

    This doesn't mean Feingold doesn't have the right idea. It just means that even the unusual level of attention we're seeing right now probably isn't enough to make this reform happen.

    Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 11: Command Lines and Vintage Keyboards

    Linux Monday: command lines and vintage keyboards

    If you're younger than about 30, you probably don't have much memory of the DOS prompt. And about the third thing you've heard about Linux is "you have to type in commands a lot." (The first two were "it's hard" and "it's free.")

    I'm still a little new at it, but by and large my experience has been that using the Linux command line isn't much more necessary than using the Windows Run command: it's an occasional thing, and if you really need it you'll usually be able to find step by step, cut and paste instructions.

    The most valuable thing I learned in my abortive grad school experience was how to use a computer. Believe it or not, I, John Deeth, Linux geek and Data Man, was at one time a Luddite, derisive of computers in general, painstakingly rewriting and retyping.

    It took exactly one month of grad school, and one rewrite of a paper on a manual typewriter, to get over that hangup. My writing style was scattershot and inspirational, based on my mental tangent of the monent, and my handwritten manuscripts were full of circles and arrows and inserts.

    Cut, copy, paste... hey, this computer thing fits like a glove. Pretty soon I had stepped up to tweaking data files for games using edlin and not writing my thesis, that unfinished masterpiece about the Michael Dukakis campaign. But like I said, the most valuable thing I learned in grad school was computers. (More people will read this post than would have read that thesis, anyway.)

    The first computer I used was a big ole AT or XT, probably about vintage 1985 (this was in 1988 and we grad students got the hand me downs from the faculty). Two 5 1/4 floppy drives, DOS 3.0, and IBM Writing Assistant. You could about squeeze a 20 page paper into a file, but then you needed an extra file for your title page and bibliography.

    That initial experience is part of why the command line aspect of Linux doesn't scare me. I learned at the DOS prompt, and stayed there for nearly a decade, so a command line is just back to basics. (The first computer I owned, I bought used in 1990 and kept for seven years. That's also why, when forced to use Windows, I'm always in Windows Explorer: I spent seven years with the PC Tools file manager and its visual representation of the tree structure.)

    Ah, memories of the DOS prompt, that blank slate C:\> that stared at you after bootup, waiting for you to work those vague commands. We forget now, but the original book that started the ubiquitous Dummies series was "DOS for Dummies." Then there was that old eight and three file name limit, like thschap1.bib for "thesis chapter 1 bibliography", and I know people who still use that and have memorized what those short file names mean. (Tangent: One of my favorite memories was a fellow who, when he had to make separate files for executive minutes and committee minutes, named the files and minutes.exe, then wondered why he crashed his system when he tried to open them.)

    The Linux command line is accessed through a program called a terminal, or a shell. In Ubuntu the default way to get through it is through a program menu: Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal. (I also tweaked my settings so that when I hit the Windows key on my laptop, I get the terminal, just as a little anti-Microsoft thing. Now all I need is a little penguin sticker, or a Ghostbusters red crossed out circle, to put over the Windows logo on the key.) You'll be greeted with zen simplicity:

    One of the first DOS commands I learned was dir, which listed the contents of a directory. That works in Linux, as does ls. Another old DOS command that translates is cd to change the directory.

    Command names, in DOS and Unix (the progenitor of Linux) were all short like that. When everything is done at the command line, an economy of characters is essential, and if anything Unix/Linux commands are even shorter and more cryptic, yet mnemonic if you use them enough. Here's a few more (there's loads of cheat sheets):

    DOS CommandLinux/UNIX Equivalent
    TYPEcat (or less)
    DEL / ERASErm
    RMDIR, RDrmdir
    CHKDSKfsck (huh huh, huh)

    man followed by a command is not a sexist thing; it'll get you instructions (a man-ual, remember the principle of saving keystrokes) of most any command.

    The good news is, modern Linux has progressed to the point that you can get a whole system up and flying without ever touching the command line. Sure, that depends in part on your distribution. If you're an untergeek like me, using Ubuntu, you barely need to touch the terminal at all. If you want to be looking at a ~$ prompt a lot, try Slackware or Gentoo.

    My favorite just-for-fun command at the moment is uptime, which tells you how long its been since a reboot. Some of my machines are on 15 days at the moment; it would be longer but we had a brief power outage. I've also had a couple kernel updates, which are the only time Linux asks you for a reboot. Not like Windows, where frequently something as basic as installing a program requires a restart.

    Still, there's some handy tricks like
    sudo apt-get update

    which will update all the programs on your whole system. Your system software, your installed apps, everything. Sure, it's a (shudder) command line. But it's way easier than the one program at a time update process you'd need to do in Windows.

    sudo apt-get clean

    is handy, too; it'll get rid of the unnecessary files on your machine

    cal must have been a handy little thing back in the pre-GUI dark ages. Three simple characters at the prompt gets you:
    john@john:~$ cal
    January 2009
    Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
    1 2 3
    4 5 6 7 8 9 10
    11 12 13 14 15 16 17
    18 19 20 21 22 23 24
    25 26 27 28 29 30 31


    (The line breaks work right at the prompt better than they do in my html.)

    Doesn't seem like much, but in Windows if I want a calendar, I have to open my clock and pretend I'm changing my system date. And more than once I've screwed up and actually changed it.

    And if you're dealing with existential angst. the command line can help:
    john@john-firebolt:~$ whoami

    "I was the walrus, but now I'm John," Lennon sang. whoami seems silly--unless you're a sysadmin juggling multiple accounts.

    While I'm getting old school, I'm going to tangent into keyboards. Because if you're rockin' a command line, you need a good keyboard.

    In some ways, we've come so far in computing: a 16 gig flash drive in my pocket, more computing power in your wristwatch than they landed the men on the moon with. But in some ways we've slipped.

    Modern keyboards are disposable crap. I like old ones, the kind of keyboards I had on those first computers back in my grad student TA office. The keyboard at my desk probably weighs more than the laptop itself, and is half again wider. It's older than Windows so it doesn't have the Windows key.

    The old keyboards have a half-inch, five pin connector called a DIN connector. (Aside: Plugs and connectors are always described as "male" and "female" ends. Really crude--but no one ever has to explain further and everyone gets it.) The DIN connector is so obsolete that I have to double-adapter it. The keyboard plugs into a DIN to PS/2 connecter (the quarter-inch or so plug, usually color-coded purple). That connector plugs into a PS/2 to USB connector, since USB is all my year-old laptop has.

    The DIN keyboards are a little hard to come by. Resale junk shops are my only recourse, and Goodwill and the consignment places don't put computer gear on the shelves. I've picked up a couple at Salvation Army for a buck each.

    Seems like a lot of effort for an affectation or an eccentricity. But the sturdy feel of old keyboards is great for a writer like me. The keys have some oomph to them and make a solid physical clack, which feels great when I'm on a roll or on a rant. Or sudo apt-get update.

    Yes, I know I promised more Open Office vs. Micro$oft Office this week. Inspiration took me elsewhere; I'll get to it.)

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Primarying Grassley

    Primarying Chuck Grassley?

    I know it sounds nuts but let's tune into the guessing game the internets is playing.

    It starts with Charlie Cook, who writes:
    A fellow who oversees lobbying in all 50 states for a major corporation recently told me about a certain Republican U.S. senator up for re-election in 2010, someone generally regarded as fairly conservative who might face a serious challenge from a very conservative fellow Republican. The incumbent has not been tainted by scandal, has never embarrassed himself by making a major mistake, is highly regarded in Washington, and is considered a very effective senator.

    I was dumbfounded. Although it isn't hard to see why a moderate Republican such as Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter could face a conservative primary challenge, it is difficult to understand why a conservative Republican would be challenged from the right. This is a party in danger of cannibalizing itself.

    At Kos, Brownsox goes through some process of elimination and narrows the list to:

    • John McCain of Arizona
    • John Thune of South Dakota
    • Johnny Isakson of Georgia
    • Chuck Grassley of Iowa
    • Richard Shelby of Alabama
    • Judd Gregg of New Hampshire
    • Bob Bennett of Utah

    The tea leaf reading continues in the comments and over at Swing State Project. Several commentators conclude that it is, indeed, our own Chuck, with the obvious challenger being Steve King.

    I'm not buying it. King's crazy but not stupid, and why would he primary Grassley two years after walking away from a run against Harkin? But still: the religious wing of the party doesn't adore Grassley and has a chip on its shoulder about his fraud investigations touching some church-scam fundraising. Remember how Grassley was pointedly excluded from the national convention delegation? And primaryphobia would help explain his vote against Geithner in committee.

    Some comments speculate that this is pressure on Grassley to retire. You all know my theory on that; he's staying one more term till his grandson, state Rep. Pat Grassley, is old enough.

    Enjoy the amateur punditry in the comments. My guess is it's Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore taking on Shelby in Alabama; some of those Alabama Republicans have never liked ex-Democrat Shelby, who beat one of their own, Jeremiah Denton, in 1986 before becoming a turncoat the day after the 1994 election.

    Meanwhile, Stuart Rothenberg rates the Grassley seat as "Clear Advantage for Incumbent Party." That's the lowest of the on the radar categories, but not "Currently Safe." My guess is that Rothenberg is not 100 percent convinced that Grassley will run.

    And Greg Sargent writes:
    An ad campaign blitzing a half dozen GOP Senators will be launched in the middle of next week by one such outside group, Americans United For Change, which will air ads for at least four days pressuring the Senators to back Obama’s stimulus package.

    “The ads will say, `Senator, you have a stark choice. Are you going to play politics as usual and embrace the failed policies of the past, or will you support the Obama plan?’” says a Democratic operative involved in the project.

    Some or all of the Senators likely to be targeted: Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and George Voinovich (Ohio).

    Anyway, all the more reason for Democrats to recruit a strong candidate NOW.

    Saturday, January 24, 2009

    Gillibrand vs. McCarthy

    Gillibrand vs. McCarthy has National Implications

    I loathe guns. If I could change anything about the Constitution, the Second Amendment would be second on my list (first would be direct election of the president.)

    Circa 1981. Take away the glasses and the liberal looks about exactly like I did when I had hair. The guys and I used to say we were gonna road trip down to Iowa City to party with Berke Breathed. Little did I know.

    But I accepted years ago that liberals (that was back before we were "progressives" again) had lost the gun control battle. We may have had a majority of soft support, but the intensity of single-issue voters, rejecting Democrats over that one issue, won out. People who may be willing to change their minds on abortion and gays, when it's defined as a matter of more freedom for more people, balk when they see THEIR kind of freedom in jeopardy. I came to accept it as a live and let live thing: "All right, you can have your damn Second Amendment, long as I get my First."

    That mindset is still out there, as this Washington Post piece from just before the inauguration notes:
    "When Obama got elected, I went out and bought a rifle and pistol shells for every weapon I own," he says. "I bought $400 worth of ammo."

    Not that Loewer feared Armageddon or a race war; he was stocking up in case the warnings from the NRA and the gun dealers came true.

    This is why a primary between newly appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy could be a big problem for red-state Democrats.

    The first factoid folks picked up on, even before they started saying "Kirsten" instead of "Kristen," was Gillibrand's 100 percent NRA rating. That's just voting the district; anyone from a huntin' and fishin' district is going to do that. Like, say, House Appropriations Chair Dave Obey of Wisconsin.

    There's one school of thought that says give Gillibrand time, let her start voting New York City for a while. But others says the gun record is unforgivable, and McCarthy is first in line.

    McCarthy's intensity is understandable. Her husband and son were shot by a crazy guy in the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, and she switched parties to run on the gun control issue. In many ways, she is a liberal on one issue only. So that one issue would be her line of attack against Gillibrand.

    So here's how it ripples nationally.

    New York has a late primary, second week of September. And of course New York is a uniquely visible media market. We go into an off-year election, traditionally a slump for the White House party, with the voter-magnet Obama NOT on the ballot. And we'll have a high-profile in-fight in the nation's biggest media market and second-biggest political news market, in which the progressive position is defined, almost exclusively, as gun control.

    It might help in New York--but what does it do in those new blue states like Virginia and North Carolina and Indiana?

    Don't get me wrong. My first hope is that Gillibrand rises to her new role and unites the party. But. If that doesn't happen, I hope that someone other than McCarthy steps up, to make a broader-based progressive case that doesn't lead with the issue on which we're least popular.

    Friday, January 23, 2009

    Friday Clips

    Buried in a Busy Week

    Gee, not much happening this week, huh? Banner headlines like closing Gitmo are just one another story in The First Hundred Hours.

    But here's some of the trivia I dine out on:

  • Percentages of women in state legislatures!

    Note some correlations: the states with the lowest percentages are almost all red, except Pennsylvania, Virgina, and Ohio. If you look, you kind of see that Appalachia stripe. The pink states are blue states, but even the pinkest states are under 40%. Despite being in the federal Iowa-Mississippi club, Iowa's in the middle of the pack for state legislators.

  • Ann Coulter luvs Steve King. Palin and Jindal too. And Steve luuuvs teh fetii.
  • Thursday, January 22, 2009

    50 state strategy

    A farewell to Dean, but not to 50 State

    It was overshadowed in the inauguration, but in another big transition this week, Howard Dean stepped down at the Democratic National Committee, replaced by President Obama's choice, Virginia governor Tim Kaine.

    A flurry of A-list bloggers hit the panic button yesterday, worried that the Kaine era means the end of Dean's "50 State Strategy," a play and organize everywhere approach that gave the Democrats house seats in Mississippi and Idaho and an electoral vote in Nebraska.

    Chris Bowers was first off the mark:
    In short, the DNC will be moving away from the long-term, decentralized, fifty-state strategy of Howard Dean's tenure, and toward serving as a short-term, centralized re-election effort for President Obama in 2012. It will continue the move away from paid media ushered in by Howard Dean, maintain or increase the amount of resource expenditures in most states, and the number of states it targets will be a broader effort than the narrow focus we saw in 2001-2004 (but more narrow than 2005-2008). However, it will return to the traditional role of the DNC as a supplement for the sitting President's re-election campaign, rather than as the long-term, localized institution building operation that is was from 2005-2008.

    In some ways, this may be inevitable. A lot has changed since the 50 state strategy started. In early 2005, Republicans held the White House and both houses of Congress, so Dean and the DNC were was in some ways THE face of the Democratic Party.

    But when you win, it becomes the president's party, and the mindset moves from offensive plays like the 50 state strategy into a defense mode. So in some ways 50 State is undercut by its own success. As Nate Silver notes:
    One can imagine a lot of scenarios in which there is a potential trade-off between enhancing Barack Obama's election chances (and/or his political capital) and those of a down ballot candidate for Congress or some other office. In the special election in Georgia, for instance, Barack Obama did not want to visit the state because he evidently felt that stumping for Jim Martin would be a poor use of his political capital. That might or might not have been the "correct" decision (in retrospect, since Martin got beaten badly, it looks wise). But the point is, there is a trade-off there: Obama's interests versus those of a congressional Democrat. And with Obama largely taking over the DNC, such trade-offs are liable to be resolved more often than not in Obama's favor.

    (In defense of Martin, and in defense of 50 State, note that as late as mid-October the seat was rated as Solid Republican, yet we forced Chambliss into a runoff. We won everything else that was even remotely close: Begich, Merkley, and Franken. OK, that last wasn't "remotely" close.)

    Kaine has already moved to calm the fears, saying:
    "The 50-state strategy is now and forever what Democrats do," Kaine told Democrats, who were assembled for their winter meeting. "The results speak for themselves. I'll oversimplify: everybody matters. Every state, every region, every community matters," Kaine said, before cautioning: "We'll do some new things, because we can never rest on what worked yesterday."

    But still, Kos is stressed:
    The reason that there's an inherent conflict with turning the DNC into Obama's 2012 reelection effort is that there's no reason for the Obama operation to have staffers in Utah. But there's a reason for the Democratic Party to have staffers in Utah -- helping Democrats get elected to important local- and state-level offices and building a bench for federal offices.

    Witness, for example, Walt Minnick's House win in Idaho. (My guess is, right now, 2012 will look like the mirror image of 1984, with Obama whupping Sarah Palin in about a 47 state landslide and zipping up to Alaska at the last minute like Reagan going to Minnesota. But that prediction, on Day Two, may be just a tad premature.)

    Kaine, per se, doesn't matter. It's Obama's party. Presidents who have been weak party leaders have been primaried, and they've lost. Ford vs. Reagan, Carter vs. Kennedy, HW vs. Buchanan -- all those were battles not just over a nomination, but about the party itself.

    Democrats have by and large settled that battle for now, and the move to morph the Obama campaign structure into Organizing For America shows that there's a commitment to a nationwide grassroots network, and that's good. (But I still think it's time to shut down the Howard Dean Meetup, I mean Dean Democracy For America.)

    I wonder how 50 State felt out there in the red places that hadn't seen a Democratic organization in years. I've been sitting in the bluest county in my state for a couple decades, and our campaign has always been about running up the score. My own campaign was a longshot (well, a no-shot really) in a red district, but four years later with a better candidate who had full party resources, the result was only about seven points better. Some contests just aren't winnable.

    But eventually, after redistricting, my opponent got beat, and we took back some of the turf I ran in. Johnson County has expanded its playing field toward the southwest, taking the Becky Schmitz state Senate seat in 2006 and winning the corresponding House seat with Larry Marek in `08. Both of those were close, and in both of those Johnson County made the difference.

    The 50 state MINDSET certainly won't be abandoned. Obama, Plouffe, Axelrod, et al. know how they won. There'll be a 50 state strategy of some sort, but it just might not be as much under the auspices and funding of the DNC. Where there's gaps, the locals will probably have to carry more of the load.

    The main question is resources. Organizing needs organizers and organizers need to get paid. Not much, but enough to survive certainly, and even a pittance adds up when you multiply it by hundreds or thousands. (And Democratic Party political correctness being what it is, a health care package is de riguer.)

    As for Dean himself, his election in early 2005 was a watershed moment for the netroots, a break from the Terry McAuliffe era of 18 states and high-dollar donors. It's fair to say Obama won in 2008 by running Dean's 2004 campaign: grassroots, people intensive, and funded by small donors.

    Much has been made of perceived slights against Dean, with a lot of the blame directed at White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (who was deeply invested in the McAuliffe-era strategy). I'm not sure if there's a there there. Dr. Dean clearly wanted to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, but Obama went another direction. Tom Daschle's job is clearly going to be getting The Bill passed, and that concept of the job plays more to his strength than Dean's.

    As for me, I would have liked to have seen Dean stay on at the DNC. Surgeon General would have been an interesting job, too, with Dean as public health advocate plus Daschle as legislative workhorse. Sanjay Gupta still may not fly. A blog ad at Kos is plugging dean for a spot as a Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Whatever happens, I'm hoping Dean finds some sort of public policy role. He's earned it.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    China Censors Obama

    China, Mediacom Cut Parts of Obama Speech

    You know who else cut out part of Obama's speech besides Mediacom? Red China.

    China's leaders appear to have been upset by references to facing down communism and silencing dissent.

    Who knows what Mediacom was upset about, but the BBC continues:

    In his inauguration address, President Obama said: "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions."

    That entire passage was retained for an English-language version of the speech that appeared on the website of state-run Xinhua news agency. But in the Chinese-language version, the word "communism" was taken out.

    "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history," the president said.

    Once again, Xinhua included the passage in full in its English version, but the sentence was taken out of the Chinese translation.

    Bits and Pieces

    We local Dems had us a nice little party at the Mill and my boys got their picture in the DI. I was too busy with setup, teardown and schmoozing to write much, and I think I hurt something unloading it at home, but a good time. (A few boos to Bush, Cheney, and Mediacom for the Badly Timed Gap.)

    Just like Election Night, I'm on info overload, but here's some random notes you may have missed:

  • Not One Arrest in the DC crowd of two or so million; friends who were there say the Bush boos we'ren't just next to TV mikes, they were real. I'm still looking for the global TV estimate.

  • Amazingly, Barack got his workout in Tuesday morning.

  • Chris Rock can't think of anything funny to say.

  • A direct shot at the predecessor on the new White House web site: “President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast." The Ex, for his part, more or less repeated last Thursday's defensiveness.

  • John Cornyn of Texas is holding up Hillary's confirmation, and they had a, em, discussion.
  • Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Mediacom Mars Inaugural

    Mediacom Mars Inaugural

    From the Gazette, the corporate quote:

    Phyllis Peters, communications director for Mediacom in Iowa, said the test, which is required by regulators to take place during different times during daylight hours once each week, was planned far in advance. Peters said Mediacom apologizes for the short interruption of the speech.

    "When that was set up, however many weeks or months ago, that was not adjusted," Peters said. "That's unfortunate, and we regret the loss of that 10 or 15 seconds."

    Set up weeks or months ago?!? Planned far in advance?!?

    Here's the form, you know what to do.

    The good and more important news is it sounds like Ted Kennedy is gonna be OK.

    Good Luck, Mr. President

    Good Luck, Mr. President

    As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

    I can't compete with the eloquence of the moment. A couple notes:

  • When listing the faiths, he actually acknowledged the nonbelievers.

  • Roberts botched the oath.

  • Mediacom Cable went out for 30 or so seconds for a "monthly test" RIGHT AT THE TOP OF THE SPEECH. (Update: They claim it was "random." Shyeah, right. Either some corporate techie is a bitter Republican or, more likely, someone just didn't think. CSPAN ain't re-airing it till after our party starts, so you'll see a gap.)

  • No offense to Yo-Yo Ma, but they should have flipped the order; Bush stayed president four minutes too long. And did Warren have to do the whole Lord's Prayer bit? (But Joseph Lowery was nice.)

  • They're hauling Bush away in the chopper instead of the handcuffs. Give it time.

  • Are there any protesters anywhere? Granted, I am watching MSNBC, the official Obama network, but still. (Of course, as Chris Matthews has implied a couple times, it's all about Chris Matthews. HA!)
  • Democrats Claim Lincoln

    Democrats Claim Lincoln

    No, I don't mean Blanche.

    And Chafee is an independent, though he did endorse Barack.

    There's always the relatively obscure Lincoln Davis.

    And we did win Lincoln, Nebraska, though we lost the rest of that district, and the one oddball electoral vote was from Omaha.

    No, I'm talking about Abe himself, as The Hill's John Feehery notes, and the GOP is giving him up without a fight:
    By consciously patterning himself after Abraham Lincoln — his first presidential campaign speech given in Springfield, Ill.; his team of rivals; his train trip; his event at the Lincoln Memorial — President-elect Obama has claimed America’s 16th president for the Democrats.

    It seems like Republicans are happy to give Lincoln up.

    In the pathetic race for Republican National Committee chairmanship, the six rivals for the position were asked who the greatest Republican president was. None of them said Abraham Lincoln. Instead, they robotically answered Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan?

    A fairly high percentage of Republicans probably don’t like Lincoln because of his position on the Civil War (he was on the Union side).

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Middle Names

    What's in a Middle Name?

    The fuss over The Middle Name reminds of me of this scene from The Right Stuff when, at the height of the Cold War, the PR machine meets the astronauts:
    Henry Luce: Now, I want them all to meet my people who will write their true stories, Naturally these stories will appear in Life magazine under their own bylines: For example, "by Betty Grissom", or "by Virgil I. Grissom", or...
    Gus Grissom: Gus!
    Luce: What was that?
    Grissom: Gus. Nobody calls me by... that other name.
    Luce: Gus? An astronaut named "Gus"? What's your middle name?
    Grissom: Ivan.
    Luce: Ivan... ahem... well. Maybe, Gus isn't so bad, might be something there... All right, all right. You can be Gus.

    President John Glenn had no comment. (Any other old timers remember how this came out right before the `84 caucuses, and folks thought Glenn would ride the Redstone to the White House? Yeah.)



    The first presidential transition I remember was 1974. We had just been on our family vacation, five hour drives with the news at the top of every hour on every station back in those days, and even at age 10 I could tell something big was going on. Nixon was the only president I had ever known; I remember vaguely Ike's death in 1969 but I don't remember Johnson ever being president.

    The day we got home was the night of the speech, and I watchedit live. I don't remember if I watched Ford getting sworn in but I remember the line "Our long national nightmare is over." Words that Obama could say tomorrow as well.

    Compared to that high constitutional drama, Ford to Carter didn't seem like such a big deal. All I really remember was the very pointed walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. And the dueling pardons: Tokyo Rose in the dying hours of Ford, the draft resisters in the first moments of Carter. (Pardons... I'm still sweating that one. Then again, I'm not going to believe it's real until I hear the Hussein tomorrow. Cheney may still have a secret martial law plan or something...)

    Carter to Reagan is a vivid memory: senior year of high school and my overwhelming fear that I was going to get drafted and blown up. The split-screen news updates of exactly where the hostage plane was, the mean-spiritedness of the release just minutes after the oath, after the Carter team had done all the work.

    Reagan to HW doesn't even count. I was still in Wisconsin, in grad school, and distracted by other things. There was just that easily parodied "thousand points of light" line and continuity.

    Bush to Clinton, I felt like I had a stake in it. There was so much hope in the air, and we had no idea how badly it was going to be dashed, the death of a thousand Harry and Louise ads. We had an awful ice storm here in Iowa City and locally, it was another split screen news day, with the weather reports and the car-plow crash death of Hawkeye hoopster Chris Street.

    I boycotted the Clinton to W transition. No matter how you cut the hanging chads, Gore had more votes. Longtime readers of the blog may recall that I refered to W as "President" (sic) Bush through the 2004 election. Go ahead, look, hit the Archives button on the right.

    Which brings me to my point. The Republican spinsters are complaining that Obama is getting better press that W did 8 years ago. Well, wingers, that's because Obama's win was clear and undisputed, and while we certainly have serious problems, we're not in the midst of a 24 hour coverage news crisis. Indeed, in my memory, only 1976, 1992 and 2008 qualify as both legitimate and non-crisis:

  • 1974 - crisis (Watergate)
  • 1977 - routine
  • 1981 - crisis (hostage release)
  • 1989 - non-transition (incumbent VP takes over)
  • 1993 - routine
  • 2001 - crisis and/or questioned legitimacy (2000 election)
  • 2009 - siginficant issues, but not 24/7 crisis

    I wonder what it says that the non-crisis transitions were all Republican to Democratic?
  • Software as a Subversive Activity, Part 10: An Open Office Test Drive

    Linux Monday: An Open Office Test Drive

    For the next couple of Linux Monday posts, I'll be testing out my legacy Microsoft Office files in Open Office, Linux world's main alternative. This is, by necessity, a one-way test. Files in Microsoft Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt) can be opened in Open Office; the open source community recognizes the need. But Microsoft doesn't want to admit that there are alternatives, and Open Office .odt format files won't open in Microsoft Office.

    If you're starting from scratch, it's a great system. But if you've already got files that you've built over the years, you may see some changes. And unfortunately, those aren't all good news.

    You can do most of your own Open Office test driving within Windows (back your stuff up first). The Windows install works pretty much like any other Windows install. It's also packaged with several Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, so you can try it from a live CD.

    PowerPoint vs. Open Office Impress

    There's way way way too many bad PowerPoint presentations out there, but that's about users not knowing how to effectively use visual aids for public speaking, rather than an inherent weakness of the software.

    I checked out a 50-slide presentation with text, graphs, and photos, and Impress was almost indistinguishable from Power Point. My typical MO is to switch to slide show mode and use the space bar to advance, and that was identical.

    I also started a new presentation from scratch: a very large slide show of photos, with occasional text captions. (Locals: You can catch it tomorrow night at the Johnson County Dems' inauguration party. 6 PM, the Mill.) It started out as a smooth experience; the tools and menus were intuitive and similar and I never had to resort to Help.

    But once the file size got up over about 200 Mb, it opened very, very slowly, and I finished some of my editing in Power Point. I found out that photo sizing worked more smoothly in Open Office, as it defaulted my photos to the sixe of the slide while in Power Point I had to manually resize my big ones. Power Point also made the fonts look flaky when I first opened the show, but then they seemed to fix themselves.

    After burning to CDs (we're selling copies as a fundraiser) I was able to open and display the show in the intended fashion in both operating systems. Not bad overall. Maybe I was pushing the extremes with a 300 Mb presentation of 300 photos, but that was the use I needed. I'd have to play with it more to see if that's a consistent problem.

    Excel vs. Open Office Calc

    In government accounting, we live in Excel. I've used it for number crunching, of course, but also for visual displays, web publishing, mail merges, and as a lite pseudo-database.

    I swap my simple personal checkbook back and forth between Excel and Open Office's Calc constantly with no ill effects. The look and feel are almost the same. Rows are still numbers, columns are still letters, the toolbars are intuitive. My multiple tabs for checking, car loan, and credit card are all there. Ctrl-c to cut and ctrl-v to paste have worked everywhere I've tried them in Linux, except for the terminal, but a couple of my pet keyboard shortcuts don't work like ctrl-” to copy the cell above and ctrl-: for current date.

    Moving up the food chain and into more complex sheets, my formulas and linked cells were good. I use conditional formatting a lot. If, for example, X is greater than Y, I can make the text for X bold and colored. When I opened an Excel sheet, my conditional formatting was preserved. The tools for manipulating the condition formulas are similar, but figuring out how to set the formats themselves was confusing.

    A lot of people use Excel as a .dbf file reader. My first attempt in Calc, with a 90,000 record file, locked me up. On the second try, my interface went away and I thought I'd failed, but about 10 minutes later the data appeared. In the process I learned that Calc has the same 65,536 row limit as Excel. The same limit appeared when I opened a .csv comma-separated file in Calc, but that opened more smoothly than the .dbf.

    When I ran an Excel file that was designed to publish one tab as a web page, Calc included other tabs of the workbook that were meant to stay under the hood and behind the scenes.

    My conversion issues were the greatest with macros and graphs. Some of my graphs converted fine. Others were accurate but had layout changes. One line graph, tracking a raw total across time, flipped itself around so that the newest date was on the left instead of the right. And a percentage across time line graph was unrecognizable. The group labels in the legends all changed, too. On the other had, a pie chart translated perfectly.

    Only my simplest Excel macro, with one step to refresh data, worked, and even then the Easy button I made for it didn't work and I had to use the macro menu. For more complex macros, the button started the macro, but then the macro itself crashed.

    With enough time and effort, I'm sure I could figure all these things out. But, thinking like a lazy bureaucrat for a moment to show you what we're up against: if I don't change, I don't have to.

    Or do I?

    You're Not Safe Even If You Stay In Microsoft World

    I hate to be the bearer of this not perfect news. But this is part of what open source advocates are faced with. Open source is a bold step for an organization or even an individual. The payoff is in the future, but the ripple effect through the legacy is now, and that's a lot of work for both the IT people and the end users.

    But even if you stay with the familiar, change may be forced on you. I've been wrestling for way too long at work, with little success, with a set of Word Macros. I wrote the early version 15 or so years ago in Word for Windows 3.1 or something, and they survived up through Office 97. But in Office 2003, they fail, and attempts to revise have been futile. I expect that eventually they'll need a from-scratch rewrite.

    Which begs the question that may prove most persuasive: if you're rewriting the legacy from scratch anyway, what's the point of staying in Microsoft World?

    Next Week: More MS Office apps, more tests.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    Inauguration Weekend

    Celebrations and Do-Overs

    Right after the election I was kind of hoping that I'd be going out to DC to cover the inauguration. Before I had a chance to look into that, I regained my ameteur standing, so here I am in Iowa.

    But the local party will be less overcrowded, cheaper, and the attire more comfortable. 6:00 Tuesday. The mill. Be there with the JC Dems. We have fun and games, and a monster slideshow of campaign photos (some of which you've seen on this site over the last couple years.)

  • It seems so obvious as Nate Silver writes the headline: "Is Coleman's Goal a Do-Over?" Of course. He whips a lot of FUD and conclude "gee, no one can figure this out."

    There's precedent in the two vote 1974 Senate race. But here's one big difference. In 1975, the Republican looked like the two vote winner and he faces a Senate even more Democratic than this one. Why should the Senate give Coleman a do-over when Franken is the winner? (Because Harry Reid's a wuss? Possibly.)

  • Obama For America is becoming Organizing For America, and will be a wing of the DNC. Which begs the question, DFAers: why the hell are you still having the Howard Dean Meetup?
  • Friday, January 16, 2009

    Triple Threat Steve King

    Triple Threat Steve King

    The new Obama era of change, more cross-aisle cooperation and less cheap-shot politics appears to be lost on Iowa's own Steve "Worst... Person... In The Woooooorrld!" King (Know Nothing-IA). Steve gets a triple play in the last 36 or so hours

  • We'll start with cake. King failed to join the rest of the Iowa congressional delegation in a small Iowa delegation reception for Iowans vising the Capitol for the inauguration. The Democrats are of course celebrating, and Chuck Grassley and Tom Latham are participating.

    But King made a point of not participating, and after O. Kay raised the issue, a spokesperson said:
    King's share of the cost of cookies & punch would have been about $100 and King didn't want to take that money out of his campaign treasury because he didn't think the people who donated to his campaign would approve of such spending.

    Not doing it is way bigger of a deal than doing it. You show respect for the office and celebrate a peaceful transition of power. King's capable of ceremonial bipartisanship; I remember seeing him at Chet Culver's inaugural ball, where he failed to draw any applause from the heavily Democratic crowd. But this is such a little, should be non-controversial thing that you can't see it as anything but a calculated insult.

    King's obession with the president-elect's middle name has also popped up again, as Politico notes and quotes:
    After telling the Associated Press last year that Obama’s middle name was among the reasons Islamic terrorists would rejoice over his election, King says he’s since been careful to avoid using it. Thus he found Obama’s decision to allow it be mentioned on the steps of the Capitol “bizarre” and “a double-standard.”

    “Is that reserved just for him, not his critics?” King asked.

    The congressman says he doubts Obama’s sincerity when he explained that he chose to use his middle name so as to be historically consistent with past inaugurations, when America has heard the full names of its presidents echo from the inaugural stand.

    “Whatever his reasons are,” King said, “the one he gave us could not be the reason.”

    The only appropriate response Obama can give is the playground classic, "that's my name don't wear it out." Ranks right up there with "I know you are what am I" and "I meant to do that.

    Plus Hussein is a way better name than S or Herbert Walker or Gamaliel or Milhouse. Or Bristol, Piper, Track, Willow and Trig.

  • Lastly, and most substantively, Coralville Courier notes that King is calling for last-minute presidential pardons for two Border Patrol Agents involved in the shooting of a drug smuggling suspect. The Ramos and Compean case is a cause celebré in the anti-immigrant movement, so it's clear Steve will keep playing that card.

    So, with two shots of nativism and one petty insult, King might get Worse, Worser, and Worst all at once.
  • Cold Clips

    Cold Clips

    I've seen worse that the weather we're having--but that's because I grew up in Wisconsin. We had a week when I was in college, a whole WEEK, where the daytime highs were 20 below. That's thermometer, not windchill. Overnight was about -35.

    That would have been `83 because my 20th birthday landed in the stretch--that was back when 18 was legal like it should be--and I still managed to walk to the bars. And back somehow, though I don't really remember how. Which of course is part of why I quit.

  • Actually watched Shrub's speech. The "legacy" is we only got blowed up once. And other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

  • It's interregnum weekend. The Bush White House, for all intents and purposes, is shutting down today. This piece is full of cool details. Tonight the Bushies turn in their Blackberries, at 12:01 Tuesday the Secret Service agent moves from behind the President to behind the President.

  • Bruce Braley's Populist Caucus is in fact a revival of a group started by Rock Island's own Lane Evans in the `80s.

  • And Palin just keeps on talkin': "Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me." I've never been anonymous (the beret kinda stands out in a crowd) but I hope to continue to be annoying.
  • Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Open Letter To Obama from Democratic Left

    My Open Letter to Barack Obama

    Dear Mr. President:

    Sure, there's technically a few days to go, but George Bush clearly punched out a long time ago and you're pretty much doing the job already.

    The occasion of your inauguration is special to many Americans for many different reasons. My special pride is in seeing someone of my own generation take over the tremendous responsibility you face, and in being one of those who was there from the beginning.

    I've never before seen my first choice get nominated, let alone get elected, before. My caucus support has been the kiss of death to Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Tom Harkin, Bill Bradley, and Howard Dean. I was almost afraid to support you for fear I would jinx you. And I've never seen someone so much like me, shaped by the same era of events that has shaped my life, as our leader.

    You've campaigned as someone who will reach across the aisle and change the attack dynamic that has dominated American politics throughout our mutual adult life. By and large that is good. But please remember, as the old saying goes, to dance with those that brung ya. That means, as the late great Paul Wellstone used to say, the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

    The Iowa caucuses started you on the road that led to this day, and no place in Iowa supported you more, in both the caucus and the general election, than the People's Republic of Johnson County. Remember what it is that us lefties, your earliest supporters, asked of you then.

    Peace. We know the economy has taken precedence in most people's minds. But the Iraq war gave you the opening that led to your victory. About the time you both announced your candidacies, Hillary Clinton told us, "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." Many of us heard that and said, “OK, then,” and chose you from among the others.

    We welcome Secretary of State Clinton to your team—-our team. But we remind you that the goal, first and foremost, must be getting out and getting home. And that will require addressing the issues and policies that have turned much of the world against us, some of which are playing out in the battered tenements of Gaza.

    When I watched you in Europe and the Middle East last summer, I thought: “the world wants to love us again.” It was never America the world hated, it was only our policies and leaders. Which means we also need:

    Accountability for the Bush years. That means more than the policy reversals you're likely to implement. It means going back, identifying those who broke national and international law, and punishing them from the top down. You need to re-establish the principle that we are a nation of laws and not of men, we are a nation that does not torture, we are a nation that does not start pre-emptive wars based on lies.

    Perhaps this will strain the bipartisanship you seek, but with the Bush Administration safely out of power, perhaps small government Republicans who value principle and privacy will be free to support the prusuit of justice.

    Real Economic Reform. The details of the stimulus and infrastructure packages will get hammered out one way or another. But real economic reform means a long-term reversal of the trickle-up economics of the Bush, Reagan, and, frankly, Clinton years. It means, yes, spreading the wealth around a little. And since there's no better economic stimulus that a well-paying union job, it means getting the Employee Free Choice Act passed.

    Health Care. The fast movement on SCHIP is good. But you've said that if we were building a health care system from scratch that single payer would be the way to go. Please consider that the system may already be so broken it can't be fixed, and that we should start from scratch.

    Finally, don't be afraid to lead. Our history has taught us, sadly, that majorities can be wrong. Too many of our “leaders” in recent years have instead been followers, reading polls with fingers to the wind. If most of us are wrong, ask more of us. Get ahead of the polls on an issue like, say, marriage equality. Persuade us.

    Even many of those who did not support you are ready to give you a chance, and their voices need to be heard too. But please remember the voices of those of us who have been with you from the beginning.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Early Vote Percentage and Obama Percentage

    Early Vote Percentage and Obama Percentage: No Direct Link Seen

    No Such Thing as 'Election Day'” trumpets the Political Wire headline, as 2008 was the national breakout year for early voting. My favorite theory is that people were so sick of Bush that they literally couldn't wait to vote.

    But when I look at a George Washington University study, my theory crumbles. The link between The percentage of vote cast early and the percentage for Obama isn't an exact, one-to-one thing. Some of the strongest Obama states had low early voting,

    Of course, here in Johnson County we've known about early voting for years, and the early voting rate has grown the last five elections in a row, even in the dull 1996 Clinton-Dole race.

    The 1988 Johnson County rate was 6 percent. Notaries and reasons were required way back then, so early voting was restricted to shut-ins and people who were actually absent. State law changed in 1990, and Iowa became one of the first states to allow unrestricted early voting (oddly, Texas was an early voting pioneer.) The pace picked up, aided by aggressive Democratic Party efforts, until 2008, when 36 percent of Iowa voters voted before Election Day. In Johnson County, for the first time in a presidential year, more people voted before Election Day than on Election Day. (We did it once before in a 2003 school bond.)

    Ten whole states can make that claim for 2008. Oregon tops the list; by statewide referendum, all elections are mail-only for a by-definition 100 percent early voting rate. Most of Washington is also all by mail. Western states dominate the top tier of early voting states, and Obama ran well on the Left Coast.

    But a graph sorted by early vote percentage shows no direct relationship between Obama percentage and turnout percentage. As early voting percentage declines, overall turnout averages out fairly flat and Obama percentage is all over.

    There's actually a slightly inverse relationship between early voting percentage and Obama percentage, and that inverse relationship is almost all geographic. The Northeast, where Obama ran strong and led from the beginning, lags behind the rest of the country in early voting law. New York and Pennsylvania are at the bottom of the list with rates of less than 4 percent, and all the bottom states are in the Northeast except Alabama and Kentucky. There must be some link to the political culture in those states; Eastern states also tend to have larger state legislatures than the West but that's just coincidence. Anybody got a better explanation? Anybody want to get the first Democratic New York state senate in decades on the task?

    Interestingly, given the history of vote suppression, there's a cluster of early voting states in the South: North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Texas. Obama and McCain split these states, and Georgia in particular got a great deal of attention for huge early vote totals and long lines.

    Kos notes that of the top 12 early voting states, "five were formerly Red states flipped by Obama. Obama flipped a total of nine. Only Virginia was flipped without substantial early voting performance. Missouri, which Obama lost by a little under 4,000 votes, has no early voting. It's no stretch to assume that had early voting existed in the Show Me State, it would've kept its "bellwether" status by flipping Blue."

    It's hard to see if there's a relationship between early voting and Election Day voter registration. North Dakota, Iowa and Maine are in the upper middle of the pack, Minnesota and New Hampshire are very low, and Wisconsin didn't report statistics.

    Number geeks, see if you can find any other patterns in the table below.

    State% Early Votes% Obama% Turnout (of eligible voters)
    New Mexico62.30%56.91%59.60%
    North Carolina60.60%49.70%65.80%
    North Dakota37.20%44.47%64.80%
    South Dakota25.20%44.75%63.70%
    West Virginia23.70%42.57%72.50%
    South Carolina17.40%44.90%58.60%
    District of Columbia10.50%92.46%60.90%
    New Hampshire10.00%54.13%71.00%
    New Jersey7.40%57.15%65.90%
    Rhode Island5.10%63.13%62.00%
    New York3.60%62.80%58.30%
    National average30.00%52.87%53.80%