«  March 2006  |   Main   |  May 2006  »

»  April 24, 2006


Papers From the Attic II: 'PROGRESSIVE BLOC' TO CONTROL SENATE: As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we found some newspapers under the floorboards of our attic that dated to the mid-term elections of another era famous for a president soaking in oil corruption: Warren Harding.

This story reminds us of an era when principled Republicans held leadership positions in this country and acted on their principles. When the word "progressive" wasn't disdained by Republican and mainstream Democrat alike. From the Morning Oregonian, Thursday, 9 November 1922:



Westerners and Radicals Group
Counted On to Block Poli-
cies of Administration

(By Chicago Tribune Leased Wire.)

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 8.—President Harding as a result of yesterday's election will be unable to control the legislative branch of the government after March 4 next.

Although, in the face of the returns, the republicans will be able to organize the 68th congress, it is the conviction of political leaders here that the balance of power in both branches will be held by a group of western progressives and radicals who have it within their power to block any legislative programme which the administration may undertake during the next two years of President Harding's term.

On the face of the latest returns, democratic leaders here were beginning to put forth claims of control of the house and predictions that the republican majority of 24 in the senate would be cut to about six. Even if those claims are proven excessive, the radical balance of power will exist just the same.

Senators LaFollette, Wisconsin; Borah, Idaho; Johnson, California; Norris, Nebraska; Norbeck, South Dakota, strengthened by the election of Colonel Smith Brookhart in Iowa, Dr. Hendrik Shipstead in Minnesota and R. B. Howell in Nebraska, will form a "progressive bloc" which will stand as a deciding factor in practically every issue which comes before the senate after March 4.

With four or five others of slightly less pronounced progressive views always possible allies, they appear to be in a position to exert a more powerful influence on the legislative affairs of the country than at any time since insurgency days prior to 1912.

The situation in the house is similar. Even if the republicans succeed in retaining perfunctory control of the lower house organization they will find it next to impossible to carry out administration policies because they will be constantly blocked by insurgents holding the balance of power.

Note that the Senators mentioned in this piece were members of the Republican party (although some had helped establish Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party in his 1912 run for President) except for Shipstead, who was a Farmer-Labor candidate. Would that we had their like again.

Of course, they were still up against powerful forces, and the economy still augered into the ground seven years later.


»  April 21, 2006


Why She's a Virgin: Letter to NPR's "All Things Considered", about a piece called "A Virgin Over the Marriage Threshold":

Given the spate of problematic memoirs from the likes of James Frey, I certainly hope that someone at ATC had the good sense to verify Caroline Langston's account of a "progressive boarding school" where the nurse carried a Vuitton handbag, wore "too much" lipstick, and "was famous for making girls practice inserting their diaphrams over and over again". You did fact-check this memoir, didn't you?


»  April 18, 2006


Battle of the Script:

Still thinking that Flash's Actionscript language is piffle? I've been trying to convince Director developers for five years that they can't ignore the ever-increasing capabilities of AS (while simultaneously promulgating Director to Flash users). Even though many people have recognized the utility of Flash, snarky comments about Actionscript's capabilities abound. I don't really understand it myself.

As an example of the type of thing that's possible in Flash these days, I point you to the 2006 Battle of the Script at ActionScript.com. The contest (with a grand prize of $500 and a number of books) is based around the use of an open source library for text animation called TextScript (developed by Satori Canton). Come up with the coolest effect and win one of the prizes.

My challenge -- with no prize attached -- is to try doing some of the demonstrated effects in Lingo. In part, that's made difficult by Director's architecture, but I think that it's obvious that ActionScript's capabilities are definitely in the ring.


»  April 17, 2006


Wyden's Tax Dream OR The Sum of All Deficits: The Oregonian front-paged Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-OR) Fair Flat Tax Act today, in honor of the the season, but the article focused largely on how much easier it would make filling out your forms and a reshifting of the tax burden back to the wealthy and corporations.

Lost in the article, however, is the fact that Wyden's plan -- which he and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) hope to make a key Democratic issue in the next round of elections -- doesn't even begin to address the fiscal mess this country is in. While the $100 billion of reductions to the deficit in his plan sounds like a lot, that amount is spread over five years, making it an average of just $20 billion/year. That would result in about a 4% reduction in the deficit which is going to do very little to address the enormous, increasing national debt, for which Congress just raised the borrowing limit to $9 trillion dollars.

More on the FFTA here.


»  April 13, 2006


Dr. Bambi Rice:

Bambi Rice


Condoleeza Rice, reporting her own words to the 9/11 commission in 2004:
And I said, at one point, that this was a historical memo, that it was -- it was not based on new threat information. And I said, "No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon" -- I'm paraphrasing now -- "into the World Trade Center, using planes as a missile."
Condoleeza Rice on the Hamas win in the Palestinian elections in January 2006:
"I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."

And Condoleeza Rice, just last week, in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"Nothing has taken me more aback as secretary of state than the way energy is -- I will use the word warping -- international diplomacy," she said.
Seriously, has there been a Secretary of State who is either so clueless (or at the very least feigns cluelessness) as Dr. Condoleeza Rice? She is truly the Bambi of foreign policy, wandering through the forest, eternally mistaking a skunk for a flower.

In the fall of 1975 I was a callow youth of 13, a freshman in high school with an interest in games. I hung around the game shop in downtown Eugene (Dungeons & Dragons would have its first flash of popularity that winter) and picked through everything from chess and backgammon to hard-core war games.

One regular, inexpensive source of entertainment was Strategy & Tactics magazine, published by Simulations Publications, Inc., which came out bimonthly with a new title in every issue. Most of the games were historical in nature (World War II, World War I, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, etc.) but the September 1975 issue (#52) contained Oil War. The premise of the game: "the hypothetical attempt by the United States and various other nations to land forces in the Persian Gulf oil-producing countries, and seize the very vital oilwells and ports". The idea for the game, I'm sure, was heavily influenced by OPEC's quintupling of prices for crude to supporters of Israel in 1972-73; something that would seem to be a case of energy warping international diplomacy.

Now, I'm a few years younger than Sec. Rice. I'm guessing that she probably didn't go through the disaffected youth war-gaming phase. But I've known since my early teens about the OPEC crisis. I've known about energy issues affecting international policy. No doubt the other people who subscribed to S&T or bought that issue -- much less the guys who designed Oil War 30 years ago -- know that too. And we can't be the only people to have come to that realization in the years before 2006. So tell me what her qualifications as Secretary of State are again?

I've still got my copy of Oil War.


»  April 12, 2006


For Kulongoski Before I Was Against Kulongoski: Most of the focus on Gov. Ted Kulongoski's performance at the Oregon Democratic gubenatorial debates Monday focused on his floating the idea of a "consumption tax", viewed by many (including myself) as yet another run at the nine-times-rejected regressive sales tax. More on that later.

One thing that struck me, however, was his use of a phrase that I never thought anyone with a lick of sense would use in a serious manner in a political campaign -- at least not anyone who was a Democrat.

This is from OPB reporter Colin Fogerty's fact-check article on the debates, in a section discussion about former state Senator Jim Hill's votes on the Oregon Health Plan:

Hill was in fact one of three state Senators to vote against Senate Bill 27 in June 1989, which he explained in his rebuttal to Kulongoski.

Jim Hill: "Governor, the reason I did not vote for it in final passage is because I didn't feel that it was being given enough money."

Ted Kulongoski: "Oh, so you voted for it before you voted against it."

That's actually true. In April that year, Senator Jim Hill voted in favor of Senate Bill 27, but he voted against it after the Oregon House approved its financing.

Is he serious? Does he think that using a line associated with George W. Bush's 2004 campaign against John Kerry is a good idea in a Democratic primary? Or does he just not care?


»  April 11, 2006


Wild Speculation: As Holden pointed out Monday, the White House talking point regarding a possible military attack on Iran was "wild speculation". That got me thinking about what other things the WH had called "speculation" and when they'd done it.

But first, I missed my chance to meet up with Kos Sunday in Portland because we were sheetrocking a ceiling, but I did catch him (not literally) Monday evening at the Kennedy School (the one in Portland has nothing to do with governing, just beer).


One year to the day before the Iraq invasion, Vice President Cheney and Prime Minister Sharon of Israel held a press conference:

[QUESTION:] Prime Minister Sharon, on the issue of Iraq, are you prepared to say today that you would support a U.S.-led attack on Iraq even if that required restraint from the Israeli government in the face of an Iraqi attack on Israelis?

CHENEY: If I might go first, Prime Minister.

There's been great press speculation about the possibility of a military action against Iraq. I have said repeatedly throughout the course of my travels in response to those questions, one, no such decision's been made. And secondly, we never speculate about perspective [sp] future operations.


In August 2002 -- seven months before invading Iraq -- President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld talked about defense in-between clearing brush in Texas.

Q Sir, after you've studied today the military capabilities of the United States and looking ahead to future threats, one thing that has to factor in is the growing number of U.S. allies, Russia, Germany, Bahrain, now Canada, who say that if you go to war with Saddam, you're going to go alone.

Does the American military have the capability to prosecute this war alone?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, if you're asking -- are you asking about Iraq? The subject didn't come up in this meeting.

But, having said that, we take all threats seriously and we will continue to consult with our friends and allies.

I know there is this kind of intense speculation that seems to be going on, a kind of a -- I don't know how you would describe it. It's kind of a churning --



On 6 March 2003 -- less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq -- this exchange took place at a press conference:

[THE PRESIDENT:] As far as ultimatums and all the speculation about what may or may not happen, after next week, we'll just wait and see.


Q Are we days away?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're days away from resolving this issue at the Security Council.


In November 2003, Scott McClellan was asked whether the US was happy with the Iraqi Governing Council:

Q We're going to stick with this group, then, and not seek to establish another one?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're continuing to work closely with the governing coalition. You're asking me to get into a bunch of speculation, and that's not something I intend to do.

So much that's been speculated on has come to pass, what's a little "wild speculation" among friends?


»  April 8, 2006


The Missiles Are Flying! Halleleujah! Halleleujah!:

I've been wondering lately if Stephen King's been feeling like Johnny Smith, the character from King's 1979 novel The Dead Zone who wakes from a coma with the ability to see critical events in the future of those he touches.

For those of you who might have missed the book or the movie starring Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen (they are more than twenty years old), in the second part of the novel, Smith's path crosses that of an up-and-coming New England politician named Greg Stillson, who Johnny forsees launching a pre-emptive nuclear war in later years after he becomes president. Smith -- having learned that he can affect the future he sees -- has to make a decision about what he can do to stop the holocaust from happening. Smith attempts to assassinate Stillson, but ends up getting shot himself. Stillson's character is exposed, though, when he grabs a baby to shield himself from the gunman, and is caught on film.

Of course, that was just an interesting story in a book. The real story isn't so neat, and the real-life psychopath made it to the White House unhindered. President Bush can destroy a CIA program meant to guard the nation from loose nuclear material in an attempt to silence his political critics. He can invade a country, kill tens of thousands of its citizens, throw it into civil war, deplete the resources of the US military, and spiral the country into debt, all for political gain. It's the virtual baby shield.

And as he reads of Sy Hersh's report on plans to use nukes in Iran, I wonder if Stephen King is waiting for America to get the picture.


»  April 6, 2006


Exporting Flash Frames With the Flash 8 Xtra: Flash maven dr. woohoo has developed a tutorial (with source) for exporting frames of a Flash animation to 32-bit alpha PNGs (for use in After Effects and the like) that makes use of the new Flash 8 Xtra's image capabilities and RavWare's RavImageExport Xtra, which we all know and love.



Papers From the Attic I: GOP DEFEAT:

Over the weekend, while we were ripping out the ceiling of my living room, Dad and I found a batch of newspapers used as insulation. My house is rather old (for Portland, anyway), so anything you find in the spaces between rooms tends that way as well.

The crumbling, yellowed papers we found were a mix of the two dailies in operation in Portland during most of the 20th century. The dates on the papers were from the week of the 1922 mid-term elections.

It just so happens that back in the early '60s Dad's master's thesis subject was Oregon Governor Walter Pierce who beat the incumbent Ben Olcott with the aid of the Klan and support of the anti-Catholic Compulsory School Bill (a Democrat, he was also a champion of Prohibition, and a proponent of the income tax and liberal labor laws). . So Dad knew a fair amount about this particular election. We had some fun going through the papers after we finished for the day, looking at ads for $5,000 houses in Portland's Laurelhurst neighborhood, ancient episodes of "Gasoline Alley", and noting parallels between political stories from 84 years ago and today.

Let us return to an era where the Teapot Dome Scandal had been reported (by the Wall Street Journal) but hadn't yet been investigated. Where religious moralists had managed to pass a Constitutional amendment outlawing the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" (an amendment President Harding had voted for as a Senator but broke while he was in the White House). Where Democrats were disorganized and "wet" (though not in the sense that some have used it).

The Oregon Daily Journal



By David Lawrence
(Copyright, 1922, by The Journal)

Washington, Nov. 9.--The American people are still voting in the negative. They have not changed their mood from 1920, but this time it was the Republican party which had to bear the brunt of popular discontent.

Analysis of the returns show clearly that whether a Republican or Democrat was defeated, the reasons are to be found in the protesting attitude of the electorate rather than in an affirmative for a constructive alternative. No guiding principle can be applied except one, namely that when the public is dissatisfied it turns from one party to the other irrespective of whether the latter has a better program or definite policy.


Turnover this year is practically as high as it was in 1910 in the middle of the Taft administration. If the Republican party had not luckily obtained such a big majority in 1920 in the senate and house, they would have lost control of both this election.



Speaking of 1924, the returns certainly have heartened the Democrats at a time when their morale has been lowest. The populous Eastern states have shown a readiness to turn back to Democracy, even after so short a period as two years, for it is just 24 months ago that they helped bury the Democrats under the greatest avalanche in American history.

It looks today as if the Democratic party would provide itself with new leaders both inside and outside of congress. Senator Oscar Underwood has announced that his health will not permit him to accept the leadership of his party in the senate.

Mr. Hitchcock of Nebraska, who was runner-up in the fight for Democratic leader in the senate, has been defeated for re-election.

Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi, an aggressive type of political leader, is likely to be chosen.


Cordell Hull, Democratic national chairman, has been elected to the house from Tennessee. If he retains the chairmanship it will be the first time in recent history that a national party organization will have been directed from the halls of congress. It may be that he will find it impossible to discharge his duties in congress and do the work needed of a national chairman in the two years before a presidential election.

The national chairman will have to travel a great deal as the Democrats lack organization everywhere. Mr. Hull will have a good deal to do with the leadership of the house, though he probably will not be the titlar chieftain there.



It's too early to draw general inferences on prohibition even through the first returns show that in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts the "wets" helped the Democrats make their gains. Those states have always been damp. They are merely registering their feelings every chance they get.


»  April 5, 2006


Joel on Shockwave: I've been working on developing a functional spec for an application over the past couple of weeks. It's something I've done for most of my larger projects because it helps me organize and think through the design, but the one I'm doing now has to be interpreted by other people. So I've been doing a little reading on the subject to make sure I knew what other people might expect and ran across the site Joel on Software, which has several years worth of interesting, highly readable articles on software development strategies.

Naturally, he has an article -- actually, a series of articles -- on why functional specs are useful, what should go into them, and who should be responsible for them. I don't agree with everything he says, but there is a fair amount of decent information there.

One thing that did catch my eye, though, appears in the example spec he links to from the articles. It's a humorous example, written nearly six years ago, for a web site that tell users what the time is. Here's his description of the site's splash screen:

An annoying, gratuitous Shockwave animation that plays stupid music and drives everyone crazy. Splash Screen will be commissioned by a high-paid graphics animation boutique in a loft in Soho from people who bring their dogs to work, wear found objects safety-pinned to their ears, and go to Starbucks four times before lunch.

After the animation has played for about 10 seconds, a link that says "SKIP THIS" will fade into view in the bottom right corner. To avoid people seeing this and clicking on it, SKIP THIS will be so far down and to the right that most people won't see it. It should be at least 800 pixels from the left border of the animation and 600 pixels from the top.

Clicking on SKIP THIS goes to Home Page. When the animation is complete, it will redirect the browser to Home Page automatically.

Open Issue
If Marketing allows, we should deposit a cookie on the user's computer if they click SKIP THIS which will cause the animation to always be skipped in the future. Frequent visitors should not have to see the animation more than once. I talked to Jim in Marketing about this and he's going to take point in convening a committee of Sales, Marketing, and PR to discuss.
Does that "annoying, gratuitous" description of an intro animation sound familiar? Does it sound like Shockwave? Or is it possible that even someone who worked in the software industry at a fairly high level was confused enough by the Macromedia/Shockwave/shockwave.com marketing strategy to call a Flash animation "Shockwave". Pretty funny, eh?


»  April 3, 2006


Astroturf, Fear, and Aspiration: Does the thought that you're facing the most corrupt, sneakiest tactics ever devised by Republicans get you down? Do you imagine that they've sunk to record lows of devious behavior and worry that the nation can never recover?

Well, I can't promise that the nation can recover from the Republican disease, but as for whether Republican tactics are new, I can point you to a little historical piece called "When the Little Guy Helped the Wealthy Keep Their Tax Secret" by Cynthia Crossen, in the "DÉJÀ VU" column from today's Wall Street Journal. Crossen is the author of Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America and The Rich and How They Got That Way and is an editor for the WSJ.

Crossen's story describes how an Astroturf campaign (thirty years before Astroturf even existed!), an appeal to fear, and aspirational politics were used to beat back sunshine laws meant to shame millionaires into -- wait for it -- paying their taxes.

The problem came to light during a Senate investigation of the 1929 stock-market crash: Some of America's wealthiest citizens, including the banker J.P. Morgan and his partners, were legally paying nothing in federal income taxes.
The solution, endorsed by majorities of both parties in Congress: Make individuals' income-tax information public, and shame the evaders into paying their fair share.

Under the Revenue Act of 1934, anyone who filed a federal tax return would also complete another -- pink -- form, with his or her name, address, income, deductions and total taxes paid.

In 1934, Mr. [Robert] La Follette, a Progressive senator from Wisconsin, introduced the pink-slip amendment to a tax bill, and the measure passed easily.


Within months, a small conservative lobbying group, led by a Pittsburgh glass heir named Raymond Pitcairn, began stirring up a protest movement against pink slips, denouncing them as a violation of the constitutional right to privacy.

The group's biggest challenge was to win over at least some of the vast majority of Americans who were too poor to be affected by the pink-slip law. Mr. Pitcairn appealed to their paranoia: If one day they earned enough to file pink slips, how would they feel about their finances being open to business competitors, high-powered salesmen, blackmailers and, the group's most potent bugaboo, kidnappers.
Two years earlier, Charles Lindbergh Jr. had been snatched from his crib and found dead a few months later. The alleged kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann, was arrested in late 1934, and after a widely publicized trial, was convicted in February 1935, just as the pink-slip debate was raging.
Hundreds of people copied Mr. Pitcairn's boilerplate in letters to congressmen and editors, protesting the "outrageous invasion" of their privacy.
In June 1935, less than a year after it passed, the law was repealed.

Mr. Pitcairn had successfully manipulated public opinion on a matter affecting a tiny minority of Americans. "Minorities create news because they do daring things and act together," he explained in a recruiting letter. "They get their way against larger numbers because they demand what they want and make a fuss about it."

Read the whole thing, it's truly entertaining to see this kind of thing in the WSJ. Just remember that because it worked 70 years ago doesn't mean it has to work again. It's like I always say: "Those who do not learn from history are stupid".