November 27, 2005
Cashing in their chips
Now this is cool ... er, warm: Mt. Wachusett Community College has reduced its heating costs and CO2 output by switching to wood chips and other biomass fuels:
Instead of shelling out nearly a half million dollars for electric heat, the college paid a mere $31,000 for the woodchips. The savings is so great that school officials say the $2 million heating system conversion cost will pay for itself within 10 years.
At the same time, Mount Wachusett has so far reduced its greenhouse gas emissions -- a polluted mix mostly containing carbon dioxide -- by nearly 19 percent.
Now, it's been said that a university is "an aggregation of sovereignties connected by a common heating plant". Doubtless in some of our local universities, some duchies and principalities are chafing under that oppressive servitude. Perhaps they might declare their allegiance to the lowly wood chip?
November 26, 2005
Open Document, Insert Foot II: Electric Boogaloo
Globe reports that the Romney administration is investigating Peter Quinn, director of the Informational Technology Division, for not getting permission to go to some out-of-state conferences:
Romney administration officials are investigating whether Quinn violated travel procedures by not obtaining written authorization for six of the trips -- to Brazil, Ottawa, San Francisco, and other cities -- since September 2004. For six other trips, he received written approval from his supervisor.
Quinn proposed the major change-over to using open-source formats for state documents. The insinuation is that he may have been influenced by "sponsoring companies" of these conferences. However, as anyone who gets a glossy flyer from one of these things knows: "... a galaxy of computer companies are listed as sponsors of many of the conferences."
Is this a real conflict of interest, or a witch hunt? The Globe takes credit for piquing the administration's interest: "The state launched its inquiry after the Globe began asking questions about the trips earlier this week". Can we be sure this investigation was in response to our intrepid muckraker, and not in response to some phone calls from a certain lobbyist for a certain arm-twisting corporation? Is the Romney administration going to use this as a side-show to scrap the whole idea, as they seem inclined to do?
Regardless, if you're an open-source/free software enthusiast, the FSF wants you to call your reps to support the change-over.
(Update: More full disclosure: I should have mentioned earlier that my brother now works for, and I have stock in, Red Hat, which is a company that does open-source software. I have not seen any specific mention of them as a company that would gain business due to the proposed change-over, but I suppose it's possible. Sorry for the omission.)
Great! So we're in agreement then!
President Bush will give a major speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in which aides say he is expected to proclaim the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for withdrawing U.S. forces.
I mean, hasn't it been more than a little preposterous for Republicans to complain that anyone who didn't think that we should just be there forever was a traitor, or a coward? And now they're just following the national mood. Why? Because they have to.
See, it doesn't matter what the Republicans want, or what they want the public to want. We still live in a democracy, and they get spooked when folks get sick of the war and accompanying lies. Josh Marshall nails it: Really, the only thing left is the face-saving -- whatever's left of that fabulous face. And the draw-down will have to begin before the '06 elections.
Really, this is a victory for the
anti-Iraq-war pro-sanity side -- and reality finally caught up with BushCo. But this also leaves us with a decision, at the intersection between policy and politics:
- Should national leaders temporarily soften their language on Bush and Cheney, making it easier for them to do the right thing by allowing them to save face? You know, "We're glad the president has taken this preliminary step to finishing the job in Iraq," etc. (This strategy can easily be reversed in time for the elections, since in any event, the Republicans do need to be held accountable.)
- Or, should relentless pressure and criticism be kept up, since that's how we got to this place to begin with?
- Or both? Good cop/bad cop?
Morally and strategically, I don't think withdrawal is a cut-and-dry issue. The Iraqi forces are clearly not ready -- that would take several years under the best of circumstances. We could be looking at a situation of real civil war -- even worse than what's there now, more on the model of Yugoslavia or the India/Pakistan partition. Murtha thinks that the U.S. is only making the problem worse, with some obvious justification ... but worse than what? Does unimaginably worse chaos ensue, this time with real security implications for the U.S.?
So, insofar as pro-sanity politics influences policy ... What do we want? Only horrible choices remain.
Polling: Employers should pay their share
How the heck did I miss this? At the end of the State House News Service's email bulletin was this gem:
The notion of raising taxes on businesses who can afford to provide health coverage, but don't, earned overwhelming support: 66 to 29 percent. [my emphasis] But [SHNS pollster] Chervinsky cautioned: "Citizens almost always embrace business taxes without realizing the direct impact that has on them personally. One of the problems with sampling public opinion is that people are inclined to say, 'Sure go ahead, tax 'em,' without taking into account all the implications. The citizenry is a little unrealistic."
Dear Mr. Chervinsky:
- "...without considering the direct impact on them personally"? Do you have any idea why this is such a hot issue right now? Maybe because this issue affects so many of us personally? Can you imagine?
- "Unrealistic?" Look, thinking that the current situation is OK is unrealistic in the extreme. Maybe we're just fed up, and think businesses should pay their fair share.
I've said it before: If businesses don't like the assessment for helping to cover their employees, they need to get with the single-payer bandwagon and start pushing. Stop your bitching and help us fix the problem.
(Thanks to the Healthy Blog for the catch. Duh.)
November 25, 2005
Open Document, Insert Foot
Microsoft had sent a local Beacon Hill professional lobbyist, who charges multiple thousands of dollars a month. He was sitting there doing business on his cell phone, sending out runners, etc. What he was doing became clear later; while his pet State Senator was reiterating his client's talking points for the media, and everyone on the 'Open Source' side of the fence was sitting in the hearing either listening or awaiting their turn in the hotseat, he was busily lobbying to get a modification made to another piece of legislation.
That modification, it turned out, will create a 'technology oversight committee' which will have the power to veto the decision to move to Open Document formats. It will be staffed by representatives from branches of state government other than the one which proposed this change. Surprise! Pay no attention to what this hand is doing behind the curtain. [my emphasis.]
So, apparently the pro-open-source folks are hoping to win this one on the merits, while Microsoft is twisting arms. Sound familiar? And now the Romney administration seems to be backing off from its plans to move on due to some somewhat mysterious promises from Microsoft to open up its own file formats. "Trust us", says Mr. Softie.
Come on, it's time to move on. Free Software (or Open Source) was created in Massachusetts (full disclosure: my brother used to work at FSF). We ought to be the first ones to implement it statewide, and save some bucks in the process.
(Thanks to Universal Hub for the steer.)
UPDATE: ZDNet suggests that maybe the state should have kept it on the down-low.
Shorter Dick Cheney:
Ha ha, I know, I know... they're both.
Another Trio of Special Elections
Thought we were all done with special elections? Think again! Cos has written up this excellent roundup of three more open seats that will be filled well before next year's general election in November. --David
There are three more special elections coming up to fill vacant seats in the Massachusetts House - a new wintertime tradition! Unlike last winter, when three of the most conservative Democrats in the House stepped down, in three solidly Democratic districts, this time we have one Representative who moved up to the Senate, one who died of cancer, and only one who left the legislature. The districts are rather different, too:
- The 27th Middlesex, completely within Somerville, MA, is very progressive and solidly Democratic
- The 2nd Worcester is conservative-leaning and has been held by a Democrat but could elect a Republican. Its population centers on Gardner, and it also contains Winchendon and a few smaller nearby towns.
- The 1st Bristol has been held by Republican representatives for a very long time, but might elect a Democrat. Foxboro is the main population center.
So we've got an urban metro-Boston progressive Democratic district, an inland semi-rural conservative-Democratic district, and a south shore Republican district, all up for grabs. The primaries for all three are on January 10th and the general elections are on February 7th. Filing deadlines are Nov 29 - this Tuesday.
Here's a roundup of the candidates so far...
More thoughts on the Delahunt-Chavez oil deal
Thanks to Ken at Dirty Water for noting a different take on the Delahunt-Chavez oil deal. Steve Bailey, one of the Globe's business columnists, writes that he's no Bush fan, but he still doesn't like Hugo Chavez "grandstanding" by selling cut-rate oil to Massachusetts residents as a way of "pok[ing] a stick in George Bush's eye." Bailey goes on to note that a lot of Venezuela's residents are a lot poorer than the poorest Massachusetts residents, and that Chavez's own country maybe could use the money more. Ken agrees, saying that the whole thing seems to be "largely a political stunt by Chavez."
You'll get no claim from me that Chavez isn't grandstanding, or that he isn't delighting in embarrassing George Bush by doing more to help low-income Americans pay their heating bills than their own government is doing. I wouldn't even say that this isn't a "stunt" by Chavez. But I don't think any of that proves that Delahunt shouldn't have cut the deal he did. Regardless of whether poor Venezuelans are poorer than poor Americans, or whether (as Bailey somewhat irrelevantly notes) Venezuela's infrastructure is in bad shape, the fact remains that there are a lot of people who live in this state who are looking at a very, very cold winter without help. And there's nothing Bill Delahunt or, really, any other American can do to make Chavez run his own country better. Delahunt is right: his job is to serve his constituents, and it seems to me that that's what he did by, essentially, taking advantage of bad blood between a President with no interest in helping poor Americans and an ambitious Bush-hating foreign leader who is, as Bailey says, "trying to establish himself as a player in Latin America." Good for Delahunt for being clever enough to leverage that bad blood into a good deal for his constituents who can't afford to heat their homes. Besides, as I said before, Chavez may not be the most admirable head of a major oil-producing country, but he surely isn't the least.
Get the blue laws out of this blue state
Please, please, will someone repeal our ghastly blue laws? It's ridiculous enough that our chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General and would-be Governor Tom Reilly, had nothing better to do one day this week than to write a nasty letter to Whole Foods informing them that if they kept their stores open on Thanksgiving Day - paying their employees twice their usual wages in the process - they'd be criminally liable. (The impetus behind the letter? Not disgruntled employees who objected to coming to work - it was Shaw's Supermarkets, a major Whole Foods competitor.) Today we read that police ("acting on a tip") actually forced a supermarket that had missed the warnings to close, and that "the attorney general's office would investigate all reports of illegally opened stores."
Great Scott, let's hope these scofflaws see some serious punishment! How are parents supposed to teach their children respect for the law unless swift and harsh justice isn't meted out for such obviously criminal behavior?
Seriously, the idea that the power of the state to impose criminal penalties should apply to opening a store on a Sunday or a holiday has, as I've written before, always struck me as utterly absurd. I'm all for legal safeguards such that workers can't be punished for refusing to work on major legal holidays or on the day that they observe the Sabbath. I'd even go along with requiring the payment of extra wages for those workers choosing to work those days. But let's please (1) get these regulations out of the criminal statutes (where they're officially known as the "Common Day of Rest Law") and into the labor code where they belong, and (2) get the all-knowing and beneficent state out of the business of dictating to private enterprises the days on which they may and may not serve the public. For one thing, the state carries out that function extremely badly - really, you have to read these statutes to believe them.
My open source software full disclosure
Here's my full disclosure regarding open-source/Free software issues: My brother once worked for the Free Software Foundation, which essentially invented open-source; he now works for, and I have stock in, Red Hat, a company which makes open-source software products, especially Red Hat Linux. I have not heard of Red Hat specifically gaining any business due to the proposed move to OpenDocument formats.