Read your congressperson's blog

The eminent and celebrated E. Thomas Kemp points us to a wonderful and clever use of news aggregation and weblog technologies, Plogress. Using Perl and WordPress, the apparently anonymous administrator has created a site that sucks data out of the Library of Congress and displays a blog of the doings of individual Senators and Representatives. Now I can keep an eye on Mike, Richard, and Evan through my RSS newsreader! I'm sure they all read my blog, right?

Channel surfing to save your life

Hayden L. Sheaffer, the pilot who is being raked over the coals for his role in flying a Cessna 150 into restricted airspace over Washington D.C. earlier this month, which prompted the scrambling of jets and the evacuation of thousands, noted today that he did in fact try to contact the military on the radio channel they instructed him to use, but that he couldn't get through. In today's issues, the New York Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that Sheaffer was instructed to use a frequency that was not available at the time. What? Huh? Okay, the guy shouldn't have gotten lost in the first place, but the whole incident was fairly ridiculous, and the thought that they might have been blown out of the sky because they were given instructions they couldn't follow is a pretty scary one. When I was flying Cessnas with minimal avionics (far from restricted airspace, mind you), I don't think would've had much of a "plan B" in that case either.

Why blogs are different

Jason Godesky has an interesting post up about why blogs are in a category all their own when it comes to publishing content online. It's a question I've thought about on occasion, given that I've had a personal website in some form or another since, um, 1994, and that I get indignant once in a while when people jump and scream that the blogging phenomenon is the shiny new thing that levels the playing field. It was the whole frickin Internet thing that was supposed to do that in the first place, people! But Jason has put his finger on some of the specifics about why blogging is different, though I have a few more to add.
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REAL ID a dangerous power grab

Bruce Schneier has saved future bureaucrats some time and written the core text of the 2015 US Congressional report on the impacts of the REAL ID Act. The report will find that the creation of this national ID card back in 2005 introduced unnecessary security risks, compounded existing data privacy issues, incurred extraordinary costs to implement and maintain, represented a troubling power grab by the federal government over state systems for issuing identification, and, perhaps worst of all, was passed without any serious debate in Congress or in public because of its attachment to a bill funding operations in Iraq. The report will also find that the ID card has not substantially met any of the goals its introduction was intended to achieve. Given the above, the report concludes that the REAL ID Act was a shining example of the quality and sensibility that characterizes much of the law-making that went on at the time.

Community Supported Agriculture in USA Today

This is the second year I've taken advantage of another great thing about the area, our local CSA (community supported agriculture) program through Boulder Belt Organics in Preble County, Ohio. Since I'm doing my own garden I'll probably just use it for a few months, but it's so nice to have locally and organically grown produce; and you can't beat that the "pick up point" for my share is at Mark's house one block away. One thing I especially like about CSAs in general is that the fees you pay to get the food more closely represent the "real cost" of producing it - when I shop at big grocery chain stores, I can't really tell if the price takes into account the oil and gas, foreign labor, and environmental resources/residual effects that go into producing those foods. When you use a CSA, all those things are pretty well laid out, and since the person handing you the food is typically also the person who cultivated it, you can always ask. Anyway, Lucy from Boulder Belt noted that USA Today recently had a profile of Community Supported Agriculture programs (printable/ad free version), which she thought might have been on the front page. I like that under the "cons" for using a CSA they list "vegetable variety" and "introduction to unfamiliar vegetables"...those are "pros" in my book!

Bypassing the Handmaidens and Pimps

Dave Pollard has a post up about conflict resolution. After a few paragraphs castigating the ability of the U.S. legal system and its agents to resolve conflicts, he talks about how to resolve peer-to-peer conflicts. It's interesting to me that the examples he gives of conflicts involving opposing worldviews pitted family members against each other (which seems about right for most of the kinds of conflict you mentioned), and yet one conclusion he made was that more carefully chosen communities might help us avoid these conflicts altogether. Indeed, one would like to think that this is the case, but I'm not sure such careful selection can alone overcome the cultural barriers at work, especially when it comes to the dynamics of the modern family (biological and otherwise), and the conflicting motives often driving its members.

I suppose it's worth noting as well that, in my experience, the kind of interest-based resolution approach that Dave mentioned can work for people with extremely opposing worldviews or mismatched frames, it just takes a lot more time and energy than most participants are willing to spend. In other words, in many situations, the desire to end the conflict "one way or another" will outweigh the desire to end it with a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Appreciating Choices that Matter

The editorial cartoon in today's Palladium-Item depicts a lone protester standing in front of an imagined future strip mall in Richmond, with an onlooker suggesting that the protester get on with his life. It's a poignant visualization of one of the destructive attitudes that plagues this town and many others like it: "what's done is done, no use in whining about it, move on and make the best you can." At first glance this might seem to be an admirable approach to use with the difficult issues we all encounter in life, but some Richmond residents and decision makers often apply it pre-emptively to matters where there are still complex choices to make, nuanced options to ponder, and opportunities to seek alternatives for the betterment of our community. The logic is circular: because something might be so, it must be so.
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Garden v2.0 launched

After a few preparatory steps over the last few weeks and months I finally got my garden planted today - my second since moving to my house. I've planted two kinds of tomatoes, basil, bell and jalapeno peppers, celery, broccoli, parsley, cilantro, cucumber, mesculin mix, lettuce, kale, and dill. If just a few of those actually turn out and one of them is basil, I'll be satisfied. The whole process was a lot easier this year - last time I was doing things like wiring together a grow light, putting up shelving for seed trays, tilling a large section of grass, and just generally getting my bearings with gardening after having been away from the agriculture I'd learned at Elkhorn Ranch for a while. This year I also ordered a rain barrel rainwater collection system, which I'm really excited about putting to use instead of shocking my plants and soil with cold, hard chlorinated water.

Stopping Credit Card Offers

I had come to accept that possessing and using a credit card necessitated the related evil of receiving pre-approved credit card offers, and similar junk like insurance quotes. But just today I read the fine print on the back of one of these offers, and found reference to a new service that allows you to opt out (permanently, or for five years) of the databases used by the major credit card companies to generate these offers. You can either go to, or just call 1-888-5-OPTOUT. It's worth noting that you can also call 1-888-LOST-NUT or 1-888-LOST-OUT to reach the same service.

City of Richmond U-Plan Sessions

Last night I helped to facilitate the "U-Plan" community input sessions that the City of Richmond, Indiana is conducting as a part of its work on updating the City's comprehensive plan. I was struck and impressed, perhaps more than I should have been, by the simple process of people in a community coming together to discuss their concerns, interests, areas of pride about our town, and where we should go in the coming years. I was equally impressed that we were able to use an approach that is very important to me personally - building shared vision through respectful dialogue. I don't know how many other places in the world get to engage in that process on a regular basis - perhaps it's really common - but I feel proud and fortunate to live in a place that can and does.