Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another quick diversion

No time for a serious post, but I just had to show you this French commercial for orange juice. The phrase "natural pulp" will never be the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

High frequency carols

Merry Christmas, y'all- and God bless us, every one!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One bit of Santa Claus trivia

they never mention on TV specials is the time he beat up a Unitarian, though it's one of my favorite Christmas stories. Hat tip to American Unitarian Reform

Monday, December 22, 2008

Just a quick but relevant digression

I've been too busy to write the meaningful post I wanted to (and still intend to) write on the humanist/atheist/theist debates going on at Liberal Faith Development , The Journey , other places you probably know about. But I did stumble across this video that I thought an important addition to the discussion, as it displays the best possible attitudes by Christian and atheist alike.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The inauguration invocation

We interrupt the regularly scheduled "UUdom is a microcosm of society part 2" post for a more timely story- the selection of Rev. Rick Warren for the Presidential inauguration invocation. LGBT community, welcome to politics 101: you got played.

The 1998 movie, Bulworth is about a politician whose political troubles and broken marriage causes a nervous breakdown. This breakdown causes him to start telling the truth. While speaking before an African American church, he is confronted with his failure to follow through on his promises to them, and is accused of lying. "Of course I lied!", he tells them, "What are you going to do- vote Republican?"

Democratic politicians have the freedom to betray their black constituents if they're in a tight situation, because they know that nothing they can do will make African Americans vote Republican. The same goes for any other locked-in constituency; once they can be relied on, they can be betrayed. And, of course, the same is true of Republicans. Fiscal conservatives have been calling Bush everything but a child of God for more than seven years; the response is the same- "What are you going to do, vote Democrat?"

President elect Obama is a cautious man, with an eye to the future. He knows that once he begins real work, the honeymoon will be over. Starting as soon as the next Congressional elections, he's going to need every vote he can get- which means he needs the religious vote, or at least as much of it as he can get. If that upsets the Gay and socially liberal vote, that's unfortunate, but... what are you going to do, vote Republican? Of course you won't. He knows that, and you know that, and all the faxes the Washington Office can send won't change the political reality. You can't even blame Obama for doing it- it's the political reality he has to work with.

Paradoxically, the more important a single issue is to you, the less likely it is that voting that way will change it. As long as the voting public is dominated by single issue or narrow range voters, this will be true. As long as politicians of all stripes know that the voting public will decide based on ninety second news stories and analysis by late night comedians, this will be true. Only when we forsake litmus tests and false party loyalties will change really happen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UUdom is a microcosm of society,

and few things illustrate that better than a series of blog discussions the last three weeks concerning "The War On Christmas" and the similar humanist/theist struggle within the UUA. There are two issues in play here; the first I will address is Christmas.

Contrary to the belief of many on both sides of the debate, Christmas was not made a Federal holiday to assert the ascendancy of Christianity in America. Had that been the intent, surely Easter, the most holy of Christian holidays, would have been chosen instead. Why did President Grant pick Christmas, a holiday that had been actively condemned by most Christian churches- even outlawed in many places- and only recently partially rehabilitated by an English novelist and an American poet?

Consider the condition the US was in in 1870. For several of the previous five years, the Civil War had been over only in terms of massed armies; the hatreds ran deep- Lincoln's assassination had been celebrated in many Confederate households. Lawlessness abounded; President Grant had to ask for Federal law enforcement to control the Ku Klux Klan and bring some semblance of order, and to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves. It took until 1870 to bring the last Confederate state back formally into the Union.

Grant wanted something to bring the country back together. It couldn't be a victory celebration; that would have made things worse. What was left that both sides could still have in common? Christmas was chosen as the least controversial; less "Northern" than Thanksgiving, less political than the 4th of July, and especially poignant as celebrating a man of peace. It was a public cry of "Can't we all just get along?" There's a short Discovery channel video about it here

That's the real "reason for the season"... the attempt to find something to reconcile a people divided. The real reason Christmas is a greater tradition in America than in many other countries is not because the US is a "Christian Nation", but because Christmas was used to bring us back together after one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Families that had been separated for years had a "reason" to reunite. The religious nature of the holiday was the excuse needed to swallow bitter pride, to forgive. Had the holiday been secular, it couldn't have overcome the hostility; had it been any more religious, it would have raised new divisions. It was just religious enough.

And so I say to Bill O'Reilly, and to the Freedom From Religion people alike: let's put the Peace back in Christmas.

Next: the UU divide.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Perhaps these should be included in the Holiday displays

Babbo Natale, Italy has its own Father Christmas. But it's La Befana, the ugly, broom-flying and present-wielding witch who keeps children on their toes in many parts of the country...

Few European Christmas traditions elicit as many diverse and divergent opinions as Black Pete of the Netherlands. Santa's former slave may have been whitewashed in recent years, but many still view him as a racist caricature from the country's colonial past...

In Austria, Santa keeps track of who's been naughty and nice -- and unleases a 7-foot-tall horned devil on the naughty. He's called the Krampus, and he's unlike any Christmas tradition you've ever seen...

Some of the world's most curious Christmas traditions can be found in Catalonia, where the idea of holiday cheer seems to involve some of life's more basic bodily functions...

Read about these, and many more at Europe's weird ways

Guess the most corrupt state in the union

No, it's not Illinois- it's North Dakota! See where your state rates!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An interesting minority report

The United Nations conference on global warming currently underway in Poland is about to hear a minority report, dissenting from the conventional wisdom, the Al Gore view. I say it's an interesting minority report, because this "minority" outnumbers the "majority" - "The over 650 dissenting scientists are more than 12 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers."! Some quotes from The US Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works :

“Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly….As a scientist I remain skeptical.” - Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in meteorology and formerly of NASA who has authored more than 190 studies and has been called “among the most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years.”

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.

“It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” - U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA

“Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined.” - Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Taking up the mantle

Antioch College is closed, and no one knows at this point if it will ever reopen... but the spirit of Too PC For Sanity has not died! Carleton University in Ottawa has stepped up to the plate!

For 23 years Carleton has participated in Shinearama, a fundraising event for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This is a huge event, with 65 colleges participating, and significant amounts of money have been raised by it- Carleton alone, over the course of the years, has raised over a million. But no more- the Carleton University Student Union has dropped Shinearama from its roster of events. Why? I quote from the resolution whose passage killed it:

"Whereas Orientation week strives to be [as] inclusive as possible;

Whereas all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve the their diverse communities;

And Whereas Cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men

Be it resolved that:

CUSA discontinue its support of this campaign

Be it Further Resolved that the CUSA representatives on the incoming Orientation Supervisory Board work to select a new broad reaching charity for orientation week."

Good catch, Carleton! Not one penny should be sent to an organization so racist, so oppressive, that they will spend it on white men! No, not even if it's to save them from a dreadful disease that will kill them in their 20s- if the demographics are wrong, we won't belong!

It's not true, of course- Cystic Fibrosis strikes both sexes and all colors. But then, as we have seen with debates on cultural misappropriation and "code words", facts are often not on the side of the PC. No matter- there is a higher truth here. As long as people believe there's an oppressive situation there, their feelings will be hurt- and that's what it's all about, right? Trying to correct or educate them would be condescending- a PC sin in its own right- so just go along with it. After a while, you won't even wince.



Monday, December 08, 2008

Treating CC's questions as a meme

CC has listed some questions that trouble her . Here's the quick version of my answers; I'd be happy to elaborate or debate if desired.

1. How do I justify loving art and goofing off and creature comforts in a world where so many are suffering and I could feed a kid in Africa for a year on what I spent on a painting on Saturday? There's an old story about a new-hire lumberjack, who impressed his boss with his tremendous production right from the start... but after a few days, his production started tapering off, so the boss asked him about it. "I don't understand," the kid said, "I'm working harder than ever, but just can't seem to get anywhere." The boss said, "Here's your problem- your ax is dull! Why haven't you sharpened it?" "I was falling behind- there wasn't time to sharpen it!" Your tools, your mind, and your spirit must all be sharp to be effective- if you let your spirit grow dull, you'll become part of the problem, rather than the solution. Joy is as vital as food to being human.

2. What’s the deal with my professor asking vague multiple choice questions but insisting that there’s one right answer when sometimes reasonable arguments could be made for up to three? Because to many people, only their solution is reasonable; to your professor, the other arguments, not being his, are by definition not reasonable.

3. What duties do I have to the rest of humanity? To my family in particular? Your first duties are to yourself and your family- it does humanity no good to be less than your best, because you can give the most when you have the most to give. It's like the instruction one gets in an airplane: if the oxygen masks fall, put your own on before trying to help anyone else!

4. Could you summarize the analytical framework that goes along with the federal taxation of a company’s loans to employees and shareholders, with specifics on what gets taxed when, and what gets capitalized when if the employee is working on a long-term capital project? I have only the vaguest idea of what you're talking about, so I'll generalize: corporate and company taxation is intellectually dishonest and counterproductive; the best answer would be to not tax them in the first place.

5. Is that old law school maxim “A’ students become judges and ‘B’ students work for ‘C’ students” thing really true? Because some of us are counting on it as our backup plan… I don't know about the law, but it's true in many other professions- and I can't suggest a better plan.

6. I am, at heart, quite an eccentric and moody person. But I have seen before how much being an eccentric and moody person that people don’t identify with and don’t understand gets in the way of having things I want and connecting with others. What’s the proper balance between living my life as I please and being someone that other people understand and root for? Just come up with interesting explanations for your eccentricities, whether they're true or not, and make it clear that they are not a reaction to the people around you. People love eccentrics, as long as they're amusingly weird and not confrontational. Many people have made entire careers as an eccentric.

7. So what’s the deal with corporate takeovers? In general and with specifics. Too open ended a question for me.

8. When I come across and idea or a philosophy I don’t get or don’t agree with, I have this little-kid-with-a-broken-alarm-clock need to take it apart, figure out how it works and see what the problem is. I do this by arguing or at least asking pointed questions. Some people think that’s fun and I can talk to those people for hours. But others tend to see me as stupid or a contrarian (or a racist, or a kneejerk liberal or an elitist or… or…) when I argue with ideas that they hold dear. Right now, my solution is to mostly move that nitpicky nature to the internet, but even there are there times when I should just shut it and let people think what they want without bugging them, and agree to disagree before I’ve gotten their argument down to the premises and pissed them off? I have this tendency and problem myself. I finally decided that people have the right to be wrong, and if they insist on exercising this right, I can't stop them. I judge when they've reached this point by the amount of venom used.

9. Is it actually moral for the government to use taxation to socially engineer as much as they do? To what degree should I accept the argument that what the government taxes, it controls? If I should accept, isn't progressive taxation with a deduction for the personal consumption costs of enough for food, shelter and preventative medical care and no other deductions at all the ideal? No, it is not moral to use taxation for social engineering- it's little different from using a gun when people don't have the money to buck the system. You should totally accept the argument that what the government taxes, it controls- indeed, control is sometimes the stated reason for the tax involved. (See social engineering) If the progressive tax you're speaking of is an income tax, then no, it isn't the ideal. Consumption taxes are superior in terms of fairness and economic growth.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A new breed of Truther

The term "Truther" was coined to describe those who don't believe the official explanation of the events of 9/11, and insist on their "truth". Since then, people have begun applying that sobriquet to any Moonbat who finds an anonymous Internet poster more credible than the experts who lay their careers and reputations on the line by accepting appointment to a commission or inquiry.

The latest sort of "Truther" is the one who still- a month after the election- believes that Trig is NOT Sarah Palin's child, and that THE TRUTH MUST BE TOLD. Here are just five examples, all from within the last week:

The Atlantic

Caffeinated Politics

Palin's Deceptions

Jack Bog's Blog

A follow up to Jack Bog's earlier post

Electrical Audio

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Personal slanguage

Every person and every family has personalized slang, words with meanings that might be easy to figure out- for example, when Ginj and I are about to do something incredibly decadent, we toast, "A Versailles"- or totally unrelated to what the world at large might have thought the word to mean. An example of that category is talking about a concept being "viral"- When I say it, I mean this:

Friday, December 05, 2008

Give the gift of death for Christmas

In these hard times, people are looking for practical gifts for Christmas, and gift certificates are a popular choice. Here in Indianapolis, there is a wider range of choices in gift certificates than average- "choice" being the operative word, as Planed Parenthood now offers gift certificates for all services, including abortion. (See IndyStar Gift certificate covering abortion stirs controversy ).

Yeah, yeah, I know 95% of what they do is unrelated to abortion. But for a large percentage of those for whom "Christmas" means more than Rudolf and candy canes, that other 5% is hardly compatible with the concept of a Christmas present. "Dan Gangler, communication director for the Indiana conference of the United Methodist Church, said he supports the certificates to help needs such as Glaspie's, but because they can be used for abortions, he called them "in poor taste."" Gee, ya think?

Others use stronger words. "The certificates' holiday launch suggests they're intended as an attack on those Christians who oppose abortion, (Right to Life of Indianapolis President Marc) Tuttle said.

"It's offensive that they would be highlighting Christmas to push their services," Tuttle said. "Christmas is a time when Christians are celebrating the birth of a savior to Mary, an unwed mother.""

Kate Shepherd, a Planned Parenthood of Indiana spokeswoman, disagrees. ""This program has nothing to do with abortion," Shepherd said of the gift certificates. "This is about basic reproductive health care."" I'm sure it is- even though they don't offer a certificate that doesn't include abortion. I don't believe the holiday launch of this program was intended as an attack on Christians... but I do think it was as clueless as the auto execs flying private jets to Washington for the bailout talks.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

If you're like me, you're probably sick of hearing about "The War On Christmas",

but you just might find this take on it interesting.

Some pilots fly by the seat of their pants...

...and some, by the soles of their feet. Watch 25 year old Jessica Cox, born without arms, fly solo to win her pilot's license.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Variations on a meme

Things I've done are in bold. Meme stolen from Earthbound Spirit and The Chaliceblog . First, Earthbound Spirit's list:
Started my own blog
Slept under the stars
Played in a band
Visited Hawaii
Watched a meteor shower
Given more than I can afford to charity
Been to Disneyland/world
Climbed a mountain
Held a praying mantis
Sung a solo
Bungee jumped (Never, and that's only half the story)
Visited Paris
Watched lightning at sea
Taught myself an art from scratch
Adopted a child
Had food poisoning
Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
Grown my own vegetables (half credit, as it wasn't vegetables)
Seen the Mona Lisa in France
Slept on an overnight train
Had a pillow fight
Taken a sick day when not ill
Built a snow fort
Held a lamb
Gone skinny dipping
Run a marathon
Ridden in a gondola in Venice (Had the opportunity, but Ye Gods, the cost!)
Seen a total eclipse
Watched a sunrise or sunset
Hit a home run
Been on a cruise
Seen Niagara Falls in person
Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
Seen an Amish community
Taught myself a new language
Had enough money to be truly satisfied (although it would be more accurate to say there were periods when money was meaningless)
Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
Gone rock climbing (not involving pitons and ropes, but steep enough to make my beloved blanche)
Seen Michelangelo's David
Sung karaoke
Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
Visited Africa
Walked on a beach by moonlight
Been transported in an ambulance
Had my portrait painted
Gone deep sea fishing
Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Half way up; reservations were needed for the rest of the way)
Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
Kissed in the rain
Played in the mud
Gone to a drive-in theater
Been in a movie
Visited the Great Wall of China
Started a business
Taken a martial arts class
Visited Russia
Served at a soup kitchen
Sold Girl Scout Cookies
Gone whale watching
Gotten flowers for no reason
Donated blood, platelets or plasma
Gone sky diving
Visited a Nazi concentration camp
Bounced a check
Flown in a helicopter
Saved a favorite childhood toy
Visited the Lincoln Memorial
Eaten caviar
Pieced a quilt
Stood in Times Square
Toured the Everglades
Been fired from a job
Seen the Changing of the Guard in London
Broken a bone
Been on a speeding motorcycle
Seen the Grand Canyon in person
Published a book (If magazines count)
Visited the Vatican (Been to Rome, but at Easter- couldn't face the Vatican crowds)Bought a brand new car
Walked in Jerusalem
Had my picture in the newspaper
Read the entire Bible
Visited the White House
Killed and prepared an animal for eating
Had chickenpox
Saved someone's life
Sat on a jury (as an alternate)
Met someone famous
Joined a book club
Lost a loved one
Had a baby (It was delicious) (Sorry- a little Pagan humor)
Seen the Alamo in person
Swam in the Great Salt Lake
Been involved in a law suit
Owned a cell phone
Been stung by a bee
Ridden an elephant (I agree with CC-I've had the chance many times, but have you ever seen an elephant ride where the elephant didn't look depressed and miserable?)

CC's additions:
Read all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings
Visited the Taj Mahal
Performed in a dance recita
lBeen on horseback while the horse jumped over something
Won an athletic competition (If you count rifle competition- it IS an Olympic sport)Gotten a straight-A report card
Prayed to Zeus (Do Hecate and Calliope count?)
Watched news coverage, rapt, to see what was going to happen
Gotten lost in a building more than 500 years old
Kissed somebody milliseconds before bells started to ring

My additions:
Made love in a moving vehicle
Created something you know you'll never better
Held a pet while they died
Walked the Promenade Des Anglaises in Nice

Patric Murfin's additions:
Graduated from college
Been in Prison
Written the Great American Novel (Hopefully in progress)
Ridden the rails
Seen that Alaska
Been booed and/or heckled
Been elected to public office (OK, it was only to Precinct Committeeman- but I got more votes than Ronald Reagan in my precinct!)

Another interesting phrase

A while back I wrote about an interesting phrase I found in a Dutch/English tourist phrase book . In an unrelated Google search, I ran across another interesting Dutch phrase: Mijn hovercraft zit vol palingen. According to the web site Omniglot, this means "My hovercraft is full of eels".

If this phrase rings a bell, you might also be interested in this site which does scholarly research on the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Day lesson learned

One way to avoid growing old, I was once told, is to keep learning. There is something to learn each day, in every experience, a little lesson to take with you forever.

Here is the lesson I learned today: a 14 lb. cat can empty an 8 oz. gravy boat in 3 minutes flat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Sufi Question

I know many UUs are fascinated by Sufi- Islamic mysticism- and my headline is the cover story of this month's Smithsonian Magazine . The teaser on the inside says, "Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy
The believers in Islamic mysticism embrace a personal approach to their faith and a different outlook on how to run their country’s government"
Definitely worth a read!

Wanting explicit sex education for kindergarteners

was the charge made against then-Senator Obama during the election. The charge was refuted... but it might have been better if it had been true. The British are about to do exactly that. Why? Because the Dutch have already tried it- and now have the lowest teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Europe. "Sex is everywhere in the Netherlands, yet the country has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in the West and the lowest rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. Now Britain, with almost the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe - five times higher than the Netherlands - wants to emulate its success. ... The Government has chosen the Dutch model rather than the Nordic way of tackling the subject of sex because the Netherlands, unlike Scandinavian nations, also manages to have one of the lowest abortion rates in Europe. In Britain, the number of abortions performed on under-16s rose by 10 per cent last year to 4,376." Read more in the TimesOnline .

I know I'm getting old,

but I'm used to some things never being said by an elected official anywhere in these United States. OK, I know many a politician has thought this sentiment privately, but no matter what the stand on what issue, there was a time when it would have been unthinkable to say this aloud about any proposed law: "Who really cares about it being unconstitutional?" said Councilwoman Tonya Payne, a supporter." Details here . I've got to give the anti gay marriage crowd this much- at least they're trying to operate within the system by legally amending the Constitution. It's better to have a legal enemy than an anarchist ally.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Watch the skies!

No, that's not a reference to camp scifi of the 50s- I'm serious. Starting tonight, a spectacular three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon begins, peaking on December 1st. According to Sky nightly , "At the end of the day, when the horizon is turning red and the zenith is cobalt-blue, step outside and look southwest. You'll see Venus and Jupiter beaming side-by-side through the twilight. Glittering Venus is absolutely brilliant and Jupiter is nearly as bright as Venus. ... Dec. 1st is the best night of all. The now-15% crescent Moon moves in closer to form an isosceles triangle with Venus and Jupiter as opposing vertices. The three brightest objects in the night sky will be gathered so tightly together, you can hide them all behind your thumb held at arm's length.
The celestial triangle will be visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops."

Is Capitalism inherently Pagan?

There is an interesting article in today's ViruteOnline, the Anglican website, Capitalism and Paganism--An Intimate Connection In it, Rev. Robert J. Sanders, a theologian and former Episcopal priest, argues that the underlying principles of Capitalism and Paganism are the same, and in many ways I tend to agree with him. (yeah, big surprise, as I'm both a Capitalist and a Pagan) Our disagreement lies in whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. He believes that the nature of Pagan assumptions leads to the excesses and sins of Capitalism; I believe the opposite.

He's correct in that most Pagan paths- be they the ancient ones, such as Native American faiths, Shinto, many other Aboriginal religions, or the modern NeoPagan ones- tend to focus on this world. Most focus on works, not beliefs, as the basis for our rewards in the afterlife (if any). Most have some concept of karma, whether they use that actual word or not. A plurality, if not a majority, believe in reincarnation. Most- both old and new- have a concept of the interconnectedness of all things.

To me, this makes Pagan paths a better business model, if one thinks deeply about one's faith, and tries to apply it in life. (And if you don't, does it matter which faith you're failing to follow properly?) It makes no sense to pollute the world if you're just going to be reincarnated right back into it! If you must pay for your sins whether you believe or not, aren't you less likely to commit them? If there are karmic consequences for your actions, (whether that's cosmic karma, or merely the certainty that the interconnectedness of all things means that every action has an equal and opposite reaction), aren't you more likely to carefully consider those actions?

Rev. Sanders speaks of this worldly orientation leading to war. But concentration on the next world- be it a future worldly paradise, or an afterlife paradise- is the hallmark of totalitarianism, the real cause of war. Democracies, being focused on this world, (Hey- I could be voted out of office!) don't go to war with each other. (And don't give me any Bush/Iraq stuff- I said with each other, and Iraq was not a democracy- had it been, neither gulf war would have occurred.)

Rev. Sanders begins his summation with "In the final analysis, these problems are spiritual." I agree- but not with a spirituality that demands one "...crucify the self that frees the heart from the ,wants instincts, desires, and passions that focus on this world rather than eternal life in Christ." How about a spirituality that recognizes and deals with the wants instincts, desires, and passions that are our birthright? How about a spirituality that believes the Divine is not petty, and that if we make ourselves truly worthy of this world, we need not fear the next, whatever it might be?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A book meme

Ms. Kitty at Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show has tagged me with a meme, seven random or weird book facts about myself. Hmmm...

1. I like happy endings. Or at least if not happy per se, having some redeeming feature to hold on to. I really detest the modern trend towards bleak, no hope, no good guy stories.

2. I don't believe there's been a two week span in my life since 1965 in which I haven't read at least one science fiction novel. Granted, sometimes it may have been re-reading an old favorite, but those times are balanced out by weeks in which I read three or more new ones.

3. My favorite "classic" authors are Kipling, Poe, Doyle, and Shakespeare.

4. It distresses me that I now need reading glasses. Was my mother right, when she found me draped upside down over the sofa with a book, to say, "Don't read like that, you'll ruin your eyes."?

5. Books taught me a lot about life. When I first started buying my own literature, comic books were 10 cents, and paperbacks were 50 cents. I remember well the traumas of first a price increase from 10 to 12 cents, then a sales tax being added to it... true outrages to a child on a fixed (allowance) income. I just bought a book that is actually four "graphic novels" (comic books) reprinted as a single set for $19.95. That's fifty times as much as I used to pay for four comic books. No wonder I became a conservative.

6. While still a teenager, I dated a girl who worked in a bookstore. She used to give me books for presents- books with the front cover torn off. I didn't know what that meant at the time. When I found out, I made a point of buying new copies of each of those books, even the ones I didn't like.

7. We have a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Will we be the last generation to own a printed encyclopedia?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Change gays can't count on

"President-elect Barack Obama will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military's decades-old ban on open homosexuals in the ranks, two people who have advised the Obama transition team on this issue say." says this article in the Washington Times. "Repealing the ban was an Obama campaign promise. However, Mr. Obama first wants to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus and then present legislation to Congress, the advisers said.

"I think 2009 is about foundation building and reaching consensus," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. ... "What's the reality for the new administration?" he said. "Financial crisis. Economic upheaval. Health care reform. Environmental challenges. Where does 'don't ask, don't tell' fall in all this? I would say it is not in the top five priorities of national issues.""

Will it happen in 2010? I doubt it. The reason? Prop 8. Even if it gets overturned in court, it still passed- which means that not even California is ready to vote for full rights for gays. President Obama is going to need every Congressional vote he can get for his other programs, and many of those Congressmen come from districts that are very conservative socially. Gay rights is a luxury Mr.Obama simply can't afford at this time; don't look for it before 2014, after the Congretional elections. If then.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's not just for picnics any more

"A cold slice of watermelon has long been a Fourth of July holiday staple. But according to recent studies, the juicy fruit may be better suited for Valentine’s Day. That’s because scientists say watermelon has ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body’s blood vessels and may even increase libido.", according to this article in Science Daily.

"Scientists know that when watermelon is consumed, citrulline is converted to arginine through certain enzymes. Arginine is an amino acid that works wonders on the heart and circulation system and maintains a good immune system, Patil said.
“The citrulline-arginine relationship helps heart health, the immune system and may prove to be very helpful for those who suffer from obesity and type 2 diabetes,” said Patil. “Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it.” ...
“Watermelon may not be as organ specific as Viagra,” Patil said, “but it’s a great way to relax blood vessels without any drug side-effects.”

But just adding a daily fruit salad to your diet may not do the trick- or at least not yet. "Citrulline, the precursor to arginine, is found in higher concentrations in the rind of watermelons than the flesh. As the rind is not commonly eaten, two of Patil’s fellow scientists, drs. Steve King and Hae Jeen Bang, are working to breed new varieties with higher concentrations in the flesh."

Changing the subject, I ran across an old relish recipe I'd like to share. It sounds bizarre, but I'm assured it's an old Southern delicacy: Pickled Watermelon Rind

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Christmas video

This is worth 2:39 of your time:

I wish we could have done this. But hey, we have gotten a lot of good faxes sent to Washington.

Conspiracy index

Do you believe the whole world is out to get you, but have trouble keeping the players straight? For your convenience, The Telegraph has provided this handy index to the top 30 conspiracies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More religious archeology in Turkey

"Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body... The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced “Zin-jeer-lee”), the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.

The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century B.C. At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.

The man featured on the stele was probably cremated, a practice that Jewish and other cultures shun because of a belief in the unity of body and soul. According to the inscription, the soul of the deceased resided in the stele." Read more at Newswise .

P.S.- This is my 400th post!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hiring illegal aliens

If I told you someone was knowingly hiring illegal aliens, and providing them with fake Social Security numbers to put them on the payroll, who would you think I was talking about? A chicken processing plant, a factory, a farm, a hotel chain hiring cleaning staff? How about the public school system?

"Years after being advised by a state agency to stop, the Dallas Independent School District continued to provide foreign citizens with fake Social Security numbers to get them on the payroll quickly.", says the Dalls Morning News . "The practice was described in an internal report issued in September by the district's investigative office, which looked into the matter after receiving a tip. The report said the Texas Education Agency learned of the fake numbers in 2004 and told DISD then that the practice "was illegal.""

I had always thought the schools should set an example for their students. Come to think of it, I guess, in a way, they did.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Inconvenient Blunder

From the Telegraph : "A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore's chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.

This was startling. Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand. China's official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its "worst snowstorm ever". In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.

So what explained the anomaly? GISS's computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal... The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all. Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running."

It actually gets worse from there- a riveting read.

By the way, yet another hurricane season has come and gone without living up to Gore's predictions as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where it all began

Important new archeological digs in the fertile crescent may have uncovered the origins of both organized religion and civilization itself. "It's more than twice as old as the Pyramids, or even the written word. When it was built, saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths still roamed, and the Ice Age had just ended.

The elaborate temple at Gobelki Tepe in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border, is staggeringly ancient: 11,500 years old, from a time just before humans learned to farm grains and domesticate animals. ... This is the first human-built holy place," Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute says in the November issue of Smithsonian magazine."

Here are stories from Fox News , and The Smithsonian .

Friday, November 14, 2008

Emotions still rising over Prop 8

Now there's a new blacklist . The sooner this goes to SCOTUS, the better.

A spiritual response to the economic crisis

While politicians debate bailouts, this pastor has advice to help the rest of us cope.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A curious incident on the stoop

This morning I opened the back door to get a breath of air, and to feel the temperature and sniff the air to check the likelihood of rain. (Yes, I have the weather gadget on my desktop, but it connects to the weather service and I don't trust meteorologists) I looked down and saw a robin standing there on the stoop not a foot in front of me, unmoving. I thought it must have died on its feet, but then I saw it blink- but it still didn't move, much less fly away.

Just then, our three younger cats rushed through my legs onto the stoop. I quickly said "Play nice!" (code language in our household to stop rumbles- they know the next step is the Dreaded Squirt Gun) They froze, in an interesting tableau- unmoving robin, seemingly oblivious to being surrounded by 40 lbs. of savage carnivores. I thought surely it must be paralyzed, but when Monica leaned in to sniff at it, it turned its head to face her. I quickly shooed the cats off the stoop, and the robin remained unmoved by my voice or their movements, like a feathered Bartleby who would prefer not to notice them.

"Great", I thought to myself with just a twinge of self pity, "It's dying on its feet, and I have to do something about it to prevent the kitties from playing badminton with it." I wrapped a plastic bag around my hand and bent over to pick it up- but when I touched it, it leaped through to railings and flew off, strong and fast, over the neighbor's house and out of sight.

Why didn't it move earlier, when it clearly was strong and coordinated enough to do so? Maybe it had no reason to fear me, but why didn't it show any fear of a clowder that had slaughtered so many of its peers? I don't know. Hell, I don't even know why my own species does the things it does.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A new kind of outsourcing

Indianapolis' own Wellpoint health insurance company has approved a new program to save money and provide better care for its patients through outsourcing to India. No, they're not outsourcing the forms processing or telephone centers... they're outsourcing the actual medical care itself! From the Indianapolis Star : "Are you in need of a new knee?
WellPoint is testing the concept of arranging and paying for you and a companion to travel to India for a joint-replacement procedure that could cost a fraction of what it would at your local hospital. Think of it as a form of medical outsourcing. Indianapolis-based health insurance giant WellPoint is jumping into the emerging world of "medical tourism" -- the practice in which U.S. patients cross international borders in search of cheaper medical care."

There's no catches or hidden costs to the patient- "Under the pilot program, a patient heading to India for surgery would pay no out-of-pocket expenses, including the cost of travel for the patient and a companion." A local TV story, with an interview with one of the first patients, confirmed this- the whole things was completely covered. And we're not talking about some fly-by-night clinic, either: "WellPoint said the hospitals it is working with in India are accredited by the Joint Commission International. The company said its test program also complies with the American Medical Association's guidelines for medical tourism." The benefits for Wellpoint are clear: "Hashmi said a knee replacement in the U.S. could have a price tag of $60,000 to $70,000 for the procedure, initial rehabilitation and other costs. In India, total medical costs might run $8,000 to $10,000 for a 15-day stay."

Medical tourism itself is not new- "An estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2007, according to a report on medical tourism by consulting and advising company Deloitte. The report noted that care in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore can cost as little as 10 percent of comparable care in the U.S." What is new is an insurance company the size of Wellpoint paying for it.
Contrary to the natural assumption, a doctor interviewed on the TV news story said that the difference is not in doctors and nurses' salaries, but in legal and administrative costs. It will be interesting to see the fallout from this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Clues to how Obama will govern

can be found in todays' Telegraph story, Barack Obama: The 50 facts you might not know .

Things that give me hope:
1. He collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics.
2. He has read every Harry Potter book.
3. His favourite films are Casablanca and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
4. His speciality as a cook is chilli.
5. He hates the youth trend for trousers which sag beneath the backside.

(These things prove his good taste, and give good insight into his character. I'll take Peter Parker and Rick Blaine over any professional philosopher or moralist I know. And I've always held that orange grease is one of the basic food groups.)
6. While on the campaign trail he refused to watch CNN and had sports channels on instead. (This shows his common sense. Friends don't let friends watch CNN.)
7. As a teenager he took drugs including marijuana and cocaine. (If he can outgrow these, perhaps he can also get over the last of the debilitating crutches that distort the thought processes- liberalism.)

Things that give me pause:
1. He can bench press an impressive 200lbs. (Does this mean he indulges in exercise for its own sake? I don't trust people who do exercises that aren't also fun, like sports. What other masochistic habits do they have?)
2. He doesn't drink coffee and rarely drinks alcohol. (How can anyone get their act together before noon without coffee? Is he only going to work half days? And how could anyone listen to Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid without getting half-sloshed first?)
3. He uses an Apple Mac laptop. (This isn't a fault, exactly, but there is something weird about Applemaniacs.)
4. His late father was a senior economist for the Kenyan government. (How could anyone who has an economist in their family make fun of Nancy Reagan's astrology?)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Why Barack matters to the rest of the world

When we read how important so much of the world found our Presidentail election, when we see foreign eyes crying with joy over President Elect Obama's victory, I'm sure most of us believed it was because of American foreign policy the last eight years. Well, there was a lot more to it than that.

A great many religious liberals seem to think that racial problems are a uniquely American phenomenon; I can't count how many times I've heard or read in blogs the phrases "America's original sin" and "the most racist nation on Earth". This is, of course, nonsense; it is a human problem, and the world is full of people. Every nation on Earth has to deal with institutional racism- and for all those nations in which the institution is white, Obama's victory is a shock and a thrill. From the essay, "Black and middle class: now there’s a threat" in The TimesOnline : "Being black and middle class is part of the reason white people voted for him: his skin may be brown but he is a recognisable quantity, with his suits and his Harvard degree and the fact (probably) that his children eat pesto. The black middle class is sizeable in America; that isn’t yet true of Britain, where it seems invisible. ... For some of the 47% of people who didn’t vote Democrat, I would guess his middle-classness stuck in the craw even more than the colour of his skin. Nevertheless: the brown middle class has a visible champion at last and he is the leader of the free world."

Nuclear power to the people

"Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.", according to this article from The Guardian. "The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion , a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. 'Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,' said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. 'They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.'"

Hyperion is not the only company producing min-power plants. Toshiba has a 200KW reactor that is only 20' x 6' in size, is self sustaining, and can produce electricity at 5 cents/ KW for 40 years.

Neither system contains weapons grade material. With no internal moving parts, both are sealed in concrete for their entire service life, making them highly resistant to disaster, natural or man made. (Not that it will make any difference to the ecofreaks, of course)

Just as only Nixon could go to China, only a Democrat dare defy the environmental lobby... I hope the new President will dare do so, on behalf of this and many other technologies that can assist both Global Warming and the energy situation.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Many of you who know me were probably surprised by my lack of posts during this historic election. The reason is that I was away from home. The Friday before the election we packed up, voted early, then headed off to what was, for decades, the Eighth Wonder of the World- the hotel at West Baden Springs, Indiana.

The story of this attraction stinks- literally. Back in the 1800's they discovered mineral springs there that produce something they call "Pluto Water"- meaning it smells like what Satan would pass after a three day bender. This stuff is so awful that I saw somebody spill some, and several flies leapt from a pile of doggy-doody, shouting, "Hey- we're trying to eat here!" Naturally, it was immediately touted as a cure-all. A hotel/spa was built, a railroad track laid, and celebrities flocked from around the world to be purged. This hotel burned to the ground in 1901, and what rose from those ashes a year later was like nothing ever seen before.

Approaching the front door...

The lobby at the check-in desk...

The view from check-in to the interior atrium lobby

Entering the atrium... you can just see a huge fireplace where 14-ft logs are burned in the winter on the other side- more than 200 feet away!

The atrium skylight- the largest freespan dome on Earth until 1913, and still the largest that is not a sports arena...

It did my soul a world of good to spend several days before and after the election reminding myself the world is full of beautiful things.
There is more information about West Baden here

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

11:04 PM, Election night...

All polls closed, ethical to call the election now- Obama. By a landslide. He may well pass Eisenhower to have the largest popular vote total of any non-incumbent in American history.

I'm proud of my country, but not surprised. To my misanthropic colleagues, those UU bloggers who keep saying race is *THE* issue "coloring" everything, I give a Nelson Muntz "Ha-ha, told you so". And yes, I know their response- "He would have had 97.78% of the vote if he'd been white!" Well, ppbbbbbbt! I'm near tears.

I'll also confess to fear for my country. Will the President elect have the power- or desire- to rein in Reid and Pelosi? Will we become another European-style democratic-socialist state, with institutional double-digit unemployment, a fractional growth rate, passing the torch of world leadership to China or some other up-and-comer? I don't know.

As I was typing this, Senator McCain gave his concession speech. Another proud moment.

It was for nights like this that God gave us alcohol.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interesting election coverage from across the pond

I've mentioned before my fondness for foreign newspapers- here are a few stories that illustrate why.

Everybody loves lists. The Times has a list ranking US Presidents from worst to best (No, Bush isn't the worst). The comments are interesting, too- one commenter wanted Reagan listed as worst, and a good many held out for Carter. The Telegraph has a list of the top turning points in the campaign, while BBC has a list of the top YouTube campaign videos. (I still love John Edwards in "I feel pretty")

Leaving lists aside, The Times has a story on my own Indiana . The Telegraph has an interesting bit , "John McCain admits tensions with running mate Sarah Palin", and BBC has a video , "Peru's shamans send US election vibes"

Friday, October 24, 2008

It was doctors orders, really...

Researchers have discovered that The Stink in Farts Controls Blood Pressure "The unpleasant aroma of the gas, called hydrogen sulfide (H2S), can be a little too familiar, as it is expelled by bacteria living in the human colon and eventually makes its way, well, out. The new research found that cells lining mice’s blood vessels naturally make the gas and this action can help keep the rodents’ blood pressure low by relaxing the blood vessels to prevent hypertension (high blood pressure). This gas is “no doubt” produced in cells lining human blood vessels too, the researchers said.
“Now that we know hydrogen sulfide’s role in regulating blood pressure, it may be possible to design drug therapies that enhance its formation as an alternative to the current methods of treatment for hypertension,” said Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., a co-author of the study detailed in the Oct. 24th issue of the journal Science."

One can't help but wonder if the treatment regimen will include both drugs, and a device to pull your finger.

Bush tax cuts for the rich

have been transferring the tax burden from the rich to the poor, allowing the fat cats to get away without paying their fair share while hurting the poor and middle class. Right?


Here are the actual percentages of the total federal income taxes paid (last year figures are available for is 2006):

The top 1 % of wage earners
2000 37.42%
2006 39.89%

The top 5 % of wage earners
2000 56.47%
2006 60.14%

The top 10 % of wage earners
2000 67.33%
2006 70.79%

The top 25 % of wage earners
2000 84.01%
2006 86.27%

The top 50 % of wage earners
2000 96.09%
2006 97.01%

The bottom 50 % of wage earners
2000 3.91%
2006 2.99%

(figures from the The Tax Foundation They also have links to the raw data from the Internal Revenue Service)

Under the Bush tax cuts, the bottom 50% have seen their share of taxes paid cut by 25.5%, while every taxpayer in the upper 50% have seen their share increase. Not that it matters, of course- the real issues in this race are Palin's wardrobe and Biden's Botox injections.

As if cats weren't spooky already...

Now they can make them glow in the dark

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CNN anchor comes to Palin's defense over wardrobe

A sticky situation that might improve Third-World medical care

Peeling Scotch Tape Emits X-Rays, Startling Study Finds : "NEW YORK — Just two weeks after a Nobel Prize highlighted theoretical work on subatomic particles, physicists are announcing a startling discovery about a much more familiar form of matter: Scotch tape.

It turns out that if you peel the popular adhesive tape off its roll in a vacuum chamber, it emits X-rays. The researchers even made an X-ray image of one of their fingers. ...
"We were very surprised," said Juan Escobar. "The power you could get from just peeling tape was enormous." ...

He suggests that with some refinements, the process might be harnessed for making inexpensive X-ray machines for paramedics or for places where electricity is expensive or hard to get.

After all, you could peel tape or do something similar in such machines with just human power, such as cranking.

The researchers and UCLA have applied for a patent covering such devices."

But does this mean you need to be afraid of the tape dispenser on your desk? No. "Escobar noted that no X-rays are produced in the presence of air. You need to work in a vacuum — not exactly an everyday situation."

Tape... vacuum... that brings to mind Apollo 13, which was repaired with duct tape after being crippled by an oxygen tank explosion, and made it back home safely. Now we find Scotch Tape is useful in a vacuum, too... how long will it be before the toolkit on the International Space Station is replaced by a 3-M sampler pack?

Montana Senate candidate sends campaign jobs overseas

From BillingsGazette : "Republicans, furious about negative campaign phone calls made by Democrats last week in Billings, did everything but label the tactic un-American.

Turns out, they could have.

The calls were made from Romania, according to phone records submitted this week to the state commissioner of political practices."

I wonder how he'd vote on the issues of tax breaks for companies who send jobs overseas.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fair and balanced election coverage

No, I don't mean Fox. Nor ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, or MSNBC. If you want to read about issues, you have to go to the internet- and I don't mean Drudge or Huffington, either. The only source for real election news is foreign newspapers.

The BBC 's election coverage includes an issues guide, a finance tracker, an election glossary, a region-by-region breakdown of foreign policy (something I haven't seen in any American media), a Q&A on campaign finance rules-and all the headlines.

Another British paper, The Telegraph , has fewer resources but more headline stories.

France 24 is also lighter on resources, but better on human interest aspects.

Even Al Jazeera has been doing a better, more balanced job than many US media. They have a good explanation of our electoral system, fair bios of the candidates (although, understandably, they pay more attention to how it impacts Arabs than other papers), and even an in-depth (more than seven minutes) interview with the Green Party candidate, Cynthia McKinney. (try and find that on our networks)

If you like your election coverage in a reality-TV show format, by all means watch TV news... but if you want issues and analysis, read world newspapers- those listed above, and as many others as you can.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Art, science, and mythology meet

I've always been entranced by mythology. One of the first heavy books I tackled as a child was Bullfinch's- though I found it so dry I quickly turned to more sensationalist tellings. (which were, in many ways, truer to the spirit of the original, but that's another story) When I got access to the adult section of the local library, I discovered that other cultures than the Greeks and Romans had mythologies, too, and devoured them.

I don't remember whose books introduced me to Baba Yaga , but either the writing or just my own young imagination was good enough to evoke vivid visuals, especially of the old witch's home- an enchanted hut that could get up on chicken legs and walk away. So you can imagine what I felt when I saw this ...

No matter who wins this election,

There are two sure losers. The first is public funding of elections. both McCain and Obama promised to limit themselves to public financing. Senator Obama broke his promise, and proved in the process that there are no consequences for doing so- no one outside Senator McCain's immediate family is raising the issue or cares about it. But if there are no consequences, there certainly are benefits- Senator Obama raised more than $150 million in September alone- nearly double the $84 million McCain gets for September and October combined. This pushes Senator Obama's total fundraising to over $605 million- many pundits are predicting the 2012 elections will see candidates raising over $1 billion each.

The other sure loser is third parties. Many have said that the primary intent of campaign reform is to freeze out third parties... whether that was the intent or not, it most certainly been the effect. All third parties are caught in a political Catch 22: the only way to raise money in large numbers of small contributions is to have a nationwide political machine in place, and the only way to build such a machine is with large contributions. This produces a second Catch 22: the major party candidates get free ink as simple news coverage, but the "unimportant" candidates do not- and, of course, with neither money nor free ink they will always be "unimportant". Notice that neither the Greens nor the Libertarians were invited to the debates.

Notice also that this stifling of third parties has been the only effect of campaign finance reform. Money is more important than ever, and the tone of campaigns haven't improved, either- campaign reform has been, overall, a bigger failure than the war on drugs. I propose that all such laws be scrapped in favor of a simpler system: let the parties and the candidates accept whatever they can get from whoever will give it- but with full and prior disclosure. Make the parties list every contributor on their websites, before the checks are cashed. You know, kind of like the system in place when the nation and the major parties were founded.

Or we could just continue to let the heads of the DNC and RNC decide between themselves who we are allowed to see in a debate and have on our ballots... and somehow expect real change to come about anyway.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I wonder what he meant by that?

"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy." "I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right." ... "There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go, 'Whoa, wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don't know about that decision'," Biden continued. "Because if you think the decision is sound when they're made, which I believe you will when they're made, they're not likely to be as popular as they are sound. Because if they're popular, they're probably not sound."
Biden emphasized that the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border is of particular concern, with Osama bin Laden "alive and well" and Pakistan "bristling with nuclear weapons."

What is he alluding to? An atomic attack? A new war front? Or the opposite- is he hinting that the reason the decision may be unpopular is that we won't react militarily, that we might cut a deal instead? He does say, "We do not have the military capacity, nor have we ever, quite frankly, in the last 20 years, to dictate outcomes," he cautioned. "It's so much more important than that. It's so much more complicated than that. And Barack gets it."

Ominous as that warning about military action may sound, his economic comments are if anything, scarier. "Gird your loins," Biden told the crowd. "We're gonna win with your help, God willing, we're gonna win, but this is not gonna be an easy ride. This president, the next president, is gonna be left with the most significant task. It's like cleaning the Augean stables, man. This is more than just, this is more than – think about it, literally, think about it – this is more than just a capital crisis, this is more than just markets. This is a systemic problem we have with this economy."

Does this mean they plan to change our entire economic system? Does he want to change the market system? Lest you think I'm taking him out of context, here's the ABC News coverage. Portions are also available on YouTube.

Is he trying to prepare us for a long series of actions his supporters aren't expecting or wanting? Is it a warning that with one-party control of the country, they're going to remake the nation in the two years before the next election?

Or, given his history of strange, babbling speeches, does even HE know what he's talking about?

Call + Response

Is the name of an important documentary openiong soon about the modern slave trade. Not a studio product, this film was put together by musicians, led by Justin Dillon, and funded completely by donations and their own credit cards after seeing with their own eyes what was going on around the world.

"It was Justin Dillon’s passion and profession that unexpectedly exposed him to the dark underworld of the international slave trade. He’s a musician, and his band was touring through backwater cities in Russia when a young female translator began talking about an upcoming extraordinary opportunity she had to come to the United States. When he asked for more details, he discovered that what she thought was a great opportunity was instead an elaborate and nefarious seduction — the kind of effective ruse targeting vulnerable young women around the globe.
The musical documentary Call + Response is Dillon’s ambitious and masterful artistic counterattack to an all-too-easy-to-overlook enemy who still sells men, women, and children like commodities to the highest bidders. The grainy, undercover film footage taken in Asian brothels is interspersed with the testimony of eloquent activists such as Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and actress Ashley Judd, as well as performances by the Cold War Kids and Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish reggae artist."

Watch the trailer . Read the review . Please.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This might get some action

It's only human nature that we often don't take problems seriously until they hit close to home. Crime is not the biggest issue in this election, for example- unless you've been mugged.

The same is true for health issues. Most people tend to think that if you eat right and don't smoke, you don't have all that much to worry about with cancer. Oh, there's enough random occurrences to keep people just sufficiently aware to drop some spare change at a booth at a fair, or buy a pink ribbon, but by and large we spend more on video games than cancer research.

But a new study may heighten the awareness, because it hits a whole lot closer to home for a whole lot of people: Doctors Say There Is a Link Between Oral Sex and Throat Cancer The link, as one might expect, is the HPV virus. "These are patients that are young. They are in their 30s and 40s. They are nonsmokers, and they don't drink alcohol excessively. And every time we look we are able to find HPV-16 in their tissue, in the biopsy specimen," said Dr. Robert Haddad, a Dana Farber Cancer Institute head and neck surgeon. ...The virus is transmitted by direct contact. You only get HPV in the location it attaches to, so it never travels through the bloodstream. So just exactly how it gets in the mouth may stun you.
"There is absolutely a link between oral sex and oral cancer," said Dr. Ellen Rome, of the Cleveland Clinic."

I've written about HPV before , in the context of providing HPV vaccines for girls sixth grade and up. But this time, it's not just women being affected. "Men are 35 percent more likely than women to develop HPV-related oral cancer, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. But both men and women are susceptible." There was some opposition to the vaccine then, because parents didn't want to think about their kids having sex- but this time it may not be sex alone that can spread it. "Although no proof exists yet, there is a chance that HPV can be transmitted mouth to mouth. "We can't rule out the virus could be transmitted in saliva by other types of contact — like for instance sharing a drink or sharing a spoon," said Dr. Maura Gillison, of Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center." If that proves true, it's a scary thought. How do you like the idea of using a dental dam for a simple kiss?

Tax dollars are in short supply right now, but this is something I'd be willing to pay a little extra to combat.

One more point about "Springerfication"

I took off on Rev. Wikstrom's post because of his admittedly nifty term, "Springerfication"; but a lot of pundits and bloggers have written much the same thing. Orcinus , in his post "The hate also rises" quotes ""Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.", and Reverend Gary Kowalski says, "With extremist rhetoric like that directed at the Senator, is it any wonder that the crowds at Republic rallies have recently been yelling “Kill him” and “Off with his head?”". I can understand why they were moved to write what they did- that's pretty horrific.

Except, according to the Secret Service , it never happened.

"Agent Bill Slavoski said he was in the audience, along with an undisclosed number of additional secret service agents and other law enforcement officers and not one heard the comment.
“I was baffled,” he said after reading the report in Wednesday’s Times-Tribune.
He said the agency conducted an investigation Wednesday, after seeing the story, and could not find one person to corroborate the allegation other than Singleton.
Slavoski said more than 20 non-security agents were interviewed Wednesday, from news media to ordinary citizens in attendance at the rally for the Republican vice presidential candidate held at the Riverfront Sports Complex. He said Singleton was the only one to say he heard someone yell “kill him.”"

Of course, the complete lack of corroboration didn't stop the Scranton Times-Tribune from running the story, or ABC, The Associated Press, The Washington Monthly and MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann from repeating it. They didn't need corroboration; it fit completely with their mental image of what kind of people Republicans are.

That is why I've been writing against the demonization of your opposition. The ready acceptance of the worst in your opponents leads to the kind of cynicism that causes people to believe all is lost and withdraw from the system. It leads to dark thoughts, despair, and depression. I have come over the years to believe that cynicism is humankind's greatest enemy.