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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Springer-fication of the Electorate?

That is the title (without the question mark) of the latest blog entry by The Reverend Erik Walker Wikstrom . In it he reprints a letter to the editor he sent to local and national papers, worried about the tone of the Republican campaign.
"I am frightened for my country.
..And culturally, here at home, we're seeing what I've come to think of the "Springerfication" of the electorate.
Think back to the Democratic National Convention--throughout you saw people looking up at the dais through glistening eyes which revealed a spirit of hope and inspiration that permeated the convention hall.
Think of the Republican National Convention--all loud booing and derisive laughter that conveyed a mean spirit, an angry spirit...."

Reverend, please. Yes, Republican bashing is our eighth principle, and yes, we all like to believe that we're the GOOD GUYS, so naturally there must something wrong with the other side. But rationally you must realize that Democrats have no corner on glistening eyes, and Republicans have no corner on mean spiritedness. Do you think eyes were glistening while protesting a Palin speech wearing obscene tee shirts ? (the linked story doesn't say what's on the shirts- photos are here and here ) Or perhaps they were glistening when they vandalized Republican HQ's in Muncie, IN , or Tacoma, Wa , or Rock Hill, SC , or Tampa Bay ? Or were they glistening when they fire-bombed a McCain sign?

Of course Senator Obama is not responsible for these things. In fact, it's not even a question of political parties- here is a story about a pro gay marriage supporter beating an anti gay marriage proposition supporter and destroying his campaign signs. The issue is human frailty, human passions, and the danger of believing your opposition is evil. No one party, and no one candidate is responsible for it, nor can they cure it single-handedly. The only way to stop the "Springer-fication" of politics is to stop believing that your friends are glistening eyed idealists, and their friends are mean spirited villains. Your friends, no matter who you are, are human beings. And so are theirs.

And anyway, Jerry Springer was a Democrat.

UPDATE: Whoopi Goldberg says it better.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"We Lied"

Bill Maher admits tricking people into interviews for ‘Religulous’

He actually seems proud of lying and cheating to create the effect he wanted. Has he considered running for office?

Bush III?

Senator McCain deeply resents being called "Bush III". How justified is that title? Let's take a look...

Religion. Bush is famous for his religious devotion; it comes up in every speech. Bush III? "I am a proud Christian who believes deeply in Jesus Christ." That faith is the basis for Bush's decisions and programs, as witness his "Faith based initiatives". Bush III? He would expand the Faith based initiatives; he gave a speech about it on Father's Day. And they have the same opinion of gay marriage- in 2004, Bush III said, "Gays ... should not marry." And in a 2007 Senate debate, he said: "I agree with most Americans, with Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Cheney, with over 2,000 religious leaders ... Personally, I do believe that marriage is between a man and a woman." Abstinence education? Bush III's on board.

Economics. Bush III voted for Bush's budgets, which included 19 spending bills. Bush III told reporters that he agreed with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Bush's bailout package, then voted for the $700 billion plan. Although he initially opposed Bush's tax cuts, Bush III now has his own tax cut plans, and his stump speeches sound a whole lot like these 2001 quotes from President Bush: "Tax relief is an achievement for families struggling to enter the middle class. For hard-working lower-income families, we have cut the bottom rate of federal income tax from 15 percent to 10 percent. We doubled the per-child tax credit to $1,000, and made it refundable. ... Tax relief is an achievement for middle-class families squeezed by high energy prices and credit card debt."

Civil Liberties. Of the Senate bill passage that rewrote intelligence laws to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration's wiretapping program, Bush said: "This vital intelligence bill will allow our national security professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the plans of terrorists outside the United States, while respecting the liberties of the American people." Bush III? "Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people." Like Bush, Bush III supports capital punishment, saying in 2006, "I believe there are some crimes -- mass murder, the rape and murder of a child -- so heinous that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment." And Bush III voted yes on preauthorizing the Patriot Act, sought by the Bush administration.

Race. Bush III's campaign literature states that he will call for a ban on racial profiling, even though Bush issued a directive that banned racial profiling in 2001. Bush III adopted the Congressional principles "to increase minority homeownership" as it is "one of the best wealth-creation vehicles for minority families." These principles were developed as part of Bush's vision to expand minority homeownership to 5.5 million new homeowners by 2010. "Across our nation, every citizen, regardless of race, creed, color or place of birth, should have the opportunity to become a homeowner," Bush said. Similar comparisons can be drawn for their positions on small businesses and on businesses owned by women and minorities. President Bush says that Affirmative Action is "fundamentally flawed"- because it depended solely on race. Bush has said other factors, such as socioeconomic status, should be considered, which would include poor white students. Bush III agrees, wanting to "...change the focus of affirmative action policies in higher education -- away from race to economic class."

Energy. In signing the $12.3 billion Energy Policy Act of 2005, Bush said it "promotes dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound production and distribution of energy for America's future." Bush III voted for the energy plan and called it a "first step toward decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil." Bush has consistently pushed for drilling offshore; Bush III agrees: "We're going to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling."

Social issues. Bush III boasted this summer that he "passed a law to move people from welfare to work" and "slashed the rolls by 80 percent" (though all states had to as a result of the Clinton administration's mandate). Despite his past endorsements of some gun control measures, Bush III's reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutional right of individuals to own handguns mirrors the administration's. Bush and Bush III agree that the problem with health care is "about affordability" and there is a need to address minority health concerns with more coverage and targeting. That is why Bush expanded community health care centers, covering the uninsured and targeting urban areas, to the tune of $1.5 billion for 1,200 centers "coast to coast." And Bush III has given Bush kudos for his efforts to combat global AIDS and the record amount of funding ($15 billion over 5 years) the president has earmarked for the fight. "I think President Bush -- and many of you here today -- have shown real leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS."

The second most remarkable thing about Bush III is how closely he mirror's President Bush, in all these areas and many more there isn't really time and space for. But the MOST remarkable thing is that every one of the quotes and positions cited above for "Bush III" are Senator Obama's! See Commentary: Obama and Bush are not so far apart (I chose a CNN Commentary because I knew that many of you would neither read nor believe a Fox or National Review story)

Both parties talk about change. McCain's change would be re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Obama's change would be much more extensive- more like completely redecorating the Grand Ballroom on the Titanic. There will never be substantive change as long as our discussions begin as this paragraph did- "both". The Indiana ballot does not have "both" parties on it; it has five parties on it, not that you'd ever know that from listening to the mainstream media. How about looking at some of them, instead of letting the Big Party Matadors dazzle you with their "race" and "sex" and "charismatic" and "experienced" capes?

Yeah, yeah, I know, this year is too important to waste by voting for a fringe candidate. Yeah, so was last election. And the one before that. And the one before that, ad infinitum. And as long as you keep buying that, you'll keep getting status quo, no matter how bad the need for improvement. Indeed, the Big Parties would be fools to offer change as long as you keep voting for them as is; ask any behaviorist- change occurs only when it becomes painful not to. And after all, it's not like the UUs aren't used to supporting or being the fringe...

Monday, October 13, 2008

More on race in the Presidential race

There has been much speculation in the blogosphere about how many points in the polls racism is costing Senator Obama. Some try to sugarcoat it, saying that white people sometimes have no idea how racist they really are, that it's an unconscious thing... but nobody talks about the reverse. I've seen no discussion save for some of CC's comments as to any offsetting advantages the color of his skin confers.

I've also heard many young people (white), and people of all ages at church say how exciting it is to be a part of history in the making by voting for Senator Obama. Of course, that's merely anecdotal evidence.(always remember that YOUR examples are data, while the other guy's examples are merely anecdotes) But in this case, GALLUP agrees- they find that race is either a non-issue, or possibly even a net plus for Senator Obama.
"More specifically, to review perhaps the most important finding in these data, 7% of white voters say Obama's race makes them less likely to vote for him. But 6% of white voters say Obama's race makes them more likely to vote for him. And among nonwhite voters, Obama's race is a significant net plus."

Personal note. There is one aspect of race that does affect me personally in all this. You may not have noticed, but I make a point of calling the Democratic nominee Senator Obama. I'm old enough to remember when honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Officer, etc.) were not used when referring to people of color. It was in my lifetime that many magazines and newspaper first used honorifics for African Americans (negroes back then), and it caused many letters to the editor, and cancellations of subscriptions. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go rent In the Heat of the Night. I know that in today's world, it's considered an honor to be recognized by a single name, like Madonna, but to my ancient ears it sounds disrespectful to do it too often.

Another reason to get a CPAP machine

I wrote here about how much my life has improved since getting tested for apnea and getting a CPAP machine. Now it suddenly occurs to me that there may be a secondary reason I've been sleeping better since then- the CPAP machine hisses like Darth Vader in use. Why would objectionable noises make me sleep better? Watch:

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It takes cojones to fight Parkinson's, diabetes

Study : Testicle Stem Cells Appear as Versatile as Embryonic Stem Cells

"WASHINGTON — Cells taken from men's testicles seem as versatile as the stem cells derived from embryos, researchers reported Wednesday in what may be yet another new approach in a burgeoning scientific field.

The new type of stem cells could be useful for growing personalized replacement tissues, according to a study in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. But because of their source, their highest promise would apply to only half the world's population: men...

The testicular cells avoid the ethical dilemma of embryonic stem cells, which are harvested in a process that destroys the embryos. For that reason, some people, including President Bush, oppose their use for ethical or religious reasons.

"The advantage these cells have in comparison to embryonic stem cells is that there is no ethical problem with these cells and that they are natural," said study lead author Thomas Skutella, a professor at the Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine in Tuebingen, Germany."

This will not replace embryonic cells- no such analog has been found for women yet, for example- but it will reduce demand on the supply of embryonic cells available, which could speed research. If you want to read the actual paper, it's here , but it costs $32.00 to read it.

I'm a fairly adventurous eater.

I've tried strange things from salads made from flower arrangements to snails. I don't go to our local Middle Eastern Festival for the music, and I don't go to the Greek Festival for lessons in orthodox Christianity; I go for kabobs and that desert that sounds like "galactic burrito", I go to Renaissance Festivals for the Scotch Eggs and turkey legs, I go to Irish Festivals for the stew and the beer ... but you won't find me at THIS festival.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rancid ACORNs in Indiana

Coming on the heels of yesterday's Voter Fraud Taskforce raid on Nevada's ACORN headquarters for voter fraud, I've just heard that investigations are occurring in my own state, Indiana , and seven other states as well. Over half of the thousands of voter registrations turned in by ACORN here in Indiana are fraudulent. It isn't even subtle fraud; in Las Vegas, they registered the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys . You were supposed to be registering disenfranchised minorities, ACORN- Tony Romo isn't a disenfranchised minority. And no, this isn't "alleged" fraud; some of those arrested previously have already pled guilty.

Damn ACORN! How dare they! It doesn't matter how big Obama's landslide is if the results can't be certified. With Ohio's idiotic register-and-vote-on-the-spot-with-no-background-check rules, there's no possibility they'll sort it out by election day- the lawsuit preventing certification pending investigation is a certainty. Here in Indiana, where we cut off registration a month before the election, we have a bare chance of a clean election. but there'll probably still be enough doubts for a lawsuit. As to the other battleground states where ACORN HQ's are being raided or investigated even as I write, I don't know, but it's becoming more likely every day that the election will be carried out in the Supreme Court, or even the House of Representatives. Damn it, it was embarrassing enough to have UN observers for the elections four years ago; it's utterly humiliating to realize we might actually need them this time.

My only consolation is that Governor Palin is proved wrong once again- it seems some community organizers will be legally responsible after all.

UPDATE: Even as I was writing, I received an interesting email. Yesterday's Indianapolis Star reported that Marion County (Indianapolis) had 677, 401 registered voters. STATS Indiana reports that we have 644,197 residents in Marion County over the age of 18. My, we Hoosiers are civic minded... we've registered 105% of our population! Best total in the country! ...I hope.

A great resource for political junkies has an electoral map, updated daily, showing the state-by-state action. It also has Senate maps and races, downloadable polling data, and more. Check it out

In ancient Greece, soil was sacred,

says this article from Discovery News.
"Oct. 7, 2008 -- Greek temples honored specific gods and goddesses, and now new research suggests that even the dirt under such buildings held spiritual significance.
The discovery could help explain why writers like Homer and Plato wrote of "divine soil" and soil that can affect a person's soul. It may also explain how the ancients selected locations for their sacred buildings.

"Temple sites were chosen to honor the personality and aspirations of gods and goddesses, which, in turn, were shaped by the economic basis for their cults," author Gregory Retallack told Discovery News."

This analysis is based on extensive sampling of the soil beneath ancient temples, revealing geological links to the myths and attributes of the Gods the particular temples were dedicated to.

This story got me to wondering... I know a good number of UUs in the blogosphere have been involved in the building of new churches; what criteria did you use in site selection? Just whatever you could get cheap, or was it a special place meaningful to the community? How did you decide where on the plot to place the building? Was the building designed for theological symbolism, or aesthetics, or just good acoustics? I have seen so many different designs, and only rarely ever been able to talk to anyone involved in them.

And what about landscaping, memorial gardens and such? I know that traditionally, western graveyards are generally arranged so the graves face the east. Usually, Christians will tell you that's so they will see the rising sun on resurrection day, but I know the tradition is older than that. From "The Answerbag": "There are more graves that "face" East than any other specific direction, possibly more than face other directions combined. The definition of "face" is open to interpretation, as kanjalid mentions it could depend on which end the head is on. But in many 'stone age' and especially Neanderthal graves the body is laid on its left side, sometimes in a near foetal position, with the head to the north so it is facing east. Bodies have been found from later periods laid on the back, head to the north, with the head turned left or east. A very few have been found with the head south and turned right to the east. It is unknown if this reversal of head direction is significant, but there is little doubt that the face was deliberately turned to the east. ( Talk about the way we have always done it, that is a looong always,)" Was this a consideration in your design?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Joe Biden a hypocrite?

This is the claim being made on many blogs because of this headline: Palin gives more to charity than Biden Joe Biden, the champion of the poor, the man who illustrates every point with an anecdote about a conversation with his poor friends, gives less to charity than Governor Palin- who makes half as much money. "In 2006, the Palins paid $11,944 in taxes on $127,869 in income. In 2007, they paid $24,738 on $166,080.But in 2006, they donated $4,880 to charity, and in 2007, they donated $3,325. By contrast, Biden (D-Del.), Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's running mate, has donated a total of $3,690 since 1998 despite his higher Senate salary, according to an analysis posted by National Review."

This is a common phenomenon, written about many times- the supposedly hard-hearted Republicans giving more than the compassionate Democrats. From The Chronicle Of Philanthropy, Republicans give a bigger share of their incomes to charity, says a prominent economist ; from ABC News, Who Gives and Who Doesn't? ; a state-by-state list from the Catalogue for Philanthropy . Does this indicate Liberal hypocrisy? Many are cynical enough to think so- I remember a Doonesbury strip, with Honey asking Duke, "Doesn't he care for the poor?", and Duke answering, "Of course he does- that's how he avoids being one of them."

No, Senator Biden is not a hypocrite; he really does care for the poor. His Senate service illustrates this- he has the talent to be a multimillionaire in private industry, as a lobbyist if nothing else. Every day he spends in the Senate is costing him a fortune. The difference in personal giving does not reflect where his heart is, it reflects where his trust and philosophies lie.

A political liberal believes in government solutions. He believes that his own gifts- even large ones- are like trying to fill the Grand Canyon by throwing bricks in it; a meaningless gesture for the most part. The real cure, he believes, is by creating programs that will help everyone everywhere. He trusts the government to handle such programs more fairly and effectively than any private charity could. He believes that it takes a village.

A political conservative believes government programs exist primarily to provide plum jobs for political appointees. He believes that even the best intentioned government programs will be bungled. And so he fights against government programs and gives privately instead.

There is the additional effect that the political conservative is most often also a religious conservative. A religious conservative tends to believe in a personal duty to help the poor and unfortunate; "Rendering unto Caesar" does not discharge that duty, only his personal efforts do. That is why the dirt-poor often give a higher percentage of their incomes than the better off.

This is the only nation in which this philosophical difference makes a practical difference. For example, the US is often criticized for how little foreign aid we give- but that criticism arises from the fact that only government programs are counted. To illustrate with a personal example, the amount we send to our sponsored child in Guatemala- small as it is- is tens of times higher than the portion of our taxes going to foreign aid... multiply that by millions of like-minded Americans, and the total amount of aid sent, government and private combined, is much higher per capita than any other nation.

But the rigid political partisan of either side doesn't look at the big picture. The liberal believes the conservative heartless because he doesn't support the liberal's pet project. The conservative believes the liberal a hypocrite and a demagogue because he isn't doing those things personally. The professional activist feeds those beliefs to create hatred and anger because he knows that those emotions are easier to manipulate. One activist sits on our right shoulder, whispering that liberals want government programs to increase their personal power and empire, that liberals just want to rule, using the poor as pawns. One activist sits on our left shoulder, whispering that conservatives are heartless, greedy pigs who don't give a damn about anyone else, too stupid to know their own good. And so we have these nasty election campaigns. Think about that manipulation before you post your next jeremiad.

Monday, October 06, 2008

If it's any consolation for those upset with Rev. Sinkford

for playing straight man in Iranian President Ahmadinejad's carefully scripted dinner with Religions For Peace, the fears that we would be quoted in foreign papers and played for propaganda purposes have not been realized. I've been following stories about the dinner from international newsgroups , Iranian newspapers , even information from occupied Iraq , and there's no mention of us anywhere. Despite the glowing words, and the gratuitous dig at President Bush, the quotes weren't used. All attention was reserved for the bigger, more influential churches, such as the Mennonites and Zoroastrians.

What profiteth a man to stain his soul for publicity, and not get the ink?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Antioch memories

(Guest post by Ginger Monka)

On our way to and from the Ohio Renaissance Festival this weekend, Joel and I spent some time in Yellow Springs, the home of my beloved alma mater, Antioch College. Given the de-facto association between our denomination and Antioch, Joel has graciously invited me to post my observations here.

On Friday evening, the man who checked us in to the Springs Motel (a very pleasant renovation of what those of us of the elderly persuasion remember as the Anthony Wayne motel) confirmed my suspicion that the college did not reopen this fall quarter. I was thus tempted to avoid visiting the campus for the same reason many people state for avoiding funerals: "I don't want to remember him this way; I'd rather remember him as I knew him". However, that "slant of light" of a late afternoon in October was so evocative of every idyllic college film I've ever seen that I asked Joel to turn the truck around so we could take a few photographs.

I maintained composure through the view of the main building as seen from the train in the 19th century:

the mural on Maples' garage door (How many schools have a student run fire and ambulance department?) :

and the theatre parking lot looking towards the amphitheatre where my parents showed up one June evening to tell me of my fiancé's death:

but this view of the stoop

(where at one April Saturday night dance, the "us" rock and rollers seized disc jockey duties from "those" disco aficionados, danced the night away, and then, when the music was over, drummed on the rubbish bins, sang "We don't need no music" and kept right on dancing) did me in.

On the drive home, Joel challenged me to answer the question "Aside from the co-op program and the fact that you loved it, what was unique or special about Antioch College?" I believe that the answer reduces to hands-on, experimental and student-driven.

For starters, while exams did exist at Antioch, projects and research papers were usually considered more indicative of a student's performance. Secondly, Antioch's policy of detailed written evaluations in lieu of letter grades encouraged accepting academic challenge and reaching beyond the comfort zone. One of my most rewarding Antioch experiences was getting permission to take a genetics course without the statistics and chemistry prerequisites. (I was a liberal arts major whose career objectives at the time included breeding Arabian horses). The genetics course was a stretch and a mighty struggle but tremendously educational and I wouldn't have risked it with a GPA at stake. Thirdly, academic interests not included in the course catalogue were accommodated with faculty support of independent study and student led courses.

Finally, while many schools may include student representation on the occasional committee, I suspect that said representation is along the lines of something my father once said: when I congratulated him on a new board chairmanship, he replied "Oh, it's a lot like those toy steering wheels attached to a baby's high chair tray; it makes a lot of noise and keeps the baby out of trouble but it doesn't steer any vehicle". At Antioch, on the other hand, besides community council, students held seats on administrative council, residence hall advisory board, dining hall advisory board, community standards board and any other committee affecting the quality of campus life, up to and including interviewing prospective faculty.

Perhaps all of this is why I find the traditional passive voice phrase "was graduated from (insert college name here)" grating and prefer the active voice "graduated from".

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A parable of shoes

Here is a wonderful story of growth from someone in that most modern of all categories, dear friends I have never met. Enjoy.

Finally, election reform in Ohio

This year, the elections results in Ohio won't be controversial or end up in court like they did in 2004- not with secure programs like this in place!

UPDATE: Lest you think I was overreacting to the shenanigans in Ohio, watch this video and tell me that if the election is close, it won't wind up in the Supreme Court again.

Incident on a fence

Being too late in the cycle to write about Rev. Sinkford's impression of Neville Chamberlain, I've decided to write about an incident I witnessed Tuesday afternoon. There would be nothing I could add to the Ahmadinejad story except to agree with everything Peacebang, CC, Bill Barr, and Scott Wells said with only one exception: Peacebang, I don't care how old Religions for Peace is; they are indeed a fly-by-night organization. That's what Moon-bats do- they fly by night.

Anyway, I was on the back porch Tuesday afternoon, and saw our cat Garfunkle slinking through the grass in the neighbor's yard. To appreciate this story, you have to understand just how big this cat is. here is a picture of him filling a leather chair- an oversize leather chair my 400 lb. butt fits in comfortably. His paws, at full extension, cover the palm of my hand.

The yard he was slinking around in is surrounded by a shoulder-high wooden fence they put up to keep their dogs in. My cats approved highly of this action; it kept the dogs out of their yard, and, of course, was no impediment to them at all. Impediment? To them, it is a long runway they can strut on.

So Garfunkle was inside this fenced yard, in serious stalk mode. I didn't see anything on the ground to stalk, but then I saw Garfunkle look up and followed his eyes- there was a squirrel on the fence, munching on something, oblivious to the world. More importantly, oblivious to Garfunkle. It bent over to grab something else, his round butt and tail straight up making a fuzzy exclamation point. In a single leap, so powerful and graceful it looked like water flowing uphill, Garfunkle flew to the top of the fence- and tagged the squirrel's exposed behind.

The squirrel streaked across the fence to the corner post and then turned and faced Garfunkle, chattering angrily at him- the foulest language I've ever heard from a squirrel. Garfunkle didn't hiss, he didn't arch, he simply stretched, that long kitty stretch that looks like a yoga exercise, ending with his arms at full reach and butt in the air... then spread those enormous paws and sharpened his claws on the fence, little curls of wood peeling up in the furrows.

The squirrel froze in mid-chatter. I must have blinked, for the squirrel simply vanished- he moved so fast that I didn't even catch a blur of motion in the corner of my eye. Garfunkle settled from the yoga position into a regal Sphinx pose.

Now, veterinarians keep telling me not to anthropomorphize; cats don't have the same emotions and motivations we do. But what could that have been but a practical joke? If he had wanted that squirrel dead, it would have been dead- I've seen Garfunkle tear up invading tomcats twice the size of that squirrel, and they hadn't been taken by surprise. He wasn't defending turf or mate. He simply couldn't resist the inviting target, the big round butt displayed to the world. With a little touch of, "That's right, I'm bad", of course.