Friday, April 29, 2005

Weekend quote

The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson,
writer and philosopher (1803-1882)
(via A.W.A.D.)

Happy local news

Beth Stroud was a practicing Methodist minister, beloved by her Germantown congregation, who came under fire from her church hierarchy for living in an openly lesbian relationship (see notes on a documentary made about her church here). She was officially defrocked in December, retaining only lay involvements with her church. However, an appeal to a higher church panel led to her reinstatement just today, by a vote of 8-to-1. Interesting times ahead.


Calling all Philadelphia activists!

(of the lefty sort, that is)

Are you looking for a way to get involved in your city, state, neighborhood? Are you willing to help take a leadership role in the local progressive movement, to work on educating and motivating your neighbors to support progressive causes and candidates in the Philadelphia region? Then Neighborhood Networks is looking for you to help launch its efforts! Come to its Constitutional Convention on June 4 and speak your mind about the most important issues and the most promising strategies -- become a representative for your ward and help shape this organization into what you'd like it to be! Things are about to happen, and this is your chance to get in on the ground floor.
NN banner
Read about the organization's aims and the upcoming conference here:

Interested folks, please pre-register!

If you'd like to discuss the group, and/or have some friends who might be interested but would like to know more, the organizing committee is happy to send a presenter to any houseparty you can arrange between now and conference time. Spread the word!

More on hand-washing

We here at JBS are a bit scornful of the obsession with antimicrobial soaps, and have previously worried about the possibility that they might lead to selection for more problematic environmental bugs. The most important thing is to wash your hands regularly, especially during cold season.

However, a new study of healthcare workers (who are under more constant assault from potential infectious agents than the average household) can, in fact, be helped somewhat by antimicrobial soaps -- largely because they (like many of us) tend to wash for 10 seconds rather than the recommended 30. In the setting of a shorter wash, the specialized soaps help with bacteria but not with viruses, as one would expect, but even plain tap water was better than the alcohol-based "hand sanitizers" and the like (which the British health system is set to recommend).

So, if you are under constant assault -- say, in a hospital, or in a day-care center -- maybe the antimicrobials and other specialized products will help you out. For the rest of us, good soap and water used regularly will keep the doctor away.

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Suggestions for the Barnes

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is a strange and wonderful place, a tiny museum whose riches exhaust even the most experienced visitor -- Rosseaus are placed next to African heads, heaps of peach-colored Renoirs almost leave you jaded toward that artist, chairs and hinges cram themselves in among the paintings. But Barnes had definite ideas, and, however offbeat, they often cause you to see things in a new way.

Now it appears that the era of Barnes' vision of his art being seen in an isolated suburban retreat is about to come to an end, as financial woes and neighborhood pressures push administrators to look to the city for help, which means relocating amidst the museums and avenues of downtown. Slate Magazine uses this occasion to give an overview of recent trends in museum design (see the slideshow, with wonderful commentary), discussing the effects and constraints of some famous buildings and couching it in terms of how it might fit, or fight, the quite distinctive voice of the Barnes collection. Worth a trip -- both the current museum, while it lasts, and this fascinating virtual voyage.

(via boing boing)

Show your colors

hah!Apparently you can now track prospects in the upcoming British elections by way of the sales of Election Knickers! I don't even know what all those acronyms stand for, but I do like their choices of which party symbols should be used on the display versions of which styles (briefs? Conservative. thongs? Green.) . . .

Too bad there's no party of liberal Democrats over on *this* side of the pond!
(via today's Cheers and Jeers at dailyKos)

Groping for a hold

Recent polls show that Schwarzenegger 's ratings in CA are dropping fast. As kos says,
Arnold has gone from untouchable to increasingly vulnerable. And as Arnold's agenda shrinks in the face of stiffer opposition and his inept managerial style, so does his approval ratings.
So much for an aggressive profile...

The other side of "reality"

Here's a take on reality TV that either undermines or confirms your cynicsm about American entertainment culture. Tentatively titled Giving Hope, the show would follow groups of do-gooders attempting to actually help people in need.
Burnett told reporters the unscripted program, ... "will be about bringing hope to people . . . people in Kansas who have lost their farm and helping them get back on their feet . . . people under a mountain of medical bills and finding ways to get them out from under it."
One commentator quips that perhaps this is the producer's penance for so much bug-eating and conniving on his previous shows. But perhaps it will tap into a basic human interest in helping out folks having problems we can relate to (not unlike Modest Needs). One could hope it would be TV you wouldn't have to be embarrassed to admit you watch -- only time will tell.

(via a comment at rubber hose)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The approach of spring

grass bladesI stand under Lee’s Cliff. There is a certain summeriness in the air now, especially under a warm cliff like this, where you smell the very dry leaves, and hear the pine warbler and the hum of a few insects,—small gnats, etc.—and see considerable growth and greenness. Though it is still windy, there is, nevertheless, a certain serenity and long-lifeness in the air, as if it were a habitable place and not merely to be hurried through. The noon of the year is approaching. Nature seems meditating a siesta.
-- Henry David Thoreau's
journal entry dated April 27, 1860
(via Thoreau blog)

Getting better and better...

We noted here previously that the federal government had taken a new tack on reports that reflected poorly on their decisions and performance: ceasing to publish those reports. And now we can see why: serious terrorist attacks were up three-fold last year over the already record levels in 2003.
"Last year was bad. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on terrorism internationally, we're losing," said Larry C. Johnson, a former senior State Department counterterrorism official, who first revealed the decision not to publish the data.
With results like these, you can see why Bush believes he should Stay the Course!

Update: the inimitable Fafblog has the perfect take on this:
Taking the fight directly to the idea of terror, the Bush Administration has cleverly opted to abandon talk of Iraq and terrorism in order to let the very concept of terror fade from the public consciousness.
Click your heels, Dorothy!

I'll take historical ironies for $200, Alex

That is, from the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction department,
scales of justice
Filibustered Judge's Father Was a Filibusterer

(but, of course, Democrats invented this idea. gimme a break.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

On personal and world history, religious mores, and other good stuff...

Jeanne at Body and Soul has a fantastic, thoughtful post today on the choices we make in life and how we deal with them later, sins of commission and omission, the new Pope, definitions of courage, and even methods of argument. The essay is much better than my attempt to describe it -- go read it.

(thanks to for the reminder to visit)


Echidne reports on a disturbing website that promotes a Biblical imperative to beat your child regularly. It's not a hoax and it's not about occasional spanking, but hours-long paddling until you break the child's will (apparently starting in infancy). I am truly speechless.

"Nuclear option" sinking fast?

A recent poll shows that two-thirds of the country opposes elimination of the filibuster and likes having debate about judicial nominees. This is unlikely to stop Frist and Cheney from creating a show-down, as they've been turning up the rhetoric in the last week or so. So, there's still reason to call your Senator this week to ask them to support current Senate rules -- or try this list of promising targets (I'd add PA Senator Specter too).

Wow! Check out Bush's latest numbers on a range of issues! He's into the 30% approval range on some things... whew.

Update 2: spin, spin, spin! (via Atrios)

Jesus didn't give easy answers

A striking opinion piece in the LA Times gives an interesting view of how the media approaches Christianity today -- set pieces much preferred over actual religion.
Broadcast media prefer to cast Christianity in the role of "right-wing values PAC" because it's so neat and tidy. They don't much like even to say the name Jesus on air because then we might have to talk about his ideas.
Sometimes I think that those evangelical preachers who get all the press would prefer not to talk about his ideas either, at least, not those that can't be presented in black and white, which leaves out quite a bit.
The Jesus who speaks in the Gospels is nothing like the fuming Republican Jesus I see on TV now. Jesus was a leader who understood that ambiguity and doubt are not to be feared but are, simply, facts of life that a great teacher exploits to guide his followers on their own paths toward conviction and belief.
The writer even quotes a parable whose message is not clear, and points out that the lessons of the Beatitudes are not as simple as the instructions of the Ten Commandments. I recommend the whole thing, no matter your personal take on religion.
Christian fish
(via This Modern World)

Monday, April 25, 2005

More feistiness from Senate Democrats

Apparently there's some obscure rule that allows legislation to be introduced directly on the Senate floor (see here), and Reid's troops have lined up some doozies that they'll bring to a vote if the GOP axes the filibuster: funding for family planning and vetrans benefits, and new proposals on education, jobs, fiscal responsibility, and energy (among others). Make the Republicans vote down this stuff that looks like taking care of Average Citizen.
"Abusing power is not what the American people sent us to Washington to do. We need to address real priorities instead -- fight for relief at the gas pump, stronger schools and lower health care costs for America's families," said Senator Reid.
Yeowch. I think that filibuster is looking stronger and stronger. As is the Opposition Party.

A poem for seeing the world differently

Crow Is Walking

Crow is walking
to see things at ground level,
the landscape as new under his feet
as the air is old under his wings.

He leaves the dead rabbit waiting -
it's a given; it'll always be there -
and walks on down the dirt road,

admires the pebbles,
how they sparkle in the sun;
checks out his reflection
in a puddle full of sky
which reminds him
of where he's supposed to be,

but he's beginning to like
the way the muscles move in his legs
and the way his wings feel so comfortable
folded back and resting.

He thinks he might be beautiful,
the sun lighting his back
with purple and green.

Faint voices from somewhere far ahead
roll like dust down the road towards him.
He hurries a little.

His tongue moves in his mouth;
legends of language move in his mind.

His beak opens.
He tries a word.
-- Grace Butcher
(via whiskey river)

Poetic (and financial) justice

In an unexpected twist, Americans are responding to increasing interest rates and tightened rules of bankruptcy by paying down their credit cards! This hasn't actually improved the bottom line for lenders, who are showing poor performance in the last quarter or two.
It turns out many customers are having entirely rational reactions to rising interest rates (and perhaps the new bankruptcy law). They're taking the sometimes painful steps necessary to reduce credit card debt before it gets too onerous.
Some are also making use of the low rates on mortages to pay off debt via home equity loans, which just moves things around. But let me confess a remarkable lack of sympathy with the financial industry just now...

(via a furling at Medley)

Hear no evil, see no evil...

Hey! It looks like nobody did anything wrong over in Iraq during those "prisoner abuse" scandals! (well, just that one bad apple.)
Wow, I feel much much better now.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Quote for the weekend

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
-- Philo of Alexandria
(via A Mindful Life)

In honor of Earth Day...

...recycle your old cell phones and other minor gadgets. It turns out that old consumer electronics are becoming the new hazardous waste, and companies like cell phone providers who don't tell you to recycle the batteries in your old unit may be largely to blame. So give your old computer away, sell your outdated iPod, or recycle your cell phone, but please don't throw them in the trash!

(via dangerous meta)

Speak for yourself!

A couple of conservative Democrats have made strong statements this week about the right's appropriation of Christianity, and about ill effects of politicization of faith. About time, given the outrageous way that evangelical groups are trying to frame the filibuster and the status of the judiciary as being about tolerance or hatred of people of faith (see this ad).
First Salazar (Colorado):
"I think what has happened is Focus on the Family has been hijacking Christianity and become an appendage of the Republican Party," Salazar said in an interview. "I think it's using Christianity and religion in a very unprincipled way."
and then Pryor (Arkansas):
Sen. Mark Pryor lashed out Wednesday at the Christian evangelicals who have joined the attack on Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Their tactics threaten "to make the followers of Jesus Christ just another special-interest group," Pryor said in a conference call with Arkansas reporters. "It is presumptuous of them to think that they represent all Christians in America, even to say they represent all evangelical Christians," added Pryor, 42, a first-term Democrat who has considered himself an evangelical Christian for 25 years.
Whether or not this is a coordinated offensive (as kos speculates), these men are speaking the truth. I am tired of feeling like this writer, like an entire faith has been hijacked, like it's embarrassing to be associated with the narrow-mindedness and hatred that caricature a faith of acceptance.
I live in a country that is increasingly eager to challenge its citizens' loyalty, among people of faith increasingly determined to dispute the faith of others. Some people who call themselves Christians - and some church leaders - are beginning to redefine Christianity in such a way as to exclude worshipers with whom they disagree. I fear a religion in which ideology is more important than theology.
Heck, I fear a nation in which loyalty is more important than thought. Is this really the direction we want to go?

(final link via Rebecca's Pocket; others are all kos)

Stop calling us rednecks!

South Carolina's legislators really did a lot to improve their state's image this week.
  1. First, they decided to classify cockfighting as a felony, while leaving domestic violence a misdemeanor (and stated that anybody who couldn't see the justice of that ranking was clearly an idiot).
  2. Then, while discussing the domestic violence issue, one of them made a wife-beating joke.
Sorry if I don't find this funny, boys.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A little bad press may go a long way

There's evidence that Democratic objections to the nuclear option may have paid off, as the GOP's internal polls indicate that public support is not on their side, and that citizens may have accepted the left's frame of the issue as one of fairness and a balance of power (not really the sort the Founders imagined, but whatever works). bashing heads Keep up those letters to the editor; our fellow citizens can indeed be swayed, and enough swaying can make even headstrong legislators queasy...

Update: the actual numbers from the GOP poll have been leaked

CT ok's civil unions

Connecticut yesterday enacted a law to provide for official same-sex civil unions. The measure includes compromise wording codifying the heterosexuality of the term "marriage," but is seen as a step forward for fairness. I was unable to determine whether these new unions would carry the full rights accorded to married couples, but that appears to be its intent. Good to see some proactive legislators, diffusing the "activist judges" refrain . . .

This could be my favorite charity ever

An organization called Modest Needs is taking the "pay-it-forward" model seriously, and giving people an outlet to help their fellow humans caught in a bind. They take requests for one-time assistance of the sort that ordinary working poor (or middle-class) folks might need: an unexpected car repair that could mean keeping or losing a job, a downpayment for an apartment that would get a family out of a death trap building, a high heating bill that you just don't have the money for this month. And they connect these folks with a pool of people who have karma to repay, or spare change collected from the couch, or just the urge to help out. These are the kind of moments where $30 or $200 can completely turn somebody's life around, and this organization is helping make that happen, by connecting the anonymous might of the many. It seems like a real light in the life of everybody it touches -- just check out a few of the real stories for a dose of hope about the human spirit. wow.

Oh, and drop them a few bucks when you can; you've probably benefitted from the small generosities of others on countless occasions.

An earthquake, a toothache, a mad dog, a telephone message--and all our house of peace falls like a pack of cards.
- Reginald Horace Blyth
(MN via Workbench; quote via whiskey river)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New developments in ancient fields

Using modern-age technology, scientists and classicists are working together to read, for the first time, ancient texts that were thought lost to the ages.
parchment fragmentsThe original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".
It's not often that there are more than fragmentary discoveries in the field of classical literature; these new works have the potential to totally change our current understanding of these ancient authors and cultures. How unbelievably exciting!

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

A two-fer

That is, a story with both a high creepy factor and a good dose of potential hypocrisy. It's all about Rick Santorum and the framed fetus picture he keeps with his other family shots in his office...

A project after my own heart

The Individual-i project seeks to reinforce the rights of the individual in the face of increasing challenges. They've developed a symbol to represent this campaign, as well as a list of principles and links to supporting historical documents (like that crazy Bill of Rights).
It represents the right to privacy and anonymity in the information age. It represents the rights to an open government, due process, and equal protection under the law. It represents the right to live surveillance free, and not to be marked as "suspicious" for wanting these other rights.

the individual i
Anybody is free to add the symbol to their websites, design t-shirts with some of their suggested slogans, or use it in other ways. And, of course, to promote the principles underlying it.

Update: just refound a very appropriate quote to include here:

If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy.
-- Phil Zimmermann,
cryptographer (1954- )

What makes a joke?

Somethingawful has put together a project in which classic jokes and types of jokes are unpacked -- once offensive jokes given innocuous punchlines, or hackneyed setups wandering off into random straight directions... Sounds overintellectual, perhaps, but they are totally transfixing; I defy you to read just one page's worth!
A priest, a rabbi, and a buddhist monk walk into a bar, sit at the end and start having some drinks. Two hours later, they come out with a better understanding of each other and a mutual respect, the beginnings of a friendship that last a lifetime.
(via boing boing)

If it's not one thing...

Those military guys sure know how to polish their reputations!
Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told that the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus. Another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.
(via Atrios)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bolton vote on hold

For those not following the proceedings, it appears that John Bolton's nomination to be US grenade ambassador to the UN is foundering on an ever-higher pile of allegations and evidence that he has abused his subordinates, spied on his rivals, kept information from his superiors, and generally appeared unfit for most of the jobs he has held thus far.
A delay is what we got today. What was unexpected was the clear and unambiguous comments from Senator George Voinovich and Chuck Hagel that if a vote was held there and then, John Bolton would not get out of Committee. That's right. THEY would help vote him down.
The three weeks added before a vote will be used to dig through the new information coming to light. Would be heartening to see some potential government official held to at least a minimum standard of professionalism (if not respect for the organization he's being sent to work with).

[For specifics on the questions being raised, see this or this or this or this -- Steve Clemons is keeping his finger on the pulse of this one!]

Not for the squeamish...

In a gross but fascinating trip back in time, modern medicine is beginning to reclaim the utility of treatments involving maggots and leeches in cases where nothing else works as well (or at all). One woman who was suffering debilitating reactions to (and little effectiveness from) antibiotics was able to save her extremities when maggots were used to clean away the dead tissue. I imagine that sort of thing could be an answer, too, to worries about antibiotic resistance . . .

(via boing boing)

Holding the course

papal crossThe Cardinals have made their choice: Joseph Ratzinger has just become Pope Benedict the XVI. After weeks of speculation about whether the church would moderate its relationship with its Bishops after years of a tight rein, the Cardinals elected "the enforcer." It's possible that they hope his term will be relatively short (he's 78), as a transition to a new era, but it is unlikely to be more gentle than its predecessor...

Update: more on Ratzinger available here.

Update 2: Andrew Sullivan is shocked, and feels that the Vatican is writing off North America.

Recharge all your regular batteries

It didn't used to be possible (mainly because the "disposables" would overheat) but newer technology makes it possible. Get more out of all your AA and AAA batteries, and help the environment along the way. yay!

(via Rebecca's Pocket)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Reports, what reports?

Kos has an impressive collection of reports and numbers that the government has stopped publishing in order to hide its poor performance in a wide variety of arenas, from scientific data to reports on levels of global terrorism (higher in 2004 than any previous year). Did this Administration ever get past a junior-high level of personal responsibility? eesh.

Wow! *real* progress for prescriptions

Design and function meet in this overdue redesign of the classic prescription drug bottle. It hopes to remove the variability in information placement and the difficulty in reading directions, which between them lead to the finding that 60 percent of prescription-drug users have taken medication incorrectly. Toothpaste tubes have undergone all kinds of transformations in the last 20 years, while prescription bottles have remained all but unchanged (except for those child-proof caps) for more like 60. Nice work! pills, pills, pills
(Expect the new bottles at Target pharmacies starting May 1.)

Check the link for a picture, if nothing else; the original article also has interesting notes on the user-interface problems of the standard bottle design, and other clever advantages of the new approach. Something for everyone!

The law of unintended (?) consequences

It appears that, in addition to its other ill effects such as widening the gap between rich and poor and undermining the nation's self-image as a meritocracy, repealing the estate tax will deliver a body blow to charities of all stripes -- the Congressional Budget Office estimates that donations will fall by approximately 12%. This could cripple arts institutions, but it's really those serving the poor and needy that will have to scrape by on far less than enough. But the trust fund set will be comfy, anyway...


Quote of the day

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
Rebecca West (1892-1983)
English journalist, novelist, and critic.

Taken from the fascinating discussion about personal definitions of feminism here. I recommend the whole thread. (via Medley)

A call to arms

call to action!We're down to the wire on the nuclear option, and kos has a list of the top candidates to swing to the side of sanity. If any of them represent you, get on the horn now!

More promotion of fear and misinformation

Now the government (HHS) is trying to "educate" parents about how to address issues of sexuality with their children, using fear, dictating values, and spreading misinformation about critical aspects such as STD transmission. A huge number of organizations have written the government asking that the website be removed or revamped, and that the process of its creation be examined. Only one outside group was involved in the website's design, and that group was "outside" the mainstream health community as well . . .

(via Knotted Knickers)

Friday, April 15, 2005

When you put it that way...

rolling in dough?David Sirota has posted a collection of links making it clear that we're in the midst of a war on the middle class. From enshrining the estate tax to refusing to do anything about wages or health care, our current leaders in D.C. are making it pretty clear whom they do and don't care about...

Update: for more on our health system and why our fear of "socialized medicine" is leading us astray, see this post by Kevin Drum.

Hall of mirrors

The DCCC has launched a website called Tom Delay's House of Scandal, complete with a chart of influence connections and a "GOP Crony of the Week" feature. Very nice . . .

(via dailyKos)

A holy war against the judiciary

Yes, the right-wing politicians on the national scene appear set to declare war on the judiciary, largely as a way of pandering to their extreme religious supporters and thus securing their own power. Here's the first shot being fired in this new offensive. It's hard not to agree with Atrios here:
These people hate our country. It's really that simple. They hate the constitution. They hate everything that we were taught (back in the day at least) is supposed to be great about the country.
I'd be happy to help any of them relocate...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Quote for the day

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
--Rachel Carson

(via A Mindful Life)

Pelosi delivers a smack

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi uses the GOP's own onetime weapon to deliver a painful prick, citing the "Contract with America" and comparing it to a veritable laundry list of recent Republican misbehavior:
The Republican majority promised after the 1994 elections to manage the House in a way that fostered "deliberative democracy," which they defined as the "full and free airing of conflicting opinions through hearings, debates, and amendments." They also pledged in their Contract with America to "restore accountability to Congress" and to "end its cycle of scandal and disgrace." Instead of sticking to their word, they have broken their promises, betrayed the public trust, and abused their power. Specifically, they have undermined the ethics of the House, abandoned any principle of procedural fairness or democratic accountability, and overreached into private family matters and the federal judiciary.butting heads
(via Atrios)

A small blow for the little guy

The North Dakota legislature has taken the side of individual liberty in passing legislature that gives a car-owner automatic ownership of any data generated by or stored in the black box in that car. This seems like a no-brainer, but with police and insurance companies interested in getting a glimpse of your driving and seatbelt habits, that data was a potential privacy hot-potato, and many drivers weren't even aware when their cars had such monitoring devices. It will be interesting to see whether any other states follow suit. (Any Democrats looking for a basic liberty cause with Red State appeal?)

(via Instapundit)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Virus outbreak rages

marburg virus from the CDCWhile the news cameras were focused on Schiavo and Pope death stories, a more serious death story was developing off-camera: an outbreak of the Marburg virus (close relative of Ebola) in Angola, which has claimed about 95% of its victims so far (around 250-300 as of an hour ago). I give a lot of credit to health professionals (and epidemiologists, and most recently, anthropologists) who are flocking to the area despite the risks to themselves.

This outbreak poses a number of logistical challenges, including the possibility that (run-down) hospitals are serving to spread the disease rather than stop it, and the fact that space-suit-clad professionals are viewed with suspicion by the natives, who aren't even sure that they are people. This NPR story from this morning's Morning Edition explains some of the attempts being made to better understand and accommodate local culture while keeping the virus contained -- efforts include adapting the local burial rituals to modern health measures, as by letting families gown up and put beloved possessions into the body bags before they are closed.

A good place to send your prayers and positive energies right now.

More brilliance from The Onion

Cost of Living Now Outweighs Benefits


When geeks get trendy

An LED-based computer-driven disco dance floor designed by some enterprising MIT students. Pretty sharp, and USB-compatable, of course...

(via boing boing)

Things one tries not to think about

We recently had an office clean-up day, which made me face the grim state of my keyboard. A little cleaner went a long way, at least aesthetically, but studies show that keyboards can be almost impossible to clean, which is not only bad for users of shared terminals, but could be fatal in hospital settings. The boing boing story not only unveils the tale, but links to some creative possible solutions (including a spiffy projected keyboard!).

Who do you believe?

A fascinating study from the Pew Research Center looks at where people get their news and information, how much they trust it, and how accurate their resulting understanding is. Interesting bits include the increasing politicization of TV viewers (e.g., Republicans choose Fox and Democrats choose CNN at higher rates), general distrust of many news sources, and increased "news grazing" from sources such as the Internet.
newsThe public continues to express skepticism toward news outlets and those who run them. More than half (53%) agree with the statement "I often don't trust what news organizations are saying." Nearly as many (48%) believe people who decide on news content are "out of touch."
Ouch! Also, readers of literary magazines appear to have the best grip on the facts, but this could well just be a marker for "smarter people know whom to trust" . . .

(via the Blogging of the President)

Going down with his ship?

People are fleeing Tom DeLay in droves, as evidence of his ethical lapses piles up and his hubris remaines undented.
In private, some senior leaders are saying it's only a matter of time before the most powerful Republican in Congress is forced from office. "Democrats should save their money. Why murder someone who is committing suicide?" said a senior GOP lawmaker, on condition of anonymity.
Time for that string quartet, I think . . .

The passing of a feminist pioneer

I am terribly poorly read when it comes to feminism, something I keep meaning to fix (as though my To Do list were under 10 pages already). But I certainly recognize the name Andrea Dworkin as one who challenged many to re-examine their fundamental beliefs about the relations between the sexes.
femsignWith her first book, "Woman Hating" (Dutton, 1974), Ms. Dworkin drew the lines in what she saw as a pitched battle against men's historical domination of women. She opposed all forms of pornography, which she believed incited violence against women. She was also critical of consensual sex between women and men, which she saw as an act of everyday subjugation in which women were accomplices.
Many disagreed with her positions, but everybody's arguments were honed by the furnace of her thoughts. She died somewhat unexpectedly this past weekend, at the age of 58. The NYTimes has an obituary, or I recommend the shorter summary here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Of geeks and reality

Fellow Philly-blogger Mithras has an excellent rant about libertarians and liberals, how highschool self-images haunt us into adulthood, sci-fi candidates, and... oh, just go check it out for a giggle.

A headline that needs no elaboration

U.S. Has No Exit Strategy for Iraq, Rumsfeld Says

(via dailyKos)

Give nukes a chance?!?

When I saw this headline, I thought this guy must be a crazed coldwar leftover, since he seemed to be arguing in favor of nuclear weapons around the world. Certainly my own instincts run more toward getting rid of all nuclear weapons worldwide, so that we never need to fear that one crazed individual or innocent misstep could end with the distruction of our species.

However, once I started reading the article, I got more intrigued. The author doesn't exactly love nuclear arms -- although he's a lot more comfortable with them than most experts (and has a bit more faith in the rationality of leaders) -- but rather, he sees them as a natural response by the world to the prospect of a single superpower (namely, us). Such an arsenal for a smaller nation acts not only to protect them from us (think about our relative responses to Iraq versus North Korea) but also to keep the peace among themselves (think of the delicate dance along the Indian-Pakistani border).
Seen this way, the near-term proliferation threat is less to our homeland -- neither North Korea or Iran, for example, has the missile technology to deliver a warhead to the continental US -- than to our ability to project power and shape world affairs. The United States, in other words, worries as much about being deterred as being attacked.

''The truth is that countries that have nuclear weapons will be off-limits,'' says Mearsheimer, ''which is why [those countries] want them.''
I have to say that I don't find that idea all that bad, although I'd rather see deterrence through something like the U.N. instead of Mutually Assured Destruction crap. But it's clear that the former can't always be relied upon (either because of the UN's choices or because of our leaders' disregard). It's hard to blame other countries for wanting more than one leader's word to rely on, given that a new player may emerge a few years later and disregard the commitments of his predecessors. Sigh.

I found these arguments intriguing and compelling. However, they really concern only the strategic value of nuclear weapons, and in no way address the real dangers that accompany them. Other experts did chip in some worries:
More troubling is that historically, in every so-called nuclear ''conflict dyad'' -- US/USSR, USSR/China, India/Pakistan -- the first of the two to go nuclear came close to launching a preemptive attack to profit from its nuclear advantage. And the precarious hold on power of the government in a nuclear nation like Pakistan only adds to the volatile mix.
Indeed. Where exactly has all the fissile material from Russia gone? It's worth realizing that when we try to eliminate nuclear weapons, we will always run into the suspicion by others that we are merely trying to maintain our current advantage -- that provides a natural defiant motive. However, we can't afford to forget that these warheads have serious firepower inside, and that there are ever increasing ways that it could be put to real destructive use.

(via Follow Me Here)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Your tax dollars at work

It's a fine day when Homeland Security feels the need to prevent a community liason officer (with the Attorney General's Office) from, um, interacting with interested students -- and gets him fired over it all! oh yay.

(via boing boing)

Quote for a new week...

philosopher's journeyIdeals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.
-- Carl Schurz
general and politician (1829-1906)
(via A.W.A.D.)

What goes around...

Joe Lieberman has been the focus of a lot of frustration from the left, not only because of his voting so frequently with the Bush folk, but because he takes seemingly needless opportunities to make his own party look bad. Well, despite his continued popularity with Connecticut voters, he's starting to generate some fallout -- members of his state leadership have indicated that they're pretty alienated.
If the state Democratic convention were held right now, Lieberman wouldn't have the votes to get the nomination without doing some very, very, very serious arm twisting--and even then he might not have the votes. Maybe the population still likes Joe Lieberman, but his friends in the Democratic Party are having second or third thoughts about him.
It's not just the people currently in the machine that are riled by his disregard of their values; newcomers are afraid to be associated with him lest it poison their chances.
Meanwhile, some people who are considering running for office--from town selectman on up to statewide office--are privately voicing concern about making a run with Lieberman at the top of the ticket.
That's some pretty serious nomentum, there...

(via kos)

Update: here's a little more perspective on how much any candidate should rest on their popularity a year before their election (esp. when not strongly supported by party leadership)...

Update 2:
maybe the Republicans intend to adopt Joe?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Late-breaking comeuppance

The first major trial of a mass spammer has resulted in a nine-year sentence. I'm sure I'm not alone in looking forward to watching this person go away, nor in hoping that this will strike some fear into the others who make our electronic lives so much less enjoyable...

Friday Sid-blogging!

Today we join Sid as he enjoys a lovely bento box from the take-out place on Chestnut near 15th. Mmmm, lovely grilled salmon, noodles, edamame, and assorted goodies. Look at that chopstick technique!


(click to see the whole dinner!)

Sid faceFor those disappointed by our lack of Sid's countenance, here's a little icon of smiling Sid. Hi, Sid!

In honor of Daylight Saving Time

A variety of clever clocks. First, an online clock and calender in one. Second, a more typical clock face that responds to your mouse in a manner both entertaining and annoying. (both of these via coworker B)

Also, for use in reality space, a clock that responds to snooze-button use by running away from you, so that you have to get out of bed to shut it off the next time. (via boing boing)

The real American Taliban

Via Pandagon, this report of a rather scary right-wing Christian sect/cult, the Dominionists, that wishes to replace the current form of American government with an explicitly Bible-based one.burning cross
In the conference's opening ceremony, the Dominionists recite an oath they dream of hearing in every classroom: "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe."
I don't know which is creepier, the totalitarian impulses of this group, or their complete conflation of their religion and their patriotic fervor. (why choose? fear both!)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Peering under the skin

Having grown up around an adherent of alternative medicine (as well as alternative philosophy, lifestyles, etc.), I've always been willing to take the effectiveness of acupuncture seriously. This belief was further strengthened when I read about a skeptical veterinarian (I used to read their stories a lot) who, caught in a tricky situation, was able to rely on acupuncture -- a form that involved both needles and electrical current -- as the only anesthetic during a surgery. Thus I have not been surprised by the increasing acceptance of this technique by "mainstream" medicine.

However, I still found basis for amazement in reading this article, which includes some striking scientific evidence backing up traditional Chinese beliefs about human wiring.
At the University of California at Irvine, researchers have shown that when a needle is placed in a point on the side of the foot that Chinese theorists associate with vision, sure enough, the visual cortex in the brain ''lights up" on functional magnetic resonance imaging scans, though the cause and effect are not totally clear.
We should never presume that we know everything important about how the human body, let alone mind, works...

(via And That's All That Matters)

The eye of a needle

You gotta visit this too funny send-up of The Rapture, in which the doctrinal requirements were apparently so precise that barely anybody measured up:
Dan Wilson of Ottawa, Canada, was snatched away while sleeping.
"He spent years refining his eschatological scheme," says his wife. "Just last week he told me he had it all right, but I still disagreed with him on a minor point. I regret that now."
(via Follow Me Here)

Annals of insanity

cartoon spit-takeThe great state of Florida, continuing its tradition of demonstrating the higher way for the rest of the nation, has decided to put in place a law allowing its citizens to shoot anybody they perceive as a threat.I guess they're basing this idea on the oh-so-successful Bush foreign policy of preemption.
Outraged opponents say the law will encourage Floridians to open fire first and ask questions later, fostering a sort of statewide Wild West shootout mentality. Supporters argue that criminals will think twice if they believe they are likely to be promptly shot when they assault someone.
You'd think that one trick-or-treater shot dead on the lawn would be enough caution against this, but apparently the legislature and the governor think it's a "common-sense anti-crime action." Amazing. (Anybody heard of road-rage and other signs of citizen irrationality? Do we really want to arm that?)

(via XOverboard)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

In touch with the common pulse

Rick Santorum declares childcare funding unimportant to most people in America. I hope that the echo you just heard was the collapse of his last chance for re-election. (but, oh! the short memory of the electorate!)

(via the Daou Report)


The Dems are finally going on the assault on current issues, linking the (widely unpopular) Congressional action around Schiavo's death (and subsequent assault on the judiciary) with the threat of a "nuclear option" rules change in the Senate. It's all part of an "arrogance of power" that leads the GOP leadership to go on the attack "whenever they don't get what they want," says Reid. Right on.

(via kos)

Quote of the day

...comes from Tom Tomorrow, who responds to this story (and the general conservative conspiracy orientation generally; three branches of government are never enough) thusly:
The "vast right wing conspiracy" was a term used to describe all the backroom players who were trying to destroy Clinton by various devious methods behind the scenes. ... the "vast left wing conspiracy" appears to be a term used to describe various citizens who are deviously making movies and publishing websites and broadcasting radio shows in an underhanded attempt to sway people through the force of their arguments.

Iraq has a President

It's a start. I'll let Echidne speak for me across the board.


radioactiveThe scientists in charge of the Yucca Mountain project -- charged with studying the site and its safety as a repository for long-term storage of the most dangerous nuclear waste -- appear to have responded to time and other pressures by making up much of the data in their quality assurance reports. This means their estimates of the amount of seepage, effects of rainwater passing through the site, and basically whether folks in Reno might be glowing in 20 or 100 years. All of this was somehow discovered by way of a bunch of internal emails ("if they need more data, I'll just make up more stuff"). It will lead to criminal prosecution, and probably spells the end of this plan, which will be a great relief to the states who were not looking forward to nuclear-laden trucks rolling along their highways...

(via upyernoz)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A rare window

Gordon at Real Live Preacher has a wonderful recent post in which he shares a conversation that he had with his daughter. The conversation was about faith, but the post is really about the rare gift that is the opportunity to have an open relationship between the generations, and about watching somebody else find their way in life without interfering.

curled leafWe Can Talk at Starbucks

One of the best things I've bumped across in a while. I could only dream to have such a light touch myself, in parenting, friendship, love.

Things that push my buttons

There seems to be no end to what women are willing to do to artificialize themselves for their (real or hoped-for) boyfriends. I don't know whether it's real expectations derived from exposure to lots of modern (gynecological) porn, or the infantalization of beauty standards, but women seem to have gone from merely slimming-down to attempting to remove all signs of their secondary sexual characteristics (hips, pubic hair, etc.). Anybody for signs of sexual maturity? Grrr.

Anyway, Amanda at pandagon captures my irritation with these trends and dehumizations in a post responding to the latest (disturbing) fad. To the point:
Sure, it hurts, but there’s no price too high to pay if there’s the merest chance that your man might find any part of you too natural-looking for his taste.
Indeed. Next he'll want his initials carved in your buttock (or, at least, you'll worry he does)...

Open season on judges?

First Tom DeLay issued a threat that judges could expect retribution for "misguided" opinions (and see this post for why his mild threat matters):
The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.
Then (unknown-to-me) Rep. Steve King threatened to squelch the judiciary via the legislature:
Congress created all of the courts; all the federal courts, Congress grants them jurisdiction. So whatever Congress gives, they can take away. If we wanted to abolish the 9th Circuit, for example, we could do that.
And now crazyman Senator John Cornyn provides a justification for why "some people" might feel the need to use violence against the judiciary in response to certain decisions:
Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that’s been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.ack!
Good grief.

For what it's worth, some cooler heads are distancing themselves from this incitatory rhetoric. But I'm not sure that those are the guys that the real nutcases listen to . . .

Just a lovable guy

All that "I'd like to have a beer with him" crap hasn't ensured that people actually approve of how Dubbya is doing his job: he has the lowest approval ratings of any newly re-elected President in the last half-century. That's a mandate if ever I saw one! Party on!

No rights of your own?

Kevin Drum takes a closer look at some of the rhetoric coming out of the Schiavo business, and concludes that the extremists have the rather scary position that we shouldn't even be able to make our own decisions, let alone leave them to those we trust. Anybody who hasn't picked up on the message that these guys think they're more qualified than you are to run your life need to start paying attention.

(via Medley)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Give thanks

Have been on the receiving and giving end(s) of a lot of wedding presents lately, which has made me acutely aware both of the value of a thank-you note and of how clueless most people are about how to write one so that the giver feels appreciated rather than processed. Here's an article with simple, timeless advice on How to Write a Thank-You Note. incoming mail!By the time you've written a few, the form becomes second nature, and suddenly you're corresponding! But seriously, as Rebecca's Pocket said, live it, learn it, love it. No excuses for grown-ups!

Below the surface...

A new poster over at dailyKos has been digging into the local papers around the country whose headlines we seldom see, and has found that people outside New York, DC, and San Francisco are just as uneasy about trends at the top as the rest of us self-satisfied "blue-staters." It's quite an interesting array of clips (and a great service!).


Tom (fraud, what fraud?) DeLay took a reaming from the Lone Star State over the weekend.
Some day, Tom DeLay will be called to account by the American people.
Sooner would be better than later for the sake of the Constitution. [...]
Several city papers at once got out the rotten tomatoes (summarized at the link). If they can't get behind his craziness, he may well not be long for this post.

Update: Even a majority of the Republicans who voted for him the last time think it's time for someone new...

Update 2:
His own colleagues now want him out. He's hurting them all in the polls, and they can't get him off the national scene fast enough.

Friday, April 01, 2005

For a spring weekend...

This afternoon I throw off my outside coat. A mild spring day. I must hie to the Great Meadows. The air is full of bluebirds. The ground almost entirely bare. The villagers are out in the sun, and every man is happy whose work takes him outdoors. I go by Sleepy Hollow toward the Great Fields. I lean over a rail to hear what is in the air, liquid with the bluebirds’ warble. My life partakes of infinity. The air is as deep as our natures. Is the drawing in of this vital air attended with no more glorious results than I witness? The air is a velvet cushion against which I press my ear. I go forth to make new demands on life. I wish to begin this summer well; to do something in it worthy of it and of me; to transcend my daily routine and that of my townsmen; to have my immortality now, that it be in the quality of my daily life; to pay the greatest price, the greatest tax, of any man in Concord, and enjoy the most!! I will give all I am for my nobility. I will pay all my days for my success. I pray that the life of this spring and summer may lie fair in my memory. May I dare as I have never done! May I persevere as I have never done! May I purify myself anew as with fire and water, soul and body! May my melody not be wanting to the season! May I gird myself to be a hunter of the beautiful, that naught escape me! May I attain to a youth never attained! I am eager to report the glory of the universe; may I be worthy to do it; to have got through with regarding human values, so as not to be distracted from regarding divine values. flowersIt is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning.
Henry David Thoreau
15 March, 1852
(via Thoreau blog)