Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama chooses Rick Warren to lead inaugural invocation

That would be Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, backer of California's Propostion 8 and comparer of committed, adult same-sex relationships to child abuse.

"Can you imagine if [Obama] had a man of God* doing the invocation who had deliberately said that Jews are not going to be saved and therefore should be excluded from what’s going on in America? People would be up in arms." -- Rick Jacobs, Courage Campaign

Just to be clear, I defend Warren's right to believe that Jews, queers, Muslims and various sorts of Christians are not going to be saved. What I object to is the conclusion that any of these individuals should be denied the right to legal protections that are permitted to "saved" American citizens. And I believe that anyone who promotes the use of religion-based litmus tests in determining the civil rights of individuals should not be invited to the government pulpit nee lectern.

(Whether religious invocations are appropriate at state ceremonies is a question for another day, but you can probably guess my answer.)

*I was tempted to insert a [sic] after "man of God," but refrained.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Evangelical politics

Christianity Today posted an article yesterday about the effect on the Christian green movement of Richard Cizik's forced resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals.

For those who do not follow all the politicking of the NAE, Cizik -- former vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE -- was not forced to resign because he is gay. That was Ted Haggard, the former NAE president.*

Cizik, who appears to be heterosexual, was forced out because, as an intelligent person, he understands the difference between civil and religious law. He told Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, "I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think."

Okay, so the "I don't think" at the end is a little waffley, but maybe he's just trying to leave room to redefine marriage from certain traditional definitions -- like the ones that include having sex with your daughters (Noah), rapists purchasing their victims and making them their "wives" (the Law), and profligate polygyny (David and just about every other man mentioned by name in the first half of the Good Book). I would think any lock-step evangelical would be proud to redefine traditional marriage as between two, and only two, consenting adults, but apparently this is controversial.

Lock-step evangelicals don't want to heed Paul's advice to let government be government and church be church. Cizik, who apparently reads the Bible more carefully than those who purport to be the face of orthodox Christianity, understands the difference.

Cizik also figured that, if the Bible is true, then the Creator gave us brains to use and a responsibility to use them. This belief led Cizik to take a stand on global warming. But the large knee-jerk faction of the NAE did not like this. "If pagans are in favor of the earth, we have to be against it," seems to be their logic.

Reading the Christianity Today article reminded me why I stopped subscribing to that magazine. The writing is usually good, but it gives way too much ink to poorly thought-out, reactionary opinions that just don't require that many words to explain. I mean, do you really need two pages to say, "And then a bunch of reactionaries who'd like to bury their heads in the sand accused Cizik of being an unrepentant heathen"?

*Ted Haggard now claims to be "transformed" from his homosexual inclinations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UPS Bike Drivers

I was going to leave all mention of UPS deliveries by bike to my "Things I've read lately" column, but then I saw this blog entry in Gas 2.0. It's pretty cool. Dude, with the benefits that UPS offers, it may be time to move to Portland.

Question is, do they give the bicycle delivery drivers a food allowance? It would only be right -- UPS pays for the fuel the truck drivers use in their trucks -- but doing so might chip away at the money UPS is saving with this move.


On Friday I went to my friends' annual Pee-wee Herman Christmas Special party. This is the official beginning of holiday cheer in my book -- or perhaps the whole sum of it, since I'm not a big practitioner of cheer of any sort.

Among the party-goers were two Jambas, neither of which was able to sever his own head in order to provide bounce-along guidance to the dreidl song. (Fast-forward to 4:00 on the video if that sounds cruel and inhumane to you, and you will understand that it is just happy fun.)

No one came as Charo, perhaps because it was freezing outside. Fortunately, this did not prevent Charo from appearing again to sing "Feliz Navidad," which is always my favorite part. Look at those fingers move!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So you want a nativity on display at your government building?

Olympia, Washington, is learning about the unintended consequences of allowing religious displays on government property. It allowed a realtor to erect a nativity scene at the state capitol. That was soon joined by a sign from the Freedom from Religion Foundation stating the there is no God.

Okay, no big deal, the Olympians are probably thinking, some may find it offensive, but the sign isn't impudent in phrasing the beliefs of a significant minority.

But now the Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church is petitioning to add a sign that reads:
Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell

You'd better watch out, get ready to cry,
You'd better go hide, I'm telling you why
'cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell.

He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet,
but when you stand before your God
He won't help you take the heat.

So get this fact straight: you're feeling God's hate,
Santa's to blame for the economy's fate,
Santa Claus will take you to hell.

Don't leave your kids with this red fright
Just like the priests he'll rape 'em at night
Oh Santa Clause will take you to hell.

You tell the children he is real,
You know that's just a lie,
To justify your own vile sins
That's the only reason why.

So get this fact straight, you're feelin' God's hate
Santa's to blame for the dead soldier's fate
Santa Claus will take you to hell.

Hmmm ... So maybe allowing religious displays isn't such a good idea after all. Or, in the words of a spokesperson for Washington's Department of General Administration: "Holy cow."

It's hard to see how Olympia would be able to justify a rejection of the sign. It can't argue that it doesn't accept displays from groups based out of state -- the Freedom From Religion Foundation is headquartered in Wisconsin. It could argue that the group needs to have members in Washington (the Freedom From Religion Foundation does), but I'm sure Westboro could scrounge up some local supporters. And it would be hard to argue that the Westboro sign is too offensive to display, since I'm certain the current displays have both offended their fair share of folks.

I am just giggling with delight.

Victory for the folks who brought you the weekend

The Chicago factory sit-in has ended. The workers' demands have been met. All thanks to the labor movement -- the folks who brought you the weekend.

Dying culture, dying tongue

I read an article this morning about the Kawesqar, a Patagonian tribe whose members are dying off. It discussed the ingenious way that Kawesqar would rub themselves in fat before diving for mussels, presumably to keep warm. But beware of romanticism. One of the members, estimated age 66, remarked, "I am not sad. Life is easier now." Also, beware of the annoying use of the phrase "pure-blooded" throughout the article. I found it irritating. It's a phrase that ought to be applied to dogs, not people.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Okay. I guess I'm a religious nut.

I wrote this letter to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty today and, reading over it, realized that I am, indeed, a religious nut and Constitutional whacko:

Dear brothers and sisters at the Becket Fund and co-signers of the No Mob Veto public letter,

The inflammatory No Mob Veto letter drowned valid points about religious freedom in fiery and destructive rhetoric against detractors of the LDS Church. Some of these folks are bigots, but most of the ones I have heard simply have theological and doctrinal disagreements with the church and have differing interpretations of the role that religion ought to play in the drafting and passage of laws. This is America, and I would hope that people could engage in lively debates on religion without being tarred as "anti-religious bigots."

The tone of your letter causes me to think that it was not provoked by violence. In fact, it fails to mention a single incident of violence. I couldn't find any records of violence on the Web site, either. (Intimidation, which you cursorily mention, is not inherently violence, and you fail to substantiate that it meets the violence threshold here; many people felt intimidated by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, but I don't recall Him ever condoning or committing an act of violence. Neither is disrupting a church service violence; it's not even inherently sinful. Christ caused plenty of disruptions at religious services and locations, and thank God He did so.)

Apparently, your real goal is as you state it at the end of the letter: "We commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry." Apparently the Christians among you have forgotten Paul's advice to bring a brother's or sister's faults to their attention personally and attempting to resolve disputes this way before bringing them to the public eye. I think Paul would be fine with public debate -- he did it in his letters -- but shaming is clearly against the spirit of what he writes

I also condemn anti-religious bigotry, but Americans are free to engage in it so long as they do not violate the law. Similarly, religious leaders are free to engage or choose not to engage in anti-homosexual bigotry as long as they do not violate the law. Why, it's the constitutional right of every American to be a bigot of whatever stripe he or she chooses, as long as no laws are violated. Of course, I don't think Jesus would advise any of us to be bigots, but my fellow believers are free to disagree.

My heart will be filled with joy when I can sign a letter with you all that condemns bigotry and violence in all forms, while defending the Constitutional right of every American to be a bigot. Naturally, this letter will also need to refrain from pronouncements in favor of public shaming. Please let me know when you want me to work with you to help draft it.

Reason for my silence

I've had a sinus infection for two weeks.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No more dumping your teenagers

Nebraska has put an age limit of 30-days for children who can be abandoned at hospitals under the state's safe haven law. That's because almost three-dozen children, mostly adolescents, have been surrendered to the state at Nebraska hospitals since July. The safe haven law allows parents to abandon their children at hospitals with no penalty. Some of the kids were driven or flown in from states as far-flung as Michigan and Florida. Can you imagine that vacation?

One wonders why states have made it so difficult to put children in foster care or mental health programs that parents feel compelled to rush the process by abandoning them.

The whole situation also reminds me of how our society -- human society in general -- has turned procreation into an idol. Even among people who don't buy into the anti-birth control teachings of various religions tend to talk about procreation as if it is the be-all and end-all of human existence.* I am at an age when many of my peers are procreating, or trying with all their might and the assistance of medical technology to procreate. In all but a few cases, they seem to be doing it with a vague, naive and unarticulated assumption that they will have wonderful, well-behaved, healthy children who will bring them joy that is, for the most part, uninterrupted by the selfishness, solipsism, and semi-sadistic tendencies that are a natural part of childhood -- not to mention the violence, mental illness, and chronic or fatal health conditions that, while not universal, are common risks of the human condition.

I'm not saying that every parent who dropped a kid off at a Nebraska hospital had this kind of naivete about parenthood, but it would be a statistical anomaly if none of them did. And so parents and children both become victims of the cult of family.

It's not that no one should ever have children. But I do wish parenthood were more often undertaken with the same forethought and weighing of pros and cons that other major decisions are. While a person can't anticipate every problem that might arise, I think it's important for potential parents to ask themselves how far they are willing and able to go in nurturing other human beings** from infancy to adulthood.

*It is, but only if you believe that our sole purpose on earth is to propogate the species at all costs; an extremely materialist and anti-spiritual argument if I've ever heard one.
** Because it could be triplets, even if you're only planning to have one!

What I've been saying all along

At least ultra-conservatives and I agree on one thing.

Cool air bags

Check out this cool exterior airbag a Swedish auto company designed to protect cyclists in crashes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quote of the day

"It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace." Andre Gide

Good chocolate

A week or so ago I posted a New York Times article about a cocoa cooperative in Ecuador that is producing dramatic improvements in the member-farmers' community. Whole Foods now carries the chocolate, but it might be more apropos to search for it in your local natural foods co-op, should it have survived the Whole Foods onslaught.

Dick Cheney indicted

Dick Cheney's finally been indicted, but not for Guantanamo or Iraq or handing the country over to fascism. He's charged with organized criminal activity related to for-profit prison companies that he has interest in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New windows

I got new, triple-pane windows on Friday. It's so strange going upstairs now. There's no longer a breeze blowing through.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Speaking of dignity

In Madison last week, a man was murdered in a fight at a local park. He didn't have to die, given that two people called in noise complaints to 911 an hour earlier, and more than one noise complaint about the same incident is supposed to trigger the dispatch of police officers. Afterward, our only surviving print daily published a narrow-viewed article about the victim. To summarize: The guy was an unemployed drunk, so it wouldn't happen to you, a reader of newspapers -- and besides, he doesn't matter anyway.

I think I was more offended by the newspaper article than by the video of James Dobson speaking at an anti-gay rally in California two weeks ago. I don't expect newspapers to print reminder that each and every one of us is a child of God. But it certainly evaded its journalistic duties by defining this man as a stereotype.

The article fails to mention that Mark Gregory Johnson worked for the same employer for 14 years, until it went out of business two years ago. It fails to mention that he had friends, family, and a cat. It fails to mention that he was a human being, although I'm sure the reporter would argue that piece of information was self-evident.

It also fails to mention that, "dear reader, it could happen to you since virtually every Wisconsinite is a drunk by definition and the unemployment rate sure is rising, isn't it?"

I am appalled at the thought of his family opening the paper to read this crap. They had to place an obituary to get the rest of the story told.

Shame and regret

I was glad today to read that 1,000 protestors gathered outside of Saddleback Church yesterday to express their disenchantment with Rick Warren and his support of Proposition 8, which revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

I hope Rick Warren, or at least some of his congregants who have agreed with him on the issue, are beginning to experience shame and regret* over how they have allowed themselves to be used as tools to promote a bigoted and worldly** agenda that seeks to rob people of their God-given dignity. Rick Warren obviously has a heart and wishes, inasmuch as a human being might ever wish, to serve the greater good. But he has certainly allowed himself to be misled on this one.

*Given Obama's election on Tuesday, I am re-inclined to believe that all sorts of good are possible this side of heaven.
**"Worldy" is the Christian's polite way of saying "Satanic" -- and, being a Midwesterner, I am inclined to be polite.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Better than morning coffee

Dar Ward has a nice preview of the Victoria Policy Institute's “Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis: Techniques, Estimates, and Implications.” It has inspired me to perhaps actually read the document, although I must admit I prefer watching videos of cyclists during Copenhagen's rush hour as inspiration. Alas, watching videos alone will not get us from here to there.

The Green Wave in Copenhagen from Colville Andersen on Vimeo.

(If you watch the video, here are my three comments: Notice how few stops signs and red lights the cyclist has to stop for. Notice that there is room to pass in the cycling lane. And how no one rides their bicycle on the sidewalk -- a better deal all around for peds and cyclists.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Every cloud with a silver lining has a touch of grey

I refused to watch television on Tuesday night, listen to the radio, or go on the Web. I didn't want election news interfering with my sleep, and one never knows when the results will come in or whether they will effect the future. After all, Gore won in 2000 but did not become president, and the final decision was not declared Tuesday night or Wednesday or Thursday or ... And I couldn't watch in 2004 without thinking "but the story could be different tomorrow." So I went on a news blackout.

On Wednesday morning, N told me that I would have to look at the paper sooner or later. I didn't want to, but I did. OBAMA NEXT PRESIDENT, it said.

Always one to look for the touch of gray, I immediately started flipping through the paper to confirm my prediction that California's Proposition 8 would pass. Alas, it was still undecided, so I didn't have that news to ruin my day, either.

So I quickly turned my thoughts to the current president and the likelihood that he would mark this historic occasion with a hissy fit before leaving office. I find that The New York Times editorial board thinks a lot like me.

Despite my best efforts at protective cynicism, I was prone to attacks of hopeful thought throughout the day. My mom was in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and even after the "I Have a Dream" speech never thought she'd see the day when Americans would elect a black president. Yet she has. And I fear that I will never see the day when the majority of evangelical Christians will reject idolatry and bigotry and instead embrace their neighbors in the humble way that Christ himself did, but maybe I will.

I imagine James Dobson has been sobbing on and off for the past day or so in fear that Proposition 8 has passed and the wrath of his god may be held back from California. But even he has some hope. The ACLU (may God bless them) is bringing the case to the California Supreme Court that the amendment process was not in accordance with California's constitution. According to that state's founding document, an amendment that substantially alters constitutional principals must be approved by the California legislature before it goes to ballot. The ACLU argues that, by removing civil rights from a minority group (marriage rights were recognized as civil rights by the California Supreme Court in May), the amendment alters the substance of the constitution.

A similar case succeeded in 1990. In that case, California voters had approved a constitutional amendment that limited the rights the state could grant to criminal defendants. The state's Supreme Court struck down the amendment because it altered the essential meaning of the Constitution and, as such, needed to go through the more rigorous process of legislative and popular approval.

If the ACLU succeeds, Dobson can have the glee of anticipating California's complete destruction. And, since he will die long before that happens*, he can enjoy the thought for the rest of his life.

*Yes, you read it here first. I predict that James Dobson will indeed die in the normal way that all humans, including Christ, have done, and not be part of a Rapture in which he is swept up into heaven without ever experiencing death. If I am wrong, I will undoubtedly be left behind in punishment for my detraction, and any of you who have not been swept up can gloat. Actually, those of you who have been swept up can gloat, too, as you watch me from up there on your clouds and spit on my head.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Home Demolitions at Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills

The following is from Christian Peacemaker Teams:

AT-TUWANI URGENT ACTION: Home Demolitions at Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills
29 October, 2008

At 9:10 am on the morning of Wednesday 29 October, 2008, the Israeli military demolished 10 dwellings in the Palestinian village of Um al Kher, in the South Hebron Hills, leaving around 60 people, including young children, homeless.

The military arrived without warning shortly after 9am with a bulldozer. They gave the villagers little time to remove their possessions before demolishing four stone homes and six metal dwellings. Um al Kher is situated close to the illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel and the demolished homes were those closest to the settlement.

Palestinians and internationals from At-Tuwani attempted to reach Um al Kher in order to prevent or at least witness the demolitions. The Israeli military stopped their vehicle on Route 317, and told them the area was a closed military zone. However, Israeli vehicles were allowed to travel freely in both directions.

By 11 am the villagers were left with the wreckage of their destroyed homes. At 11:40 there was a heavy downpour of rain and the villagers rushed to move their possessions into the cover of their friends tented homes.

A villager told CPT, “The children are not here, they were frightened and ran away.” Another villager, a 21 year old social work university graduate, told how relieved she was that her mother had been out with the goats when her home was demolished. The young woman had complained to an Israeli military officer that a soldier threatened to hit her. The officer’s response was, “If he went to hit you that’s nice. If he hit you, it’s very nice.”

A young mother, holding her baby as she sat outside a neighbour’s tent, said, “My baby in rain. Where my baby sleep?”

Within an hour of the army’s departure assistance arrived in the form of CARE International, International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Works and Relief Agency. The latter will supply blankets and kitchen utensils. At present the villagers know of no organization able to help them rebuild their homes.


These homes were demolished in violation of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. We urge you to write to the Israeli Embassy or Consulate in your home country to demand an
explanation of:

· Why were these homes demolished?
· Why did the military choose to demolish them at the start of the winter rainy season?
· Where will the young woman’s baby and the other villagers sleep?

Photos of the demolished homes can be viewed at gallery/Israeli- military- demolish- Um-al-Kher- homes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gator pics

I have finally uploaded some of my alligator videos and photos from my trip to Louisiana. You can see them here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Motorists impede cycling traffic

I whipped off this weakly written missive today in response to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal about motorists who are impatient with child cyclists going to and from school in Cottage Grove:

I don't know if the writer or the editor was responsible for the oversight, but I was disappointed to see a list of complaints at the article's end that children should be riding on the sidewalk, while no mention was made that children are not required to ride on sidewalks according to Wisconsin law. (In many municipalities, they are forbidden from doing so.) Cyclists are always permitted to ride in the road unless the road specifically prohibits such traffic (such as marked highways).

In any case, sidewalks aren't actually safer than roads. In fact, they may be more dangerous because drivers are less likely to see them as they approach driveways and intersections. The League of American Bicyclists has a lot of info about this; here is one example from their "biking myths" list.

Not to mention that cycling on sidewalks presents a hazard to pedestrians.

Children certainly need to learn the rules of the road and how to conduct themselves safely and predictably in traffic. They also need their governments to build bike paths before their schools are built, just as roads are built before construction. Teaching kids to ride on the sidewalk is not the answer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apple craziness

I am glad to report that I am finally done processing the 250 pounds of apples that Dekalb and I picked a week before my birthday. (I am sure that Dekalb would like me to note here that they were all free or he wouldn't have found any thrill at all in harvesting them.)

This is what 250 pounds of apples looks like. We crammed 50 pounds in each of two bushel boxes, 40 pounds in each of two 4/5-bushel boxes, and miscellaneous amounts in various sacks. The stuff that went in the bags was mostly Golden Delicious, while the stuff in the boxes was a small reddish-green apple of unknown name. The former made fabulous dried fruit and applesauce; the latter made good canned slice apples and (unprocessed) is an excellent accompaniment to peanut butter, but quite unimpressive dried.

N took this picture of me while I was processing apples. The bucket on the floor was for compost. I ended up filling three of those with seeds, rotten fruit and bruised bits over the course of processing. Closest to me on the stove top is my Finnish steam juicer, which consists of three stainless steel tiers, flexible tubing, and a lid. The bottom tier is a pot that holds water, the top tier is a steamer basket that holds the fruit, and the middle tier is a juice collector. You bring the water in the bottom tier to a boil, and the steam rises through an inverse funnel at the center of the juice collector, heating the apples. The heated apples exude juice, which drips into the collector. Once you have enough juice, you uncap and unclamp the flexible tubing at the side of the juice collector, empty is into sterilized jars and cap. In Scandinavia, they consider that the end of the process, but USDA guidline-abiding citizens of the United States then put the jars in a boiling water bath for the USDA-specified period.

The contraption at the far side of the stove is an aluminum pressure canner which some liken to a military tank. (If that be so, it is the only such tank that a respectable Amish or Mennonite will be caught using.) It is quite heavy, with solid walls about 1/2-inch thick and a lid that screws on with six separate nuts. Apples don't require pressure canning, but I use The Tank for boiling-waterbath canning, as well, because I gave my grannyware boiling-waterbath canner to someone who had no canning equipment (how could I let her be without?).

The box by the sink and the bag on the floor contain apples.

And now, the gallery of mutant apples:

Cod: love 'em.

After reading that Atlantic cod have been endangered by overfishing, I started to feel bad about my daily dose of cod liver oil. I went to Community Pharmacy, which has a big-ass selection of fish oils, and found that you can also get fish oil from small and plentiful (for now) fish like sardines and mackerel, but all of it is in gelatin capsules -- not a liquid in capsules, which I prefer. I mean, do I really want to be ingesting a bone-marrow byproduct from cannibalistic cows? The USDA currently forbids processors to conduct broad-based routine tests for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease), so it's hard to know if the bone marrow in a particular batch of gelatin is rife with BSE prions or not. Besides, I don't like the idea of eating factory-raised cows. Cruel and polluting.

Back to cod. Entrepreneurs in Norway are developing a way to farm cod. If this happens, would I have free license to suck all the cod livers I wanted, with no guilt? Would the quality of the livers be the same, given that farm-raised cod would have a different diet than wild cod? Would cod farms be as polluting as Chilean salmon farms? Should I just start eating six cans of sardines a day?

Good dog!

A very cute Jack Russell mutt in Australia reached across party lines to protect a litter of kittens from a house fire. The link takes you to the video. Good boy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The other California ballot measure

The New York Times had a well-written article this weekend about the strategy of Californiai's Proposition 2, which would ban battery crates for hens, veal crates for calves and gestation crates for sown in the state of California. Interesting tidbit: the guy who currently heads the Humane Society of the United States founded the Student Animal Rights Coalition, which I remember from my Sassy-reading days. Except that I associate it with a black-and-white photo of a pale white girl with straight dark hair and dark lipstick (which could describe me too at the time, come to think of it). I think she was a Sassiest Girl in America finalist. I know she was a vegan. And I guess she started a SARC chapter in her school, or expanded it from colleges into high schools, or something of the sort. It was obvious that she was artsy and serious and she probably listened to the Cure a lot. Because back then, if you were a teenage vegan, these things were required.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Platypus power

I so want this t-shirt.

At my last job, the picture on my computer desktop was of a mama platypus and her two pups, or hatchlings, or whatever they call those infants. To the untrained eye, it looked like a groundhog wearing a soiled Donald Duck souvenir beak over its snout and holding a jumbo shrimp in either hand.

I became totally obsessed with monotremes for a while, as much for there inherent interesting-ness as for the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of work to do at my job. My coworker Johnny Mumbles insinuated that my interest was peculiar. Clams Casino, a cohort known for her fondess of all non-human mammalian babies, had her reservations about the two pieces of shrimp. She argued that perhaps monotremes should not be classified as mammals for her purposes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Speading the wealth

I am continually surprised by my continual surprise at McCain's utter lack of political savviness.

This past week, he seems to have decided that the best way to evoke fear in the American public is to say that Barack Obama wants to "spread the wealth." But I honestly can't imagine that anyone outside of his rallies is booing at that news. Are the living rooms of America filled with people screaming out, "Dear God, the last thing I want is a stronger economy and an improved tax code that help me make more and save more money!"

I mean, other than me. I scream it every day as part of my morning exercise routine, but that's just to get my neighbors to stop hitting their snooze alarms and get out of bed finally.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big oil, er, controversy

Here's an ad that ABC refused to air during 20/20 because it was "controversial." I don't know, but I find all the car-promoting, beer-drinking and election-related ads they run controversial. This article tells you more. You can write to ABC and ask them to reconsider here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pictures, finally

I have finally finished posting photos from the ACT Ride in early August. I managed to raise about $2,000 for the AIDS Network, south-central Wisconsin's AIDS service organization. I also managed to bike 320 miles, along the way building deeper friendships with people affected by HIV/AIDS and other cool people. To find the pitures, you can go to the August page in my blog to find them, browse entries labeled "Wisconsin rocks ," or click on the following links:

ACT 6, Day 1 - ACT 6, Day 2 - ACT 6, Day 3 - ACT 6, Day 4

Friday, October 10, 2008

For Bloggers Against Drunk E-mailing (ForBADE)

I am not prone to e-mailing while drunk, since I'm not all that prone to getting drunk, but I have friends who have run into this problem. If you are one of them, get a Gmail account and activate the Mail Goggles feature, which makes you solve a series of basic math problems before you can send messages.

Of course, if you're generally bad at math, or if you're good at math even when your drunk, this won't help you. Maybe a simple Sudoku game would be a better screening tactic.

Now, they need to add this option to their blogging program. Although I probably wouldn't activate it. That might prevent all my delirious-with-a-head-cold-or-migraine-or-anger posts. And those are my best, don't you think?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Grocery stores growing their own groceries

I read in the San Francisco Chronicle about a grocery store that is growing some of its own produce. The reporter and copyeditor are under the impression that this may be the first case of a supermarket in the United States trying this gimmick, but Wegmans Food Markets in the northeast beat San Franciso's Bi-Rite Market by at least a year.

Yes, when I said "gimmick," I meant it. I suppose one would expect a local foodie like me to be all in favor of this idea. But I'm not. Now, don't make the logical leap to assuming that I'm vehemently opposed to it (see previous post about my disdain for illogical leaps disguised as logic). But there are problems with this model -- primarily, that the farmers become employees, rather than business owners. Life as an employee farmer generally doesn't pay well. (On the other hand, being a business owner often doesn't pay well, either.)

I also wonder: does a store farming its own vegetables boost overall demand for local produce, thus benefiting other farmers; or does it reduce the market for existing local farmers, thus harming them? If these stores are in it to produce warm feelings about local self-reliance, they should research their farms' effects on the local economy to make sure those warm fuzzies are warranted.

Just my thoughts.

The FDA says what?

Poor Food & Drug Administration. Underfunded, understaffed and overburdened. Perhaps that's why it's often advisable to believe the exact opposite of what the FDA tells you.

The FDA says, for example, that there is a lack of evidence suggesting that plastics ingredient and endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) can cause harm at common levels of exposure, and therefore should be recognized as safe. (Apparently the people who can up with tnis particular "if, then" formula did not pay enough attention to their logic lessons in school -- lack of proof of danger is not proof of safety, and that's what the FDA and the American Chemistry Council have been implying.)

Meanwhile, the federal National Toxicology Program has found that it's reasonable to be worried that BPA poses dangers to children and the matter needs further research. A study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences finds that the presence of BPA in the body makes it harder to effectively treat breast cancer.

What's so hard for the FDA about saying, "Caution is warranted"? And why are the American Chemistry Council's members so tied to BPA that they don't want to make alternative plastics? Isn't ingenuity supposed to be part of that science?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Beer that I could drink

I like the taste of a good beer but, going down, the alcohol feels like musketballs dropping into my stomach. Poor me and my sensitive stomach. So I'm stuck drinking Guiness Kaliber (0.50%), which is really quite good -- like drinking pumpernickel bread -- but not offered at many bars.

The New York Times had an article a while back about a new trend of low-alcohol craft brews. The ones that really piqued my interest have around 3% alcohol. I think my stomach might do okay with that -- it's like eating an overripe banana, right? But what are the chances that a Wisconsin microbrewery would aim for lower alcohol content? If you've heard of one, tell me. Otherwise, I might have to figure out how to brew my own, although they might chase me out of the Wine & Hop Shop if I tell them my goal.

Horrifying hybrid

I was glad to see that the Cap Times has published an article on the abomination of a bike lane on Winnequah Road in Monona. I first encountered this lane-path hybrid (perhaps more frightening than the human-animal hybrids that W. Bush warned us of so many years ago) on the last day of the ACT Ride this year.

The experience was truly discombobulating. The bike lane was interrupted at regular intervals by several yards of sidewalk. Or you could say that the sidewalk was interrupted at regular intervals by several yards of bike lane. The woman I was with rode up and down the walks, but I said, "No way in hell am I riding that way." Anyone who has studied collision patterns knows that cyclists are far more likely to be involved in collisions when they are on sidewalks, and when they are entering a road from a sidewalk.

Sidewalk transitions are also a good place for cyclists to crash without hitting or being hit by another vehicle, especially in cold climes like Wisconsin. That's because water works itself into the cracks in the asphalt and, over the winter freeze-and-thaw cycles, causes concrete to heave. So, over a few years, you no longer have smooth curb cuts, but concrete jumps, fissures and potholes perfect for catching your wheels.

I used to commute on Winnequah frequently and am glad that Monona hadn't implemented this stupid idea back then. Yes, the road was riddled with potholes, but it was wide enough that you could avoid potholes and motor vehicles at the same time. I agree with the sentiment expressed in the article: If Monona wanted to slow down motor vehicle traffic and make the road safer for cyclists, why not just repave (to eliminate the potholes) and paint bicycle-only lanes?

And this threat by Monona authorities to ticket cyclists for not using the sidewalks is absurd. In other parts of Monona, they've posted signs saying "No bicyclists on sidewalks." ( I am generally not in favor of cyclists riding on sidewalks, either, but Monona has taken the extra step of prohibiting cycling on an uninterrupted sidewalk (it's next to a park, so there are no driveways to pose dangers to cyclists and no buildings where cyclists would pose a threat to exiting pedestrians) nest to a road where the average motor vehicle speed is 45 mph.

Now Monona wants to force cyclists onto sidewalks? Too bad for Monona; Wisconsin law says that cyclists may use any road that is not specifically prohibited to them by local authorities. If Monona wants to keep cyclists on the Winnequah sporadic sidewalks, it would have to prohibit cyclists from using the sporadic bike lane on Winnequah, too. Which would kind of defeat the purpose of the whole project. No to mention encouraging cyclists to pedal on people's lawns on the inter-sidewalk stretches.

Okay, so I had a lot to say about that. But often the things I read speak for themselves. I want to share them, but I don't have much to say about them. So I've added a new sidebar to the blog called "Things I've read lately." Enjoy.

Precarious balance

Interesting article in The Seattle Times about a woman who has started a fur company in hopes of making a dent in the population of Australian brushtail possums in New Zealand, where they have become an invasive species. (These possums, like all other mammals, are not native to New Zealand.)

I just fear what could happen if humans are declared an invasive species in New Zealand, although I suppose some would not mind. I'd hope they'd come up with a more humane solution, like deportation.

Yes, let's deport the possums to Australia!

Photos by Peter Firminger, used under an attribution-only Creative Commons license.

Update to "Food Politics Update"

People are acting surprised that mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, which went into effect yesterday, doesn't apply to Spam. See this article from Bloomberg.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Food politics update

The Government Accountability Office has released an enlightening report on the pollution caused by feedlots and the (in)ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to ameliorate the problem. A highlight:

Two recent federal court decisions have affected EPA’s and some states’ ability to regulate CAFOs for pollutants that may impair water quality. Specifically:

• In 2005, in Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. v. EPA (Waterkeeper), the U.S. Court of appeals for the Second Circuit set aside key provisions of a CAFO rule EPA had issued in 2003. This rule would have provided EPA with comprehensive information on the universe of CAFOs and their operations and would have subjected large numbers of previously unregulated CAFOs to monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as periodic inspections. However, the court concluded that EPA did not have the authority under the Clean Water Act to require CAFOs that were not discharging pollutants into federally regulated waters to apply for permits. As a result, CAFO operators currently determine for themselves whether they need to apply for a federal permit, and EPA must rely on other means of acquiring information about CAFOs that are illegally discharging pollutants, such as through citizens’ reports. ...

• The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision—Rapanos v. United States (Rapanos)—has also complicated EPA’s enforcement of CAFO regulations. The Court’s decision has raised questions that have not yet been resolved about which “waters” are considered federal waters and, therefore, fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA enforcement officials, the agency may be less likely to seek enforcement against a CAFO that it believes is discharging pollutants into a water body because it is now more difficult to prove that the water body is federally regulated. Congress is considering legislation that seeks to clearly define the scope of the Clean Water Act and resolve the questions raised by the Rapanos decision.

Speaking of meat, there's a good article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the Country of Origin Labeling law, which goes into effect tomorrow. Through some sneaky maneuvering, folks who would rather not have consumers learn where their food comes from managed to exempt more than half of all pork and seafood and a third of beef from the labeling requirement. How? By exempting all "processed" foods --and establishing a very broad definition of "processed."

Given that the economy has people working so long that they have no time to cook, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods are taking up a greater and greater share of grocery sales. These foods -- from mixed frozen vegetables to cooked whole chickens -- are exempt from Country of Origin Labeling.

Quite convenient for someone. But not for the consumer.

To be clear, I'm not saying the U.S. meat is necessarily better than meat from other countries. Our meat production system is problematic, to say the least. But there are instances when Country of Origin Labeling can help; I'd much rather eat salmon from Alaska than from Chile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

News from the familial homeland

Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for meats, fresh produce, peanuts, and some frozen produce goes into effect at the end of the month (just in time for Rosh Hashanah, in case you hadn't noticed). We are way behind South Korea, where consumers have been inspecting their meat labels for a while because they would hate to end up with U.S. beef, which they figure is unsafe because we slaughter downer cows for human consumption and have a few documented cases of mad cow disease (and would probably have many more if we actually tried to monitor for it more than half-heartedly).

Ninety percent of people surveyed are avoiding U.S. beef for the upcoming harvest festival, according to this article from a Korean news agency. Now, you could surmise that people prefer to eat local for their harvest festivals, but the avoidance of U.S. beef extends to other times of the year. Thirty percent of respondents said they won't even eat in a restaurant that serves U.S. beef because they have concerns about its safety. Even if they'd been planning to order chicken?

I was feeling so at one with my Korean cousins until I read that last part. Alas, I may not eat industrial U.S. beef, but 100 percent of me eats at restaurants that serve it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The okapi survives in the wild!

This okapi adult and babe are not in the wild, but if you follow this link, you can see one that is wandering the woods in its native Great Lakes region of Africa.

I hesitate to spend too much time comparing the okapi to other animals, since it is so beautiful in its own right, but hell, here I go: If you look closely, you can see the knobs on its head that are like those on its close relative, the giraffe. When Europeans first encountered the creature, they thought the knobs were a single horn and that the okapi was a unicorn. But the okapi reminds me most of a doe-eyed dog. I guess its the fur.

Photo by Takako Matoba/Jason Hickey, used under an attribution-only Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Terrorism at home

The St. Paul-Minneapolis-Ramsey County police made quite a to-do about their capture of alleged aspiring terrorists at the Republican National Convention this past week. Unfortunately for them, along with everyone who wishes there was a terrorist under every roof (because then that would justify bombing abroad and curtailing civil liberties at home even more!), they seem to have more rhetoric than evidence in most cases.

A good source of news about the eight people arrested for their work with the anarchist-leaning Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee is here. It's hosted by supporters of the RNC-8, but includes coverage from mainstream and conservative press, as well.

Meanwhile, one wonders what will happen to the law enforcement folks who attempted to strike terror into journalists and medics by locking them up and/or beating them for filming/treating folks who were pummeled by police officers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wow, and I thought *I* was full of vitriol

Then I started listening to hateful speech after hateful speech at the Republican National Convention. I really thought they could be civil. Heck, after listening to the speech by Hillary Clinton, in which she appeared to give up on playing dirty (in her case, I'm referring to insulting your opponents -- innuendo and actions of henchpersons count), I really thought that people could engage in politics without degrading themselves or others.

This commentary on the Palin speech provided some moral Alka-Seltzer to soothe my anguished soul.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Illegal bicycle hoarding

In this article in The New York Times, several of my favorite subjects intersect: bicycles, hoarding, mental health, and Canada. Do read, especially if you need encouragement to register your bike with your local municipality, buy a better lock, or pursue justice in the case of a stolen bicycle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bee Gees Tribute

Some people have a prejudice against falsettos and disco and therefore discount the Bee Gees' genius.

In a quest to make the wondrousness of the Bee Gees accessible to all tribes and tongues, cover bands are cropping up to deliver the brothers' music in other genres. One such example is Let's Make Tragedy Happen, which has translated the Gibb's disco scores into heavy metal. Listen. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Good reading

An interesting article in The New York Times about globalization's retreat.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No bonking

I completed the ACT Ride yesterday and met my personal goals:

(1) Make friends.
(2) Cheer fellow bikers up hills.
(3) Bike up every single hills unless precluded from doing so by injury (and I had no knee or other injuries, so I biked up every single hill -- yay!)
(4) Don't bonk.
(5) Bike the entire route.

I would post some pictures from the ride now, but seeing as I just woke up for the day (note time stamp), I guess that will have to wait until tomorrow. Along with the stinky stack of laundry and going grocery shopping. No worries about the latter -- I have enough frozen fruit and yogurt to create a smoothie semi-nirvana that will nourish me for the total two to four hours I plan to be awake today.

The secret to getting up those hills was reminding myself that this whole journey is symbolic of the fight against AIDS and I wanted to fight. I have friends who have survived AIDS for 20+ years now, and I wanted to have a fraction of the gumption they do. And a fraction of the gumption of those who have passed.

A note about bonking: Last time I did the ACT Ride (in 2005), I was really sick of Gatorade by the third day. So I stopped drinking Gatorade in favor of water with added electrolyte powder. This seemed like solid thinking at the time, but it wasn't. The electrolyte powder has only one to four grams of carbohydrates per serving. So, only twenty miles away from the day's finish (and half a mile from the next pit stop), I bonked.

It was not as dramatic as described in the above link (I was still able to pedal and, when off my bike, remain standing), but it was a very strange feeling. One moment, I was fine; the next moment, all the mojo had been sucked out of me. Everything took on a more vivid hue. In the ACT Ride, no rider gets left behind (or alone at the side of the road), so I was safely escorted to that pit stop and then by bus to camp. Nonetheless, it was a very very creepy feeling and I decided that I had learned my lesson.

This year, I drank Gatorade no matter how disgusting it tasted and sucked on lots of those sports gels (although I do remain finicky with the latter, sucking on only chocolate or, in a pinch, coffee or vanilla flavors, because these at least have a vague resemblance to pudding, while all the other flavors are just gross). Also, there was a health food company that donated gallons and gallons of this electrolyte-containing juice drink called Zola, and having that option meant I didn't have to drink as much Gatorade. Plus, the Zola was loaded with caffeine in the form of guarana and, as much as I would like it not to be true, caffeine really does help your muscles work when you are pedaling for hours on end.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

ACT 6: Day 4

This was where we had our first stop of the morning. I can't recall where the heck we were. Don't you think the line of caution tape contributes so much to the bucolic scene? Luckily, it was not police tape; there was a crane parked nearby that appeared to be taking respite from moving rocks about the river's edge. My prominent memory from this particular stop is that Jesse from Williamson Bicycle Works was kind enough to change my tire when I accidentally popped the air valve off of it. I never knew this before, but you can pop off the tip of a Presta valve if you attach a tire pump to it crookedly.
I called this guy Priscilla the whole ride. He was okay with it.

Only 4 more yards to go!
Rider Zero being accompanied to the closing ceremonies. You can't see Rider Zero, but you can see Rider Zero's bike, helmet and shoes. Rider Zero goes on the ride with us and represents people we've lost to HIV/AIDS. At the close of every day, we welcome Rider Zero into camp. Like all of the ACT riders, Rider Zero never gets left behind.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

ACT 6: Day 3

Someone else took this picture in the morning. I was determined to keep up a good pace because this would be a century (100-mile) day, so I refused to lollygag in the morning.
The theme of the day was Wisconsin, so the hosts of our AM pit decorated accordingly. Alas, they allowed us to consume the cheese curds, but not the beer.
Wasn't Day 2 supposed to be the hilly day?
No, seriously?
A group of Harley riders hosts a watermelon seed spitting contest for the riders and crew every year. This one was at Indian Lake, our PM pit.
Isn't Indian Lake pretty?
See how this road just seems to drop off. It pretty much does. It would have been fun to go down, but we were biking up the descent, not down.
I spent enough time at the top of this hill cheering other riders on that the sun came back out.
Roller derby people also make good crossing guards.
Can we be done with the hills already?
But we all made it up.
This town was one of our afternoon stops. We were there around 2:30 or so and still had, oh, 35-40 miles to go. It was a very nice town, but I guess I was too delirious to be able to remember what it was called. It had a cannery with trucks of corn and peas lined up outside. You could smell the discarded legume pods as they made their way down a chute into a waste truck. I imagine the pods went for feed, but I didn't stop to ask.

By this time I had given up on my resolve not to lollygag. My pace (including pit stops) had dropped to less than 10 mph. If I could get into camp before sunset, I was happy. And I did. Somewhere around 7 pm.

Those are the best kinds of showers.

Friday, August 8, 2008

ACT 6: Day 2

The route takes ACT Riders along Condon Road every year. I'm still not sure if this is coincidence, or because "condon" means "condom" in Spanish.

In case you weren't aware, condom use is an effective way to reduce the transmission of HIV.

This hill is steeper than it looks.

See that black dot? That's a biker trying to make it up the endless hill. Go rider!

I thought I'd gotten pretty creative in meeting the theme of Day 2, which was Mardi Gras, what with my peacock feathers and sequined bike shorts. But then I saw Kelly.

See, I actually did spend some time on my bike.

Can you tell which one's my butt?

This dog at the Riley Tavern (in Riley, Wisconsin) made me very happy. I spent much time petting her and found a huge tick on her neck. Her caretakers removed it, as I did not have the proper supplies with me on my bike.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ACT 6: Day 1

You can tell I'm not really a committed biker because I didn't haul my 40-pound backpack the 4 miles from my house to the ride starting point at 5:30 a.m. No, I threw it in N's truck, along with my bike. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

This is the Cooksville Store. It is the first and longest-lived convenience store in Wisconsin, more than 100 years old. It has no running water, so staff can't make food for you, but it has electricity and their fridges are brimming with Gatorade. Three years ago, I bought some secondhand glass Tupperware here during a training ride and strapped it to my bike for the rest of the journey. A couple of my ridemates found this endlessly amusing.
Dr. Evermore used to have a worshop next to the Cooksville Store. These rusty ratites are its remnants.
Perhaps the world's best stop sign is also in Cooksville.

What's with the serious look? When I am at stop signs, I'm totally focused on watching for breaks in traffic. Which is kind of funny, considering that we had a whole slew of crossing guards keeping an eye on this intersection for us. What can I say? Good habits are hard to break. (Oh, and the pallidness of my lips is not burgeoning stomach upset; it's super-zincky-titaniumy sun-blocking lip balm.)

With the brevity of this photo collection, one would think that the day ended in Cooksville, but we camped in Albany. See?:

But I was so excited about getting into camp before 3:30 p.m. that I neglected to take pictures. So you'll just have to trust me that Albany is beautiful.