My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

Excellent article from the BBC's Science and Environment Reporter Mark Kinver. Please read this and pass it on.

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s," he told BBC News.

"It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

"At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers."

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people's diets and public health.

"But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected," he explained.

"Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment."

Thirty years on and the world was now facing an even more complex situation, he added.

"The level of growth in food production per capita is dropping off, even dropping, and we have got huge problems ahead with an explosion in human population."

Fussy eaters

Professor Lang lists a series of "new fundamentals", which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

* Oil and energy: "We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets."
* Water scarcity: "One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water," Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK's vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.
* Biodiversity: "Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land."
* Urbanisation: "Probably the most important thing within the social sphere. More people now live in towns than in the countryside. In which case, where do they get their food?"

Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The UK's Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, recently set up a Council of Food Policy Advisers in order to address the growing concern of food security and rising prices.

Mr Benn, speaking at the council's launch, warned: "Global food production will need to double just to meet demand.

"We have the knowledge and the technology to do this, as things stand, but the perfect storm of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity, threatens our ability to succeed."

Professor Lang, who is a member of the council, offered a suggestion: "We are going to have to get biodiversity into gardens and fields, and then eat it.

"We have to do this rather than saying that biodiversity is what is on the edge of the field or just outside my garden."

Michelin-starred chef and long-time food campaigner Raymond Blanc agrees with Professor Lang, adding that there is a need for people, especially in the UK, to reconnect with their food.

He is heading a campaign called Dig for Your Dinner, which he hopes will help people reconnect with their food and how, where and when it is grown.

"Food culture is a whole series of steps," he told BBC News.

"Whatever amount of space you have in your backyard, it is possible to create a fantastic little garden that will allow you to reconnect with the real value of gardening, which is knowing how to grow food.

"And once you know how to grow food, it would be very nice to be able to cook it. If you are growing food, then it only makes sense that you know how to cook it as well.

"And cooking food will introduce you to the basic knowledge of nutrition. So you can see how this can slowly reintroduce food back into our culture."

Waste not...

Mr Blanc warned that food prices were likely to continue to rise in the future, which was likely to prompt more people to start growing their own food.

He was also hopeful that the food sector would become less wasteful.

"We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food.

"In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.

"At least the amendment to European rules means that we can now have some odd-shaped carrots on our shelves. This is fantastic news, but why was it not done before?"

He suggested that the problem was down to people choosing food based on sight alone, not smell and touch.

"The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life.

"Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.

"The British consumer today has got to understand that when they make a choice, let's say an apple - either Chinese, French or English one - they are making a political choice, a socio-economic choice, as well as an environmental one.

"They are making a statement about what sort of society and farming they are supporting."

Growing appetite

The latest estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger in 2008 as a result of higher food prices.

This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007.

The FAO warned that the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty.

"World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries," said FAO assistant director-general Hafez Ghanem at the launch of the agency's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 report.

"The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," he added.

Professor Lang outlined the challenges facing the global food supply system: "The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jesus Claus

Both come from a mystical land that many talk about, but no one has ever seen.

Both promise gifts and treasure for good behavior.

Both keep a record of your lifetime of conduct.

Both can always see what you are doing, at any time, anywhere.

Both magically ascend into the sky when the job is done.

What is amazing is that every single child in the world is naturally compelled to ask enough provoking question to dispel the Santa myth before even reaching intellectual maturity. Whereas most adults refuse to ask any questions that undermine their belief in whether or not Jesus is real. For a long time I thought that children were just naturally smarter to ask for their gifts upfront, but in time I’ve realized that children inherently know that not receiving gifts from an imaginary person is not a fair trade for the truth.

It is with that in mind that my wife and I decided, post-theological as we are, to celebrate the myth of Santa with our son Sebastian. We see it as a trial run, practice, for the gauntlet of mythical propaganda to follow. If he can let go of a jolly man giving out candy and toys, then seeing through a world filled with talking snakes, the dead rising like zombies, and the beliefs that the creator of the universe has nothing better to do then worry whether or not people like him, then he should be able easily dispensed with that as fiction too.

In time we hope that our son realizes that the true meaning of this season predates religion, civilization, and humanity itself. It is a celebration of the dark, cold, and slumbering. It is the understanding that everything needs rest, the world will renew, and that life will continue. And in some small part, if we support each other with cooperation and love when times are dark, we will be stronger when the light comes. So maybe, just maybe, if we are good, will get to see our gift in the smile of every independent thinker who has just figured out that Santa Claus is just Jesus for adults.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Throw Him in Jail Already

So I’ve been taking a break from political writing since the election, but can’t stand by and not say something about this. In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Dick Cheney admitted to war crimes. Not in a roundabout way, not trying to sugarcoat it, and not in a way that is disputable. It was a matter of fact, simple admission that waterboarding happened and that he approved of it.

So what’s the big deal? Let me digress for a minute to bring up a bit of history. I’m going to quote the recent Republican nomination from president, a POW himself, John McCain (Thursday, November 29th, 2007 in a campaign event in St. Petersburg): “… following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.” That’s right, we’ve actually hung people - within Dick Cheney’s lifetime - for waterboarding. And he just admitted to it. Let me say that again. A sitting Vice President just went on national TV and admitted to a crime that we as a country have killed people for committing.

So where is the outrage? Sure they’re gone in a couple of weeks, but if this remains unpunished it sets a precedent that any crime committed by a president or vice president is legal as long as they say it is. To quote another politician, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”. Those famous words by Dick Nixon, about his now almost adorable break-in to a Democratic Headquarters in Washington, DC, are currently being used by one of our leaders in favor of illegally torturing someone in the same manner as was used in the Spanish Inquisition.

So what can we do? Well, just because he is leaving office does not mean that he is no longer accountable for his crimes. He is still prosecutable for his actions and needs to be made an example of. We are a country of laws and everyone must obey them. If we are to believe that no one is above the law, our laws must be applicable from the top down. Please take a minute and write your representative. Let them know that you’re outraged. Tell them that you want Dick Cheney held accountable. Tell them that if they really want to show that they stand for change, this would be an excellent place to start.

Write your representative from the Senate

Write your representative from the House

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical

Because, Jesus loves you just as much as Gaylord Seaman III.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Deadly Stampede At Wal-Mart Not Surprising

By: Andrei Codrescu

President Bush told us to go shopping.

Seven years later, Lehman Brothers went under.

In the aftermath, our panicked leaders prophesied doomsday if we didn't immediately go shopping to save America from recession.

And so we went shopping! We so went shopping, in rumbling herdlike elephant masses, we killed a guy who didn't get out of the way fast enough. It's a tragic incident, but by no means meaningless. Shopping is a religion, and some religions demand sacrifices.

The Wal-Mart employee died for us on Black Friday, but have we stopped to think what his sacrifice means? Not at all: We're stampeding right on through to the other side of Christmas. We aren't just shopping: We are saving America.

There were some voices that said on TV that maybe we should start saving instead of shopping. We heard those voices, too, especially when gas was $4, but we seem to have quickly forgotten them. Save what?

The business of America is business. And for you and me, Mr. and Mrs. Citizen Average, that means shopping.

I'm not going to make anything out of the fact that the killer mob stormed Wal-Mart, not Neiman Marcus, because the tragedy could have happened anywhere. Shopping mobs are unstoppable regardless of whether they are after diamond-encrusted slippers or Chinese lawn ornaments. The urge is the same: Get to it before they quit running the sale ads and America goes down.

And now that we are officially in a recession and too tired from shopping to figure anything out, they are making us feel guilty of murder, which we may well be. But we were just following orders.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Make sure that you watch the whole thing, especially the background, and see if you can pick out the not so subtle symbolism.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Menacing Mud Flaps of Mayhem

Above is a picture of my car after an 18 wheeler lost a retred that flew across the highway into high speed traffic. There is over $1000 worth of damage in the form of dents, scratches, and broken pieces. Not to mention that I had my entire family in the car while the huge chunk of rubber was hurdling across the highway, sending drivers skidding in every direction.

This is not the first time that I have had the displeasure of dealing with the fallout from big rigs on the highway. Below is a picture of one of my previous cars after I was forced onto an uneven breakdown lane at high speed, lost control, spun out and hit the guard rail.

And although multiple people were injured in these accidents, with loads of witnesses, neither of these truckers was found.

My friend Tom swears that when he is Ruler of the World, trains will once again be the preferred method of mass transporting and big rigs will be banned from all but short distances. And while he may not get my support for ruler of everything, he does have my vote for future head of the US Department of Transportation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Subtle as a Clown on Fire

This blog post is a message to all of those out there in the US who have lost the ability to convey any form of subtly whatsoever. So in the spirit of blunt language that leaves nothing to the imagination, I would like to formally ask everyone who doesn’t know the art of subtly to go fuck themselves.

Please let me explain.

Over the last decade or so America has been experiencing a time of wealth not seen for several generations. We are living in the time of abundance, where things are cheap and life is good for most people. This has created a society that thrives on whatever is new, the best, and, above all else, as showy as possible. Women wearing clothes that were once the fabric of art nouveau couches from the 1960s, men have labels so large that they might as well be price tags, we now believe that we are only the sum of our sums.

The only possible path from where we are now is embarrassment (see the fallout from the fashions of the 1970s) or clothing that flashes your net worth across your chest. So let me suggest a couple of ground rules for you to remember before purchasing anything new.

If a shirt looks like it could be hiding a 3D Magic Eye image, don’t buy it.
If the label is large enough to contain a storyline, don’t buy it.
If a shirt is cleverer than you, don’t buy it.
If something is leather covered and disposable, don’t buy it.
If you are considering designer clothes for someone or something that can’t read the label, don’t buy it.
And last but certainly not least:
Do not advertise on your ass unless you are actually selling your ass.

Breaking any of these rules will make you the major form of ridicule five years from now. Just think back to all of those people smiling like jackasses in striped polyester suits or bellbottoms with 12” cuffs and realize that will be you in a couple years if you keep this shit up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monty Python launches YouTube Channel

Monty Python has launched a YouTube channel. And although the page features a slew of clips from the show, most noteworthy is its featured video, which blames users for "ripping" the show off.

"For three years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube," it says on the Monty Python YouTube page. "Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

"We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

The post claims Monty Python has put an end to "those crap quality videos" that have been posted across YouTube and will start delivering "HQ videos" from the "vault."

All videos posted on the Monty Python channel will be free to view, but the show doesn't want viewers to watch the free shows and do nothing. Instead, it asks for something in return.

"None of your driveling, mindless comments," Monty Python wrote on its YouTube page. "Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies and TV shows, and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years."

So far, the Monty Python page features 24 videos, but more clips are promised in the future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Entry for November 15, 2008

Unhappy People Watch Lots More TV
Jeanna Bryner - Senior Writer -

Unhappy people glue themselves to the television 30 percent more than happy people.

The finding, announced on Thursday, comes from a survey of nearly 30,000 American adults conducted between 1975 and 2006 as part of the General Social Survey.

While happy people reported watching an average of 19 hours of television per week, unhappy people reported 25 hours a week. The results held even after taking into account education, income, age and marital status.

In addition, happy individuals were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read a newspaper more often than their less-chipper counterparts.

The researchers are not sure, though, whether unhappiness leads to more television-watching or more viewing leads to unhappiness.

In fact, people say they like watching television: Past research has shown that when people watch television they enjoy it. In these studies, participants reported that on a scale from 0 (dislike) to 10 (greatly enjoy), TV-watching was nearly an 8.

But perhaps the high from watching television doesn't last.

"These conflicting data suggest that TV may provide viewers with short-run pleasure, but at the expense of long-term malaise," said researcher John Robinson, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In this scenario, even the happiest campers could turn into Debbie-downers if they continue to stare at the boob-tube. The researchers suggest that over time, television-viewing could push out other activities that do have more lasting benefits. Exercise and sex come to mind, as do parties and other forms of socialization known to have psychological benefits.

Or, maybe television is simply a refuge for people who are already unhappy.

"TV is not judgmental nor difficult, so people with few social skills or resources for other activities can engage in it," Robinson and UM colleague Steven Martin write in the December issue of the journal Social Indicators Research.

They add, "Furthermore, chronic unhappiness can be socially and personally debilitating and can interfere with work and most social and personal activities, but even the unhappiest people can click a remote and be passively entertained by a TV."

The researchers say follow-up studies are needed to tease out the relationship between television and happiness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walking With God

I once met God while I was walking through the woods. I said, “There are a lot of people looking for you”.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’ve been here the whole time.”

“Really, I mean, there are some vague images of you, but nothing that we would consider to be definite or absolute.”

“Oh, that’s because I’m not always visible to those who don’t venture this far”.

“I see” I said.

“You know, we are one in the same, you and I. We have the same history, come from the same place, and are brothers.”

“Wow, I always wondered, but it’s not like you were around to answer questions. We all would like to spend some time talking to you.”

“I think that I’m ready to see the world and answer any questions that you might have”.

So God and I walked out of the woods, hand in hand, and it was there that we happened upon our first group of nonbelievers. Some screamed, most ran, and a few who were faithful stood there in awe. Eventually a small child came forward and approached God. Innocently she reached up to take his free hand and he took it in hers.

After a few minutes of us all staring and basking in God’s’ presence, I asked the little girl what she thought of Him. She smiled and looked up into his large face and said, “My Grandmother always said that you existed, but no one believed her. Now I can go back and tell her that Bigfoot is real”.

It was then that I realized my mistake.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Atlas Knows That He Will Fail

Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honor - Norman Mailer

No man is comfortable with himself in relation to his responsibility. Our role models are stoic men of few words and unfaltering action: as all men are expected to quietly lead ourselves to the slaughter for the good of others. If we are allowed to live through our lives, it is only to be silent and strong role models for the next generation.

Unfortunately I am not a simple man and have the same expected weight to carry as my forefathers. This has led to my realization that martyrdom, no matter how romantic, is no way to live a life.

That being said, inflicting pain on others is something for up which I will not stand. If given the choice between self-sacrifice and harming others, I will obviously offer myself up for vicarious atonement. I am not a brave in any way, and recoil at the thought of being recognized for such an action, but see it as the only real choice.

This is not an affirmation of weakness laced with anger or silent rage for my gender. Instead, I plea for patience for those of us who must deal with someone like me, who has an equally conflicting situationally-driven paranoid endurance and a desire for simplistic character. I wish that reality gave those of us with strong backs less to carry, but evolution always proves that we have them for a reason.

So I accept my position, but only on the terms that everyone understands that it is mostly unrealistic and I will occasionally fail.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

and then the dust settled...

"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America." - President Barack Obama

So now what?

Feel free to rearrange these in the order that you believe that they should. Here is the quick jot list for the next four years:

End the War in Iraq
Rebuild our aged national infrastructure
Put education back as a high priority
Push a national science mandate
Find a way to make healthcare available or affordable for all
Fix our international reputation
Complete the War in Afghanistan
Move towards energy independence
Reverse the slide of our dollar
Stop selling ourselves to China
Repair the damage and find a balance with the environment
Shore up our borders
Deal with the threat of terrorism in a realistic way

Pick one and get to work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Changing of the Guard

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler released a book called "On Death and Dying" that described the Kübler-Ross model of five discrete stages by which people deal with grief. The stages are have since been expanded to seven and include: Shock and Disbelief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, and Acceptance and Hope. They are not only applicable to individual grief, but to groups as a whole. We can see a living example of this right now in the Republican Party.

At first they were Shocked by the Democrats ability to stay competitive in the 2008 presidential race. Disbelief raised its head when the market slumped. Shortly there after Denial set in and they couldn’t believe that there was a chance that they may actually lose power.

We are now at the stage of Anger. The far right, neoconservative side of the Republican Party is about to be put to bed and they refuse to go quietly. Like a child who is doing everything that they can to stay up, they’ve resorted to name calling, tantrum, lies, and threats all to hold on just a little longer.

For the moderate conservative side of the party, the side that has been ignored in lieu of Christian Fundamentalist, big government through an ever ballooning military, and strong authoritarian leanings by a select group of powerful individuals, this is their opportunity to reclaim their party.

And this is where Bargaining comes in. They can keep their party strong as long as they talk to the old neoconservative mouth pieces, that are currently stuck in anger and daily trotting out how the other side is represented by the antichrist or how the left getting power is a sign of some apocalyptic communist doom, and make them feel Guilt for taking your party down that path, losing their conservative ways, and selling-out to shameful neoconservative ideals.

This reality check will indeed send some of them into Depression. Losing power is hard, especially when it was unchecked for so long. Undoubtedly some will not let go of the depression or guilt and revert to anger once again. Ostracize these people for holding your party back. Recovering your party is not too far off, but you will need the corporation of everyone to reach a general Acceptance. With luck, you can rebuild the Republican Party on a conservative platform that is not controlled by religious special-interests or neoconservative ideologues.

And as a liberal, I welcome them back. Our country works best on balance. The liberal side needs the conservative side so that the country does not pendulum too far to the left. Our strength comes from the wobble between the two sides of moderate. It is with that moderation and balance in mind that we can all Hope for a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Our Country Needs a Steady Hand, Not a Maverick

We have a faltering economy, two ongoing wars, tenuous relations with several heavily armed countries, massive public educational missteps, rapidly increasing fuel prices, skyrocketing debt, and an environmental problem that requires our best mind and I all I hear from our media heads is that our country wants someone with whom we can have a beer with. If I hear this intellectually infantile declaration one more time, I may lose it.

I want someone who, by direct comparison, makes me look like I have a mental handicap. I want our next president to speak twelve languages, do quantum physics in their head, and knows my needs better than I do. Moreover, I want someone who doesn’t have time to sit down and have a beer with me while I empty my picayune mind.

Barring that, I’ll settle for someone who is a careful and deliberate intellectual - someone who is not erratic in his decisions, doesn’t make decisions on the fly, and has the ability to say that he is wrong when he has obviously messed up. Our country wants a leader that represents the best of who and what we are. We deserve an intellectual who doesn’t run the country like he’s constantly seeking a perpetually one-party rule. And we need the best of us to lead us once again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Herb's Salad

Calorie for calorie, junk foods not only cost less than fruits and vegetables, but junk food prices also are less likely to rise as a result of inflation. And although fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, they also contain relatively few calories. Foods with high energy density, meaning they pack the most calories per gram, included candy, pastries, baked goods, and snacks. The findings, reported in the Dec. 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, may help explain why the highest rates of obesity are seen among people in lower-income groups.

People don’t knowingly shop for calories per se, the data shows that it is easier for low-income people to sustain themselves on junk food rather than fruits and vegetables. And the problem compounds when you realize that it is easier to overeat on junk food because it tastes good and because eaters often must consume a greater volume in order to feel satisfied. Still, even those who consume twice as much in junk food calories are still spending far less than healthy eaters.

If you only have a couple dollars to feed yourself, your choices gravitate toward foods which give you the most calories per dollar; not only are the empty calories cheaper, but the healthy foods are becoming more and more expensive. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods. This is why I thought that I would make an appeal for one of the greatest staples of the American diet.

We as Americans love our salads. We have taken what has been a side dish around the world and created so many variations that a salad is now the standard at almost ever restaurant and dining room in America. I have recently rediscovered my love of salads and had forgotten how flexible they are. Each night we cut up any vegetables in the garden or fridge and dump them all into one bowl. This has led to what is generally known as our house Garbage Salad.

The latest incarnation of our daily dinner salad is the Herb’s Salad. It is your basic Garbage Salad with whole herbs from the garden thrown in on top. It is amazing what full leaves of basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, and beet leaves (very tasty) can add to the smell and flavor of the salad. Our salads are now at the point where they don’t need a dressing.

Pictured below is the salad from last night. It is a combination of banana peppers, cucumber, tomato, red and orange peppers, whole basil leaves, red onions, cilantro leaves, white onions, oregano leaves, beat leaves, avocado, and two kinds of lettuce. The total effect is one of a large course with the meal. Moreover, a salad like this can be coupled with just about any amount of meat to make a complete meal.

The best part of the salad pictured above is that its total price was $6.89 and fed five people (along with the main course of chicken). The reason it was so cheap is because a healthy portion of it was grown, in pots, on our back porch. The total cost of soil, pots, seeds or plants, and water is estimated at $21.55. Almost a hundred salads (or other sides, snacks, or ingredients to other items) can be harvested from that original investment.

So as the cost of healthy foods increases, we need to learn to offset it while still maintaining a nourishing and wholesome diet. Supplementing expensive healthy food with something as versatile as a salad is not only a wise idea, it may be the best idea while still staying relatively cheap. Good food doesn’t need to be a treated as a luxury - no matter how good it may be.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It Was a Dark and Stormy Nightmare

I love my son, but I fear for his life. This isn’t a rational fear, but its persistent, overwhelming, and it happens to all parents. You see, children are born with no fear what-so-ever. You save their lives hundreds of times a day, rearrange your life to keep them safe, and imagine an infinite number of ways in which harm can come to them. These thoughts can eventually metastasize into nervous idiosyncrasies that can easily manifest themselves and create overprotective parents.

With me, the fear haunts my dreams. I do what I can to suppress it, but the fear has a way of sneaking through. Below is a dream that I had several nights ago. It’s horrific and I apologize ahead of time, but feel the need to share so that I will not have this dream again.

* * *

I was cold and lifeless before he was, still in my thoughts and emotions, and silently accepting of the situation on some level deeper than I should have. I always assumed that he would die before me, things in my life just happened that way. He was my first son and the last of my hope. Hope for myself, nothing else. I had failed at everything in life and he was to be my salvation - proof that I was something. So as I looked down at his lifeless body, wondering how something so fragile could ever really have a chance, I knew that my own life had also just ended.

It had started seven months before on my wife’s birthday as the best present possible in the worst possible wrapping. He was 8 pounds 4 ounces, 19 inches long, and was born at 9:57AM Eastern Standard Time. They took him immediately, fluid in his lungs, and he stayed in the hospital for almost a week. She stayed by him while I tried to keep the family and friends away. When he finally emerged from the hospital a week later, he was healthy and normal.

His small body, dead and still perfect, lodged in my head as I crawled into the tub. She had left for her parents; family would heal her. I told myself that I would feel no pain, but I didn’t care. A friend who I trusted would find me in a couple hours and tell the story. Everyone would claim that they saw it coming and did nothing. Vague admissions to pardon my actions, but all meant to bolster the pain. I now wished the pain would come, but knew it wouldn’t. I was already dead.

The months ahead of him were normal in every way. Fawning family, sycophantic friends, and random well-wishers - all stealing his time for their own. I was a good father and did everything that I could to make his time here perfect. For a while I thought that my life was renewed, like some sort of forgiveness of past sins. He learned to smile, roll over, and laugh all while looking at me. My confidence grew with each of his victories and I was a better person than I have ever been before.

They took his body away immediately. Standard operating procedure when an infant is involved. You just can’t trust parents not to kill their children. This was no different. He was bagged, zipped, and carried out by someone who tried not to say anything. My wife sobbed and I stood there like an idiot. Arrangements were hastily made, she left shortly after, and we barely exchanged words. Both of us were dumb, but I remained motionless in her fury to keep moving.

He had been learning how to stand - pulling himself up on anything or anyone within reach. Food was his latest hobby and he never failed to get most of it in his mouth. He smiled a lot and people told him that he was beautiful. He was, he knew it, and it showed. Confidence would have never been a problem for him. I’m sure that all parents think that their baby is above average, but I really believed it.

My decision to kill myself had been automatic - I had no choice in the matter. I would always remember his smile and the cold way that it distorted once I realized that he was dead. It would haunt me until I died, so there was no use in prolonging the inevitable. I waited for her to leave, took several more phone calls, and made sure that someone was coming to check on me. Business as usual, just punching the clock and doing my job.

It was the stereotypical morning that you always hear about. Movement, shuffling, and quiet sounds emanated from his crib. I rose to catch him before he could get grumpy, but this time it was different. The sounds had come from my head, during their usual time, and I had got up in expectation of a smile and our practiced morning. Later they would call it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - I knew that you wanted something sexier, but life doesn’t work that way. He died by himself, hours before me, and was a better person. I would like to tell you that I looked as beautiful as I lay in the tub, that my smile equaled his, and that I would be missed as much, but I know better. He was the best of me and I was just finishing what he had started.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can a Republican Vote for Obama?

With all the current political happenings, we now have daily examples of people switching from the Republican candidate to the Democratic candidate because “Obama represents a sliver of hope. McCain represents none at all” (Bacevich, The American Conservative). Over the last several days Christopher Buckley, writer and son of the famed National Review conservative William F. Buckley, announced that, “for the first time in my life, I’ll be pulling the Democratic lever in November” ( While the heavy-hitting conservative Wick Allison, editor-in-chief of D Magazine, said, "My party has slipped its moorings. It’s time for a true pragmatist to lead the country” adding “Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan” (

So yes, you can be a Republican and vote for a Democrat. This is especially true when one side is represented by “a Great Communicator in the mold of Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a leader who can inspire Americans to work together on the problems of the 21st Century” (Jeffrey Hart, former Nixon and Reagan speech writer, and the other is, according Bill Kristol, founder and editor of the political magazine The Weekly Standard and regular commentator on the Fox News Channel, running "a pathetic campaign" ( Or, to paraphrase Douglas W. Kmiec, Caruso Family Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University, who served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel (U.S. Assistant Attorney General) for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, sometimes you just have to switch parties to vote for the better candidate (

But why? Why would a red-blooded conservative living in the US of A want to vote for Obama? Well, don’t do it because David Brooks, conservative columnist and pundit, formerly of National Review, called Sarah Palin a "fatal cancer” ( or that Joshua Trevino, co-founder of RedState, said, "Do I believe in John McCain? Not as much as I used to. Do I believe in Sarah Palin? Despite my early enthusiasm for her, now not at all. Do I believe in the national Republican Party? Not in the slightest -- even though I see no meaningful alternative to it” (, and don’t vote for Obama because people like David Friedman, the son of late conservative icon and Nobel economist Milton Friedman, have endorsed him (, or even because Christopher Hitchens says to vote for Obama because “McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace” (

Don’t even vote for Obama because Andrew Sullivan, author of The Conservative Soul, says that Obama “could transcend” ( our problems, or because Frances Fukuyama, one of the key founders of the Reagan Doctrine, agree that "Obama is the only one of the candidates who can escape the polarization" ( and find real solutions. And don’t vote for Obama because Larry Hunter, supply-side economist who helped is credited with writing the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America, said "I am enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama for president" (

Instead, vote for Obama because in your heart, you know he’s right.

Bacevich, A. (2008) The Right Choice?: The conservative case for Barack Obama. The American Conservative. March 24, 2008.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our Current Wars, Explained

I have been looking for an analogy for our ongoing wars that cuts through the buzz words and talking points of our politicians and media. The best that I can come up with is a couple of boys fighting during recess.

On one side we have a popular instigator who thinks that someone is doing something that he doesn’t like (say, flirting with his girlfriend). So the instigator confronts the guy who has flirted with his girlfriend and punches him in the face. Believing that he’s proved his point, he walks off and accuses another boy of the same thing, ignoring most of his friends who say that this newly accused boy didn’t actually flirt with the instigators girlfriend, and instead sides with the one or two people who think that they heard a rumor that he did. Once they are fighting, the girlfriend shows up and tells everyone that the newly accused flirter never actually flirted with her and that it was original boy who is now back on his feet and brushing himself off that did it alone.

But instead of stopping the fight, the instigator decides that this guy who he is now fighting with is a jerk and needs to be taught a lesson anyway. And besides, if he walks away in the middle of this fight, this newly accused boy will just want a rematch. He says so as loudly as possible for all to hear. The cheers of, “Fight! Fight!” drowns out the larger group of people who are complaining to each other. The two boys roll around on the floor, punching each other, and knocking over a couple of younger kids, hurting them in the process.

The yells of “Fight! Fight!” give the instigator a surge of energy and he starts doing better. During all of this, more and more people, and who were originally cheering for the guy who instigated the fight, start to turn against him because they realize that he shouldn’t have started it in the first place and is now continuing it for a bad reason. Moreover, a couple people in the crowd are now beginning to realize that the instigator is a complete jerk and that they should see if the guy wrongly accused needs some help in avenging this uncalled for fight (besides, they never liked him in the first place). The few people who want to see the fight continue, turn on anyone who says that it should stop by saying, “But he’s winning now! His surge is working!” Unhappy that there is still a fight going on, but thinking that it might be over soon anyway, most people just watch the fight and say, “this better be over soon. I’m really tired of having to watch this”.

So the fight will continue until one boy wins, they are separated by an authority figure, or until they run out of time. In the end, the accuser will be angry and see the instigator as a jerk with whom he needs to get even with. The instigator will still have to deal with the original boy who flirted with his girlfriend. And girlfriend will probably leave the instigator while he tries to rebuild his reputation to the entire school. People will take cheap shots at him because they believe that he deserves it for his past action. And the instigator will have little to no support in the school for a long time while he tries to rebuild his heavily tarnished reputation.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Assassinations Begin

At a recent rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, John McCain was openly booed for suggesting that Barack Obama is a “decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States”. Along with boos came the ferocious anger of many in the crowd. “Traitor,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “liar,” and “off with his head” all shot back at McCain, triggered by his outlandish suggestion that his opponent is a decent person.

This recent attempt to calm down a raucous rally comes after a week in which Sarah Palin suggested that Obama had been “palling around with terrorists” and the campaign’s political operatives and supporters have been encouraged to increase the hard line attacks. Both McCain and Palin have gone to great lengths lately to paint their opponent as someone who will lead the country into Socialism, and they have been encouraging their supporters to take the election personally by using inflammatory words from the stage. This latest outburst from one of the Republican candidate’s crowds is the second time in which someone has called for the death of the Democratic candidate. And this is hardly surprising considering that both McCain and Palin have spent the last couple of weeks fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry towards Obama.

It all started as the country came to grips with the reality of John McCain’s surprise pick for potential Vice President. Over time, the voting public realized that she was an extremely inexperienced, Christian extremist from Alaska, a state with .22% of the national population, and could easily be a heartbeat away from a position that could be occupied by a 72 year-old cancer survivor. So as the poll numbers started to collapse for the Republican ticket, the bitter and negative rhetoric has increased. Many of the Republican’s events consist of what John Weaver, John McCain's former top strategist, called “angry mobs”. He continued to explain his position on Anderson Cooper’s 360: “And we saw it to a considerable degree during the rescue package legislation. There is a free-floating sort of whipping-around anger that could really lead to some violence. And I think we're not far from that.”

And when John Lewis, the civil rights leader who became nationally known after his prominent role on the Selma to Montgomery marches, when police beat the nonviolently marching Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today and who is now the senator from Georgia’s 5th district, released a statement this Saturday that McCain and running mate Sarah Palin were “sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse” he too was echoing a growing major concern of many Americans.

In this statement he refers to the negative tone of the current Republican presidential campaign and states that it reminds him of the hateful atmosphere that segregationist Gov. George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s. “George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights,” said Lewis. “Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”

So with November 4th quickly approaching and John McCain’s campaign still losing ground to Barack Obama, we can expect that the Republican campaign will do everything possible to attempt to paint their adversary as unfit to lead. Whether or not that language is laced with not-to-subtle hate speech, comparing him to our enemies, and building him up as a scary black man, has yet to be decided. But one thing is still certain: if their campaigns continue with their current level of inflammatory words, you can expect that our first black president may not be our president for very long.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Old Hand

My hands are very old. They predate me by centuries. To look at them is to look at history, yet they still perform every function that I ask of them. They are good hands and I trust them to do anything.

My hands are not smart. It took them an eon to learn just two grips, the ability to rotate, club, throw, and several millennia for us to understand how they work. They were recognizable when the continents drifted toward their present positions, yet they are older still. They predate flowers and birds, fish with lungs, and when cells originally learned to come together. In their simplest of forms, they existed as matter congealed into the cosmos, but they were still recognizable to those who could see their potential.

My hands were there, as the universe first expanded into being, old already.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

And God Said, Ruin It for Everyone

This last Sunday 33 Evangelical pastors defied a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit. The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told worshipers that the Barack Obama’s positions on abortion and gay partnerships are "in direct opposition to God's truth as He has revealed it in the Scriptures." The Reverend believes that he as has a constitutional right to advise his congregation how to vote. In between sermons the he told the Washington Post, "The point that the IRS says you can't do it, I'm saying you're wrong." Almost ever election there are members of the extreme religious right who come out in defiance of the code that says nonprofit, tax-exempt entities may not "participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office".

I don’t understand why a religious person in a position of power would exchange their historic religious authority for a fleeting promise of political power, to the detriment of their churches. Moreover, by entering into a relationship between the state, they are sacrificing the direction of their faith to a government organization. Anytime a private sector is institutionalized, the government gets to control the direction of the newly acquired entity. So our system is set up to protect religions from being turned into government organizations. This keeps them free to choose their own direction, beliefs, and faith. The payment for this is that they must stay free and clear from "participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office" (1954 tax code amendment).

What bothers me more about this situation is that there are people in this country so willing to give the government power over the direction of their most sacred beliefs. Sure I’m post-theological, not religions, atheist, or whatever you want to label me, but the mere fact that we have American citizens so uneducated in their government that they would willingly give up their freedoms is extraordinarily disturbing to me. I don’t know of anyone who would be so enthusiastically accepting of the government telling them how to speak in their own home, instructing them what to watch on TV, or how to vote. Yet, these same people would seem elated to mix their deepest held beliefs with a government who would only seek to use that faith to their own means. It is a frighteningly moronic and almost not worth our time to protect their faith, but I know that my own freedom of belief is the same as theirs. These 33 ultra-right wing Evangelical pastors threatened all of our freedoms with their actions. And that is something for which I cannot stand.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Here Lies Misinformation

Misinformation - to give false or misleading information to. (

Lie - an inaccurate or false statement. (

Misinformation sounds more professional, more grown-up, so maybe that is why those in the political world try to use it. A lie is something that children do. Children lie, adults give misinformation. Misinformation is more complex, it involves nuance and delicately - something a child could never understand. So to better understand the subtle differences between a lie and misinformation, I’ve prepared the following example:

Example of Misinformation:
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”

Example of a Lie:
“I did not eat the last cookie”

Example of Misinformation:
“Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction and is an imminent threat to the United States”

Example of a Lie:
“I don’t know who broke your vase. Maybe it was Johnny”

Example of Misinformation:
“I didn’t lie, I just gave misinformation”

Example of a Lie:
“I didn’t lie, I just gave misinformation”

So when someone tells you that what they told you was misinformation, you’ll now know the difference.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You’re Not Helping the Stereotype

We live in a predominately black neighborhood in the rural south. True, I have not lived here that long, but it has been long enough to see that some people really seem to relish living up to certain stereotypes. Whether is it the people with large trucks with the word “Redneck” plastered across the back or the mid-twentyish mother, adorned with “bling” being trailed by 6 poorly dressed kids as she talks to someone on her cell phone, these people really do exist.

What I currently find interesting is the dynamic between the Old South and the New South. The Old South had clearly defines roles that people played into. Whereas, this New South harbors those same stereotypes and then overcompensates in the opposite direction. Case in point, there are two people living on our street that fit the exact New South/Old South stereotypes.

One is an older gentleman named John (all the names have been changed because they know where I live). John is black, approaching 60 hard-lived years of age, and can tell you stories about picking cotton and the Klan. Mitchell is a young black man in his late 20’s who drives a very nice car, speaks in a forced Midwestern Weatherman accent, and only tends to talk to white people. He attends a white church, votes Republican, and works very hard in a menial job to maintain a lifestyle far outside of his reach. Both of these individuals live on the same street, have about the same financial situation, and are related in some way that I have yet to figure out. The thing that separates them is where they believe that they belong.

My mother loves to tell a story about John, who, after being paid for some yard work, did a little dance and proclaimed with all honest and excitement, “I’m going to get me some chicken feet!” Embarrassing as that was, Mitchell does the same every day when he lives the New South stereotypes. I expect to see him sitting on his front porch in black socks and sandals reading a Jane Austen novel.

John grew up in an environment where he was put in his place. Revolution is hard, especially when you are outnumbered. Mitchell grew up seeing people like John as an example of their own past and rebelled by creating a contradictory stereotype.

It was only after seeing these two people that I realized that we all can all fall victim of creating our own bad stereotype when we try to compensate for who we are most afraid of becoming. For example, have you ever wondered why the middle or lower class (strictly financially speaking) would ever vote Republican? I mean, it doesn’t take much common sense to realize that the Republicans are only going to cut taxes for individuals making over $250,000 a year. Those making less than that will end up paying the difference (there is an equal argument against certain people voting Democrat, but the Republican is a much easier example for what I’m trying to prove).

The Democrats out there immediately think that the person making under $250,000 AND voting Republican is dumb. They are an idiot who does not understand politics and is falling on the sword for people who wouldn’t even talk to them if they met them on the street. This is a huge misnomer that Democrats make (again, there is a similar argument for Democrats) about Republicans. What they fail to realize is that people vote who they think that they are or who they want to be.

Let me repeat that because it is important. These individuals, who only stand to be hurt by their actions, do so because they see it as an investment in a group that they will some day be a part of, or mistakenly think that they are a part of now. A fair number of these people live in places where have never been exposed to, or have only seen rare glimpses of, their target group of individuals.

Just like the people who vote who they think they are or want to be, the redneck compensates with his truck so that there is no question that he is indeed rural and not urban, the woman with the kids wants to appear to be young, virile, and not over-the-hill, and the two gentlemen from my street want to be seen as not belonging to the same shared history. We are all guilty of wanting to be perceived in certain ways, but we cannot let those desires turn us into stereotypes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Very Cool Story from

Mysterious New 'Dark Flow' Discovered in Space
By Clara Moskowitz
posted: 23 September 2008

As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren't vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered.

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon "dark flow."

The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude.

When scientists talk about the observable universe, they don't just mean as far out as the eye, or even the most powerful telescope, can see. In fact there's a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how advanced our visual instruments. The universe is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago. So even if light started travelling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. There may be parts of the universe that are farther away (we can't know how big the whole universe is), but we can't see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

Mysterious motions

Scientists discovered the flow by studying some of the largest structures in the cosmos: giant clusters of galaxies. These clusters are conglomerations of about a thousand galaxies, as well as very hot gas which emits X-rays. By observing the interaction of the X-rays with the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is leftover radiation from the Big Bang, scientists can study the movement of clusters.

The X-rays scatter photons in the CMB, shifting its temperature in an effect known as the kinematic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect. This effect had not been observed as a result of galaxy clusters before, but a team of researchers led by Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., found it when they studied a huge catalogue of 700 clusters, reaching out up to 6 billion light-years, or half the universe away. They compared this catalogue to the map of the CMB taken by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite.

They discovered that the clusters were moving nearly 2 million mph (3.2 million kph) toward a region in the sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela. This motion is different from the outward expansion of the universe (which is accelerated by the force called dark energy).

"We found a very significant velocity, and furthermore, this velocity does not decrease with distance, as far as we can measure," Kashlinsky told "The matter in the observable universe just cannot produce the flow we measure."

Inflationary bubble

The scientists deduced that whatever is driving the movements of the clusters must lie beyond the known universe.

A theory called inflation posits that the universe we see is just a small bubble of space-time that got rapidly expanded after the Big Bang. There could be other parts of the cosmos beyond this bubble that we cannot see.

In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn't contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.

"The structures responsible for this motion have been pushed so far away by inflation, I would guesstimate they may be hundreds of billions of light years away, that we cannot see even with the deepest telescopes because the light emitted there could not have reached us in the age of the universe," Kashlinsky said in a telephone interview. "Most likely to create such a coherent flow they would have to be some very strange structures, maybe some warped space time. But this is just pure speculation."

Surprising find

Though inflation theory forecasts many odd facets of the distant universe, not
many scientists predicted the dark flow.

"It was greatly surprising to us and I suspect to everyone else," Kashlinsky said. "For some particular models of inflation you would expect these kinds of structures, and there were some suggestions in the literature that were not taken seriously I think until now."

The discovery could help scientists probe what happened to the universe before inflation, and what's going on in those inaccessible realms we cannot see.

The researchers detail their findings in the Oct. 20 issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Hate "These Days"

“These Days” everything is different and none of this has ever happened before. That is why we’re forced to use the words “these days” - because this is special, different, and unprecedented. We live in a time where what is going on “these days” is extraordinary; nothing like “these days” has ever happened before. “These days” are ours, “these days” are important, and “these days” will never happen again. I hope that “these days” never end so that I will have the opportunity to use the expression “these days” just like all of the people who have come before “these days” have.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do I You See What I See

I apologize ahead of time for this blog post. This is not a blog post for now, but sometime in the future. When? I don’t know. Why? Because the science for it doesn’t seem to exist yet.

If you are reading this sometime in the future and have a solution or know of someone studying what I am suggesting, please contact me. Thank you.

I have been toying with using semiotics as a teaching tool in the hope of creating neurological synesthesia in my son and am not sure if it should be his intellectual/creative choice as to what represents what, or if I should start introducing base images predicated on a combination of light and depth. I mean, as an example, I can’t just pick fractals based on a number that I believe corresponds with whatever is being represented and hope that since there are Fibonacci sequences built into most everything, they must somehow correspond with mental images used as representations.

With respect to belief that it is the interpretations of the visual mental images that have the defining power, there must be a way to understand the mapping in respect to a higher level of thought. What we currently cannot do in the present, through either limitations in our current communication or inability to think in an illustrative manner, is express these in a similar fashion in both mental models and a knowledge representation (without trying to end up in current debate over scientific realism or, for that matter, logical empiricism).

What I’m not sure of is whether or not one is able to use semiotics for daily life while still being able to lower oneself to the extremely primitive spoken level in which we have become accustomed. So again, I'm not sure if there is a middle ground between a perceived esse est percipi and Moore's argument for a sustentative substratum - and not to just default to Locke’s direct-realist analysis of material object proportions - can exist as a communiqué between mental imagery and the simple base ability of information transference between two people.

I guess that my problem with the current science is that we have yet to explore it as a learning tool or as a communicative evolutionary step. Instead it is relegated to an abnormal cross-sensory perception or, worse yet, an unknown, yet allegedly harmful, educational tool masquerading as bad parenting. I believe that in time we will be able to use semiotics to create a new method of learning and communication. My wish and hope is that someone stumbles upon this blog one day and is considerate enough to drop me a line explaining how it is now done.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Things I Noticed at the Mall

I had to visit the local mall this week and came to a couple of realizations that for some reason I feel compelled to share:

I refuse to purchase a cookie from anyone weighing less than 100 pounds working The Great American Cookie Company.

There is no good reason that anyone needs instant headset communication to sell underwear.

You know that you are no longer in their demographic when you are old enough to remember when the bands on the t-shirts at Hot Topic were actually cool.

Nothing says that you will never make over $12 an hour like a neck tattoo.

There is no amount of lotion or perfume that is going to make you smell thinner.

It probably isn’t going to be the quality of gold he says it iswhen he can’t even afford deal with his unibrow.

Spencer’s Gifts stops being cool when you reach the age of 15.

Seriously, I could give a rat’s ass that the new Danielle Steel book is out. It's still not going to give you back a functional uterus.

There is nothing sadder in the mall then a holiday be-vested woman standing behind the register in an empty Hallmark store.

I understand that Juicy is a clothing company name, but if it said Underage & Willing across your ass it would mean the same thing.

There is no gift from Things Remembered will ever be remember for more than twenty minutes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bush Trying to Give Iraq Gov Power over US Military

What is happening right now in Iraq is both new and different. New, because it is a possible end to the war and different because it ignores our own Constitution. The article below, from Time Magazine, explains how the president is giving over power of the US Military to the Iraq Government. Let me say that again, our Commander in Chief is giving over power of the most powerful military in the world to Iraq. Fighting, strategy, and yes even funding will be controlled by the Iraq Government. Worse than that, he is trying to do it without consulting either the American people or the Senate.

Please read the article and contact your local Representative. Our Constitution, its checks and balances, and our system of government is too valuable to be given away some secretly and callously.

Contact your local Senator here

Contact your local House Representative here

What Bush Will Surrender in Iraq

By Bruce Ackerman & Oona Hathway
Thu Sep 11, 2:00 PM ET

Determined to shape his own legacy in Iraq, President Bush has cut Congress out of his negotiations with the Maliki government. Despite repeated requests, the Administration has refused to share with congressional committees the text of its negotiating draft, even on a confidential basis. But elements of the proposals under negotiation have steadily leaked out from the Iraqi side, and now an Arabic-language newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, has published what it says is the full draft agreement.

The draft agreement published by Asharq Al-Awsat would clearly contravene the U.S. Constitution. It will not be a treaty, requiring the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, or a congressional-executive agreement, requiring the approval of both houses of Congress. Instead, the President asserts the power, as commander in chief, to commit the nation to his deal with Iraq without seeking the consent of the legislative branch. The provisions of the published text, however, decisively refute his claim to unilateral authority.

The breadth of the President's powers as commander in chief is one of the most controversial issues in constitutional law. Nevertheless, there is one point on which everybody agrees: The President can't unilaterally surrender his command over the military to somebody else, and tell the troops to treat this outsider as commander-in-chief. The authority he has as commander-in-chief is not his to transfer.

The published draft agreement violates this bedrock principle by creating a joint U.S.-Iraq committee and giving it, not the President, the authority to coordinate military operations, to resolve operational disputes, and even to "determine the tasks and level of the troops that will focus on training and supporting Iraqi security forces." The agreement creates only one exception: American troops can act unilaterally in self-defense without obtaining the committee's permission.

The constitutional violation is plain: The agreement would cede the President's authority over U.S. forces in the field to a committee, on which the Iraqis would have veto power.

All this may or may not make sense, but it is up to Congress to decide. There have been occasions when foreigners have been given some control over American troops in connection with NATO and U.N. peacekeeping operations. But these delegations of command authority occurred under treaties ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, not by presidential fiat. Worse still, the agreement would govern military relationships well into the next administration. President Bush is proposing to give away not only his own powers as commander-in-chief, but also those of his successor.

The published draft agreement also usurps congressional power over the Treasury. It obligates the United States to pay for the construction and modification of military installations that will revert to Iraqi ownership when our troops leave. This is an open-ended commitment that goes beyond the funds already appropriated by Congress. By taking this step, the President seeks to remove the most fundamental check on the abuse of executive power - the power of the purse.

The reason that the questions of authority over future U.S. military operations in Iraq has not received the attention it deserves is simple: The Administration has cut Congress and the American people out of the loop. The media discussion of the negotiations between the Iraqi and U.S. governments, fueled only by leaks, has focused on more sensational topics such as a timetable for withdrawal of our troops, and the Maliki government's efforts to prosecute American contractors for crimes committed on Iraqi soil. These are important matters, which should also be submitted for congressional approval, but the precedents set by the President's unilateral use of power will have greater long-term consequences.

It is past time for the President to provide Congress with a copy of the draft agreement, and ask for its consent. Senators and Representatives should not be forced to rely on translations from foreign newspapers to learn what their government is up to; there should be no secret deals on the most important issues facing America.

As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, has co-sponsored legislation demanding that the Administration submit the Iraq agreement for congressional approval. Now that he is the Democratic nominee for Vice President, he should take the initiative and reach out to Senator John McCain, who understands perfectly the questions of principle at stake. Both Democratic and Republican candidates should join together to make it clear that, whoever wins the election, the next President will put the Constitution first in his dealings with Congress.

Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law, at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Slow Blinks

There is something wonderful in watching a child fight sleep. The way that they feel their eyelids closing and struggle to open them for one last frantic look at the world. How they are always searching for just one more bit of information to consume before their head nods forward again.

I often wonder what my son dreams about when he finally succumbs to sleep. I wonder if his brain is yet advanced enough to dream about the people around him and the scenarios that have touched his life, or if he only dreams of colors, movement, and shapes. I long to have him wake, smile at me, and tell me where his mind has been. Was it an adventure? Could he fly? Were there monsters? Was he the hero or villain?

Seeing him do everything that he can to stay awake a little longer for more of our world before retreating to build his own, inspires me to better use my own time. Inspiration comes not from those who have used their time to achieve greatness, but in the smallest of us who do everything they can just to see what we’ve achieved with our time.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Don’t Know Much About Geography

This week I was asked to read over a paper reviewing the short stories of Anton Chekhov’s from 1883-1910 and came upon a vague statement as to its size of Russia leading to the social isolation of it’s people. Taken a bit back by the line, I asked the people around me what they knew of Russia between the years of 1800-1900. The only thing I received from anyone was blank looks and hunched shoulders.

That got me wondering what the public school system teaches children about the other countries, especially ones with which we’ve had such an intimate relationship over the last 100 or so years. Likewise, what do we teach our children right now about China, Mexico, or even Iraq? Do they learn history, geography, and culture - or is it just left up to the soundbites on the news to fill in the vast gaps of unlearned knowledge?

The ever sardonic Ambrose Bierce once said that “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography”, but I fail to see it doing even that. How many people do you know who could come within 100 miles of locating Baghdad in Iraq? What percentage of people could even find Afghanistan on a map? Bosnia and Herzegovina? Panama? Grenada? How many of those locations do you think that the average American could find on a map? How many could you find?

My point is that, how could we possibly be expected to understand another people, their history, culture, beliefs, religions or lack of, foods, and trade if we can’t even locate where they are on the planet? And for that matter, how could we expect them to know about us and our history? We’ve only been a country for 232 years - about the same time as the Mongol Empire, half the time that Roman Empire, one twentieth the amount of time that Egypt has been a country.

We must take it upon ourselves to learn our shared human history and the cultures that have evolved before and with our own. If we are successful, maybe the schoolchildren of the next country to dominate the globe will be able to locate us on a map. Or maybe they will know enough about history in general so they won’t have to make the same mistakes.

Yard Food

One of the nice things about living back in the South is the plethora of food growing in and around most older neighborhoods. Now I know that in this age of supermarkets and drive-thrus, it seems strange to be eating something that hasn’t been touched by someone else first, but I love eating from the garden and the yards around me.

This week I was proud to find a couple of apple trees in a field down the street. The older gentleman who lives in the adjacent house said that I could pick as many as I wanted because most of the apples just fall and rot before he can pick them up. So we’ve now struck a deal where I pick a basket for me and one for him too. Add this to the garden full of tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce, PLUS the farmers market that is open twice a week with locally grown everything, AND on Saturdays there is a large flea market with small regional farms, and a good portion of what we eat is almost out of people’s backyards!

My favorite thing from the garden is something that we call Herb’s Salad. It is a combination of whatever vegetables have been culled from the garden, with a generous handful of whole-leaf thrown in. When you add things like full basil leaves, a large sprinkling of tiny thyme leaves, and cilantro leaves, the aromatics are enough to flavor the salad more than and heavy dressing ever could impart.

I don’t think that we as a country take advantage of the areas in which we can grow a stable of our own food. During WWI and WWII the American people were asked to grow Victory Gardens because of the increased pressure on the countries food supplies. An unexpected outcrop of these gardens was a large increase in countrywide moral. Everyone with access to some sunlight and enough room for a pot could grow most garden vegetables. During WWII 20 million Americans had a Victory Gardens and they accounted for 40% of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally.

So in a time where we are all looking to reduce our carbon footprint, eat healthier foods grown locally, planting your own garden (even if it is a pot for tomatoes or some herbs near a window), is an easy, cheap, and deliciously rewarding way to make a real difference.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Excuse Me But I Ordered the Chef Boyardee

I need to stop watching TV. Truth be told, I only turn it on when I don’t want to think for a while, but I always end up just thinking anyway. Today it was a commercial in which people at an Italian restaurant are enjoying pasta only to have some guy walk in an announce that the pasta, that they all believed to be restaurant grade food, was actually provided by Dominos Pizza as something to the effect of “these are not actors” scrolled across the bottom of the screen. This is where my mind kicked back in and I was forced to turn off the idiot box so that I could think.

Could people really be convinced that pasta from a pizza delivery chain could somehow equal the quality and taste from a nice restaurant that specialized in Italian food?

The answer came to me at lunch at a new café that just opened down the street. My rating system for all restaurants is the same: I could do this better at home, Not worth the price, and I would order this again. This new establishment came in at I could do this better at home - which is what I rate most restaurants. Now it’s not that I’m a world class cook, because I’m not. I am a good amateur cook with excellent cookbooks and a discriminating palate - and I think that there are a lot of people like me out there.

On the other side of the culinary landscape are people who almost always eat out, even though they have a kitchen that is the envy of 3/4 of the world. I have yet to meet an American who didn’t have a full size fridge, four burner stove, large oven, microwave, pots and pans, and a couple kitchen gadgets (KitchenAid, Cuisinart…) and some decent knives.

But these people have chosen to eat out due to either convenience or a lack of will to cook. Either way, they are missing what food can taste like when it is prepared at home, by you, for you. When you get to choose the quality of ingredients, make it to exactly how you like, and sit down still smelling of the kitchen, the enjoyment of what is on your plate will almost always beat something created in a most restaurants.

Don’t believe me? Think of something that you cook well. Do you cook that thing better than just about anyone on the planet? Why is that? Do you think that you could cook anything that good if you just put forth the effort? Why don’t you? Is it because it’s easier just to settle for something that is okay done by someone else? What does that say about the rest of your life?

Food is more than what keeps us going. It is our cultural differences, our heritage, our way of life, and primary source of connection to the world around us. Treat it well, get involved, and for Mike’s sake, start eating at better Italian restaurants.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

To the Gentleman Eating the Steak Across From Me


I’ve been coming to this pub for several years now and have ordered that same Guinness and medium-rare steak more times than I care to count. I know Julie, your server, because I’ve given her rides home when her car was in the shop and when Dave, her husband, was sick. Yes, I know your precise predicament well. So please allow me to give you a couple bits of advice.

1. Slow down. From the sloppy clothes and both your casual lexical and careless syntactic elaboration of your speech, I could tell that you're not accustomed to eating a steak like that in an environment like this. That’s All right; we all had to start somewhere and this is a better place than most.

2. Actually taste the steak. You just paid $25 dollars for a hunk of meat that is now being shoveled carelessly into your gullet. So let me tell you about what you are eating. It is a steak cooked by, in my opinion, the best chef for a hundred miles. It is a hand-selected, aged, prime cut of organic meat that came from a cow that was slaughtered humanly in less than an hours drive from this very restaurant. It’s a good steak. When you take small cuts into your mouth, chew slowly and let the juices flow around your tongue. Feel how it gives back when your incisors cut through it? See how you instinctually roll the shredded meat back to your molars to finish the job - that’s 200 million years of mammalian evolution. You would be wise not to ignore the process. Savor every bite.

3. Enjoy the experience. You are obviously here for a reason. I personally don’t care if a good day or a bad day has fated you to be sitting across from me, but you are here and should try and take in everything that you can. The ambiance is excellent, the service is always superb, and the food never leaves me wanting. This is a place to let time move at your speed. Sip your Guinness and let the world bow to you, for tonight it is yours.

But right now you are still sitting across from me. Not following my untold advice. Not reading this letter that I’m writing instead of finishing the work that I came in here to do. Distracting me from my own Guinness. All I want to do is yell at you.

So for Mike’s sake, will you please stop wolfing down that perfectly good steak already!!!

Thank you,

Brian (the guy at the table across from you)

PS Make sure that you get the cheesecake for dessert - it’s wonderful

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The South (Part I)

Welcome Back to the South

I lived in the South many years ago, have just moved back and am reliving some discoveries I found when I lived here years ago. First and foremost is that most everything is easy to understand and intentionally uncomplicated to the point of obscurity. The people here are simpler. And by that I don’t mean dumber, just simpler. If a girl wants to look pretty she puts on heavy makeup and makes her hair as big as it can be. If a guy wants to talk to someone about his new truck, he will find somewhere very public, like a grocery store, and stand next to it until someone stops to ask him about it - which someone invariably does. Plus, they have an annoying habit of constantly stating what it is that you’re doing as a question. It’s an uncomplicated place. Think the 1950s with less racism and better technology.

What I don’t remember from my years living here previously is the overwhelming peacocking that is so prevalent. To me, when you go out of your way to show the world something that you have just acquired, you are telling people that it is something nicer than you are used to having. Whether it’s a new cellphone, a shiny car, or money, nothing says that it’s something you’re not used to having like showing it off. When it comes to finances, this is known as being nouveau riche (literally, “newly rich”).

Now I know that these people shouldn’t have any bearing on my life. Lowered Hummers with chrome rims or t-shirts that cost more than laptops really amuse me. And I love when people have tricked themselves out with the latest horrible fashions or have gone completely over the top to look either trashy or expensive (usually the same). I am forever pointing out the ridiculously obscene to friends and family. But it is the sheer abundance of these people in the South that is amazing.

My hope over the next couple months of living here is to teach random Southerners the fine art of subtly. I do not know when it will happen, but I will make sure that I explain exactly why they look ridiculous and how to be a bit deeper than they really are. Barring that, I will mock them relentlessly while feeling jealous of their ability to be so easily pleased.

The South (Part II)

"So, ya writing a blog post?"

Since I’ve moved back to the south, not a day has gone by where I am not reminded of an article in Mad Magazine called “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”. The section, written by the legendary Al Jaffee, had one character asking a stupid question and another responds with an insult or sarcastic remark. I feel like I’m constantly living in one of those jokes.

For instance, this morning I was standing in the front yard with a large bag labeled “Ant Killer” and a gallon jug that said “Ant Killer” in my hands as I sprayed a mound that had risen out of the front yard like a hand out of a grave in every cliché horror movie. And along came Bubba Everybody walking down the sidewalk on his way back from buying Skoal and Sweet Tea (one assumes). Now where I am from, someone in his position would just walk by me and, at the most, we would exchange a nod or some other minimal vocal recognition, but not in the South. In the South, I believe that he is required to stop and ask me the stupidest question possible. Cue Bubba and, “Ya got an ant problem?”

“Yes,” I said - hoping that would be the end of it. But alas, there he stood. Affixed to the ground waiting for me to turn and have a conversation about said ants. I sighed and turned to him. “They just showed up this morning and I’m trying to get rid of them before they get too comfortable.” Quickly adding, “so I need to move pretty quickly to contain them before they spread”.

Thinking that this would give him a subtle clue to move on, I went back to my spraying. Undeterred, he addressed my back as if it was looking at him with an eager gaze longing for a tête-à-tête. “Yep, we get them from time to time. I’ve tried damn-near everything, but they still keep coming back. Been thinking that this year I’ll hire one of those companies that they show on the TV. Gotta be cheaper than all them chemicals that I halfta buy all year.”

“Uh huh,” I grunt noncommittally.

“You know what you ought to do”, he says without pausing and still to my back, “you aught to make a circle around you house of that stuff. Bet that’d work.”

I turn to face him and say, “I’ll give that a try” and “Thanks!” in my most upbeat, this is where we part, voice.

Again, he stands there. Staring at me with what can only be described as the same look that my dog gives me when I try to explain to her that bacon isn’t for doggies. So on went the conversation for another ten minutes. He finally departed after we discussed the roof, the azaleas, As Seen on TV items, and, of course, the ants.

This entire exchange is something that is very foreign to me. Where I am from, people just don’t do this. You would never randomly start a conversation with someone unless you a) had some sort of incredibly expertise in the field, and b) were properly prompted for a conversation. Which is why, after having numerous run-ins with people like this, I want to start with the Snappy Answers part of that comic from my youthful reading of Mad Magazine.

“Ya got an ant problem?”

“Nope, just feeding the Mole People.”

“Yes, I can’t seem to attract enough of them into the yard.”

“Why, have they been talking to you too?”

But I can’t. I’ve tried, and I just can’t bring myself to be mean to someone who is both following the local culture and is honestly trying to be cordial. Instead, I’ll just go on mucking my way through forced conversation after conversation looking forward to the day when I get to move back up north and never feel obligated to speak to anyone ever again. Just me, alone, day after day with no one new to talk to…

…hmmm ….

So, reading my blog huh?

Monday, September 01, 2008

God, Please Spare Us From You

I was reading the news this morning (an update on the hurricane that my Mother and Edgar are headed through on their way to Texas) and something struck me as absolutely bizarre. In an article titled (Hurricane) Gustav’s eye closes in on Louisiana Coastline, there is a paragraph where someone is describing their thoughts before the storm hits: "We're nervous, but we just have to keep trusting in God that we don't get the water again," said Lyndon Guidry, who hit the road for Florida just a few months after he was able to return to his home in New Orleans. "We just have to put our faith in God."

Now what struck me as odd was not that she looked to her faith for solace, but how blatantly one sided that relationship is. How could she place her faith in a God that destroyed the city, killing 1,800 men, women, and children a couple of years ago?

I see these same comments all the time and never know how to respond. Cancer patients praying to the same God who gave them the cancer, parents praying to the same God who let their baby be stillborn, and people praying that friends and relatives will recover from whatever it was that God had done to them. What kind of fucked up, abusive relationship is that? It’s really along the lines of trying to justify staying with someone who physically abuses you. “He only hits me because he loves me” and “It’ll be different this time” are no worse than “It is all part of his plan” and “Praying to God will help”. To paraphrase Epicurus, if God is willing to stop evil, but can’t, then he is not all powerful. If he able, but not willing, then he is cruel. If he both able and willing, then the evil came from him. If he neither able nor willing, then he isn’t a God.

There are only two reasons that I can think that blind-faith believers justify the callous actions of a God like that. One is to say that “he does everything for a reason”, like that is supposed to excuse sending natural disasters that slowly drown babies in floods of water. Also, if that were true, the lesson that you need to learn is that he is cruel. The other excuse that comes to mind is when people insist that God does these horrible things to remind us that he is all-powerful. Which I truly can’t fathom because if really is a God, he wouldn’t be as shallow as to be offended by those who doubt that he existed.

But getting back to Lyndon Guidry, essentially she is asking a deity, with the presumed power to create and destroy the universe, and who has sent another storm to ravage Louisiana, for leniency. I’m sure that if it does no harm they will thank him for sparing them. But if it kills another 1,800 people, Lyndon will only see that as God’s will. All of this left me with the question, why don’t people blame God for the evils in the world? Why not a quote from Lyndon saying, “We were just fine until God decided that Louisiana needed to be flooded again” or one from a cancer patient who declares, “God gave me cancer because he thinks I deserve it”, or maybe even “we were winning the game until God made me miss that 3-pointer”. Maybe then, those bizarre statements asking God for help would make a bit more sense.