Monday, July 28, 2008

A Nation of Hypocrites

Glenn Greenwald slams the Washington Post's editorial board for their breathtaking hypocrisy in criticizing foreign governments for acting in a way they seem to think is acceptable for the American government to act:
Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editor of the The Washington Post's Editorial Page, has an Op-Ed today that contains a stirring defense today of "the rule of law." Diehl righteously complains the "president is already in danger of making 'legal nihilism' the byword for his administration." It might be considered quite surprising that an Editorial Page that has long cheered on many of the Bush administration's most extreme acts of lawlessness is suddenly complaining about the President's "legal nihilism," except that Diehl's sermon isn't directed towards the American President, but rather towards Russia's. Acording to Dihel, Russia is demonstrating a very upsetting disregard both for domestic and international law.

That an establishment organ like The Washington Post Editorial Page continues to think it can credibly lecture the world on the rule of law and the need to abide by international norms is a potent reflection of how deluded our political class has become. Given what our political establishment has sanctioned over the last seven years, it so obviously has -- to use the phrase coined by the ex-blogger Billmon -- "forfeited its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit." That goes double for our ability to chastise other political cultures for their disregard of the rule of law, particularly basic precepts of international law.

I'm with Greenwald 100 percent. How can we possibly expect people around the world to take us seriously when we live by such egregious double-standards? Yes, we should criticize the Russians, Chinese, etc. when they behave badly, but we need to actually behave well ourselves if we want our criticism to mean anything.

It's time we took a step back as a nation and refocused our efforts on being number one where it really counts--in freedom and quality of life. The best way to lead is always by example. East Germany's communist dictatorship collapsed because its people wanted refrigerators and newspapers that contained something other than government propaganda, not because we lectured them on the benefits of market economics and political liberalism. Why don't we recognize that same approach is appropriate in countries such as Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

News via Twitter

If you're not yet using Twitter, I highly recommend giving it a try. My page is probably primarily of interest to those who know me well, but I really enjoy sharing quirky observations I'd otherwise probably keep to myself.

However, mainstream media outlets all seem to be rushing to adopt this new medium. CNN, the BBC, and the New York Times are just a few examples. I can more easily think of good ways to integrate this technology effectively into the metro, sports, and arts sections than op-ed. Can anyone think of a good opinions-related use for Twitter other than simply sending out titles of and links to opinions pieces and columns?

Recommended Reading/Multimedia

Anyone interested in the scientific and political aspects of climate change should definitely keep up with Climate Progress. On the scientific side of things, one post today discussed how increasing energy efficiency is currently by far the best "source" of cheap power. And in the political sphere, another post notes the enormous increase in campaign donations from the oil and gas industries John McCain has seen since changing his previous position and coming out in favor of offshore drilling.

Likewise, anyone interested in thoughtful insider analysis of American military policy should always pay attention to what Thomas Barnett has to say. In the current installment of his weekly column, he lays out the reality of the military situation the next American president will inherit: consuming so much of America's military force during these seven long years of nonstop, high tempo, high rotation action, the Bush administration basically condemned its successor to what will probably be an additional seven lean years of military operations.

Whether it's simply winding down Afghanistan and/or Iraq and "replenishing the force," or shifting dollars from operations and maintenance funds to cover a plethora of Cold War "programs of record" that the Bush Administration has refused to scale back, the next administration has been handed a veritable train wreck in terms of future budgetary crises. Something will have to give.

What does that mean for the next president? It means ingenuity and inventiveness will be at a premium, because our incoming president's grand strategy is necessarily one of realigning America's trajectory to that of a world being transformed by the simultaneous rise of numerous great powers.

Continuing in my attempt to point to examples of the mainstream media doing an excellent job whenever I think they are, I'm happy to note that ABC has finally picked up on the horrible, tragic case of Rachel Hoffman, who was brutally murdered when a poorly planned police sting went terribly wrong.

However, an area where most journalists don't seem to have caught on yet is how technology is rapidly dissolving our traditional notions of privacy. For one thing, Google continues to take pictures for its maps service that are likely to reveal all sorts of formerly hidden things. Furthermore, cameras and robots are getting so small and efficient that an insect-sized flying machine is now capable of capturing video. Though this prototype can't staff aloft very long, that is sure to change in the near future. This puts a whole new meaning behind the age-old wish to be a fly on the wall in a secret meeting.

Another powerful technology that is likely to impact society's notions of privacy is quantum computing. Quantum computers are just now reaching a point where they're advanced enough to be commercially useful. When their full potential is realized in coming years, current data encryption techniques will become trivially easy to circumvent.

Finally, the most recent edition of the Free Will series of diavlogs focuses on the fascinating philosophical question of the nature and origin of human morality.

As always, go here to see more items I find interesting online.

Ben Stein Thinks Obama is Reminiscent of Hitler

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Google and the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest that is, not the shopping website. And, yes, Google's long reach stretches even there:
Last month, a group of Googlers traveled to Brazil, to conduct our first-ever project in the Amazon. Organized by our Google Earth Outreach team, we went at the special invitation of Amazon Chief Almir Naramayoga Surui, who'd invited us down to train his people on using Google Earth, YouTube, blogs and other Internet tools in order to preserve their history and culture, protect their rainforest, and create a sustainable future for their tribe.

This projects goal's are ambitious, but it seems to have some serious potential--especially given the resources Google is able to throw at such problems:
We learned from Chief Almir that just as the Amazon rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate, so too are the indigenous peoples who live there. This loss of biological and cultural diversity, of natural resources, habitats and human beings, has profound consequences both locally and globally. Al Gore has called the Amazon rainforest "the lungs of the planet" for the vital role it plays in consuming carbon dioxide and producing oxygen for all of us to breathe. Chief Almir explained that his tribe had already begun replanting thousands of hectares of their forest which had been illegally logged by outsiders. He hopes that through this project, they will be able to participate in the emerging carbon offset marketplace. And he wants to use Google Earth, YouTube and blogs to give the world a virtual tour of these projects, to raise awareness, and educate other tribes in how to do the same thing.

Some people might argue that Google's involvement in the Amazon will actually result in more harm than good, but I find such an outcome highly implausible.

This tribe reached out to Google. They wanted this technology because they believe it will help them get their message out the rest of the world. And if they can do that, they have a much better chance of preserving their forest than they would merely working on their own or even just with others in Brazil. Therefore, I'm certain this project's effects, regardless of their size, will be decidedly positive.

The Death of Paper

My column this week is about electronic paper:
Imagine getting out of bed at the crack of dawn, sitting down for breakfast, and opening up your newspaper. The top headline story is about a hit-and-run accident that happened earlier, about 3 a.m. Though you read that the perpetrator has not been identified and no information is yet available regarding the victim's condition, the article's author does inform you that the police are searching for a white minivan.

But then, just as you're skimming the story's last few paragraphs, the whole front page goes blank for a second and flashes "updating" a few times before displaying the new headline: "Local man apprehended for fatal collision with cyclist." After the first three paragraphs, most of the article remains unchanged from the first time you read it, but the new information is easy to spot because it's displayed in bold text. However, that formatting goes away as you glance over at the weather column to determine whether you ought to bring your umbrella to work. Finally, you place your cereal bowl in the sink and toss your newspaper back on your desk before rushing out the door.

Read the rest here.

I've only got one more column to write while I'm still on the metro staff. After that I'll be able to tackle much more politically charged issues. I can barely wait.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Madness

This video shows just how silly our military's current policy really is:

(Via The Daily Dish.)

Allegory of the cheese

So I know there will be some (Jon Gold) who will roll their eyes and mutter, "oh lord, not more cheese." Yet, the previous blog documenting my love of all things cheese was a necessary back story to the blasphemy I have committed. Furthermore, by my calculations, this blog is adequately inundated with political junkie narrative, thanks to non other than Christopher Patton. I believe, therefore, a little culinary humor is a welcome distraction.
I happen to be employed at Fairgrounds Coffeehouse. It is a vegan bakery here in Iowa City. As a lover off all things dairy it has been a eye opening occupation. I spoke to my dad, back in my first week. I promised him that if I became vegan, he was fully entitled to write me out of the will. My boss probably wouldn't be happy to hear that, but I'm a corn-fed hussie. I was raised on meat and potatoes. I bake my pies at home with bacon grease for the love of small children. My parents had a brain aneurysm when I told them I was becoming a vegetarian. Meat was something I could give up. Cheese is not.
This is why, as the cradle Catholic I am, I feel the need to confess my greatest sin. I had vegan nachos. I had vegan nachos and I loved them. I had to try it. The temptation was too great. Great meaning large or immense, I use it in the pejorative sense. So one day last week, after work, I bought some vegan nachos. I took them down to the Dublin Underground and researched an article as I scarfed down their cholesterol-free goodness. I sat in the subdued light of the Irish pub, to hide my shame. I was eating fake cheese and I was enjoying it immensely. I felt like the protagonist in Plato's allegory of the cave. I had stepped into the light and realised the heinous error of my ways. Even if that's not what the protagonist in Plato's allegory of the cave realizes. Vegan cheese is surprisingly delicious.
I would throw the Vegan Cow nacho cheese on to some elbow macaroni any day. The vegan brie is fantastic for dipping and the "swizz" was created for spreading. What is worse, the vegan sour cream is surprisingly delicious. I don't know what to do with myself. The more vegan products, that are all primarily made with tofu and vegetables and are therefore cholesterol-free, the more I realize I enjoy them. This is not to say that I am in any way capable of giving up milk. Soy milk is fantastic on cereal or with granola, but it fails to rival the awesomeness of cow milk. I could never give up milk, but I find myself fully open to the possibility of incorporating vegan "dairy" products into my diet. According to my boss, her sister, who is not vegan, utilized the vegan dietary plan for three months and lost 75 lbs. With such scrumptious options, I completely believe her.
Bless me lactose, for I have sinned. I have consumed vegan cheese and it is amazing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Piece on Race from CNN

I spend a lot of time bashing the mainstream media, but I'm happy to point out good pieces when I see them--regardless of where they appear.

This article proves that CNN is capable of getting it right:
"We were dressed professionally," Wells told me. "It was casual Friday. We had on dresses and casual office wear. We were racially profiled. It was as simple as that."

Wells says she and her friends were detained by six Gwinnett County, Georgia, police officers for "about an hour and a half" at the entrance of an Old Navy store, owned by Gap. Their crime, as Wells sees it, was being black in America.

In her letter to Murphy, Wells describes enduring "disdainful stares from the mothers and grandmothers and children entering the store." Police responded to a call from mall security about a gang of shoplifters in the store. They found no stolen merchandise on Wells or her friends. No one -- not the police, not the store managers -- bothered to apologize.

And, thankfully, rather than spluttering out on a some lame "on the one hand we have people who say racism remains problematic in modern American society, but on the other hand we have other people who say it's not--so who are we to know anyway?" note, it ends with a decisive call to address the real issues we obviously still face as a nation:
Wells has decided to not only get mad but get active, writing and talking about what happened to her and her friends on a day they just set out to do some shopping.

Making a change is not for the weak willed. Our documentary "Black in America" will make you proud and angry, hopeful and frustrated. Please, go out and DO something about what you're seeing and feeling. Give your money, give your time, write op-eds, commit to changing the part of reality that's not good.

Bravo, CNN, keep it up and I might start thinking about adding some of your RSS feeds into my reading list. But only if you syndicate your entire articles rather than just the first paragraph or two. Embrace the future, I can tell plenty of your employees want very much to do so.

Boxers or Briefs?

You certainly won't see London, and you definitely won't see France-at least not in the Chicago suburb of Lynwood. Lynwood's recent law now makes underwear exposure illegal. Get caught sporting 3 inches or more of your undergarments in public and you could have to pay a $25 fine.

Oh, and just when you think it can't get any better than this: Lynwood mayor Eugene Williams says that underwear exhibitionists drive away "economic development." Seriously? I mean, if this were the case, consider somewhere like Iowa City. If skin exposure, let alone underwear exposure, really turned away business, then would someone please explain to me why an Iowa City bar like Brother's does so well on a Friday or Saturday night when at least half of its patrons are wearing next to nothing? I find it hard to believe that underwear exposure is enough to deter business from an area.

And couldn't this be considered a form of self-expression? I mean, hey, if someone wants to show the world their tighty-whities or just how great they think they look in a thong, then why should lawmakers stand in their way? Just as a person has the right to show off his or her tattoo, dress in polka dot pant suits, or wear a Speedo, a person should also reserve the right to tell the world: BOXERS, not briefs!

No, I don't enjoy seeing people's bloomers as I'm walking down the street. In fact, it makes me feel reaally uncomfortable. But I also know that hindering a person's ability to express him or herself is an infringement of rights.

And I wonder-where does this $25 go if you get a ticket? Obviously Fruit of the Loom doesn't see a dime. All in all, there are better ways to rework economic development. Why not plant some trees, spruce the area up a bit? But somehow I doubt telling a few people to pull up their pants will bring in a new shopping mall...

Recommended Reading

I've already burned myself out on politics for the day, so this post is all about technology.

Soon, rather than watching some content on our televisions and some on our computers, we'll be able to stream high-definition video to any screen in our homes.

Not long after that we'll all also be able to stream live video from our cellphones directly onto the Internet.

And eventually we'll all be able to generated high-quality computer animation in real time and mix that in with real video, unleashing virtually unlimited possibilities for the budding independent television journalist in all of us. Forget the satellite trucks, production studios, and broadcast towers--all one will need will be a cellphone, a laptop, and an Internet connection.

Moving a bit further out into the future, humanoid robots will become cheap enough for everyone to afford. I can't wait to get one to do my housework and provide whatever other services need providing.

But hopefully the servant robots don't rebel and team up with the automated spy blimps and other more dangerous flying drones which will likely soon fill the skies. Hopefully.

For more information on the promises and perils of emerging technologies, check the rest of the stuff I post to my shared items page.

McCain, the Media, and Iraq

John McCain's campaign has been complaining quite a bit recently about what they see as media bias in Obama's favor.

But are most journalists really out to get McCain? The evidence says no:
In an interview with John McCain, CBS scrubbed an erroneous statement by the candidate about the Iraq surge and replaced it with a soundbyte criticizing Obama's position on the war in Iraq.

If the mainstream media were actually out to get McCain, news shows would be playing this clip nonstop:

(Video via Reason.)

Those of us in the media should stop fretting about being neutral and focus instead on being objective. Fair and balanced are not synonyms and they're not both equally important to journalistic integrity. Sometimes one side of an argument is simply much stronger than the other side. Sweeping such differences in important policy positions under the rug is a disservice to the American people.

At this point the so-called Fourth Estate is more of a toy poodle than a watchdog. And many journalists actually expression confusion as to why people who are really interested in what's going on in the world are abandoning the mainstream media in record numbers. Isn't the reason obvious? The media is in fact biased, but not in favor of any particular candidate. Rather, it's biased in favor of all of them because most journalists refuse to persistently call any of them on the prodigious quantities of bullshit they all spew on a daily basis.

"Winning" the "War" in Iraq

According to Joe Klein, John McCain said the following yesterday in New Hampshire:
This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

Klein dismisses the comment as "unpresidential" and "sad."

I won't quibble with that, but I have some more basic questions. Would someone please define the words "win" and "war" for me in the context of the current situation in Iraq? Because it's just not clear to me what McCain means when he says those words.

If the American occupation of Iraq is still a war, then who are exactly are we fighting it against? And how will we know when we have won?

I could understand it if McCain would argue that we have to stay in Iraq until its government is capable of maintaining at least the level of security currently in place. But all this talk of winning and losing obscures that goal. Stabilizing Iraq isn't a war and it isn't a game--and it's too complex of a process to lend itself to such simplistic rhetoric about winning or losing.

Given Bush's scandalously low approval ratings, one would think McCain and his campaign staff would be more careful to avoid sounding as simplistic and binary as the current president is known for sounding. However, it seems to be increasingly an open question as to how in touch with the situation in Iraq McCain is anyway. Trying to dumb down your talking points to score cheap political points with unsophisticated voters is bad enough, but actually believing such statements is outright frightening.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Superhero Summer

Yeah I've seen the new Batman movie. Twice. Jealous?
After today's viewing, I have to stick by my claim that Batman is without a doubt the best superhero ever and certainly the best superhero to have a movie this summer. Superman is stupid because he can do everything ever, and only one thing kills him. There are no real conflicts that Superman has to face. This sets him apart from Spiderman, who does face a few quandaries-- fighting crime while also puberty, and denying his love for MaryJane (which, let's face it, we all have to do at some point or another). However, both Superman and Spiderman are geeks. Superman is squeaky clean; Spiderman is squeaky lame (anyone remember when he went all emo in the third movie? Embarrassing.).
But the Batman is complex. Which of his identities is his true character? Playboy billionaire? Normal nice guy who wants to get with Rachel Dawes? Or caped crusader, who must stop at nothing to vanquish his formidable rogues? Unlike Superman and Spiderman, the Batman has rules that he must obey, and not just the laws of physics (which simply don't apply to many heroes). The Batman is on another level. He never allows himself to kill his enemies, and the villains of Batman are the craziest and most deadly of all.
There is obviously the Joker, a psychotic madman who seeks nothing but chaos. There is the Riddler, a narcissistic criminal who can't help but leave clues about his real identity for the authorities (Ted Bundy anyone?). There's Two-Face, a schizo who leaves the fate of his victims up to the chance of a coin flip. And Penguin, the made man embodying bureaucratic corruption. Also Mr. Freeze, who f'ing freezes people (!). And no one forgets Catwoman, who is just plain dead-sexy (Michelle Pfieffer more so than Halle Berry, in my opinion). Everyone knows the villains define the hero, so the Batman must be the man.
At last we have a superhero movie that people outside the 7-12 age group won't be ashamed to love. It's dark, twisted, and flat-out cool. At the end of the movie (don't worry this isn't a spoiler) Lt. Gordon says Harvey Dent (the district attorney who isn't afraid to prosecute corrupt mob guys) is the hero Gotham needs but not the one they deserve, and he says Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one they need (at that given moment, you'll get it when you see it). But I beg the differ, Lt. Gordon. The Batman is the hero we deserve and need. There is now a new breed of superhero that makes Superman and Spiderman look like downright clown shoes by comparison. There is Batman-- my white (dark) knight.

Recommended Multimedia

I've linked to Dan Savage's weekly sex-advice podcast previously, but this week's installment is particularly good.

Seriously, if you have any interest in sex, this show is for you--check it out.

Also, I'm looking for some feedback. Is anyone reading these recommendation posts and finding them interesting? Drop my a quick line in the comments section or via e-mail if you are.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Recommended Reading

Our own print edition's commentary on Steve King's recent behavior wasn't the only such piece published today. Iowa Independent also drew attention to some recent remarks they considered to be inappropriate.

But regardless of how anyone feels about King, I'm certainly glad I live in Iowa rather than in Turkey. It's not as though my homosexuality is immediately apparent to everyone I meet, but I certainly don't make any effort to hide it--and I've never felt threatened in Iowa City. However, given this chilling account out of Istanbul, I can't say I'd act the same way if I lived there.

Continuing on with the depressing news, more questions are being raised about the reliability of DNA-matching databases. This really ought to remind us that we always need to be careful about integrating new technologies into our criminal justice system before we're completely sure of their reliability.

In somewhat confusing news, the Iraqi government seems to be pretty confident foreign combat troops will be able to be out of the country by some time in 2010--but this is after Iraq's prime minister first made a similar comment before seemingly back-tracking on the issue. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in both the American and Iraqi elections.

Retreating to the realm of techno-optimism, which is one of my favorite safe havens, I'm happy to pass along data suggesting that 25 percent of the people on Earth will be online by 2012. Hopefully, computer translation will be good enough by that point to tear down the language barrier that has divided humanity for so long.

Finally, if you're not looking forward to all the typing and clicking you'll have to do to in the future if your job requires you to work primarily online, I have some good news. Technology that literally allows computers to read people's minds is already here and improving rapidly. Keyboards and mice may well go the way of the floppy drive sooner than most people imagine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Election that Never Ends!

This is the election that never ends,
Yes it goes on and on my friend.
Some reporters started covering it, not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue covering it forever just because,
This is the election that never ends...

Seriously, most reporting of the 2008 presidential race has degenerated into something only demented children's show producers previously had the gall to subject the public to.

It's hard to believe how excited about this madness I used to be. I spent last summer and fall chasing the plethora of presidential-nomination hopefuls around Iowa and faithfully transcribing as many stump speeches as I could. And I could barely contain myself on caucus night when I got the chance to witness Huckabee and his supporters celebrate their stunning defeat of Mitt Romney, which ultimately opened the door for McCain's historic comeback.

Oh for the days when Barack Obama was still a long-shot. Or when Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel were still running around gleefully throwing pies in the faces of the more mainstream candidates. But no, those days are long gone. And after a year and a half of intense media attention, we still have about three and a half months left to go until election day. The problem is that everything meaningful to be said has already been said. Now we're just stuck in a hellish repeat loop, a tortuous echo chamber of empty rhetoric and asinine "analysis."

So I've done the unthinkable. I've unsubscribed (in Google Reader) from every exclusively election-related site and blog save two: and Marc Ambinder's reported blog on politics. I've also maintained my subscriptions to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish and several state-level partisan blogs, but those all have value to me outside of their presidential election coverage--and from now on I'll be reading far fewer of their election-related posts.

I'm pondering going even further and just taking a second to check up on the Iowa Electronic Market every couple of days to see where the race stands. It's more reliable than any pundit's piffle anyway.

It's a really good thing I'm not on the politics beat anymore. I couldn't take it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A City Comprised of Ants

A friend of mine found numerous copies of an odd manifesto taped up in downtown Iowa City. It begins as follows:
This is a city comprised of ants. They are its tenants and its keepers. They crowd the narrow byways between the paving stones with their vehicles in miniature. They rush between the moss that lines their narrow streets in a hurry to arrive somewhere so that they can wish to be somewhere else. They move with frenzied jerks and carry things too big for them to understand. They run to and fro, looking without seeing, hearing without listening, taking without thinking, intent on their appointed tasks. Sacred are the things that do--queen and worker, warrior, nurse--and shamed are those who think.

I've setup a blog in an attempt to track down the person or people behind this fascinating little rant. Check it out to read the rest of this unique little piece of found philosophy.

Any help in my strange quest to talk to the author(s) would be greatly appreciated. And, yes, I've already put enough time into Googling phrases from this piece to be convinced its not anywhere else online--or at least not in Google's search index.

Recommended Multimedia

MIT researcher and desktop fabrication pioneer Neil Gershenfeld gives a talk that makes one wonder what the world economy might look like in twenty years if his technology actually develops as much as he says it will:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Living (and Working) the Revolution

My column this week:
The world is my office, library, and entertainment center. As long as an Internet connection is available, I can use any computer to access most of my work-related and personal files as well as a significant percentage of humanity's collective knowledge base.

According to Arthur C. Clarke, a famous author and inventor who died earlier this year, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I appreciate the profundity of that maxim daily as the feats I am able to accomplish armed only with my slim laptop and versatile mobile phone would have belonged only in the pages of a science-fiction novel as recently as a few decades ago. And I'd likely get burned at the stake for witchcraft if my electronics and I were somehow transported back a few hundred years into the past. But these technologies remain in their infancy. In coming years, complex tasks requiring more computational power than is currently available to most users, such as rapidly generating high-definition video and audio files, will become trivially simple and cheap.

Read the rest here.

As long as I'm linking to my own articles, I might as well include today's story about how agricultural development is actually responsible for our severe flooding:
Iowa hasn't always been quite so flood-prone.

The state's native prairies originally absorbed most of the rainfall, but their development has led to increased runoff and flooding.

Wayne Peterson, an urban conservationist working for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said the state's landscape processed rainwater quite differently before most of the natural habitats were developed into agricultural fields and urban areas. Peterson worked in the field of agricultural land conservation for more than 20 years before becoming involved with urban issues.

"Two hundred years ago, Iowa was full of prairies, savannas, and wetlands," he said. "The vast majority of the time when it rained, the rain infiltrated into the soil, moved through the soil matrix, and became part of the groundwater discharge into the river."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

cheese is my chocolate

I have a confession to make. I do not like sugar. I was born without a sweet tooth. In many ways this is a fantastic handicap. I never laid around in the grass on humid summer days lamenting the tardiness of the ice cream man. I do not waste my miniscule income on sweets and consequently I do not have to worry about burning off those unnecessary calories (alcohol, is of course, another story). Chocolate and soda do not wreak havoc upon my complexion and my dentist pretty much loves me. 

So why, you may wonder, am I telling you this? All you sugar junkies out there, gritting your filling-ridden teeth together, secretly plotting my demise because I do not share your weakness? Well, having an aversion to sugar is not as sweet as you may think. Valentine's Day is pretty much the worst day of the year. Not because I haven't had my share of sweethearts, but they all tend to express their affections with the standard box of chocolates. I always have to plaster on a smile, pull back the ribbon, and suffer through two to three pieces as to placate them before pawning the gift off onto a friend or roommate. Halloween? Forget about it. I forever won my younger brother's loyalty by sharing my horde with him every October. 

I will never know the hilarity of sitting around with girlfriends digging into pints of ice cream or gorging myself on cookie dough. My birthday parties were about the lamest things ever, because I never wanted cake. My mother was kind enough to make muffins or banana bread. One year, for the sake of my guests, she talked me into a lemon pie, which is about the only pie I can stomach. Try explaining that to your boyfriend's family at Thanksgiving. "No thanks, I don't care for pumpkin pie." It's un-American. They looked at me as though I had said I enjoyed drowning puppies in my free-time!

My lack of sweet tooth is also a bit disconcerting because I love to bake. I single-handedly do all my family's Christmas cookie baking. Whenever I have a dinner party, there is always at least one pie available. I also bake and decorate elaborate cakes for my friends' and roommates' birthdays. If, heaven forbid, you ever find yourself in the hospital, you can be sure I will appear with a basket full of muffins, cookies, and sweet breads. I'm essentially Suzie Housewife. I can't help it! I intend to supplement my fledgling writing career with a bakery. I work in one now. My boss is constantly approaching me with cookies, cakes, and frostings asking me to sample them while she moans in sugary satisfaction. I like to believe I fake it pretty well. I must have been brainwashed at an early age, because death by chocolate cake just tastes like death to me. I do have a secret weakness, however, and a fantastic dealer. The addiction? Cheese. El queso. Kase. Fromage. Delicious!! 

It all started last summer. My roommate Sara, also a cheese-aholic, and I caught wind of the cheese factory in Kalona. One afternoon we climbed into her car, ignoring the threat of an impending storm and headed west/southwest on Highway 6. We drove straight into a black wall of doom; however, the lighting strikes and forceful winds were no deterrent to our acquisition of cheese. By the time we arrived at the factory the sky had opened up and it was torrentially down pouring. Once inside we stood in the red tiled entryway gawking. The front room has windows that remind me of the nursery wing in a hospital. Soaking wet, we gaped like excited parents at the production of fresh, squeaky, cheese curds. Passing into the store section of the establishment we instinctively bypassed the teas, mustard and other goods for sale, stopping with mouths ajar before the cheese case. 

What you need to understand about the cheese case in Kalona is that it looks like any other grocery store deli case. But don't be fooled. There is one tiny, yet exceedingly important difference: little plastic dishes of sample cheese. I stood immobilized with wonder. I was able to choke out, "Cheese is my chocolate..." Sara later laughed at this observation and recounted it to many of our friends and acquaintances, but at the time she dumbly nodded in agreement as we descended upon the cheeses. 

They had every kind of cheese imaginable: sharp, white, and mild cheddar, aged and baby Swiss, muenster; Gouda, Brie, Havarti, Feta, and pepper-jack. There were cheeses infused with habeneros, lemon peel, mustard seed, sage, horseradish, and yes, even chocolate. There were spreadable cheeses and string cheeses, and there behind the counter, were the squeaky cheese curds, sold in half-pound increments. I purchased some aged Gouda, a small piece of the lemon peel cheese, some spreadable port wine, and half a pound of the cheese curds. Sara bought feta, dill-havarti, salami sliced so thin you could read War and Peace through it, and of course, a pound of squeaky cheese curds.

Squeaky cheese curds are about the most amazing thing ever. I wouldn't even say they necessarily have the most delectable flavor, though Sara ardently disagrees. I believe their power is derived from their freshness. The squeakiness is also hilarious. They only squeak while they are fresh and served at room temperature. They give the consumer the aural sensation of gnawing on a very vocal mouse. Sounds gross I know, but I assure you it is one of the simplest joys of life. It also serves to provide a vigorous abdominal workout from the peels of laughter. We have made many subsequent pilgrimages to the Kalona cheese factory since that first venture. We relish in the enjoyment of witnessing newcomers chew on their first squeaky cheese curd. Kalona cheese factory aside, my fridge is constantly stocked with at least three different varieties of cheese. It's a problem. So there you have it. I have no sweet tooth. My name is Katie Gadient and I am a cheese junkie.

Synthesizing Diverse Data Streams

At first glance, my "Recommended Reading" posts and the long lists of articles I share in Google Reader may seem like odd amalgamations of unrelated tidbits of information. To some extent they are. However, there is also a method to my madness, a subtle synthesis I am attempting to weave out of all those disparate threads I pull in from all over the Internet.

The environment around us is changing rapidly--and I'm not talking about global warming. Science and technology are empowering people to radically reshape our mediascape as well as our social and political discourses, the very framework of our society. If you doubt that, just look at the difference between the world today and the world as it was fifty, a hundred, or five-hundred years ago.

Before technology allowed a substantial increase in economic development, the communications, social, and political paradigms in which we currently operate weren't even possible. The lives of our ancestors took place in a context that would seem alien to us if we were to experience it firsthand. What we take for granted as simply "the way things are" isn't as permanent as we often tend to assume from our temporally provincial perspectives.

The lives of college students in Iowa City today are so fantastical in their oddity that our acceptance of them as normal serves to drive home my point about us being generally unable to think outside of our immediate context, beyond the narrow horizons visible from our historical vantage point. Students use the Internet for almost everything--from communicating with their parents back home almost instantaneously and at virtually no cost to reading scholarly papers that would have required days or weeks of effort to obtain only a decade or two ago after only entering a few well-chosen key words in Google Scholar and clicking a mouse button.

Rather than having to struggle for our daily sustenance, we face an epidemic of obesity, brought on by an historically unbelievable bounty of cheap calories. As opposed to learning the skills we need to survive directly from our relatives and passing them on largely unchanged to our descendants, we study new scientific disciplines that our professors have forged for themselves over the course of their careers.

The world we inhabit today would have been scoffed at as implausible science fiction if it had been accurately and in detail described to the average person in 1958, a mere fifty years ago. And it's hard for me to imagine it could have appeared to be anything other than a demented fever dream if it had been foreseen in a vision by an average inhabitant of 1508. Of course these same points are equally valid when applied to the differences between any historical eras.

We have every reason to believe the same will continue to be true in the future. The evidence that the pace of technological/scientific/legal/political/social change has accelerated over time is quite strong--as is the evidence that this acceleration remains ongoing today. Therefore, it likely won't take until 2058 for the world to develop into a place that would seem to us today to belong in a science fiction novel. Likewise, it's unlikely for it to take until 2508 for the world to evolve into a state that we wouldn't be able to accept it as reality even if we could see it.

Consider the following quotation:

"In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." — Eric Hoffer

In order to be good writers and journalists, we must cup our hands over our eyes and strain to stare as far into the distance as is possible. Rather than getting bogged down in the banal headlines in the papers today, we need to think long and hard about what will be relevant tomorrow and in the coming years of our lives.

The opinions pieces and columns that will be of interest beyond the week in which they are printed are the ones that will have the biggest impact. And isn't that why we're doing this? If not out of a desire to shape public discourse and policy, then for what purpose do we write?

In order to succeed we need to cultivate our abilities to learn new ideas and skills constantly. If we fail to do so, we will be left behind along with our outdated tools--like spoken-word storytellers whose lessons have been transcribed and thus transcended the need for their originators or bewildered scribes frantically scribbling away as the new printing presses bury them in copy. But those who are able to keep up will not only have the ability to continue to compete in their chosen media market, they will also always have plenty of material to write about, to bring to the attention of everyone else.

A writer's ability to pull coherent, nontrivial insights out of the deluge of data with which the Information Age has flooded our consciousnesses is her most important skill. Mere transcription isn't particularly valuable now that distributing information is so cheap and easy. Analysis is the value we add to our articles--and it's about the only thing we can reasonably expect to get paid for doing as journalists.

Obviously, it's impossible for any one person to keep track of all the important developments going on throughout the world today--they're just coming too hard and too fast. But we do need to pay close enough attention to a sufficiently broad spectrum of information sources to be able to see how developments in the areas in which we are experts interconnect with the world at large. It's the only way to be sure what we write is truly worth reading--the only way to move beyond telling people what happened today and into the realm of making plausible arguments about what those events will mean to people in coming years.

To sum up, it keeps getting easier to find out what's happening now and harder to ascertain what will happen next. Therefore, providing current data will continue to become less valuable as a service whereas analyzing the implications of that data will continue to become more valuable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Steve King Watch

The never-boring Iowa representative from my home district made the news again today for his actions during a Congressional hearing.

Do any of my fellow bloggers who don't also write for the metro section care to comment?

Recommended Reading

If anyone wonders how I keep track of all these diverse websites I link to, I use Google Reader. It's very easy to use and basically lets you pull in information from multiple sources and compile it into your own personalized newspaper. Give it a try if you're sick of letting other people decide which articles you should see.

I'll begin with an article discussing the future of the Washington Post. It quotes Microsoft's Steve Ballmer as saying that no one will read paper newspapers anymore in ten years. Though it may take a bit longer than that, it will happen eventually. Start thinking about how that affects you if have any plans to make your living as a journalist. In an economic system like we have in America, it's your job to figure out how to make money doing what you like. So stop fretting and get to it.

In the international sphere, Glenn Greenwald calls American elites on how they seem to hold other countries to quite different standards than ourselves:
If there were a powerful nation (besides the U.S.) that had a leading foreign policy analyst unapologetically justifying the brutal destruction of another country by explaining that its citizens needed to "Suck On This," and had a leading presidential candidate who sung songs about dropping bombs on the U.S. and who told jokes about killing Americans (while his leading ally demands that that country attack even more countries), we would be subjected to an endless array of Op-Eds from Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer condemning them and demanding that "meaningful action" be taken against such a "rogue nation." And Tom Friedman would be righteously and darkly insisting that such a country be "compelled to change its behavior."

Moving on to American politics, Marc Ambinder provides some interesting analysis of how Obama has managed his campaign, which is a refreshing change from all the nonsense that passes for political reporting in most publications.

Also in good political journalism, Radley Balko asks some excellent questions of John McCain.

Thinking of longer-term issues, John Robb ponders how communities can use disruptive new technologies to protect themselves.

As always, for more links, go here.

Sex on the Beach

After reading about the British couple caught “doing the nasty” on Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach, I couldn’t quite decide what my initial reaction to the article was. I certainly felt compelled to laugh above all things. This is the type of behavior that deserves a good slap in the face and a hearty, “What were you thinking?”

First of all, any activity performed on a public beach is obviously very public. A sea of raging hormones isn’t even enough to hinder this very evident fact. Eat a booger on the beach or pick a sand wedgie-everyone is at liberty to see these things, no matter how dark it is outside or how sneaky you think you’re being doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

Second of all, in a place that frowns upon public displays of affection and any sexual activity outside the confines of marriage, it seems that it would be somewhat easy to pick up on these social cues. It seems that it would all come down to a, “You know honey, while we’ve been here, I haven’t seen a single couple holding hands. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a single couple period.”

As a traveler to a foreign area, especially one with such conservative values, it would seem that these would be things you’d pick up on right away as a tourist: what do these people do all day, how do they behave, how should I act as a guest in their country? I, for one, wouldn’t want to be the one caught walking down the beach eating a bag of potato chips during daylight hours- a very forbidden act since Muslims fast until sunset. Travelers to foreign places are like amoeba under a microscope. Why do anything that would draw attention to you and your partner, not only in the place you’re visiting, but in your home country as well? I can’t say that I’ve ever gone to Miami and seen couples fornicating randomly all over the beach and thought to myself, “Well, that’s normal.”

Maybe it was something in the water. The lesson here: if you want to frolic wildly on a beach, go to Cancun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Yorker, Politics of Fear

The cartoon showing Barack (in turban) and Michelle (packing serious heat) burning an American flag in the Oval Office is dangerous. The effort to satirize politics of fear is valiant, but I'm afraid it's come up short. Satire is something that people have difficulty trying to understand. It's easy to regurgitate the definition that satire exposes vice by ridiculing it, and it's even easier to write off offensive material as "satire," but it's not easy to digest what it all means. In this case, satire missed the point, has become ineffective, and now poses serious problems.
I recently read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for a class. The work is sometimes classified as satire, but other times classified as racist. In order for Twain to attack racism, he had to use racist themes, words, images, whatever. For this reason, debates still swirl about Twain's intents. Is it racist or anti-racist? Those who think it's anti-racist end up attributing more intelligence to their audiences than is due. But not everyone "gets it." In reality, the text can be blatantly racist, offending some and developing stereotypes in others. With satire, authors can't count on preferred/intended readings. Because of satire's capability for being misunderstood, the New Yorker cartoon will produce wide-ranging, unfavorable effects.
I know I'm not the only one who has received those ridiculous mass chain e-mails smearing Obama as some sort of undercover, Manchurian-Candidate-esque agent of eeevil who is a small part of a much larger decades-long scheme to convert the US of A into a Nation of Islam. Or something like that. This is laughable, but it should seem threatening. There are probably people out there who actually believe that. When they see a political cartoon of Obama in Muslim-garb burning American flags, no light bulb goes off for them. There is no printed title ("Politics of Fear") on the cover to act as a disclaimer. We can't pretend that everyone who sees that cartoon will be able to identify it as satire. For the insane conspiracy theorists who go to fantastic lengths to smear Barack, the images on the New Yorker will seem like evidence.
When satire misses the point, it often reinforces the vices it hopes to destroy.
Sure the chain e-mails are stupid. Yeah the cartoon is stupid too. But so are a lot of (*ahem* ultra-right, hick-ass, knights-of-the-klan) Americans. And that's what I'm worried about.

Recommended Reading

Though I recently expressed excitement at the prospect of electronic parking meters in San Francisco because they would allow people to pay with their smart phones, I recognize how careful we have to be when using computer systems to control vital infrastructure. The difficulties of protecting such technology from outside attack is difficult, but keeping an eye on those who are supposed to be managing it is equally important. Another story from San Francisco illustrates this point quite well:
Terry Childs, 43, is accused of locking out the city from its FiberWAN network containing city e-mails, payroll, police records and information on jail inmates. He was arrested Sunday after refusing to hand over passwords to the Wide Area Network system he is accused of taking control of.

Thus, as we rightly go about using technology to make our lives more efficient, we also need to make sure we maintain security and accountability in the use of these new technologies.

But not all problems necessarily require new technologies to solve them. How can people get around now that gas is so expensive? Perhaps by going the decidedly low-tech route of using one's own two feet. As I've long supposed, higher gas prices may actually be helping us fight our national obesity epidemic:
Keeping gas in the family truckster is slimming more than wallets these days and could have Americans tightening their belts -- literally. According to Charles Courtemanche, an assistant economics professor at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, rising fuel prices are the ultimate crash diet for a nation that grew fat on cheap gas.

Courtemanche says a $1 increase in the price of gasoline could cut the obesity rate by 10 percent, saving 16,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs each year. He makes the case in "A Silver Lining? The Connection Between Gasoline Prices and Obesity," his doctoral dissertation in health economics. The paper, currently being peer-reviewed, can be summed up in the simple idea that people walk more, bike more and dine out less when gas prices rise.

In other news relating to increasing transportation costs, some engineers are advocating growing food within major cities:
What if "eating local" in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food?

Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, hopes to make these zucchini-in-the-sky visions a reality. Despommier's pet project is the "vertical farm," a concept he created in 1999 with graduate students in his class on medical ecology, the study of how the environment and human health interact.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Finally, Reason's Matt Welch encourages everyone to take a deep breath and realize that people have been selling papers by proclaiming the coming apocalypse for quite some time--and of course they've been wrong thus far and will likely continue to be:
For the record, as someone who both predicted the dollar collapse and believed fervently in the Y2K bug, I think that things will continue to get worse, especially as the housing mess continues to unwind (not soon enough for renters like me and Paul Thornton!) and entitlements continue to swell larger than Al Gore's neck. But I can't help wonder if that's more about a juvenile fondness for train wrecks than a sober assessment of an economy that, despite its many flaws, has consistently outpaced the doomsayers for what, a quarter century now?

For more interesting links, click here.

Congressional Democrats and Torture, Illegal Spying

Glenn Greenwald delves into Democratic lawmakers' motivations for blocking investigations into Bush administration lawbreaking:
As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it's vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.


So, of course key Congressional Democrats who were made aware of these illegal torture and surveillance programs are going to protect the Bush administration and other lawbreakers. If you were Jay Rockfeller or Nancy Pelosi, would you want there to be investigations and prosecutions for torture programs that, to one degree or another, you knew about? If you were Jane Harman, wouldn't you be extremely eager to put a stop to judicial proceedings that were likely to result in a finding that surveillance programs that you knew about, approved of, and helped to conceal were illegal and unconstitutional?

He also links to an excellent interview of Jane Mayer in Harper's Magazine:
In a new book, The Dark Side, Mayer puts together the major conclusions from her articles and fills in a number of important gaps. Most significantly, we learn the details on the torture techniques and the drama behind the fierce and lingering struggle within the administration over torture, and we learn that many within the administration recognized the potential criminal accountability they faced over these torture tactics and moved frantically to protect themselves from possible future prosecution.

Remember, these aren't just ideologically driven accusations. At this point it's difficult to find a serious legal scholar who hasn't worked for the Bush administration who thinks either the warrant-less wiretapping or "enhanced interrogation techniques" were legal. And paying a few lawyers to tell you something is okay isn't a legitimate defense in court.

Recommended Multimedia

These posts won't be as frequent as the recommended reading ones because most of my online activity is still text-based, but there are a few noteworthy exceptions.

If you've ever wanted to reach through your television screen and strangle the pedantic stooges who conduct poorly prepared interviews that rarely last more than five minutes, then you'll probably appreciate In refreshing contrast to the horror of sound bite-based cable news journalism, this website features in-depth, hour-long conversations between smart, interesting people. Some diavlogs are more engaging than others, but they all contain fascinating information you're unlikely to come across elsewhere.

Also, if you like Dan Savage's sex advice column Savage Love, then you'll probably also get a kick out of his weekly Savage Lovecast, in which he answers questions aloud as opposed to in print.

Stuff like this is why I'm such an Internet evangelist. The perspectives one can hear expressed on Bloggingheads are just too nuanced to be able to fit into any mainstream media format. And of course the FCC would never put up with the frank language Dan Savage uses with abandon in his podcasts. So death to television and radio and long live the Internet!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Recommended Reading

Putting the nerdy technology stuff up front this time, Tesla Motors is now selling its bad-ass electric cars, the American military is deploying chemical-sniffing robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, and scientists have developed a device capable of sequencing individual DNA strands.

On a decidedly less impressive note, our government's terrorist watch list now apparently has a million names on it, many of them common enough to snag all sorts of random people and inconvenience them without accomplishing anything. And in another government-related fiasco, it turns out that most of what the Texas authorities told the press about the FLDS kids they took away from their parents is completely false.

On a more optimistic note, things seem to be going pretty well up in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Some of the wildcatters in the Kurdistan region have already struck oil and the KRG expects that it will have arrangements in place to start exporting oil by the end of next year (perhaps as much as a quarter of a million barrels a day). Blessed with natural resources, a governmental leadership structure that is evolutionary and visionary, a stable security environment, and developing rule of law, I'm confident that region's economy will become successful and diverse.

And what would we do without our daily insights from our favorite wackos over at Westboro Baptist Church?
If Tony Snow could have the one desire he holds at this moment – after getting a drop of cool water on his tongue – he would come to his own funeral and warn every disobedient dolt in attendance, or watching it all on the TV, to OBEY GOD AND NOT COME TO THAT AWFUL PLACE. Tony Snow is in exquisite torment at this hour; all his fruits indicate that this is true. And if there’s even a slight chance that he has an eternal sentence in hell – where the smoke of his torment will ascend up day and night, the worm will eat on him that never dies every day, and he will gnaw his tongue for pain every day, and he will experience destruction (the kind that doesn’t annihilate you, just torments you) every day from the very presence of the God who he ignored through his entire life – DON’T LIVE LIKE HIM!

If you like the above links, you can see more on my shared items page.

Re: Help Curb Obesity-It's the Law!

Welcome to the blog, Amanda.

Reason magazine has been covering these mandatory labeling laws for some time. Unsurprisingly, given that publication's ideological leanings, its not exactly friendly to these new regulations. But regardless of one's general political disposition, Reason's writers make some excellent points.

Steve Chapman wrote:
The belief that more facts will generate wiser decisions is appealing but, at least in the realm of food, yet to be proved. No one seems to have noticed that as nutritional labeling has expanded, so have American waistlines. The federal government first required packaged foods to carry such information in the mid-1970s, and today, we are collectively fatter than we were then.

What does that suggest? Either people don't notice what's in the food they buy, or they don't let the knowledge affect what goes in their mouths.

Jacob Sullum added:
Notably, "there was no significant difference in mean calories purchased by patrons reporting seeing but not using calorie information and patrons who reported not seeing calorie information." In other words, simply making people aware of calorie content is not enough to affect their food choices. It may be that the information's influence is limited to people who are predisposed to count calories, in which case the impact of regulations like New York's will depend on the extent to which those people are not already taking advantage of nutritional information available on fast food chains' websites and on posters, counter mats, tray liners, and brochures in restaurants.

And Radley Balko piled on, too:
Menu labeling laws mean every restaurant in a given chain needs to make every dish exactly the same way, every time. Most menu labeling laws allow for a 20 percent margin of error. This is the same variance allowed for the nutritional information on manufactured food products, where assembly-line machines cut exact portions and abide by standardized recipes using the same ingredients, every time. That's quite a bit different than having real live people making dishes from what's available in the kitchen. Yet both are held to the same standard.

Of course, the labeling of manufactured foods is another argument in favor of the futility of these menu labeling laws. We've been labeling packaged foods for decades now—the foods that make up the vast majority of our meals and snacks and where we get most of our energy. And we're still getting fatter.

Anyone advocating labeling laws needs to come up with some good responses to the above arguments. Simply asserting that maybe, possibly, hopefully such policies will help make Americans healthier isn't good enough.

Ultimately, we must keep in mind that most people's obesity is a choice. People choose to take in more calories than they expend, which inevitably leads them to get fat. And no one needs calorie counts on their menus to know if he's eating too much. If a person is getting fat, he should eat less. It's just common sense.

Lest I be accused of being ignorant of the issues involved or unable to identify with those who struggle with their weight, I'll let everyone in on something I'm not particularly proud of: I used to weigh about 75 more pounds than I do now. However, I recognized that I was living an unhealthy lifestyle, cut back on my calories, and started exercising on a regular basis.

I'm highly skeptical that mandatory menu labels will influence too many people to follow in my footsteps. Only a personal desire to live a better life can do that.

The New Yorker and Fox News

I don't have much to say about The New Yorker's controversial cover art. Sure it's kind of funny; sure it's kind of stupid. Whatever.

What I find most interesting is that Fox News is now republishing such a liberal magazine's cover art on its website. On the one hand, I think it's hilarious that Fox is happily providing free advertising to a publication that is its antithesis in almost every conceivable way. On the other hand, I wonder if The New Yorker's editors put much thought into the excuse they'd be giving organizations like Fox to print a cartoon they'd love to popularize but couldn't otherwise get away with showing.

I suppose it's really a win-win situation for Fox and The New Yorker given all the publicity the whole episode has generated. And I can't imagine this will have any significant impact on Obama's chances of winning. Therefore, the only losers here are those of us who waste so much of our time lapping up whatever vapid and venial tripe our excessively self-indulgent media spews out on any given day of the week.

Seriously, people, read more blogs--especially those written by experts in important fields such as constitutional law, global security, and climate change. Many of these sources are doing a lot of excellent original reporting these days. And they talk about themselves far less than has become standard in much of the mainstream media.

Help Curb Obesity-It's the Law!

Perhaps, it’s that time- time to put down our grease-soaked Big Macs and Big Gulp “supersize” soft drinks and really listen to what the CDC has been saying all along, which is that all across the country, both children and adults are becoming dangerously overweight. In Iowa alone, obesity rates have risen and nearly doubled. Obesity trend data compiled by the CDC reflects that while anywhere from 10-14% of the population was considered to be obese in the early 1990’s, as of 2006, 25-29% of the population was obese. Now two years later, those numbers have undoubtedly risen again.

And obesity itself is not even necessarily the issue at hand (is it even possible to imagine Santa Claus without his “bowl of jelly” belly or a skinny Homer Simpson?) The issue at hand is diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and a long list of other serious health complications. As a country and even as a state, obesity is killing us slowly. Yet, no cure-all, save-all solution exists. There is, however, a law that could possibly serve as the light at the end of the tunnel. New York has already taken the lead in making this proposed law a reality.

Imagine stepping into a fast food restaurant, say McDonald’s. McDonald’s-goers in New York will notice a major change on their menu board. The mouthwatering Big Mac still smiles back from the board, but what also haunts the image of the precious Big Mac and all other menu items at McDonald’s restaurants and other food establishments across New York is the cold, hard truth: a calorie count-540 to be exact-for McDonald’s trademark treat. By law, New York restaurants must now surrender calorie counts next to menu items displayed on price boards or pay a hefty fine of up to $2,000 for noncompliance.

With this law comes the question, is it really the government’s job to control obesity? After all, what right does the government have to interfere with the right to “eat great, even late” and to live guilt-free while doing so? Though there seems to be no definite answer to either of these questions, we say that a more informed public is a healthier public. In this case, it seems safe to say that a little truth and a dose of reality couldn’t hurt.

So what if John Doe ditches his seemingly healthy Taco Bell Border Grande beef salad (1,450 calories) for a healthier alternative like Subway’s 6 inch turkey breast sandwich (only 280 calories without condiments)? Still healthy and mobile as a senior citizen, John Doe may end up thanking the government for making this information readily available. Sure, it may be emotionally crippling to surrender the most grease-filled, deep-fried fast food concoctions after learning the truth, but when the health benefits outweigh the power of the “happy” chemicals released in the brain after biting into a Big Mac, a little information might not be so bad.

As customers, we should not have to scavenge for nutritional information. When inquiring about the number of calories in a Wendy’s bacon and cheese potato, John Doe shouldn’t have to be passed from employee to employee then finally to a manager, only to discover that nutritional information can only be found online. To assist customers in making healthier choices and with respect to a customer’s decision to lead a healthy lifestyle, restaurants everywhere, not just in New York, should make an effort to give customers the information they deserve. After this information is available, it’s up to the person consuming the food what he or she will choose to do with this information. The truth may not completely solve the obesity epidemic, but it may be the first step toward a solution.


I have no idea if I am doing this right. I hope so.

Anyway. I just wanted to say that I am really upset with the Myanmar government for not allowing the aid to be distributed evenly after the cyclone that killed so many people. Today on CNN, they had a reporter who had to be smuggled into the zone that got hit the worst and there are still corpses just laying around on the ground and in the rice patties. The people are so poor there they have no more places to put the bodies and are unable to afford the manpower to take care of the bodies. They are trying to get on with their lives, but how can you with no help? Speaking from the point of view of a person who has been displaced due to a disaster, I feel for these people who don't even have a place to live. I at least have somewhere to stay, but they are trying so hard to get food and shelter and I feel like the government there needs some serious overworking and to get this taken care of. If they can't do it or won't do it, someone needs to get in there and do it for them by force. You can't just let your own people starve and die and just not care.

Hope that was a good start.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Red Cross on American Interrogation Techniques

(Via Common Iowan.)

Recommended Reading

In international news, global development and security expert Thomas P.M. Barnett discusses his concern that Israel may bomb Iran before the American presidential election later this year:
Looming behind the most crucial dynamics is the possible presidency of Barack Obama, suggesting that war may become inevitable due to the fear of peace. After eight years of Bush-Cheney, such is the state of our world.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency has been a disaster for the Iranian people. Despite all the oil wealth, inflation is raging, and the economy goes nowhere. Add in a stunning birth dearth, the world's worst brain drain, plus Iranian prostitutes headlining European brothels, and this is clearly a society in a death spiral.

With restless students chanting in public for Ahmadinejad's death, little wonder the man pines for a splendid little war.

The Sunday Times also reports on the looming possibility of Israeli air strikes against Iran. (Via Sullivan.)

On the domestic front, electronic rights activist Cory Doctorow expresses enthusiasm over efforts to fight against the new FISA bill in court:
Yee-HAW! EFF, the ACLU and others are suing the government -- in multiple suits! -- over the new spy bill that "legalizes" warrantless bulk surveillance and immunizes the telcos from civil prosecution for their past bad deeds in cooperating with the President in wiretapping the whole nation.

Zooming in yet further to Iowa, Bleeding Heartland updates us on Rob Hubler's uphill battle against incumbent Representative Steve King.

On the Christopher-thinks-technology-can-solve-all-our-problems front, it looks like Internet-ready electronic parking meters may soon allow us to pay with our smart phones instead of digging around in our pockets for change. (Via Slashdot.)

However, not everyone might be quite ready to adopt such new-fangled techmology.

More opportunities for reading over my shoulder abound on my shared items page.

Headline of the Day


100 snakes seized; pastor arrested
More than 100 snakes, many of them deadly, were confiscated in the undercover sting after Thursday's arrests, said Col. Bob Milligan, director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Handling snakes is practiced in a handful of fundamentalist churches across Appalachia, based on the interpretation of Bible verses saying true believers can take up serpents without being harmed.

As this post's title suggests, I was drawn to this story by the sheer hilarity of the headline. The rest of the article is pretty interesting, too. However, it leaves us hanging as to what sort of odd interpretation of Bible verses could possibly lead good religious folk to play with poisonous reptiles.

Due to my fundamentalist Baptist upbringing, I know exactly what verses are at issue. Although the church I grew up in doesn't do anything as facially crazy as handling snakes, I did learn the Bible well enough to know the basis of most Christian doctrine. And the truth is that there's a lot of trippy shit in the Bible.

In fact, the New Testament actually quotes Jesus as saying that his followers will be immune from all sorts of harmful things, including those sinister snakes Biblical authors love to slander.

Mark 16:14-20 reads as follows:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Later on in the New Testament, there's even an example of this happening.

Acts 28:3-6 reads as follows:
Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live." But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

Thus, the fundamentalist contention that true believers should be able to safely handle snakes is quite well-supported by the text. Frankly, I don't see any reason to try to stop these people from putting their beliefs into practice. Someone has to provide material for the Darwin Awards.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Iowa GOP Convention Coverage

If you want a short and uninteresting summary of what happened at Iowa's state-level GOP convention today, read about it in a mainstream media, dead-tree publication.

However, if you prefer more detailed analysis, check out Jason Hancock's coverage of the event for Iowa Independent.

And, if you're a real political junkie, you'll love John Deeth's extensive liveblog of the entire day's proceedings.

The Death of Tony Snow

Fox News has of course already created a tribute page.

Hopefully, we won't now be subject to the same self-indulgent barrage of news about those who deliver the news that we got after Tim Russert died. But we probably will. And people wonder why I don't watch television.

It's not that I'm criticizing journalists for becoming part of the story. My real complaint is that most of them are just too boring to pull it off. Hunter S. Thompson was famously self-indulgent, but at least he was also entertaining--and an excellent writer.

Of course it's sad when anyone dies, but I just don't think Russert and Snow are as newsworthy of people as their colleagues think they are. Let's be honest: neither of them was all that great of a journalist.

In any case, out of sheer irreverence, I'm posting some of what Westboro Baptist Church had to say about Snow on their always entertaining blog:

Tony Snow was a rebel against God and he had NO cause. He could read and he could have used all the positions that he was put into by the Lord his God (he and YOU had/have NOTHING except what you all receive from the hand of the Lord your God!) to speak truth about the standards of God and HIS righteousness, and encourage his fellow countrymen to put away their idols, their false gods and their FILTHY, disobedient and rebellious manner of life. Tony Snow was an unfaithful steward!

1Co 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

God killed Tony Snow - first he smote him with cancer, and yet Tony Snow would NOT repent and serve his God in truth! That God that held the very breath of his life in HIS hands gave Tony Snow space to repent, and he would not!

Now that's a perspective you won't find represented in the mainstream media. God bless the Internet and all of the weirdos it gives voice to.

Recommended Reading

This is the first in what I plan to make a daily series of posts where I link to some of the most interesting things I find online. Enjoy!

Glenn Greenwald, a fierce advocate of civil liberties and writer, argues the United States is abandoning the rule of law at a frightening rate, through both torture and illegal wiretapping.

However, Orin Kerr argues on The Volokh Conspiracy, a prominent law blog, that the FISA bill Congress just passed isn't as bad as many are making it out to be.

And the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan also sees a major distinction between wiretapping and torture.

To end on a lighter (higher?) note, I'll bring your attention to Reason's coverage of a marijuana decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts.

If you'd like to read more interesting things I find online, go here. I update that page almost constantly.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Information Revolutions

My column this week attempts to put newspapers' current problems into a broader historical context.

Those working in the newspaper business are well aware that major changes are afoot. Advertising revenue is collapsing, newsrooms are hemorrhaging staff members, and the quality of the journalism being done at most publications is sinking to a depressingly low common denominator. These developments are causing many reporters to despair and resign themselves to slowly sinking into the sea as the battered and broken organizations they work for take on water like the Titanic.

Not me. I see plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

The seismic shifts going on in today's media industry are not unprecedented. They're just bigger and coming faster than the changes most people are accustomed to. The media isn't the only aspect of society being affected by the increasing pace of change in today's world, but it does happen to be an area that is undergoing a fundamental reorganization.

Check out the rest of my column on the DI's main site.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jon deals with not being able to moderate comments takes the precious away! Nasty mean Nate Whitney steals it from us!

We misses the precious. Make commentses appear and disappear, we could! If they was wise and laughsie, we puts them through so everyone could see. If they tries to sells us viagra, we smashes them to pieces. How we laughs!

Now cruel Nate takes it! We hates it; nasty, cruel opinions editor, *gollum*, *gollum*...