Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Father Drinan

I had never known about Father Drinan until the obits started this week. A true Man For Others. As much as I rail against organized religion, the Jesuits have a special place in my heart.

From the NYTimes:
He won office on his passionate opposition to the war; worked successfully to help eliminate the House Internal Security Committee, previously long known as the Committee on Un-American Activities; fought against the arms race; and crossed himself before denouncing President Nixon on the House floor as “a fascist war criminal.” The president returned the favor by placing him on the administration’s enemies list.

On July 31, 1973, Father Drinan introduced the first measure to impeach the president, not charging any crimes related to the Watergate scandal, but because of the secret bombing of Cambodia without Congressional approval. (link)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iran's Soft Power

When it comes to Iran, maybe you've noticed that lately it's been less crazed Ahmadinejad and more friendly guy next door, and that the country's influence is spreading. In an article published Sunday in the NYTimes, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq announced plans to take a greater role in the reconstruction of Iraq, including the opening of a branch of the Iraninan national bank in Baghdad. Iraq is open to the assistance. From the Times:
“We are welcoming all the initiatives to participate in the process of reconstruction,” said Qasim Daoud, a former national security adviser who is now a secular Shiite member of Parliament. “My belief is that our strategic alliance is with the Americans, but at the same time we are looking for the participation of any country that would like to participate,” Mr. Daoud said. (link)
Meanwhile, Iran has been working with Saudi Arabia (another U.S. ally) to mediate a peace in Lebanon, another country in the midst of internal turmoil. Quoting the Times' Michael Slackman: "The Saudi-Iranian efforts have put Washington in an awkward position, since it is trying to reduce Iran’s regional influence. But since a stable Lebanon is also an American priority, American officials have watched the efforts without interfering." (link)

As Iran tones down the hostilities and opens up the hand of frieindship (and assistance-political, economic, or otherwise), they may be turning into the popular kid in a neighborhood with a perceived bully problem.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Watch watch.

Rewind to Christmas 2004: from my brother I recieve a nice Fossil watch. I have worn it often ever since, but there was one problem. The battery seemed to die often. I would have to make a special trip to the Fossil store in the mall to get the battery replaced (for free). It is a problem that has been getting worse lately. My watch stops for no apparent reason, but later (usually after I remove it) it starts again. As a matter of fact, the last time I went to the Fossil shop, the man behind the counter mentioned that it might be me!

He went on to explain that if there is a certain amount of some substance in the blood (was is iron? magnesium? I can't remember), it could stop the watch. I suppose it's some sort of magnetic thing that he was implying. I got the battery replaced then, but the problem continues.

Today I did a google search and found an alternative explanation that I find slighly more compelling (but only slightly). It's on the FAQ of Tourneau, who claim to be the "World's Largest Selection of Fine Watches."
My watch runs fine when I don’t wear it but as soon as I put the watch on it stops.

This may be caused by a problem with the electric circuit of the quartz movement. In simple terms, when putting on a watch that has been sitting at room temperature, a watch placed on the wrist is then heated up by your body temperature. That increase in heat would cause a normal slight expansion of the watch, which could affect the contacts of the electric circuit. In this case it would be necessary for a technician to review the watch to determine if a routine maintenance would correct this problem.
Interesting. I'm not sure how to tackle this problem, but being a gift from my brother, my watch has some sentimental value, and I am not interested in replacing it. (link to Tourneau watch-porn if you are into that sort of thing)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pan's Labryinth, UR, Lone Wolf

Pan's Labryinth was spectacular. It's a movie that is surrounded by many coincidences and synchronicities that would bore anyone but me. I must say that it does go over the top more than once. This is not a movie for kids, but it could have been. Amazing to watch regardless. It's the movie that Guillermo Del Toro has been waiting to pour his heart into. (official site)

Techno fans! Emusic has a bunch of Underground Resistance and Submerge Records music all of a sudden. High quality mp3's of classic Detroit techno. Don't sleep. (UR on Emusic) (Submerge on Emusic)

Ran for nearly an hour on a snowy trail to The Police. At one point I turned a corner to see a dog up the trail facing me. Or is that a wolf? It looked like it. We both seemed to notice each other at the same time. It was off any leash and no one else was in sight. I downshifted from jog to walk immediately and looked aside when I realized I was staring this dog (wolf?) right in the eye. It was a moment later when I saw the owner, a young woman, walking her husky sans leash. The dog began to run toward me. I was relaxed, mostly, and tried to hide any fear. I put my hands out as you're supposed to, and the dog sniffed for an instant and walked around me, unwilling to stay too close. I kept walking until I had passed the woman who was talking on the phone (and I listening to The Police) and then began to jog again, with one last look over my shoulder.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Wiz and Disco D

Frank Baum wrote "The Wizard of Oz" in Macatawa, near Holland, Michigan. He knew a girl named Dorothy who was the inspiration for the character, and there is a "castle" in Castle Park that inspired the witch's castle, and there was even a winding yellow brick road.
Castle park is still there, but it's really easy to miss. The folks who are there nowadays don't seem to be looking for any added attention (or visitors). They do a good job and keeping a low profile, too.
Castle Park is at the end of a dead end road, but it's a truly magical place. I was there for 30 minutes today, and a resident who drove through stopped to question me. I was there on TV business, so the secret is about to get out. There is hardly anything on the web on the topic - just the same paragraph from the botton of Holland's Wikipedia entry which is repeated across the internet.
After a 20 30 minute effort, I find no picture only two pictures of the castle I stood in front of today. (pic1) (pic2)(Holland on Wikipedia)

Disco D has died. R.I.P. Comedy and tragedy are close cousins.(link)

Media Bias and General Roundup

Scientists say that global warming is real, and definitely caused by humans. About time! Can we do something about it now? (link)

Or is it already too late? Atomic scientists push the "doomsday clock" two minutes ahead. We are at five minutes to midnight. (link)

Ecstasy may be just the thing for PTSD. Ravers everywhere are vindicated, but some haven't been the same since their 300th hit. (link)

If you saw the FoxNewsChannel last night ofter the SOTU, you may have seen that 85% of Fox News Viewers said that Bush did an "Excellent" job on the address. As John Stewart said tonight, "Those are Stalin numbers!" (no link)

Coffee, at harvest, is in the form of a cherry. This bean is the "pit." I didn't know! (no link)

All this has been on my mind lately, but what finally got me to write is an article in the NYTimes that confirms, in my mind, an unjust Democratic bias in the media. Some senator from South Dakota has been accused of being a page groper. Now, since it wasn't specified in the headline, I didn't know which party, but since it wasn't specified, and since I suspect that the media in general loves to stick it to Republicans and go soft on Dems, I guessed that the senator was a Dem.
The thinking followed two lines. Firstly, I'd expect to see some reference to the G.O.P. somewhere in the headline or at least first paragraph if the accused was a Republican. Since neither was true, I assumed Dem. Secondly, I wouldn't put it past the Republicans to attempt to manufacture such a story.
So I clicked on the story with all this in mind. I found no reference to a political party until the 9th paragraph, and the Senator's affilitation wasn't directly stated until the last paragraph.
This was written by a Democrat, I'd bet. And I'd call it sloppy to boot. If only to avoid suspicion, journalists should note a politician's party affiliation in the first reference. (link)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Loss of Control

This is some kind of poetry. Haunting. January 16th in Portland, Oregon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wal-Mart Causes Poverty

I've been reading The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman, which is full of interesting facts about the world's largest retailer. From the reason that deodorant no longer comes packaged in a cardboard box, to why Snapper won't sell lawnmowers through Wal-Mart, to how the "Wal-Mart Effect" is like crack (addictive and dangerous) to suppliers, I'm learning a lot from this book. But this little nugget knocked my socks off. WAL-MART CAUSES POVERTY. Stephan Goetz is an economist at Penn State University.

From The Wal-Mart Effect:
"We were surprised," says Goetz. As the study puts it, "We find that the presence of Wal-Mart unequivocally raised poverty rates in U.S. counties during the 1990s." The question, of course, is how Goetz can be certain that the poverty is caused by Wal-Mart, rather than simply coincidentally correlated with it. "That's a very important question," Goetz says. "We're not looking at the poverty rate, really, we're looking at the change in the poverty rate over time. We're not explaining the poverty rate, we're explaining the change." And looking at Wal-Mart as a factor just as they would look at education level or whether a family with children had two parents present or one. After accounting for all the other things that cause poverty rates to change, then plugging Wal-Mart into the statistical equations, says Goetz, "There is an effect that we can only explain by Wal-Mart's presence."
I Googled Goetz and found his actual study. This is taken from the abstract:
We find, after controlling for other factors determining changes in the poverty rate over time, that both counties with more initial (1987) Wal-Mart stores and with more additions of stores between 1987 and 1998 experienced greater increases (or smaller decreases) in family poverty rates during the 1990s economic boom period. We offer three possible explanations for this finding, including that Wal-Mart stores destroy civic capacity in the communities in which they locate by driving out local entrepreneurs and community leaders.
More from the body of the report:
This raises the question of why Wal-Mart affects county poverty rates. First is the obvious fact that poverty rates will rise if retail workers displaced from existing mom-and-pop type operations work for Wal-Mart at lower wages because they have no alternatives (this assertion has been contested in the literature), all else equal. Second, even though Wal-Mart Corp. presents itself as a “good local citizen” and engaged in local philanthropy through the Sam Walton Foundation in the amount of$106.9 million 2003 alone, this type of philanthropy may not be as extensive or effective as that which the displaced mom-and-pop type stores would have provided.

A third and perhaps more subtle effect may be that, by destroying the local class of entrepreneurs, the Wal-Mart chain also destroys local leadership capacity. This has been pointed to by rural sociologists and others as one outcome of the increasing concentration of non-local bank ownership and the resulting branch plant economy that is believed to have destroyed the pool of local leadership talent. The destruction of small, locally-owned businesses may also reduce social capital levels, as has been argued, for example, by Cornell University’s T. Lyson (pers. comm.. 2002). Social capital, or civic capacity, is also an essential ingredient for economic growth to occur, according to Harvard University’s Robert Putnam. Thus, the elimination of local leaders from among a key group of entrepreneurs may be the single-most important and far-reaching impact of Wal-Mart Corp.
Repeat after me. Small is beautiful.

Another Strike Against Industrial Farming

In an article about omega-3 fats and their potential benefits (including lower risks of Alzheimer's among many others), it is noted that the places we used to go for omega-3s are no longer as rich. Repeat after me. Small is beautiful.

From the NYTimes:
For a long time, the typical American diet contained plenty of omega-3, DHA included. But that was when cattle were not trapped in pens and actually roamed the prairies and grazed on grass, which is a good source of omega-3s, rather than eating feed-lot corn and soy, which are not. Eggs, too, used to be a strong source, but chickens have undergone a similar lifestyle change.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The News in the News

I heard about this on this week's On The Media. It's an ongoing analysis of 50 or so media outlets with the intention of tracking where the attetion of the media is focused. Every week will bring a new chart like the one above. The study's creators also break down coverage by medium, so you can see the Ford's funeral recieved much more relative coverage on TV than it did in the papers. I think it's a great idea, and I'd be very curious to see the results of a similar study on a local level here in Grand Rapids.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stock Market Ethics

Well, if you are a holder of Apple stock, then you likely had a fun day today watching the price go up. I could feel that repressed greed bubbling up as if I just won a healthy hand at the blackjack table. My next thought was to push some more money into the market. I have a few pets: battery companies (ENER) and clean energy types (FTEK) that I've been wanting to dip into. But I can't get something that Gandhi said once out of my head. One of his seven deadly sins is "wealth without work." What then is the stock market? I tried to search the web for "Ethics Stock Market." But the results were disappointing. Mr. Peter Singer, what is your take? Is investing in green companies good? I'm not putting my money into bombs or booze, but still, that Gandhi thing gets to me.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Children of Men

I dare say I cannot recall a Sci-Fi film of this caliber since. . .(gulp) Bladerunner(?). Maybe it's the dystopian slant (that would be putting it mildly), but Children of Men and Bladerunner (possibly my favorite film) both hit the high notes that occasionally take science fiction to the heights of good art. Bladerunner seems to get better with each viewing, (and get ready for the 25th anniversary super-deluxe re-release, including in theatres!), and I think that CoM may be the same way. I plan on paying to get back into a theatre to see this one again. Great articles in the New York Times, but you get no referral, because I had the pleasure of seeing this film with a minimum of plot/cast spoiling and think the experience was enhanced as a result.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Over California

Friday, January 05, 2007

I'm Back

Been a little bit, and if you did read this page on the regular, I would totally forgive you if you gave up. The holidays were busy, and then a former US President from Grand Rapids died. I hope to be giving this page a facelift to some extent at sometime in the near future.

Happy New Year!