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Rhinocrisy

31 May, 2005

Depression on my mind

The other half of that manic-depressive swing seems to be kicking in (not the manic one - actually I'm not convinced that ever happens to me). What this essentially means is that there's a lot of molasses around. Molasses in my veins, making me lethargic - moving through my brain, making me think slowly. In the air around me, making it easier just not to move. I hate molasses.

30 May, 2005

Fantasy

It's Memorial Day. The tune in my head is "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (the Shane McGowan/Pogues cover), which tells the story of a young soldier from Oz, drafted, swept into the First World War I. He is shipped off to Gallipoli, where the Ottoman Turks blast the ill-prepared Australian troops into smithereens. He returns home legless. "Never knew there were worse things than dying."
So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away
Oh god (are you there yet?). And what do we celebrate? Yesterday I was listening to the radio, and the obnoxious pop-rock station told me to remember those who are "fighting for our freedom" over in Iraq. Is this always going to be true? No matter how worthless the conflict, no matter how meaningless the death, no matter how unjust our presence, will our soldiers always be fighting for our freedom?

Here is a memorial of words for those American soldiers who died in shit, feeling betrayed and alone, aware that their death could mean nothing. I remember you. I grieve for the folly that killed you.

27 May, 2005

Bill Frist will get right on that!

Activist judges much?



P.S. This has been a lazy week, I will readily acknowledge. Light on posting, thinking, brewing, brooding. I could protest innocence by reason of catastrophic weather-induced apoplexy: it dropped forty degrees in temperature here, this week. When your marrow is so chilled after several weeks of bliss (and you stupidly allowed yourself to hope), catatonia sets in quickly and firmly. But one shouldn't make excuses. One should be a man of iron will and constitution, unmoved in a strong wind, relentless in the face of circumstance. I'm not willing to promise that, however: I'm sticking with the weather excuse.

Militia vs. militia

Very interesting article in Asia Times (via Today in Iraq):

Recent meetings of the so-called Higher Committee for National Forces (a grouping of Iraqi resistance bodies) and the 16th Arab National Congress held in Algiers played a pivotal role in building consensus among various Iraqi communist, Islamic, Ba'athist and nationalist groups on several issues, such as the right of Iraqis to defend themselves against foreign aggression and imperialism, and the right of Iraq to demand a political process untainted by occupation and which reflects the uninhibited will of the Iraqi people for a pluralistic and democratic Iraq.

...

On this common ground, the central command of the resistance reorganized its activities, a key to which was merging mohallah-level (street-level) Islamic groups scattered in their hundreds across Iraq to work toward a common goal - defeating the occupation. In turn, these militias would co-opt common folk into their struggle, so that, literally, the streets would be alive with resistance.

Aware of this development, the US has accepted that no conventional military force can cope with such a resistance, and therefore similar mohallah-level combat forces are needed.

According to Asia Times Online contacts, these US-backed militias will comprise three main segments - former Kurdish peshmerga (paramilitaries), former members of the Badr Brigade and those former members of the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi army who were part of the Saddam regime but who have now thrown in their lot with the new Iraqi government.

All three segments have already been equipped with low- and medium-level weapons purchased from various countries, including Pakistan.

26 May, 2005

"... we create our own reality."

a.
CAIRO - Crowds of pro-government demonstrators attacked opponents of President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday while police looked on, staining a day of national voting that government leaders had touted as a major step toward democracy.

In some cases, pro-Mubarak protesters dragged unarmed men and women by the hair and beat them with police-style rubber truncheons. In other cases, young men who arrived marching in formation groped female demonstrators and used wood poles bearing cardboard portraits of Mubarak to beat rival demonstrators over the head in plain view of hundreds of uniformed police.

b.
GIZA, Egypt - With the pyramids as a backdrop, Laura Bush said Monday that building democracy was a slow process. But she praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for what she called an important first step toward open elections.

"I think he's been very bold and wise to take the first step," Bush said of Mubarak, who has served 24 years without facing an opposing candidate for re-election.

Thanks to 'Bu Aardvark for the first link.

25 May, 2005

Obligatory Sith review

Okay. I admit: I saw the Star Wars movie last Friday night. It was terrible. Nuts to George Lucas. Christopher Lee dies in the first five minutes. Nothing about it makes any sense in terms of characters or plot.

One thing I will note: everything conservative blogs are saying about this movie is true. There ARE ham-handed comparisons between Palpatine/Anakin and Bush and Sith/Republicans. They ARE slimy and pointless and worthless jibes. They're EXACTLY in the same vein as Fahrenheit 9/11, and Lucas' joking reference to Moore's statement ("Maybe the film will waken people to the situation.") is apt and equally wrong. This is a partisan statement. If you agree, you will agree. If you disagree, you will disagree. No minds will be changed because of it. And it will turn your stomach if, like me, you hate people who gleefully engage in this kind of pointless jousting. You are not contributing to the dialogue, George. You're just adding more noise.

24 May, 2005

Andijan report

Check it out: Nur al-Cubicle has a translation of a Le Monde story on the events of May 13 in Andijan. They take their accounts from refugees in camps in Kyrgyzstan, including Khassan Sharikov, the brother of two from among the twenty-three businessmen who were broken out of prison. He gives a very sympathetic picture of his siblings, and a rather horrifying one of the massacre itself. Sobering reading.

Worship

Do wolves have religion? When they congregate under the light of the moon, is it for midnight mass? When they send their howls up into the clear, dark sky, are they singing ancient hymns, passed down from one generation to the next?
        "Hail, silver goddess, on your circuit of the sky.
We make ourselves your supplicants.
Bless us, o goddess,
that we may carry your pale light in our eyes."
When dogs howl at the moon, is it memory that provokes them?
        "Hail, pale one! We have not forgotten.
Though our ways have changed, our hearts, our eyes,
Our voices belong to you alone."
Or do only humans contemplate mystery, and feel the movement of stars and the tug of the breeze in the depths of their being?

Howl at the moon tonight.

23 May, 2005

More on gay blood

When I posted that the Red Cross would rather promote discrimination than condoms, I didn't realize that two years earlier, a the University of Vermont requested the Red Cross change or leave. A smart, concise editorial on the topic was published at the University of Connecticut in 2004. There was a resolution against the Red Cross at the University of New Hampshire back in February of this year. Representing Massachusetts, Harvard has had a little campus tempest on the topic. (It led to this hilarious editorial from Ladies against Women.) Leaving just Rhode Island behind in the all-New England pro-gay rally, just recently in April (on the anniversary of the "shot heard round the world," of the Waco massacre, and of the Oklahoma City bombing) the University of Maine made the Red Cross instituta non grata* for their homophobic policies. I guess I was just channeling the good people of Orono.
A resolution was passed Friday by the UM Student Government Inc., urging student organizations to "end blood drives with the American Red Cross, and instead hold drives with blood collection organizations in support of striking down the ban against blood donations from gay and bisexual men."

...Although all licensed blood donation organizations must comply with the FDA regulation, student leaders who support the resolution say that the Red Cross isn't as willing as some to recognize the discriminatory nature of the policy.
This article by the Red Cross explains the current ban. As does this overly polite piece by the formerly fire-breathing giants at Gay Men's Health Crisis. It makes some sense, but it doesn't answer some important questions. Why ask about gay sex, instead of unsafe sex? Why ban gay men but not African-American women, who are also a very high-risk group? I think the answers are political, not epidemiological. It would be racist to ban African-American women; racism is less socially acceptable than homophobia. And what if nurses had to ask if people have had unprotected anal sex, rather than asking if they've had sex with a man? That wouldn't go well with the Washington theocracy's ideas about safe sex, which are basically to pretend that abstinence is the only answer.

Asking about safe sex would keep the blood supply safer than the current method, would provide a small dose of safe sex education, and would allow responsible safe-sex-practicing homos to take part in the communal ritual we call blood donation.

Finally, if you feel like doing something, LGBT Campus.org has some action ideas. Have fun, kiddies!



*Pardon the made-up Latin. Gender and case corrections are welcome.

Empty spaces

Burrowing across the great states of California, Nevada and Utah, I learned a few little lessons.

California is wetter than you'd think. The rivers out of the Sierra Nevada are as grand and terrifying as any river in the world. It's just they are like that for only a couple weeks per year, and only above the dams. But wow, the American River had to be going at 15,000 or more cfs, in a channel that all summer goes at about 1,500.

Nevada got its name from the Spanish word for snow, which makes sense because the mountains are all very snowy at this time of year. Even on Highway 50, which never goes over 8,000 feet, there was snow near the road. The higher passes were impassable, so I guess they were higher impasses.

Utah is a theocracy. I knew this intellectually before, but the pervasiveness of it never came clear. Like -- the tallest building in Salt Lake City is the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church office building. Nothing can be legally built taller. This is similar to what Ottawa and Washington, DC do -- buildings can't be taller than their national seats of government. But somehow, an exclusive religion seems different from an inclusive civic government.

Time to hit the road again.

20 May, 2005

Evil Fucking Torture State (reprise)

I might as well post this, though you guys probably know all about it already. The NY Times broke a big story today on the torture and murder of an innocent Afghani by American soldiers. You can read it if you like, but you already know what it's going to tell you: the U.S. is an evil fucking torture state. Except we go to OTHER countries to torture people. Enterprising bastards, we Americans. I think I'm going to have to get Indian citizenship if I want to travel and not be beaten up/spit on repeatedly.

Viral meme viral meme

This morning CT had a post about Autoblogger, a fun little parody site. At lunch a friend introduced me to Hire-A-Killer. But that's not meta enough for me, man! Check out the organizing principle behind these sites, the Contagious Media Showdown! That's right, I'm virally propagating a site about virally propagated sites! Muahahaha!

19 May, 2005

Yes, you heard that right the first time.

Q Scott, the President of Uzbekistan has now admitted that his government killed upwards of 170 of its citizens, some anti-government protestors, some escaped prisoners, apparently. Opposition groups say the figure could have been far, far higher. What's the President's view of this situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we spoke about it just the other day. The State Department addressed this very matter and expressed our concerns about it. Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan. We were deeply disturbed by the reports that authorities had fired on demonstrators last Friday, and we expressed our condemnation about the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians. And we certainly deeply regret any loss of life. So we've expressed that previously.

But we've also called on people to reject those who would try to incite violence, as well. And we talked about that, too. We've urged the government, as well, to allow humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross, to have access to the region so that they can gather facts and help take care of people that need help.

Q That's very clear. I wonder if I can contrast it with something, though. In 2002, the President said of another leader who had arrested 75 people and had them sentenced: "The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that has outraged the world's conscience." The President was speaking of Fidel Castro, who imprisoned these dissidents, didn't kill any of them, and I wonder why the double standard.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would look at it that way. Obviously, Terry, there are different circumstances around the world. You have to deal with those different circumstances. And so I wouldn't look at it that way at all. But we have long spoken about our concerns when it comes to the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and we've laid out the facts as we know them about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. We would like to see a more open and responsive government. But the way to achieve that is not through violence; it's through peaceful means. And that's what we always emphasize.
Except for that whole invading-Iraq-and-bombing-it-to-depose-Saddam thing.

Rocket fuel vs. arugula fuel

A hydrogeologist pal just pointed out to me that there is widespread panic about perchlorate in drinking water. "Rocket fuel in breast milk" makes a great headline. But she points out that if you want to worry about the water in SiliValley, you should worry about nitrate and nitrite, which are present in high doses all over the valley and seriously screw up childhood development. Their sources: fertilizer. Maybe that's why arugula is also called "rocket."

Depression on my mind

What's fun about subscribing to the Wall Street Journal while studying American economic history is the feeling of utter dread it leaves in the stomach.

Lately, the dread comes from watching a series of seemingly insignificant and unrelated policy decisions that add up to the dismantling of the economic safety net that has existed since Roosevelt's election in 1932. By economic safety net, I don't mean the social safety net for the poor -- Clinton made short work of that. I mean the systems that have kept unemployment in check, kept the poor and middle class on a gradually improving quality of life (or at least of possessions), and prevented mass starvation even in periods of economic dislocation.

To understand what I mean, think for a second about what caused the Great Depression. In short, it was a set of positive feedback loops that ran out of control:

Excessive debt (rich folks): People bought stocks "on margin," meaning that they used borrowed money. There was no federal regulation of who could receive a margin loan. When stocks began to drop in late 1929, lenders, worried that their collateral was becoming useless, made "margin calls." That meant they required borrowers to pay back loans at once. The borrowers had to sell their stocks to pay back their loans. This further crashed the market, which caused more margin calls.

Too-rigid debt (moderate income and poor folks): Repo law was strict back then. Economist Christina Romer has convincingly shown that consumers had to cut back on spending in order to keep up their car and furniture payments. If they missed a payment, they could lose their entire sunk cost in the big purchase. So it was better to cut back on food and clothes than to lose all the money they'd put into the new car (along with the car).

A related item was that debtors had no recourse to bankruptcy protection. So any debt had to be paid in full or privately renegotiated; the courts didn't help out.

Consumer jitters: Consumers could have kept spending after the stock market went down -- most consumers didn't own any stock and had no reason to be concerned. Well, almost no reason. They were worried they'd be laid off, so they cut back at once on durable goods. That led to layoffs in the big manufacturing sector, which led to more jitters and more cutbacks.

Lack of financial insurance: Bank deposits were uninsured, so depositors were right to worry if a bank was in trouble. They did best to rush in and withdraw their full savings, rather than risk getting back cents on the dollar from a crashed-out bank.

Ideological macroeconomic policy: Herbert Hoover preferred to maintain balanced budgets as the economy crashed. As incomes and spending declined, taxes declined, so government spending declined -- exacerbating the layoffs and the overall reduction in aggregate demand.

Another ideological decision was to restrict margin borrowing by raising interest rates, rather than through regulation. Federal regulation of the stock market was for commies. Interest rates were ok to use for macroeconomic adjustments. The problem was, higher interest led to a decrease in corporate investment once the downturn got going. The Depression was the only time in US history when the nation's capital stock lost value -- it was better for rich guys to keep their money in a T-bill than to invest in their productive machinery.

Inefficient information: The old ticker system was slow. When it started to run behind in the stock market panics, that caused more panic selling, which caused it to run further behind.

Uncushioned structural adjustment: Structural adjustment is part of the deal when an economy goes from agriculture to manufacturing to information and services. But it can be rougher or easier. Without unemployment insurance, job training, public job centers, or Craigslist, structural adjustment was much more difficult in as the nation left its agricultural past in the dust. The lack of aid meant that displaced persons were less able to get going in their new urban environments, burdening society rather than offering their productive talents.

TODAY

Everything's been fixed.

We have Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and protection from vicious repo contracts. Consumers have learned that they can survive slowdowns and even reduce the pain of an economic cycle by pulling out the credit card and maintaining consumption. We have deposit insurance on banks and S&Ls. American politicians all understand that balanced budgets are nice but that stopping a recession is more important. The SEC was formed in 1932; its rules restrict margin trading to people who can afford to lose their (stock) shirts. Stock market information is now instantaneous everywhere. You can get it on your frickin wristwatch. Structural adjustment has been cushioned by vocational ed, community colleges, unemployment insurance, job retraining, and of course Craigslist.

But. But now, Chapter 7 has been gutted. Consumer credit is over $2.1 trillion and debt service takes up a higher portion of American household income (13%) than it has in the 25 years records have been kept. There's no deposit insurance on 401(k)s, IRAs, and other stock investments. The only Keynsian government spending to be had is in military hardware (not even paychecks, which are being indirectly cut), which by some lefty analyses has less of a positive effect on the economy than spending on, say, schoolteachers or clean water systems.* While margin trading in stocks remains limited, the equivalent in real estate is booming. Yesterday the Wall St Journal wrote that 2/3 of new mortgages are either "interest-only" or adjustable-rate or both. With such mortgages, a person who had to stretch to buy the home could easily end up owing more than s/he can get by selling the home, and payments can (with rising interest rates) easily get too big to handle. Now the Feds are threatening to crack down on these risky vehicles, probably sometime next year. (Watch for people to rake in a bunch of really dumb investments just before the new rules kick in.) But even with better rules, information in the real estate market remains diffuse and slow. There is no central auction site where home prices are compared; homes are not easily comparable in any case. A bust, if it happens, will be revealed month-by-month at best, potentially contributing to panic. Structural adjustment has gotten tougher lately as the feds have backed off on unemployment insurance and state and local governments have had to raise prices for vocational ed and community college.

In short, we might be primed for a 1929-style set of panics, displacements, and impoverishments -- and that's all without talking about oil.

Have a nice day!**



*It depends on how much of the money goes to pay for unrenewable resources vs. how much goes to labor, and how much is a true cost vs. how much is an investment in the future. For that latter number, you have to ask whether a nearly useless umbrella against ICBMs is an investment; some say it is while some of us use our brains.

**As a punk rocker, I should be cheering all these changes. Instead, I see them and think about the photographs of Dorothea Lange.

18 May, 2005

"Toilet incident"

Funny how many people have seen a "toilet incident" while in U.S. custody. From Democracy Now:
In August 2003, 23 Yemeni detainees reportedly tried to commit mass suicide after a guard stomped on the Koran. In addition, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights reported former detainees said they saw the Koran being thrown into the toilets. Three British citizens released last year from Guantanamo reported similar treatment of the Koran in a 115-page dossier on the conditions at the detention camp.

Are they or aren't they?

Just a quick note: a flippant reply to the scads of reports of Koran desecration floating around (aside from the Newsweek one) is that al-Qaeda operatives are trained to make false allegations. The source being this:
A US military spokesman, Army Col Brad Blackner, dismissed the claims as unbelievable. “If you read the Al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels,” he said.
This is true. You can read it in the manual itself.
Other missions consist of the following:
...
5. Spreading rumors and writing statements that instigate people against the enemy.
The only problem with this is that all these allegations are coming from people who have been released from Guantanamo. For example, see this al-Jazeera story, or this one about one of the released UK detainees, both confirming incidents of Koran desecration. Are these men al-Qaeda operatives? If so, why were they released?

Truth, consequences

In a comment on Eric Muller's blog, a reader responds:
Almost all released Al Qaida detainees have claimed Koran desecration. Allegations of Koran desecration are made just about every single time the insurgents in Iraq have an encounter with the U.S. military. Whether or not it’s true is utterly irrelevant now.
Is that right? I've fulminated (indirectly) here before about this idea that perception is more important than truth. Surely it behooves us to cling to truth like a lifeline - or else we risk being swept away in an endless tide of supposition and baseless invective. Right?

17 May, 2005

Uzbekitty

People, something is seriously wrong when a Google search for "Uzbekitty" turns up one thing and one thing only: Saurabh's post, below. As everyone should know by now, this is an Uzbekitty.

Rathergate, take two

I sincerely hope some other moronic blog doesn't ride this Newsweek Koran-desecration flap to undeserved success. Just like in that case, the forest is being lost for the trees here. The toilet-flushing story is flawlessly true. It's truer than Jesus. Newsweek being forced into a retraction over their sources is just misdirection. This World Socialist Web-site article has the goods. Juan Cole does it even better (also pointing out the forest itself: we are illegally detaining people in Guantanamo). Print out a copy of these, so you can stuff them in the mouths of any would-be AssRockets.

16 May, 2005

Fuckin' Boosterspice!

I am firmly convinced that before I die, biology will have unraveled the secret of what makes us age and die. Here is a NS article lending weight to that conviction. Rather startling to think that, instead of a hundred or so years of life, I might have to live two or three hundred. This is not a possibility I consider happily, really. Aside from the fact that I have historically been depressive (see sidebar), there is the not unrealistic possibility that the coming centuries are going to, ahem, suck the sweaty, dirty undersides of balls.

Everyone is always certain the apocalypse is coming very soon. But Jesus Christ, do we have the opportunity now, or what? I mean, thermonuclear war? We can actually DO that. We don't even have to imagine invading armies of demons, or cataclysmic meteor strike, or another album by Good Charlotte. And what about global warming? Two weeks back GISS published a report saying the oceans are warming, and in coming decades this heat is going to rise up out of the depths like Cthulhu and stifle us. Bedouins in New England.*

This makes it all the more surprising to me that there are people who actively crave more lifespan, like the folks over at the Life Extension Foundation, or the much more serious and crazy Transhumanists over at Extropy. Especially since we already squander the considerable alotment of life we are given. What would they do with 200 more years of life? Answer: watch a whole lot more television.

So, if it were created, were I given the opportunity, would I consume boosterspice? Damn right I would. And you would, too, you liar.



*I wouldn't really mind living like a Bedo, I suppose - I pretty much roll with the punches, and I'd love to ride a camel and fight deadly knife-duels over access to watering holes.

So fresh, so clean

"Now with amino-proteins!" my shampoo (Pantene Pro-V) told me this morning in the shower.

"Don't be daft," I said. "What the hell is an amino-protein?"

After perusing the back of the bottle, I was reassured that my shampoo "penetrates and helps replenish the amino-proteins that are naturally found in hair but are lost over time."

Further down, I noted, in the list of ingredients, bold-faced, double-starred: Lysine HCL, Methyl Tyrosinate HCL, and Histidine. Pantene Amino-Protein Complex, the bottle declaimed proudly. "Oh!" I cried (in my mind), cottoning on. "You mean amino-acids!"

Clearly what had happened was that someone had, for whatever reason, decided that it was a good idea to include these revitalizing components in the shampoo. Hair is composed of two forms of keratin (alpha and beta), which form heterodimers and are quite strong, mostly because they are largely composed of the amino-acid cysteine, which contains a sulfide group that can be used to form strong, stable covalent bonds (disulfide bridges) between protein molecules. In other words, hair is composed of a fairly complex protein machinery, and "revitalizing" it with three simple amino-acids (the building blocks for proteins) makes about as much sense as doing auto repair by soaking your Honda in a warm bath of spark plugs and power steering fluid.

But let's be honest: all the real advances in hair care happened fifty years ago, when some guy realized that you could synthesize all the sodium lauryl sulfate you wanted down at the Dow Chemical plant in Wilmington. It's much harder for hair-care researchers these days to make breakthrough discoveries that would win them the Nobel Prize in Cosmetology. So you make shit up, so what?

And then, obviously some guy in marketing saw that some boob of a scientist had written "amino-acids" right on the front of the goddamn bottle. "Those crazy scientists!" he must have said, rolling his eyes and crossing out the word 'acids'. "They may have all that book-knowledge, but they just don't have common sense. No one is going to want to put acid in their hair! Come on!"

"Chee!" replied the bottle of shampoo, shining prettily.

"Aid"

In 2002 the U.S. gave Uzbekistan $220 million in aid, broken down as follows:
Democracy Programs $26.2 million
Social Services $45.5 million
Market Reform $10.9 million
Security & Law Enforcement $79.0 million
Humanitarian Assistance $52.7 million
Community Development $5.5 million
Although this is clearly money well-spent, some groups complained that we were giving money to (and generally being chummy with) a regime that had a fairly awful human rights record. So aid diminished to $86 million in 2003. In December 2003, Colin Powell decided that the human rights record of Uzbekistan simply didn't meet the human rights standards the State Department had set for giving aid; the country was technically ineligible for aid. But, fear not - executive authority trumped these standards, and President Bush signed a waiver allowing Uzbekistan to continue receiving aid, despite the fact that it was just too damn horrible a place. It was vital security concerns that made him make that decision, you see.

However, in July of 2004, even that bulwark was steam-rolled by public shame, and the U.S. dramatically suspended aid to Uzbekistan completely, which by then had trickled down to a mere $18 million.

But wait!

Here's the clever, clever part. Our budget is so vast and labyrinthine that SURELY we could find ways to sneak money to our friends, if we wanted to. And so, not surprisingly, we find that the U.S. augmented its budget to help Uzbekistan fight the spread of bio weapons by $21 million in August of 2004.

"What's that?" you say. "We had a budget to help Uzbekistan fight the spread of bio-weapons?" Yes, that's right. $39 million worth, before. "And it wasn't suspended in July?" No, no. Why would it be? That was the State Department. Entirely different, don't you see? "Well, what other hidden budget items sending money to Uzbekistan don't we know about?" you might then ask. Well, who knows? That's why they're hidden, after all!

15 May, 2005

Uzbekikitty tidbits

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, wrote an article in the Guardian about the recent violence and why he feels the U.S. will never stop supporting Karimov. Refreshingly honest, which I guess is why they canned his ass.

People you should be reading instead of me for Uzbekistan news: Registan, Scraps of Moscow and Wanderlustress, who is actually blogging from Uzbekistan (Tashkent, I think).

The salient bits, for you lazy ones: the death toll is up to several hundreds (maybe). No one knows for sure how many, because journalists have been expelled from Andijan. People are fleeing into Kyrgyzstan, and are now being accepted as refugees; camps are being set up. Karimov says Islamists are to blame, and implausibly suggests that this was all a plot by Hizb-ut-Tahrir to reduplicate the coup in Kyrgyzstan which deposed Akayev.

14 May, 2005

Stupid rassafrzztng... mumble

It's 1:30, and I'm still incensed at how our government responded to today's violence in Uzbekistan.

The White House just put up their press briefs for the day. Here's the choice McClellan quote:
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I know that the Department of State has been in touch with our embassy there, and so they probably will be talking more about this at their briefing, as well. We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison. And we urge both the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint at this time. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence. And that's what our message is.
Now, granted, maybe it was early and he was talking out of his butt. But here's the quote from Boucher, yacker for the State Department:
QUESTION: Uzbekistan and the EU seem to have blamed the Government of Uzbekistan for the violence. Would that be the view of the U.S. Government, too?

MR. BOUCHER: We have been looking at this situation. We have been following it closely. I would note that while we have been very consistently critical of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, we are very concerned about the outbreak of violence in Adijan, in particularly the escape of prisoners, including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization we consider a terrorist organization.

I think at this point we're looking to all the parties involved to exercise restraint, avoid any unnecessary loss of life. But we are continuing to follow the situation closely. Our primary concern has to be the situation of Americans. We have -- our Embassy has checked on Peace Corps volunteer and -- Peace Corps volunteers and some of the other Americans who are in that area, and they are safe. They've reached out through the Warden system to contact Americans and encourage all Americans to stay inside and avoid the protests. I'd note as well that Uzbekistan's Government has provided increased protection for our diplomatic facilities.
So, at this moment when the Uzbek government has sent troops that opened fire on a crowd of unarmed people, the priority of the U.S. is shifting blame to the victims by calling them terrorists, wondering about the escape of "possible" members of the IMU, and back-patting the Uzbek government for how it's protecting Americans.

This isn't exactly rocket science, but let me make it especially clear for the idiots in charge of this great nation of ours:
Dictatorial strongmen who suppress secular and religious democratic opposition via arbitrary detention and violence only encourage the growth of Islamist militancy.

Grow a brain, jerks. Here's an article from the Heritage Foundation* saying the same.

signed,
pissed off

UPDATE: I missed the followup from the State Dept briefing, which is worth posting. Watch the way Boucher dances to avoid bad-mouthing Karimov. Despicable. Too bad Satan only has three mouths... there are legions in our government who would make worthy cud.
QUESTION: Sir, can I just follow up on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, but the European Union is blaming the government for this violence and I just wanted --

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen the European Union's statement. Certainly the outbreak of violence at this point, I think, is something we all regret and we want to see both sides try to do what they can to calm things down.

QUESTION: Do you think you've been sufficiently critical of Uzbekistan on it's -- on rule of law --

MR. BOUCHER: We've been very -- read our Human Rights Report. It came out two months ago. We've been very clear about the human rights situation there. We've been very factual about it. But, unfortunately, the facts are not pretty.

QUESTION: Regardless of what the European Union said about this, the reports are that Uzbek troops opened fire on a square in this town. Do you think that's a good idea? Do you think that is excessive violence?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't think anybody should be using violence. We think everybody should be using -- whatever -- that everybody should be using restraint and doing whatever they can to avoid violence in this kind of situation, but I'm not going to comment on the latest report. You know, the one before that had other people doing other things. The one before that had criminals being released from a prison, including possible terrorists. You know, this has been a whole series of violent events and both sides need to do what they can to tamp down the violence and deal with these problems peacefully.

QUESTION: Have you conveyed that view directly to President Karimov or to other members of the --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know who exactly I talked to, but certainly our Embassy is conveying that view, yes.

QUESTION: Do you think, Richard, those people, or anyone for that matter, in Uzbekistan has the right to call for the President's resignation?

MR. BOUCHER: We believe that everywhere people have the right to express their grievances and that they should be able to do that, but that they should do that peacefully and that grievances should be perceived -- pursued through a peaceful process.

QUESTION: And if I can try, sort of, the same question in another way, do you think that there is a response to --

MR. BOUCHER: I'll give you the same answer.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, that's -- we'll see. Do you think the government's response to what has happened was appropriate?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, we think everybody should be doing everything they can to avoid violence, to calm down the situation and to deal with these differences peacefully.



*Yeah, the fucking Heritage Foundation! Even THEY have a clue.

13 May, 2005

Of doctors and patients (CFS, part two)

In the 1997 movie "As Good As It Gets", Helen Hunt's character complains to her son's doctor about the fucking HMO bastards restricting her son's care. The scene hit a nerve, drawing spontaneous ovations around the country.

For me, the movie didn't ring so true. Many people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) have had their own run-ins with HMO bastards, but the doctor-patient relationship portrayed in this movie: thoughtful, caring, doctors, kindly imparting knowledge and useful recommendations on grateful patients, is just a Hollywood fantasy for most PWCs (People with CFS).

I have been through doctor's appointments that were more cross-examinations than examinations. I have had doctors get angry with me for suggesting treatments I'd read about and I've had doctors get angry with me for refusing treatments I knew would be harmful because they had "a hunch" it might help. I've had a doctor lecture me about the importance of doing schoolwork while I was too sick to watch television and a doctor get visibly angry when my test results showed that she still didn't know what was wrong with me. Like virtually every PWC, I have had multiple doctors tell me that I "NEED A PSYCH EVAL!!!", as one wrote in my file. (FWIW, I've had numerous psych evals.) And compared to many people with CFS, I've gotten off easy. I can only imagine how the patients of people who read Psychology Today articles like Is It All in My Head? are treated.

Now, I have seen a handful of doctors who were very good and there are some brave doctors who have put their careers on the line to research treatments. Literally. One researcher at the American Association for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome conference I attended informed me that if your name appeared anywhere near the words "CFS" you would never get funded on anything, CFS-related or otherwise. That was 1999, perhaps times have changed. Interestingly, non-scientific surveys of doctors and researchers at the conference showed that most either have or had CFS themselves, had family members or spouses with CFS, or were the doctor present at a large outbreak.

If the personal is political and all that, then right now PWCs are still in the bewildered analysis stage. As in, what could we have possibly done to qualify us for such animus? There are theories, this from a woman on a mailing list I'm on:
[T]his is because there are 9 times more women than men with [Fibromyalgia, a related disease] and [CFS] sufferers are also overwhelmingly women. And this is just how women get treated, most of the time.

Get used to it, guys. Sorry, but you have a "woman's condition." So get prepared to be blamed, belittled and not believed.
And I think that's part of it. But Gulf War vets who came down with a very CFS-like illness get virtually the same treatment, as did Multiple Schlerosis patients around the turn of the 20th century. So, my question to you and the entire blogosphere is this: why do doctors suck so much? What can be done about it?

A bloody Friday in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is blowing up. Since I was planning on going there sometime next year, this eenterests me greatly.

The New York Times is reporting from Moscow (with binoculars, I guess) the following:
MOSCOW, May 13 - Armed gunmen attacked police posts and stormed a prison in eastern Uzbekistan early this morning, unleashing a day of protest, chaos and violence that left at least 10 people dead and dozens more wounded, according to news reports, official accounts and one person who claimed to have joined an uprising against the government of President Islam Karimov.
I take from this that they were relying at least partly on Karimov's propaganda. The short, short version, as far as I can figure it out:

Twenty-three Muslim businessmen were put on trial by Karimov, accused of being part of a relatively unknown group of Islamic extremists, Akramia, which the government claims has an association with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a violent, bomb-throwing Islamic extremist outfit. Akramia is the group of supporters of jailed Uzbek dissident Akram Yuldashev (Yaldushov), who Karimov locked up in 1999 on charges of plotting to overthrow his government. Why anyone would want to do THAT, I can't possibly imagine.

The Akramis don't seem to be very good candidates for terrorists - they are completely above-board, forming a respected business community around the city of Andijan. They have implemented their own welfare/profit-sharing system. They are, indeed, devout Muslims, but they vehemently deny being part of any extremist network.

The arrest followed a recent bombing in Tashkent. The Akramis responded by threatening to... call for demonstrations in the streets.

Well, they were convicted, following a highly-polarizing trial. After the recent upheaval in Kyrgyzstan, people are no doubt feeling their oats. So they demonstrated in Andijan, probably tried to free their jailed comrades. Karimov responded by sending in troops who opened fire on the crowd, killing maybe a dozen or so. NYT gives us this:
By nightfall, troops loyal to Mr. Karimov's government gained control of the central square, dispersing the protesters, according to news reports from the city, citing government officials. The government also claimed to have retaken the mayor's office, which the armed gunmen seized in the hours after storming the prison, but it was not immediately clear what happened to at least a dozen hostages they had captured. Gunfire was reported in the city for hours afterward.

Mr. Karimov's government announced earlier today that nine people died and 34 were wounded in the initial violence. It said that "an armed group of criminals" attacked the city's police and military posts and stormed its prison shortly after midnight today, freeing hundreds of prisoners. The gunmen and freed prisoners were then joined in the central square by hundreds of protests in what appeared to be a spontaneous demonstration of support.
As always, keep this FOREMOST IN YOUR MIND. The Uzbeks are our allies in the "War on Terror". (Holy fuck.) We send people to Karimov to be tortured, who has them boiled alive for us.

The White House responded, thankfully. They said this:
"The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence," White House spokesman Scott McClellan added.

"While we have been very consistently critical of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, we are very concerned about the outbreak of violence in Andizhan," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Washington was particularly concerned about "the escape of prisoners, including possibly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization we consider a terrorist organization," Boucher said.
Lovely, lovely people, our goddamn motherfucking cocksuckers. I mean, government.

12 May, 2005

Branding Paris

Another conversation I had in my kung fu class produced this idea:

Consider the possibility that Paris Hilton does not exist. There never was any such person, nor is there a younger sister Nicky Hilton. There IS an actress who plays Paris Hilton. Her name is Claudia Farraday, and she is employed by a small and obscure production studio. A few years ago this studio paid a large and undisclosed amount of money to the Hilton family to make use of their family name. They would create a character, a true-to-life character around whom they would build a brand. Television shows, videos, clothing lines, makeup - you name it. All built up with far more verisimilitude than any screen creation could offer, because this one would actually BE real - as far as anyone knew.

They engineered their creation perfectly: she would start quietly, appearing as a model here and there - to establish credibility. Then she would blow up big, with instant notoriety that would fuel the growth of her prime-time television show. If it went well, they could move on from there... maybe maneuver for a book deal. Pepper her life with curious and scandalous incidents that would attract the attention of the appropriate consumer brackets. Quoi? Paris Hilton's private phone book was hacked and published on the Internet? How salacious! ("Yes - Danger paid quite a bit for that little piece of promotional theater.")

It was the perfect mechanism, for a public jaded by threadbare, aging forms of entertainment. Those old dog-and-pony shows wouldn't work on this tough, calloused public. But a sucker-punch, a fake - a dose of concocted reality. Ah. That would catch them unawares.

This would be scary if their goals had any value at all

The first reflex for failing managers is not to resign, ask their critics for advice, nor question whether their goals are reasonable. No, for a beaurocratic manager, the first thing to do is reorganize. Which is why it shouldn't be a surprise to see, in an obscure Beltway publication, that former managers of the Department of Homeland Security are calling for reorganization.

I'm not sure what kind of reorganization can turn 19 disparate agencies into a lean mean national-security machine. It may not be possible. It seems like every time one of these agencies is forced to focus more on ideological or religious terrorism, they pay less attention to real security threats. Farmers have complained that the new unified border guards could be letting in all sorts of agricultural threats. People living near chemical plants worry that the department relies entirely on private plant security plans, with no oversight or regulation. And the stricter rules for college students are reducing the US' influence in the world by "causing delays and potentially deterring students from pursuing degrees in the United States."

Even if it is possible to get perfect security against immigrants, illnesses, corporate raiders, currency speculators, and terrorists, I'm not sure I want to live in such a state.

I wish the agency would think about what security really means. I wish that instead of trying to build an iron wall against the world, they should teach people how to deal with threats as individuals and communities. Physical and institutional self-defense. If someone is trying to mess with you -- be it a mugger, a political terrorist, or a boss -- here is how you can organize and fight back. This kind of active, rather than passive, self-defense is more like bicycling, less like driving a tank.

But the Transportation "Security" Administration is directed to buy machinery to detect every possible threat, from matches to bad thoughts, before they reach the plane. And they can't even do that -- they spend money instead on silk flowers. Should I hold my breath as I wait for them to teach passengers how to disarm a terrorist?




Happy Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Day!

11 May, 2005

Electoral reform

At the nexus of several different threads from this blog is this article in the Independent, where British citizens give their views on the Independent's call for electoral reform, including a lot of discussion of PR.

10 May, 2005

The Memo

Bob Harris links to a Media Matters ("the most vile, despicable human beings in the country") story on the Dearlove memo pointing out that the Wash Post gave it scant coverage, and indeed only Knight Ridder has given it substantial attention at all. I think this weighs heavily in the "American media is pudgy and dough-like" column.

07 May, 2005

Red Cross bashes queers -- who will bash back?

In his always entertaining AmericaBlog, "Joe in DC" writes that the FDA doesn't want sperm donations to come from gays, bi men, or even dudes on the DL. The science behind this decision is -- let's just say it's of the Bush Administration's usual high calibre.

With this very flimsy news hook, I want to rant about a similar rule for donating blood. The American Association of Blood Banks and the Red Cross don't want fag blood.* Since the 1980s, these semi-official guardians of the blood supply have forbidden homos from polluting the nation's precious bodily fluids. Back in 1985, the policy made sense -- AIDS was a strange new communicable disease that only struck gay men. The first and best thing to do was to forbid donations from gay men.

Not long afterward, epidemiology revealed that a man could make out with a man and the combined saliva did not spontaneously generate retroviruses. A man without HIV could squirt cum down any orifice he felt like in members of either sex, and HIV would not magically materialize. It took longer to be sure of it, but according to the nurses at the San Francisco AIDS clinic I recently talked to, it now seems that a man with HIV can blow his load in your mouth without giving you any bugs. (This is still risky, however, especially since it can transmit other diseases.)

Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, we got the HIV test. So today, it makes much more sense to exclude people based on their risky behaviors than on their membership in some sort of "risk group." You might say, gays should take this as a blessing -- it means there’s no guilt when you fail to donate blood.

But there is a problem. Every time someone donates blood, s/he hears that gay sex is dangerous. That having sex with a man who's ever had sex with a man is dangerous. Conversely, the Red Cross questions do not ask women if they have had sex with a man since 1977. There are no questions at all about risky behaviors. There is no mention of condoms or other barrier precautions. So the implicit AIDS prevention message is: don't have sex with a man-fucking man, and you're all set.

This would be just annoying if it weren't dangerous. Women who have sex with men are missing out on HIV awareness. I know many very sexually active 20-something women who routinely have unsafe sex with slutty men. Public health organizations should take any opportunity they can to remind women that condoms work.

The Red Cross' ridiculous tardiness in changing its donation guidelines would be more excusable if they weren't constantly updating the document. I used the Wayback Machine and Microsoft Word's "compare documents" feature to look at how the page has changed. Among the dozens of changes over the past 2 years, the page has:

  • eliminated its paragraph that said, "Marijuana: Acceptable as long as you are not under the influence of marijuana at the time of donation."
  • Removed a bunch of illnesses from the list of exclusions, including leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, back on the HIV ranch, they have made their rules even more obnoxious. You can no longer donate if:

  • in the past 12 months, you have had sex with a man who has had sex with a man, even once since 1977, even if both you and he were absolutely diligent about safe sex, HIV testing, and so on.
  • you have ever had sex with anyone who has lived in large parts of Africa since 1977. Again, it doesn't matter if he wore three condoms during the blowjob and pulled out before he came. Any sexual contact is enough to make you a persona non grata.
If they are so concerned about risk groups, the least they could do is update their, um, blacklist. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "HIV/AIDS was among the top 3 causes of death for African American men aged 25-54 years ... It was the number 1 cause of death for African American women aged 25-34 years."

But they’re not. They don't block black people and they don't ask about condom use. If anything, they seem to make an effort to keep the word “condom” off their survey. So if a woman leaves a bareback bukkake scene, walks to a blood bank, and sits down to donate blood, she’s welcome. But a guy who had safe, consensual sex with another men in 1991? Get out.

This shows that the Red Cross is unconcerned about slowing the spread of HIV. But they do care about money. Which could solve this all.

Many workplaces, schools, and churches that hold blood drives prohibit their facilities’ use by groups that discriminate on sexual orientation. That’s why they are kicking out the Boy Scouts and why just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether colleges can be forced to help the military recruit straight people.

So the next time you see your university, workplace, public agency, or house of worship hosting a blood bank, remind them that the Red Cross still hates fags and maybe they shouldn't be welcome.

added 5/9/5: Since there's no health justification for a blanket blockade of gays, and since there are plenty of gays in the Red Cross hierarchy, I suspect it wouldn't take much effort to get them to change. If they had to miss a single school blood drive, that would cost them thousands of dollars. I doubt they'll be like the Boy Scouts, going to the courts to defend queer-bashing.



*I called both organizations a few months back to try to find out who made up these guidelines. It was one of the more intense runarounds I've ever gotten. The Red Cross blamed the AABA which said the guidelines came from the FDA. The FDA didn't know what I was talking about. The fractures on my telephone handset grew wider each time I slammed it down. In the interest of my phone's longevity, I quit the search.

06 May, 2005

Does democracy suck?

So Blair won. Despite recent scandalous evidence that he's a shocking liar who dragged his country to war, deliberately, unwillingly, despite his better knowledge. And Brits actually care about this sort of thing.

But he won weakly - his majority is scraped to a bare 66 seats, meaning if his fractious and malcontent Labour brethren decide he's out of line, it won't be difficult for them to defect and side against him. And his failing public status forced him to announce that he would not serve all of his third term; that he would step down and his finance minister Gordon Brown would replace him. Odds are this promise is all that brought Labour a victory. Brown appeared constantly along with Blair, as if to assure the electorate that, no, you're not voting for this sad-sack.

This is encouraging. But can the same happen here? Would George Bush ever have to resign in disgrace?

Much ballyhoo is being made of Bush's low approval rating (49%), which is being unfavorably compared to Nixon's at the start of his second term. Nixon, however, managed to climb before he fell, finally, to a low of 24% in 1974, when he was at last forced to resign. Blair's is a more analagous case: public opinion does not always react with lightning speed. But it needs an engine driving it, namely scandal. Otherwise known as good journalism.

That's been conspicuously absent in Bush's case. Observe the complete lack of fallout in the U.S. over the memo that killed Blair. Or the lack of noise over the apparently mundane statement attributed to British senior intelligence officer Sir Richard Dearlove, that "Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," because "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action."

We can go two ways: Brits have sensibilities that Americans don't (e.g. "Lying to go to war in a non-threatening country is bad."), and the same facts don't have sharp teeth here in the States; or else Bush is well-shielded by the studious indifference of the press, which no longer has any interest in journalism.

05 May, 2005

An analysis of gerrymandering in U.S. Congressional districts


An interesting quirk of our democracy is that legislatures must reapportion the boundaries of voting districts at regular intervals. This gives the representative considerable power to decide his or her own fate, since they can effectively choose the electoral body that they will "represent". For example, Congressman Black might prefer a district that includes mostly poor minorities, while Congresswoman White would like her district to include the fru-fru, quiche-eating country club types. This can be a mutually beneficial relationship; incumbency is paramount. To the detriment of democracy, since representatives are thus secure, with a consolidated base, and are free to pursue all sorts of dastardly corruption without fear of being unseated or even significantly challenged.

Thus, my motivation for this analysis of gerrymandering of U.S. Congressional districts. "Gerrymander" originated from one Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, who redrew his district so that it resembled a salamander, slithering across the state.

My assumption was this: a non-gerrymandered (GM) district will have a simple shape, like a square or a circle. A GM district, on the other hand, will be oblong and spidery (like Florida's District 22, to the right). A simple metric to capture this difference is the ratio of the area to the square of the perimeter of the district.

Some notes on methodology:
My data set was the 108th Congressional districts, taken from the U.S. census website.Unfortunately there are no maps available for the 109th Congress as of yet. I then identified the region within the district via a few image filters (basically, identifying the border by color and flood-filling it). Most of this could be done computationally; a few (~10) were too complex and required a modest amount of hand-editing.

A notable difficulty is coastlines. First, because district boundaries often extend way off into the water (as with my own), simply for map-drawing convenience), the shape of the district may not accurately reflect its electoral range. That is, there is no reason to include empty water as either area or perimeter, since it could obviously not serve as motivation for gerrymandering. But, second, coastlines have fractal geometries and highly intricate borders, and if I merely subtract away all the water from the district, this leaves an artificially complicated border with an enormous perimeter. A compromise is to subtract water that is far away from land, but count it when it is close to land (effectively smoothing out the coast).

I was not totally meticulous about checking my results, but the method went through three iterations over its development (the past few days, between doing ACTUAL work), and I believe it's roughly error-free, and about as indicative as this simple metric can be. I hope the results speak for their own accuracy.

Since your appetite is now hopefully whetted, here are some results.

Average gerrymandering by state. I've arbitrarily multiplied my score by 1000 to make it more readable; you can catch number of districts in the state as well. I've color-coded by partisan status (based on Congressperson).
MD 6.88793880535598 8
GA 8.50851723977752 13
VA 8.98535082698503 11
WV 9.30040737254421 3
NC 9.68898361365534 13
MA 9.83815278770039 10
RI 10.3367699156752 2
AK 10.4485686714127 1
CA 11.1569187555363 53
PA 11.2178984267845 19
NY 11.3708290869881 29
TN 11.5855566566526 9
NJ 12.0420686498261 13
NH 12.1578267933015 2
LA 12.2445438938043 7
AL 12.4107845305385 7
ME 12.4741193904276 2
SC 12.6619477973961 6
IL 13.1024810826366 19
FL 13.6986245130043 24
TX 14.5563881134424 32
WA 14.5889054246271 9
CT 14.7686056184507 5
OH 16.1212612375961 18
KY 16.4950727687108 6
MO 16.5901389002228 9
NV 16.9636163319575 3
OK 17.0302256381007 5
DE 17.9639557785057 1
MS 18.4056015269158 4
AR 18.6930775427076 4
IN 19.0298976932724 9
ID 19.0611097181691 2
CO 19.190015615601 7
MN 19.668740404658 8
OR 19.8991234034763 5
MI 21.3541582563898 15
AZ 22.1584468774782 8
WI 22.1993707024622 8
IA 23.3256579617634 5
UT 25.1600292963252 3
VT 25.1601919520778 1
NE 25.182095595885 3
NM 25.6531361363256 3
KS 26.0170276559194 4
MT 36.2821268787846 1
HI 39.8850037043964 2
SD 41.9751521430988 1
ND 47.6133854255138 1
WY 53.3433982895139 1


Here's the 15 worst districts in the country. You'll note that it's heavily biased towards Democrats. This is representative; of the top 150 GM districts, 100 are Democrat.

CA_23 2.15392705251479 249613419Capps, LoisD
FL_20 3.41104498269896 425061612Deutsch,PeterD
FL_22 1.74145540968764 376024620Shaw, E. Clay Jr.R
GA_08 2.19182084493442 626486002Collins, MacR
GA_11 2.82575367189675 453858192Gingrey, PhilR
GA_13 2.15803292714407 490451899Scott, DavidD
MD_02 1.94030760534665 602470411Ruppersberger, C. A. DutchD
NC_03 2.41473482901921 578680840Jones, Walter B.R
NC_12 2.24523848405671398435637Watt, Melvin L.D
NJ_06 2.86701555517374 419850526Pallone, Frank Jr.D
NJ_13 3.44740247443505 356043691Menendez, RobertD
NY_08 2.54177448357528 302023182Nadler, JerroldD
NY_09 2.98325633510843 365239788Weiner, Anthony D.D
PA_01 3.26930653336639 411455333Brady, Robert A.D
PA_12 3.35095973846017 509086817Murtha, John P.D


And here's the raw data.

04 May, 2005

Nalgene, your carcinogenic friend

Since the LA Times story doesn't want to name names, allow me to do the honors in an eminently Googleable way: Nalgene causes cancer.

That's right, health nuts: Your crisp, clear, trendy bottle, the same one piled shoulder-high at REI and EMS, is made of bisphenol A, which has been conclusively linked to precancerous mutations in mice.

I know, you're not a mouse. But read on:
Medical experts estimate that nearly 2 million women each year in the United States and Europe who take birth control pills become pregnant, primarily because of missed doses. They often do not know they are pregnant for several weeks and pass the chemicals to their fetuses by continuing to take the pills. The dose in oral contraceptives is typically four to five times higher than the dose that harmed the mice in the experiment, according to the study, published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Small amounts of estrogenic chemicals could permanently disrupt cellular control systems and predispose the prostate to disease in adulthood," said the study authors, led by Barry G. Timms, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of South Dakota who specializes in prostate biology.

Patricia Hunt, a professor at the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University who was not involved in the study, said Monday that the new findings added to growing evidence that exposure before birth to bisphenol A and other estrogen mimics might cause cancers in reproductive tissues and organs.

"What's remarkable here is that they are seeing it at such low doses," she said. "It has the potential to explain why we have this increase in incidences of both cancers — breast and prostate."

Hunt's earlier research found that exposing lab animals to low levels of bisphenol A could lead to a condition that is the leading cause of miscarriages.

Since birth control pills and bisphenol A have been in use for only a few decades, prenatal exposure cannot explain cancers in men over 65 — the most common age for prostate cancer — but it may play a role in the increased disease rate among younger men. Also, exposure during childhood and adolescence could trigger disease, Hunt said.
This study was conducted in part by the University of Missouri at Columbia, which has a special section devoted to estrogen imitators. If you like scientific journal articles, you might check out the story by Frederick S. vom Saal from that program. He wrote, "DISRUPTION OF LABORATORY EXPERIMENTS DUE TO LEACHING OF BISPHENOL A FROM POLYCARBONATE CAGES AND BOTTLES AND UNCONTROLLED VARIABILITY IN COMPONENTS OF ANIMAL FEED." The short of it is that the lab had a problem. Their experiments were suddenly all over the place -- the control group was getting all sorts of unexpected cancer. They tried to figure out why and eventually narrowed it down to one change in the lab environment: a new cleaning person. This person apparently scrubbed the cages and water bowls, something that hadn't been done before. The cages were made of polycarbonate.

I asked vom Saal what advice he'd give. He said that wasn't really his job, but that at the very least, people should be wary of scuffed or cloudy polycarbonate plastic. That it's probably fine when it's new, as it's very stable, but that there are problems as it ages.

Thanks, Fred. Despite its ridiculous name, I think I'll stick with my Kleen Kanteen.

02 May, 2005

Shark-jumping

Alt Hippo says the religious right has jumped the shark. Now, I don't really care about that. What I want to know is: when did "jumping the shark" become an idiomatic expression?

I'm familiar with the relevant "Happy Days" episode. I've seen it. I saw it eight years ago. But I've never heard the expression "jumping the shark" until just a few months ago. Is it just me? I did go nineteen years without knowing what "ill" meant, though it was presumably coined in the seventies. So I could be an ignoramibus. But I suspect what I'm ignorant of is actually some other, recent, pop-culture event that reintroduced this term to the modern discourse. Which is it? And will I ever be "with it" and "hip" like all the other "cool dudes"?

01 May, 2005

The end of 0.8181

At last, the New York and Washington media worlds seem to be getting over their post-traumatic-stress disorder from 0.8181.

First of all, the fiction houses are finally publishing novels about the event. An acquaintance of mine pitched her novel about it a year ago and the publishers totally freaked out, saying it was too close and was an inappropriate subject for fiction. (Similar topic discussed here.) The invisible hand has finally pushed some such novels into print.

And on the non-fiction shelves, we've gotten past the "some Moslems are ok" type of book to a biography of the actual 0.8181 footsoldiers.

But best of all, the news is starting to pick up where we left off in September, 2001:
  • Back in January, 2004, George Bush's approval ratings dropped below where they were pre-9/11. His approval among Americans has remained at or below 53% ever since, always within 50% +/- 3. And press coverage is finally treating him with some skepticism.
  • The U.S. right wing is back to rattling sabers against China, only now it's not about that spy plane but instead over the ever graver currency situation. Remember how China was being accused of helping Pakistan with their nukes? (Neither did I.) But then a month into the Global War on Terror, we ditched that idea and became allies against, our - ahem - common enemy. (That is Uighur, pronounced wee-gher, and yes, they are Muslim.) At last, we're back to normal.
  • Chandra Levy is back. She was the missing white woman of the month back in the summer of 2001. She was mostly out of the news by August, and then something happened and she disappeared from CNN just as she had from DC.
  • Remember how Germany legalized same-sex marriage in August of that year, freaking out some Americans? And how the topic faded into the background a month later? It reemerged a year ago in San Francisco.
  • In June, 2001, 23 Iraqis were killed and 11 injured by a bomb at a soccer field. Oh wait, this is a big change -- nowadays the bombs are set by Anti-Iraqi Forces. Back then such behavior was reserved for Americans.
  • Douglas Adams died in May, 2001. He was resurrected last night.

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