Thursday, March 27, 2008

Milk hits puberty

Missouri, Kansas want dairies to shut up about not having hormones in milk, because it makes milk WITH hormones look bad

Apparently, larger dairies are (bad pun alert) mad that family farms are tagging their milk as "hormone-free." In doing so, the big guys claim, they suggest that there's somehow something wrong with hormone-enriched milk, which of course there isn't. After all, farmers employ hormones only to affect the cow's metabolism so that it turns into a tough, taut efficient udder machine. Kind of like bovine bodybuilders. And come on, it's not like traces of steroids ever show up in their bodily fluids, right?

Reality being what it is, however, Missouri and Kansas are leading the way in legislation to respectively ban any mention of hormones (or lack thereof) on bottles, or to accompany such labeling with a caveat from the FDtrimspA saying that ah, you've got nothing to worry about.

I'm reminded of the furor Republicans felt when "The Reagans" miniseries was to run on CBS in 2003. Some called for the show to run a disclaimer at each commercial break: "This is a work of fiction, blah blah blah." Of course, Les Moonves was going to have none of that, so he bravely stood his ground and relegated the series to Showtime.

Amazing how conservatives chant "Free market!" when they want to terminate federal assistance programs, undermine public schools or strike down limits in campaign finance, but then flip-flop completely when the issue is alerting the public that some mass-produced, steroid-induced corporate product might be unhealthy.

It's not the government's job to foster ignorance in consumers. Not typically, anyway.

Would such an absurd notion even be possible outside of the Bush era?

1957: "Thalidomide has been proven to cause massive birth defects in babies, making them look like dolphins with half the intelligence. But isn't curing morning sickness worth it, Mom?"

1964: "Warning: The surgeon general has determined that smoking is bad for your health. But we at Philip Morris USA think it's gear!"

1973: "Hey, you can't advertise unleaded gasoline! That seems to imply there's something unhealthy about leaded gasoline."

1975: "Look for the Union Label? Why, sweatshop sweaters are every bit as good!"

1983: "Hey, don't say your soda has no saccharin! There's no proof it causes cancer in laboratory humans."

1999: "Metabolife is yummy! Buy it at the mall! If you don't, you'll die!"

2006: "What's up with promoting your chips as having no trans fats? That implies this delicious man-made crack fat has some expansive effect on American waistlines."

How about a Seinfeldian compromise? "Cultivated without hormones...not that there's anything wrong with that."

Or you could start drinking soy, like I do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

There's something not Wright about Obama

Much has been said of Barack Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Much more than needs to be said, really.

Because, frankly, this whole affair is ridiculous. After seven years of unprecedented religious influence in government - now at the point where John McCain can actively seek the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, basically Wright in wolf's clothing, and few bat an eye - suddenly this is where we draw the line?

This controversy is the third major attempt to paint Obama as Not One Of Us. The first two were the "His middle name is HUSSEIN!" and the "He's a MUSLIM and doesn't put his hand on his heart!" campaigns. The latter gave a direct link to the snopes.com page that actually proves it false, a clear glimpse into the intelligence behind it. Both campaigns were transparent attempts to play on America's most ignorant fears.

The advantage of the Rev. Wright row over its predecessors is that its premise has some truth to it. After all, it would be really bad if we had a president who said things like, "God damn America," right? It would defeat the very purpose of having a leader! Fred Phelps isn't not president for nothing.

Likewise, such sentiment is why Jeremiah Wright isn't going to be elected anytime soon. But is it any reason why Barack Obama shouldn't be president? We're sliding down the Mount Everest of slopes by assigning one man's beliefs to another.

Apparently there are those out there who agree with every single thing their pastors, teachers, coaches, friends and relatives have ever said. I'd like to meet these people, because I've had plenty of disagreements with my family and friends over the years. But guess what? I still love them! And I would never discount the positive effects these people have had on me just because we differ politically.

Obama pointed out as much in his March 18 Philadelphia speech, reminding us that emotional ties are complex. Sure, he said, he didn't agree with Wright's most extreme views, but he did know him to be a good man who had been there for his family and for plenty of others over the decades. At a time when the masses were calling for Barack to backpedal, the candidate cited Wright as an example of America needing to come to painfully honest terms with its shortcomings. Angry people, he says, aren't the problem; the problem lies in what makes them angry. The key is to separate sinner from sin.

Amen, brother.

As I've expressed time and again, you certainly have every right to question Obama's suitability as a candidate. But at least make sure you're picking the right brain.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Today's lesson in stereotypes

Driving shortly before rush hour this afternoon, I found myself at a yellow left-turn arrow. Rather than make a screaming turn through the busy intersection, I decided to slow to a stop. This caused a giant white Hummer barreling behind me to skid to a halt. I expected the driver - an older, preppy white man - to be pissed, but he was too busy yakking on his large cell phone. And reading. He did divert his eyes long enough to realize he didn't have time for this plebeian stopping business, deciding to swing back into the traffic flow, and missing my car by inches. When I got a clear turn three seconds later, I saw the Hummer in a nearby Wal-Mart, plowing toward the front row of parking spaces.

Way to reinforce about 24 stereotypes, sir.

Funny thing is, a Volkswagen New Beetle did something very similar to me a few minutes later. Weird.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Warning: This blog contains traces of Peanuts

I've being doing some blogging over at the newly redesigned News-Leader.com. Today, I present to you a cross-post of my latest over there:

Lately I've been getting back into one of my earliest obsessions: Peanuts (the comic strip, not the legume, though that goes great on a sandwich). I'm currently reading "The Complete Peanuts: 1965 to 1966." It's a bit before my time (as in, my mom was 12 then), but you could say I was born to love Charlie Brown:

blog post photo
"It's a blockhead!"

I've always identified with good ol' Chuck. He's a persistent goof who wants so bad to be good at everything that he should never be allowed to do (such as playing sports, flying kites and talking to redheads), and has endured a lot of teasing from friends who are nevertheless always there for him. He tries and keeps trying, and that's what matters. Inspirational stuff.

"Peanuts" is a great comic strip on many levels: it's fun and enjoyable for kids, but it's also built with a solid layer of proto-Calvin wisdom that keeps you hooked as an adult. Looking back at strips from the 1960s, you have to marvel at how subversive Charles Schulz could be. Artists across the creative spectrum owe more to him than they'll ever know. Heck, so do non-artists.

Another striking quality of the Peanuts kids - the one that's really been in my head lately - is that they're active. Yes, the Van Pelts watch a lot of TV and Snoopy rests his rounded belly on top of his doghouse, etc. But they also play baseball, go to camp, throw snowballs and have almost disturbingly active imaginations. It's what we want in our young people. Heck, even in ourselves.

Now I'm certainly not one to be nostalgic for some romanticized notion of "the good old days." As depressing as this decade has been, I wouldn't trade it to live in the segregated 1950s, the drafty 1960s or the seventyish '70s (though I might trade it for the 1980s or the 1990s, because those were the good old days).

But as the Peanuts crew reminds me, there was a time when everyone in the world wasn't always glued to a cell phone, or sitting at home on their computer, or texting while driving. It was a nice time when people went outside for sunshine and occasionally talked to someone in person. And even if kids never really spoke in the advanced philosophical vernacular of Charlie Brown and his posse, neither was their main form of conversation some variation of "kthxbai."

It's not impossible to balance today's excellent digital gadgetry with an active lifestyle. When I was in grad school, a bunch of us overeducated Internet addicts would get together every week and play volleyball, racquetball, basketball or go swimming. We'd alternate between stimulating conversation and acting like children. In a sense, we WERE the Peanuts characters. And, yes, I was the Charlie Brown. Ever seen me pitch?

As odd as this sounds coming from a blogger enjoying the new tools of News-Leader.com (and I do enjoy it), we need more of that old-school interaction. With so much going on in the world, let's get to know each other as people. As this online community shows, we're willing and eager to talk to each other. Now, let's get to KNOW each other. It's the first step toward getting over our divisions as a society.

And, yes, your dog WILL be allowed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Next week they'll admit this is an election year

U.S. admits economy in downturn

Wow! What possibly led them to that notion? Was it the subprime loan crisis? The constant rate-cutting by the Fed? The soaring inflation? Record oil prices? The dollar's unprecedented weakness against the euro? Shattered consumer confidence? One of Wall Street's largest financial firms being put on life support? Billions and billions flushed into Iraq forever? Repeated tax cuts for the wealthy and big business in time of dire financial need? Diminished medical benefits among the lucky ones with health insurance? The highest job-cut figure in five years? Businesses ranging from record labels to family farms unable to compete in a global, corporate marketplace? All that and more?

But, most of all, could it be this administration's extreme reluctance to address the issue aside from proposing more of the same stupid policies that helped get us in trouble in the first place? They're like the stupidest kind of drug addict, one who tells you through sallow skin and missing teeth that there's no problem, then finally fessing up (once their nose caves in) and asking if you have more crack. And, so far, we've been the best enablers a junkie could ever have.

Someone's gotta be laughing all the way to the bank. Or, at this point, to their mattress.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Green is good

But I don't feel St. Patrick's Day.

I'm green every day. In the good ways, of course.

(EDIT: One of our morning DJs has affected an Irish brogue for the day. It's quite good, but somehow I still find it incredibly obnoxious.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bush must have thought they meant the 'First Amendment Ozone'

EPA tightens air quality standards

What? Really?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US is tightening air quality standards in an effort to help improve public health.

It is lowering the amount of smog-forming ground-level ozone permitted in the atmosphere for the first time in more than 10 years.

The EPA says the change could save 4,000 lives each year.

Come on, come on, give me a catch...

The new permitted ozone level has been reduced from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said that by signing "the most stringent" ozone standard ever, the agency was meeting requirements of the Clean Air Act to periodically review limits.

Wow, no catch? The most stringent ozone standard ever? Does this finally reflect a change of heart in Washington? I would hope so! After all, we all breathe the same air, and none of us want to see it evaporate in a sea of atmospheric pollutants, and --

However, the EPA's own clean air scientific advisory committee had unanimously recommended setting a standard no higher than 70 parts per billion.

US-based campaigners Clean Air Watch say the reduction did not go far enough.

"Unfortunately, real science appears to have been tainted by political science," said Clean Air Watch president Frank O'Donnell. "The Bush Administration is compromising public health to save industry money."

Industry representatives, who had lobbied against the change, disputed the environmental need for the change and said there were concerns that the cost of reducing emissions could hurt the economy.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said in a statement that there was "no clear and substantial basis" for tightening the standards, which would impose significant burdens on states.

Dan Ridinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute which represents 70% of the US electric power sector, said the new regulations were pointless.

"It looks to us like the rationale behind tightening the standard significantly skews and misrepresents the scientific record of ozone's health effects," he told the BBC.

Oh, OK. Thought I was living in Non-Bizarro World for a second there. So let me get this straight: this new regulation irritates environmentalists because it's supposedly inadequate, yet industries hate it because it would represent some kind of massive change? Well, I guess it isn't a true half-assed Bush-era measure if it doesn't piss off everyone, and at least attempts to make us feel sorry for the unfair "burden" that corporations will have to assume. Never mind the burden the rest of us bear.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out this change also allows for a reduction of ozone in the layer. You know, because it pollutes!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is why Barack Obama will be the next president



And no, it's not because he is charming. He is charming, but this particular speech is notable because it highlights virtually positive quality that defines Obama - and should define the presidency.

Note not only the ease in which Obama addresses what could be devastating criticism, but how he does it. First off, he - willfully and eagerly - zooms in on Hillary Clinton's vice presidential offer, defiantly rejecting it. And he does so without making personal attacks, even finding time to praise her tenacity. Then he completely tears apart Hillary's stance that he isn't ready to be in charge - by citing Bill Clinton's stated desire for a VP to be ready to lead "in the first week." And he did it an admirably quick way that suggests excessive scripting wasn't the force behind it.

What makes Barack Obama worthy of the presidency isn't his gift for oratory. It's his calm, unflappable attitude in even the most difficult situations, coupled with a smart defiance and willingness to hit the sore spots upfront - all the while respecting his opposition on a personal level. Yes, he'd make a great vice president. But he'd be even better answering that phone at 3 a.m. In Columbus, he showed us all why.

Are we clear?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ask your doctor if tap water is right for you

Prescription drugs found in drinking water across U.S.

A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

That's right, 41 million Americans. When was the last time you heard about a health crisis affecting 41 million Americans? Besides Shaken Economy Syndrome, that is.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose.

Hey, I've seen Erin Brockovich. That's my answer to that.

Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

Yeah...they also insist on raising our rates constantly. Perhaps for actual safety precautions this time?

The map of affected areas shows New Orleans made the list, but the entire state of Missouri is apparently in the clear. But that's more a case of Missouri being not Atlanta (acetaminophen, caffeine, cotinine) or San Francisco (estradiol, a sex hormone) than of Missouri doing something right. In any event, clofibric acid, estrone and naproxen are probably the weakest things in any given Big Easy drink...

Still, I've long said that the advent of bottled water has made the American public more and more apathetic toward the toxicity of their water supplies. And, speaking as someone who actually does drink tap water (and always has), I'd like to think that it still mattered to some people. Apparently not, as this chilling line illustrates:

The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water.

Of course it doesn't! Maybe if someone flushed a stem-cell cocktail made in their bedroom?

I figured this was merely yet another example of Bush-era environmental eye-blindness. But AP offers a simpler theory:

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

Gross. Anybody else out there get the queasy feeling that such lingering effluvia isn't limited to what medications people take?

In any case, I'm not too concerned. At the moment I have wisdom-tooth-related pain, and last night I had a headache on top of that. Hugging the tap didn't do jack squat for that, though it is worth noting that my menstrual cramps have completely vanished.

What are our fools in Washington drinking? Apparently, caffeine, ibuprofen, monensin, naproxen, carbamazepine and sulfamethoxazole. Oh, and power.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Guess she's going to Monster.com about now

Obama aide quits after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster"

An adviser to Barack Obama has resigned after a Scottish newspaper quoted her calling rival US Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton "a monster."

Samantha Power has expressed "deep regret" over the comments and said she had tried to retract them. The Scotsman newspaper quoted Ms Power as saying: "She is a monster, too - that is off the record - she is stooping to anything."

Well, I certainly won't defend such a remark (Hillary does stoop to anything at times, but that doesn't make her a monster so much as a politician...hard to tell which epithet is worse these days). But if it was said off the record, then the journalist violated a basic tenet of the profession by reporting it. I've conducted plenty of interviews, and it's up to both interviewer and interviewee to know where to draw the line. It's not a matter of suppressing a statement that someone might regret later - Trent Lott comes to mind - but about understanding that a statement may not reflect what someone actually thinks, or is otherwise spoken in confidence.

There's a profound difference between reporting the truth and what was probably some frustrated comment. Kind of how I lose my head after some Saints games: "I hope Brian Urlacher gets in a car accident on the way home, that piece-of-crap Neanderthal Bearsfuhrer!" I don't actually hope that he gets in an accident on the way home, but it sure sounds that way when I say it. And if, by chance, Chris Berman passes by, then I'm likely to headline SportsCenter: "Deranged Saints fan calls for Urlacher's death." In that case, the responsible thing to do is to let it go as the trash-talk that it is.

On the other hand, anyone representing the front-running presidential campaign in the United States should also be perhaps a bit cautious, especially to a foreign press; after all, they actually report stuff Americans may not like to hear. So, to ironically quote Ari Fleischer, "watch what you say." And, reporters, please avoid the sensationalism. Isn't the Obama-Clinton duel sensational enough?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A pocket analysis of last night

1) Hillary can win big states, especially if it's clear that her candidacy is on the line.

2) Obama can win smaller states and those that don't traditionally lean Democrat in the general election. He also gleans a decent number of delegates in states he doesn't win. Either way, he has brought out greater numbers of Democratic voters than usual in primaries that otherwise would have been ignored.

One consensus among pro-Hillary analyses and bloggers I'm reading (and there are so many all of a sudden, it seems) is that she alone has what it takes to win the states necessary for a Democratic lock in November. Fair enough, but does anyone doubt that California and New York are likely to go for any Democrat against McCain? And is it really a good idea to give up on the heartland states just because they haven't gone our way in a while?

At this point, Hillary's strategy appears to be to go for the big states and strategically maximize her clout in the states most likely to prefer her in November. Which is, of course, standard for politics. But someone please remind her that that's not what her husband did.

Bill Clinton's electoral map was far bluer than those of either Al Gore or John Kerry. While it's true that Democrats win most often in urban areas (or as more than one pundit and Wanda Sykes put it, "where people live"), Obama's ability to galvanize Democrats in not-so-locked up states should not be ignored. Barack's polling trends may not be a politically expedient as Hillary's, but they do reflect how this thing should go.

To use a road analogy: Hillary's campaign is on the interstate, zipping from safe haven to safe haven and reaping decent results. Barack is taking the back roads, inspiring folk who otherwise might not have paid attention at all, and is also posting strong numbers.

In short, Hillary is winning among those who are ready to oust the GOP from its choke-hold on power, and have calculated that she is the best bet to do so. Obama comes out on top among typically apathetic blocs who are increasingly energized and want to vote for the person as well as the political platform, and came out in droves to propel him to 12 straight victories. Both have the potential to win handily in November, and either one will have my vote. But, to me, only one shows us what political support should be about. And that's camaraderie, not calculation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

It's partisan time!



If you're on facebook, you might be interested in this group: Republicans vs Democrats. It's an open group, and it tells its members to "invite everyone........"

So that's exactly what I'm doing.

You see, I joined this group after being moved by their introductory passage comparing Republicans to Democrats. Some choice excerpts:

Republicans support the freedom to bear arms. This gives law abiding citizens the opportunity to protect themselves. While democrats want strict gun laws so that their citizens are "Powerless". This works toward their ultimate goal of socialism/ communism.

Republicans favor a strong military to protect its citizens. Democrats want to downsize our military leaving us at the mercy of countries like China and Russia.

Republicans feel that a good family background is important. Democrats seek to destroy the foundation of the family.

Republicans see flag burning as unacceptable. Democrats along with the aclu see this as freedom of expression.

Republicans want a smaller federal government with the power in the hands of its citizens. Democrats want a large and controlling government who seek to exploit us for their benefit.

This screed was followed by numerous comments in similar throbbing veins. So I posted a comment to the effect of, "Republicans have to act as if they're the only ones for such abstract concepts as 'life,' 'liberty' and 'family,' because few would vote for a party that straight-up calls for repression of women and minorities, corporatism and killing foreigners. Anyone should be suspect of the GOP's unwillingness to clarify what it stands for."

I don't remember exactly what I wrote, because (big shock alert) it was removed the very next day, and now I am banned from their message board. Out of sight, out of mindless.

Once again, we see how conservative college students handle opposing opinions. Not with debate, but with a ban. Nice. I can only hope apple-cheeked students don't take this moronic rhetoric at face value. But apparently, at least 79 people do. The rest get deleted, as if we don't exist. Which, come to think of it, is very much like the Bush administration. Bravo!

So, facebookers, show your support at that ultimate First Amendment zone, Republicans vs Democrats. It's one righteous party, dude!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Blessed Handsome has his haters

While I'm not at all new to the idea that base emotions override logic among Americans in times of decision, I nevertheless continue to be surprised by the depths such idiocy reaches. And for Barack Obama, this more than anything else will be the ultimate decider in his presidential bid.

Up until now, I assumed the recent thicket of Obama criticism came about because he is the Democratic front-runner. As such, anyone can and should become the target of pot shots; after all, the leader of the free world's got to be able to handle some grief, right? Especially if the dirt is legitimately crusty. Not that it usually is, but the possibility is always there.

I figured by now that the twin juggernauts of the Hillary and GOP Smear Factories would have dug up some great-tasting mud regarding Obama's experience or policy as a leader. But then I realized that, at this point, even the Smear Factories have outsourced all their resources to Mexico. So much for that.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, to have received a new e-mail from a friend criticizing the first-term senator from Illinois. It was a crafted and reasoned treatise against his candidacy, eloquently titled, "Fuck Obama."

The Bible has warned us that 'A man will come from the East that will be charismatic in nature and have proposed solutions for all our problems and his rhetoric will attract many supporters!' When will our pathetic Nation quit turning their back on God and understand that this man is 'A Muslim'....First, Last and always....and we are AT WAR with the Muslim Nation, whether our bleeding-heart, secular, Liberal friends believe it or not. This man fits every description from the Bible of the 'Anti-Christ'! I'm just glad to know that there are others that are frightened by this man!

I always assumed the above-quoted Bible passage (Asshats 3:16?) referred to John F. Kennedy. Or was it Charles Manson? The Good Book can be quite ambiguous sometimes.

What isn't ambiguous is the pathetic and desperate rhetoric that still defines the anti-Obama camps. To wit:

1) He has a Muslim name and spent time at a school in the Middle East. He is also brown, ergo, he is a terrorist sympathizer. Oh, and a MUSLIM too. A capital M-U-S-L-I-M!! Didn't you see him wearing that red thing?!!

2) His speeches are soaring, which can only mean he's dressing up a lack of definitive solutions.

3) He recently gave up smoking, which is a sign of weakness. Or something.

4) His wife, Michelle, had the audacity to say that America hasn't always been perfect.

Even all that would be excusable, were it not followed by the very same stupid and libelous forward that I had already pointed out to him and all my other friends was demonstrably false! After I called this out a second time, the first guy who had sent it (the inspiration for my first dismissal) commented that he had his back.

Sticking up for your friends is one thing. It's another entirely to willfully back up someone on bigoted words that aren't even close to the truth. And have been proven wrong at least twice.

Part of me thinks this is actually a positive development, that Obama criticism has become defined by such obvious lies and prejudice rather than by anything substantial. But then I realize this is 2008, a time when logic hasn't ruled in quite a while. As always, there is going to be a strong contingent of Americans who aren't ready for a black president, or a Muslim president, or a black Christian president with a Muslim-sounding name who speaks better than Dubya. But I'm not worried about them as much as I am about smarter voters who might feel this cycle is a given for the Democrats, regardless of the eventual nominee, and stay home (or worse, feel a wave of irrationality at the ballot booth and go McCain).

I can only hope that the young/educated voters come out in force in November, as they have been throughout the primaries, and show up those who want us to continue to be scared into xenophobic submission. If enough of us show up, no amount of fear, ignorance or computers can stop us from effecting change.

(*-The title of this post refers to this Salon article that explains that Barack means "blessed" and Hussein means "handsome." And you know what? He is.)