Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas war profiteers

Who's profiting from the Christmas wars?

Profiteers, of course.

AFA says buttons and magnets are selling so well, it plans to expand its campaign to Easter.

Hm, wonder what that slogan will be? "Put Eostre back in Easter"?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Richard Dawkins, fundamentalist

Not unlike the religious simpletons he claims to disdain, Dawkins sees the world in terms of a battle of Good vs. Evil, cloaked here as Science vs. Religion. Where Religion is corrupt, tyrannical and false, Science offers intellectual integrity, freedom and truth. As Robinson notes, Dawkins fails to acknowledge Science's less admirable achievements, be they eugenics, Hiroshima, or the more mundane travesties committed by unethical doctors or fat-cat researchers in service of corporate funding.

"Dawkins implicitly defines science as a clear-eyed quest for truth, chaste as an algorithm, while religion is atavistic, mad, and mired in crime," Robinson writes.

In this version of atheist theology, Science attains the same status as Dawkins' loathed "alpha male in sky," whose laws rule all things known and unknown. If we do not quite understand how the universe was created or the human brain works -- or the competing, contradictory claims about the virtues of, say, table salt -- all we need to do is wait and keep faith in the scientific method, which will reveal all in good time. The ways of Science are no less sacred or mysterious than that of God.

Lakshmi Chaudhry @ AlterNet

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Charitable solicitations a rip-off

One reason not to respond to charitable solicitations over the phone: the telemarketer is pocketing half the money.

Charitable organizations that used telemarketers to solicit money from Colorado residents in the past year kept an average of 51 percent of the cash collected, with the telemarketing companies retaining the rest.


About 15 percent of the charitable campaigns conducted in Colorado received less than a dime for every dollar collected over the phone. Just two [of 187] campaigns got more than 90 cents per dollar raised.

Spirit of Christmas

I don't know if you've followed what's been happening at the Seattle airport and its taking down of Christmas trees after some Jews requested a menorah be installed. There was quite the outcry.

Not only the Port, but local Jewish organizations, felt the consequences of that decision.

Robert Jacobs, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said about 14 organizations or rabbis had reported receiving hate e-mail. On Monday, his organization was advising local Jewish institutions that have received significant numbers of hate e-mails to consider having security during Hannukah and other holiday season events.

How's that for Christmas spirit?

Oh, the trees have been put back up.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Allchin on Macs

"I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft."

Windows chief Jim Allchin in a January 2004 e-mail to Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

iTunes sales shrinking?

AppleInsider has a story about how iTunes music purchases may be shrinking instead of growing.

I know from personal experience, I've owned an iPod for a couple years and I still buy CDs instead of albums from iTunes. iTunes is great for purchasing individual tracks, but $10 (or more!) is still too expensive for a full album when I can get a CD from Amazon for the same (or a couple bucks more). With the CD I get better sound quality, a backup and a printed insert.

iTunes needs to make purchases more tempting with albums costing $5 or $7. But, of course, that's not fully up to Apple. And the record companies seem intent on continuing to shrink their market by charging too much.

Update: Another analyst says iTunes music purchases continue to be strong.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Good Advent to you

Christianity Today's Ted Olsen summarizes this year's Christmas wars. It appears America's retailers have learned their lessons and have put Chri$tmas back into their commercialization.

And then there's this:

Those who engage in combat to remind others of "the reason for the season" would do well to remember that the Christmas season as such has only existed for about a century and a half. The 1,500-year-old Christian season that precedes December 25 is Advent, a time of fasting, penitence, and somber waiting. Protestants who eschew Advent because of an association with Rome have precedent for doing so. But the Reformers, Puritans, colonial Baptists, and others who gave rise to modern evangelicalism either passed Christmas Day with a simple worship service, or strongly opposed such a "popish" observance.

How's that for irony?

Wishing you a good Advent.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pre-paid cell phone discussion

There was a discussion on Slashdot yesterday about pre-paid phone plans in the US. Virgin and T-Mobile came up as the ones to look at. I think Virgin is a little cheaper for the absolute minimal user ($60/year vs. $100/year) but I think T-Mobile has the better phones, especially if you want an unlocked GSM phone that you can also use internationally.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Democrats in moderation

Lo and behold, it looks like the Democrats in Washington do know how to moderate themselves. They realize that in order to win elections (including the upcoming 2008 presidential contest), you have to aim for the middle. This was something I think Republicans, including the president, forgot. They have two years to re-educate themselves.

Now maybe all the Republicans who worked themselves up into a lather over the idea of ultra-liberals in control (or out of control?) will be proved right eventually, but it's not looking promising at this point. Today the bipartisan Iraq study group did not advocate "cut & run". And the NY Times ran a piece about how liberal black lawmakers realize that even if their seats wouldn't be jeopardized with too liberal lawmaking, there are moderate Democrats that just got elected who could be shown the door in 2008.

like other leaders of the larger Democratic caucus, the black lawmakers are being cautioned to be mindful of a broader audience that includes voters in Republican-leaning swing districts, where those initiatives can be politically perilous.


“It’s going to be a delicate balance for the chairmen,” said Representative Melvin Watt, the North Carolina Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “They want to be progressive in their agenda, but they don’t want the public to react negatively to what they are doing, because they know you are leading up to a 2008 presidential election.”


[Representative Charles B.] Rangel [said] he was conscious that as Ways and Means chairman he would be accountable to a different constituency, including what he called “wannabe Democrats” — moderate freshman elected in Republican-leaning districts.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christian Coalition base

Just when I was afraid the Christian Coalition might become relevent ...

The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a nondenominational megachurch in Longwood, Fla., said he resigned as the coalition's incoming president because its board of directors disagreed with his plan to broaden the organization's agenda. In addition to opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, Hunter, 58, wanted to take on such issues as poverty, global warming and HIV/AIDS.

"My position is, unless we are caring as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, we're not carrying out the full message of Jesus," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "They began to think this might threaten their base or evaporate some of their support, and they said they just couldn't go there." (Washington Post)

Hey CC, listen to the man. You have the chance to put "the full message of Jesus" into your agenda (which is, funny, what I thought Christians would want). If all your "base" is concerned with is abortion and gay marriage (oh, and capital gains tax cuts), you will become even more irrelevant than you already are. Young evangelicals are waking up to the idea that there's more to the Christian life than protecting your stock gains and harping on other's sex lives (much as the latter may need harping on).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Subsidizing billionaires

Kudos to the city of Seattle, which recently voted to discontinue subsidizing billionaire sports team owners and their millionaire players. Because it decided that schools, transportation projects and healthcare are better uses for its money, Seattle will probably lose its basketball team, the Sonics, in 2010. Big deal. It's not like the team has a lot of love for the city, demanding $200 million "or else". Good riddance.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Aryan race

The NY Times has an article about a Nazi breeding program to "propagate Aryan traits". One of the products of the program, Gisela Heidenreich

argues that the program, sinister as it was, has echoes in today’s world. With advances in genetics, she notes, discriminating parents will soon be able to select traits in their unborn children.

Given that possibility, she said, the evils of the Nazi era must not be allowed to recede into the history books. “If we start engineering blond-haired, blue-eyed babies, can we blame just Hitler?” she said.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cleaner diesel is here

Just wanted to make a man-on-the-street report that I had my first encounter with ultra-low sulfur diesel this week, filling up my TDI's tank on a road trip to Santa Fe. As I noted before, this only means about 10% cleaner emissions for us current diesels, but newer diesels will be able to reduce emissions 90-some percent.

I did hear that current diesels could be retrofitted to have the same reduction. If anyone knows the specifics of retrofitting a VW, let me know!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Healthier foods in schools

The William J. Clinton Foundation has struck again.

In an effort to fight the rise in childhood obesity, five of the country’s largest snack food producers said yesterday they would start providing more nutritious foods to schools, replacing sugary, fat-laden products in vending machines and cafeterias.

French fries, ice cream, candy, cupcakes and potato chips from the machines, lunch lines, school stores and even school fund-raising events could disappear under a voluntary agreement between the companies and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

This follows an agreement in May to halt most soda sales in schools. Kudos to Clinton.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Month of 300 million

It looks like this is the month that the US's population will hit 300 million. Another chance for some overpopulation scaremongering.

"The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world experiencing significant population growth," says Vicky Markham of the Center for Environment and Population. "That, combined with America's high rates of resource consumption, results in the largest ... environmental impact [of any nation] in the world."

No kidding! I'm just inclined to think that when weighing the utility and value of people versus SUVs, it's obvious what's got to go.

The US is not having too many children. If you want to see what cutting down on our birthrate will do, look at the problems Europe and Japan are having and the incredible difficulties they'll be having in the near future as their population ages and social services have to be cut.

And if you're really intent at keeping the US population static, cut immigration.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bargain cellular phone update

Since my favorite cellular phone company has changed its rates (a couple months ago), I figured it was time to post an update.

Why is Virgin Mobile (USA) my favorite? Because it's cheap! I don't make a lot of phone calls (I didn't even have a phone before the impending birth of my daughter), so the idea of adding a $40 (or more) monthly bill was a bit unappealing. If you make 27 minutes of calls a month (or less), your bill can be $5/month. And your minutes roll over, so if you make 0 calls one month, you can make almost 54 minutes of calls the next.

The basic per-minute plan is 18 cents/minute. No extra fees, surcharges or taxes. No roaming or long distance charges. (You can look at my previous post to see what the rates used to be, if you're curious. The new rates are a little cheaper for me.)

If you end up using more than 87 minutes in a month, it ends up being cheaper to go with the $6.99/month (+ surcharges + 10 cents/minute). Above that, Virgin has typical monthly plans that give you a certain number of minutes, with expensive overage dings and what-not. At that point, other vendor plans might be more competitive.

But at the low end I haven't found anything that approaches Virgin. If you know different, please let me know via a comment!

Monster's diversity

So I'm posting my résumé to monster.com (hello to prospective employers that have googled me), and come across this interesting option to mark myself as a "diversity candidate".

Clicking on the link I see:

Monster is used by thousands of companies that recognize the benefits of workforce diversity. They are actively recruiting qualified applicants from diverse backgrounds including race, gender, 50+ workers, disability status, and lifestyle preference. By selecting the Monster and Diversity checkbox option you will make your resume public to employers searching the diversity and inclusion resume databases.

It doesn't come out and say it, but I think I know what it means: caucasian, heterosexual males under 50 years with no disabilities can be discriminated against. Everyone else is "diverse".

What if an employer wanted to limit searches to causasian males -- that would be wrong, right? Why is it okay to discriminate in the other direction? What would Martin Luther King think, with his dream that people would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"?

Of course, there's nothing stopping a "non-diverse" candidate from checking the box. So maybe that makes it all okay.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

US Aygo in 2008?

Edmunds thinks the US might get the next generation Toyota Aygo, which is even smaller than their Yaris. Cool!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Moby & ethics

Moby says:

ethics only affects what you do if you force your will on other people. That’s when ethics come into the picture. If you force your will on animals, that’s where ethics come into the picture. If you force your will on the environment, I think that’s where ethics come into the picture. If you’re doing something to yourself it’s between you and God and I don’t really think you can apply Judeo-Christian ethical criteria to that, which is where I really really part company with the religious right.

If you want to kill yourself, kill yourself. If you want to get tattoos, get tattooed. If you want to get a first trimester abortion, it’s your body, it’s your fetus, go ahead. It’s between you and God. It’s only when you force your will on another sentient creature that the body politick has the ability to step in and say, ‘No, that’s wrong.’

When exactly does a fetus become a "sentient creature"? When does a baby become one, for that matter?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Nissan Versa review

The NY Times reviews the 2007 Nissan Versa. It likes it well enough, but still likes the Honda Fit better. In any case, having another small car option for Americans is good news.

Are Americans, who have long embraced a bigger-is-better approach to their personal transportation, ready to hug these smaller, friendlier cars?

The prospects seem pretty good, according to J. D. Power & Associates, the market-research company. “It’s irrefutable that the segment is doing well,” said Tom Libby, senior director for industry analysis at an affiliate, the Power Information Network. For instance, sales of compact basic cars — which include, among others, the Aveo, Fit, Versa and Yaris — jumped 118 percent last month compared with August 2005.

Islam's tolerance

anger still swept across the Muslim world, with Pakistan's parliament unanimously adopting a resolution condemning the pope for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam, and seeking an apology from him.

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said. (Associated Press)

Mr. Aslam may want to look up the word "tolerant" in the dictionary to fully appreciate the irony of his statement.

Update #1: two churches -- neither of them Catholic -- were fire-bombed in the West Bank

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Iran's Holocaust cartoon exhibit

The Holocaust cartoon exhibit opened last month at Tehran's Caricature House, with 204 entries from Iran and abroad.

The cartoons were submitted after the exhibit's co-sponsor, the Hamshahri newspaper, said it wanted to test the West's tolerance for drawings about the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews in World War II. (Associated Press)

I guess we've passed the test?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Population growth in India an asset

A prime reason India is now developing into the world’s next big industrial power is that a number of global manufacturers are already looking ahead to a serious demographic squeeze facing China. Because of China’s “one child” policy, family sizes have been shrinking there since the 1980’s, so fewer young people will be available soon for factory labor.

India is not expected to pass China in total population until 2030. But India will have more young workers aged 20 to 24 by 2013; the International Labor Organization predicts that by 2020, India will have 116 million workers in this age bracket to China’s 94 million. (NY Times)

See also China aging.

Adult stem cells better investment

Embryonic stem cells might hold the secrets to curing paralysis and brain damage, but they've also garnered plenty of controversy with the anti-abortion lobby because they're harvested from embryos.

However, work using adult stem cells - which are donated by grown men and women - is not only free of such controversy, it's actually much closer to getting effective products on the market.


"Embryonic stem cell research hasn't kept up pace with adult stem cell research," said Dunn. "Adult stem cell research is advancing so far you might not need embryonic stem cells. [...]"

So while embryonic stem cell researchers are experimenting with rats, adult stem cell researchers have moved on to more advanced tests with humans. The embryonic-based stem cell treatments are probably a decade away, but the U.S. market could see its first adult-based stem cell treatments within the next couple of years.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Christian Coalition losing chapters

Giles said he and his Alabama colleagues have "a dozen hard reasons" for the action but would elaborate on only one -- a perception that the coalition's leadership was diverting itself from traditional concerns such as abortion and same-sex marriage to address other issues ranging from the environment to Internet access.

The Christian Coalition diverting itself from traditional (Christian) concerns? Imagine that!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Help aid Lebanon

IOCC is one of the best positioned humanitarian aid organizations on the ground in Lebanon. Since 2001, IOCC has been implementing a USDA-funded school feeding and education program in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, the South and the North, serving a total of 242 schools and 45,000 students. When war broke out, the IOCC Beirut staff turned what was essentially a development initiative into an emergency relief program for thousands of displaced Lebanese families. (IOCC)

Please help alleviate the suffering of those caught in the crossfire.

Embryo-safe stem cells

A biotech company has come up with a way to create embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos.

The new method works by taking an embryo at a very early stage of development and removing a single cell, which can be coaxed into spawning an embryonic stem cell line. With only one cell removed, the rest of the embryo retains its full potential for development. (Associated Press)

But, as with many compromises, people at both ends of the debate are unhappy.

Some stem cell researchers complain that the new approach, though it may hold future promise, simply isn't as efficient as their current method of creating stem cells. [...] Meanwhile, hard-line opponents of stem cell science argue that the technique solves nothing, because even the single cell removed by the new approach could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human.

Maybe this is my ignorance talking, but I thought the main objection against embryonic stem cells was that their creation involved the destruction of embryos. Surely a non-destructive technique is far better than what we have currently?

One can certainly argue that these embryos shouldn't exist to begin with and that there are unethical aspects to the fertility business. But that's a different discussion.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Politics as usual

I've encountered two examples of an interesting use of the word "politics" in, well, politics.

Former Colorado state Sen. Ed Perlmutter is running in the Aug. 8 primary to compete for a open US House seat. He's running ads that promote embryonic stem cell research. He supports this research, he says, because "people are more important than politics". What? So we're now allowed to pick a political position and, if anyone opposes us, dismiss them as "politics"? I'm sorry, Mr. Politician, everything you are involved in is "politics". Search your feelings, you know it to be true! There's something wrong with a politician denigrating politics. What's next? CEOs deriding corporations?

And this morning I heard about the confirmation hearings for acting FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. There's a bit of discussion about how the FDA has been handling the Plan B abortifacient and how/if it'll be sold over the counter without a prescription. There was talk in the Senate about the FDA putting "politics above science". Again, leaving aside the fact that these are politicians talking, I don't know exactly what that's supposed to mean. No one values "politics" over anything! (Except, I thought, politicians, but maybe I'm wrong.)

We get a little closer to a real discussion with the accusation of the FDA acting according to "ideology instead of science". And even closer when Sen. Clinton said that "politicizing" the FDA would mean inserting moral judgments into the process, and that middle-aged men should be concerned because diet drugs could conceivably be outlawed because obesity is "immoral".

So I guess we know what the real problem is. One side of the debate has the moral high ground ("thou shalt not murder") so the other side must resort to name calling and scare tactics. Politics as usual!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Proselytizing through retail

[Alan] Wolfe, an unbeliever, told me he finds the kind of "stuff" he sees at venues such as the International Christian Retail show to be indicative of an anemic American evangelical subculture.

Wolfe said in no certain terms that he does not want Christians to "witness" to him about the gospel, but, nonetheless, he sees in Christian T-shirts, breath-mints, and boy bands the reality that Christians don't want to witness to him anyway. Wolfe said that he cannot imagine an unbeliever coming to faith through, say, a Christian bumper-sticker on the car in front of him. Buying the stuff gives Christians an easy conscience that they are carrying the Great Commission without ever having to verbally and relationally engage their unbelieving neighbors.


Whatever the "evangelistic" selling point of these products, I think the real reason they make money is an American Christianity seeking to form a common community, a common culture. Unfortunately, instead of finding this in churches, with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, we find it the same way the culture around us does: by buying stuff with the same logos. (Russell D. Moore, Mere Comments)

Another indication, to me, that most Christians today are no different than the culture around them. They just (sometimes) choose different brands.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Death penalty

Continued death penalty woes.

in Missouri, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan has ordered the state department of corrections to make a series of improvements to its execution protocol, including employing a board-certified anesthesiologist to ensure that the drugs used in lethal injections were properly prepared.

The action came after the doctor who had been overseeing Missouri executions admitted he was dyslexic, often mixing up numbers, and after Taylor's attorneys discovered records showing doses of anesthesia were half what they should have been for some executions, including the dose that awaited Taylor.

In response to the judge's order, Missouri has said it cannot find an anesthesiologist willing to participate and plans to appeal. The American Medical Association this month reminded doctors that it views participation in executions to be a violation of medical ethics. (Reuters)

Gays in the military

I don't understand the US military's current policy regarding gays. One of the original justifications for not having gays in the military is that they'd be more subject to blackmail. Yet that is the exact environment that has been artificially created with the current policy.

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, established in 1993, prohibits the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members, but requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.

The policy is becoming "a very effective weapon of vengeance in the armed forces" said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based watchdog organization (Associated Press)

That's because once the military receives an anonymous tip it feels that it has the right to Ask and Ask and Ask again. (And if a serviceman lies about it, he's commiting perjury.) So now we have one less Arabic linguist. Because having a gay linguist is much more of a security risk than having no linguists, right?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The rights of the father

I haven't been following the case closely, but it looks like the guy who wanted the choice to opt out of child support payments (because his girlfriend promised him she was infertile and taking birth control) lost his case.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson dismissed the lawsuit, writing in his decision, "[Dubay] had difficulty accepting the financial consequences of his conduct so the state came to his assistance." (AlterNet)

The gist of the AlterNet article is that this is perfectly right and fair. And most of the comments appear to agree with the author.

the man's choice occurs earlier in the process...he can CHOOSE to ensure that conception does not occur by using a condom correctly

A male should take responsibility for being fertile...either abstain from sex until you are ready, or get your self "fixed"

Never mind that these arguments for earlier choice and responsibility also apply to a woman wanting to abort her baby.

There were some glimmers of consistancy in some of the comments.

I am shocked at the hypocrisy of so-called “smart & progressive” women like the writer of this commentary.

Do not force something on a man that you do not want forced upon you. It is that simple.


Everything changes IF ABORTION RIGHTS ARE TAKEN AWAY FROM WOMEN. Then, and only then, may women ethically and logically FORCE men to pay out the nose. Trap them. Do whatever. But, as long as women are able to control their own reproductive process, they have no right in this world to force a man to pay a dime for a child they choose to have.

Needless to say, I am all for a father supporting his children. It is to the benefit of society to encourage this. It is also to the benefit of society to discourage promiscuity and encourage childbearing within a traditional family. But you won't, for the most part, see the abortion crowd arguing for traditional values and against "choice" unless it is being applied to men exclusively.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Scientific progress

Praise for the forward march of science. Progressive and liberal leaders championing new scientific techniques that promise to cure disease, eradicate illness and suffering and advance the progress of the human race. Elite institutions of higher education embarking on their own initiatives, training students and supporting researchers in the new science. California's self-described progressive citizenry passing a law granting state funding and support to the cause, with other states preparing to follow suit. The intellectual elite of the country decrying the obstructionist, anti-modern views of the people who oppose or publicly challenge the underlying ethical rationale of the new science.

This might sound like our contemporary debate over embryonic stem cells, but it's actually an apt description of the eugenics movement in the United States in the early 20th century.


Like eugenics, promoters of embryonic stem-cell research talk of its endless promise, declaring it the scientific "path to the future," as two state senators from Massachusetts wrote in a recent opinion piece. Promoters claim that their science will lead to cures for a range of diseases and the alleviation of much human suffering. And they denounce those who question the ethics of their pursuit as backward or blindly religious.

But as we continue to debate the ethics of embryonic stem-cell research, it is worth recalling that movements waged in the name of scientific progress often leave a troubled legacy.

Christine Rosen

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stem cell polarization

The polarization begins.

What you're not hearing a lot of today is the stem cell bill that Congress declined to pass. The bill that would have funded research using adult stem cells instead of embryonic. One thinks, who could be against that? After all, adult stem cells provide an awful lot of promise as well and research is research.

Those that want to risk the war to win the battle, that's who. The bill would have provided some cover to President Bush, allowing him to temper his veto of the embryonic stem cell bill with a signing of an adult stem cell bill. And that was the problem for Democrats.

I understand political wranglings. The Dems want Bush (and the Republicans) to look as bad as possible so they win elections in 2006 and 2008. But if their concern for sick people who might benefit from stem cell research is real, you'd think that research is more important than elections. Guess not.

Pro-life hypocrisy

The passage on Tuesday of a Senate bill to fund embryonic stem cell research -- and a presidential veto expected on Wednesday killing the legislation -- hits very close to home for [Debi] Martin. Her 9-year-old daughter, Jessi, has diabetes and they both hope stem cell research can some day find a cure.

Martin also feels strongly about the use of embryonic stem cells for research because Jessi was conceived by in vitro fertilization -- and Martin and her husband decided years ago to discard nine unused embryos because she could not have another child.

"I would give anything if I could have had those nine cells to give to have a cure for my baby now," she said. "And I think the worst sin of all, and I am a very religious person, I am pro-life, is to look a miracle from God in the face and throw it away." (Reuters)

Exactly how is this woman pro-life? She's thrown away nine embryos to conceive her daughter and now she wants to throw away more. Martin strikes me as someone who's pro-life when it comes to other people's decisions -- to abort an unwanted child, for example -- but pro-choice when it comes to her own decisions (to have a child via in vitro fertilization, to want that child to benefit from embryo research, etc). Would she have an abortion when push came to shove?

And yet I don't think she's that uncommon among "pro-lifers". What we have is an understandable clash between moral beliefs and our modern sense of entitlement to not be inconvenienced or deprived in any way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Today's New England Primer

In the Summer 2006 Claremont Review of Books, Dorothea Israel Wolfson reviews the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, and finds in it a desire to turn children into adults. This is done specifically by using literature as a tool to turn children on to "the grim realities and multicultural obsessions of contemporary adults."


Wolfson compares the kind of children's literature admired by the Norton editors to the orthodox Christianity passed along in the Puritan readers of old. The new children's literature mavens, she writes, "have more in common with the New England Primer than they dare to admit. They, too, are obsessed with death and the apocalypse, only they don't believe in redemption."

Russell D. Moore, Mere Comments

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Planet Index

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, looked at 178 countries' consumption levels, life expectancy, and happiness, and concluded that people can live long, happy lives without sucking up large quantities of the planet's resources. [...] Latin American countries dominate the top 10 happiest nations, with Colombia in second place. [...] The U.S., with the world's second-largest ecological footprint (after oil-rich United Arab Emirates), ranked an unhappy 150th. Report co-author Nic Marks says the report reveals "patterns that show how we might better achieve long and happy lives for all while living within our environmental means."


Freezing credit in Colorado

As of July 1, thanks to our local legislature, residents of Colorado can inform the credit reporting companies that they want their credit "frozen". This means no one can check your credit record or borrow money in your name without you explicitly allowing it.

Credit card companies, merchants, credit bureaus and other businesses do not adequately safeguard consumers' private financial information, making it relatively easy for thieves to steal this data and use it to take out new credit or to rack up charges on existing accounts.

[...] The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that it took the average victim of identity theft in 2004 600 hours and an average of $1,495 to clear their name; cases average two to four years to be resolved. This is up from 175 hours and $808 in out-of-pocket expenses in 2000. (CoPIRG)

As I've noted before, Congress has been mulling similar legislation but hasn't passed anything due to industry opposition. In fact, the industry has been lobbying Congress to prohibit states from passing these laws.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I am totalitarian

You are a

Social Conservative
(36% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(30% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

(Thanks to Blithering Idiot.)

Friday, June 30, 2006

China aging

Back in the 80s the big worry was that Japan was going to buy up all of America. (They certainly seemed to be on pace to do so.) With their economic difficulties, we've moved onto other worries, like China. But will China's aging population demographic hobble their economy before it has ascended?

The world's most populous nation, which has built its economic strength on seemingly endless supplies of cheap labor, China may soon face manpower shortages. An aging population also poses difficult political issues for the Communist government, which first encouraged a population explosion in the 1950's and then reversed course and introduced the so-called one-child policy a few years after the death of Mao in 1976.

That measure has spared the country an estimated 390 million births but may ultimately prove to be another monumental demographic mistake. (NY Times)

"Family planning" a mistake? How can that be?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Adulterer in chief

It'll be interesting to see how the religious right votes in the 2008 presidential election if the Republican candidate is an known adulterer. All of the three current front-runners are.

three Republicans [have] topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history. (Washington Monthly)

It wasn't too long ago that Democrats were the ones arguing that a politician's private life shouldn't be a matter of public discussion. Either the religious right will change its tune (it does seem to be the picture of pragmatism these days when it comes to amassing political power) or it will not vote Republican.

Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokesperson for Dobson's Focus on the Family, recently made it clear that the adultery issue hasn't lost any of its toxicity among evangelicals. "If you have a politician, an elected official, and they can't be trusted in their own marriage, how can I trust them with the budget? How can I trust them with national security?"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Smart is go

The Wall Street Journal thinks that DaimlerChrysler is going to announce this week that Smarts will be available for sale in the US in 2007.

It will be sold in major metropolitan centers on the East and West coasts where sales of small, imported cars are strongest.

No word on whether the diesel version, which is sold in Canada, will be available here. I want a subcompact diesel.

Update #1:

DaimlerChrysler, which shelved an earlier plan to bring its Smart minicar brand to the United States, plans to announce Wednesday that it will introduce the tiny two-seat vehicle to the American market early in 2008


DaimlerChrysler plans to aim the Smart at drivers in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.


The DaimlerChrysler executive, however, did not disclose the car's fuel efficiency. On its Web site in Britain, a Smart coupe is listed as getting 46 miles a gallon in the city and 69 miles a gallon on the highway.

DaimlerChrysler offers a diesel engine in Europe, but it will offer only a gasoline engine in the United States. (NY Times)

Debilitating effects of a welfare society

I love it when I'm around the country club, and I hear people talking about the debilitating effects of a welfare society. At the same time, they leave their kids a lifetime and beyond of food stamps. Instead of having a welfare officer, they have a trust officer. And instead of food stamps, they have stocks and bonds.

Warren Buffett

Monday, June 26, 2006

Playing god

Last week British scientists announced a revolutionary screening process for inherited diseases in embryos. It will be quicker and more accurate than the existing method and it will detect thousands more genetic defects than previously possible.

About 200 heritable conditions can be detected by pre-implantation diagnosis in IVF treatment so that only healthy embryos are implanted in the mother or frozen; the new technique -- pre-implantation genetic haplotyping -- will be able to detect nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions. As one of the British pioneers said, this changes everything. One could almost call it godlike.

What it means is that thousands of parents who are at known risk of passing on terrible disabilities and diseases will now be able to have only healthy babies. (The Times)

Of course, this will be at the expense of throwing away many, many "defective" babies. Regular IVF already discards many embryos for the one that succeeds. Improved screening, for "nearly 6,000 diseases and conditions" -- it boggles the mind. How many babies will make the cut?

Now, let's trot out some worse-case scenarios that this innovation will avoid.

Those who don’t know about it can perhaps hardly imagine the drawn out suffering of Huntington’s disease or Duchenne muscular dystrophy or Prader-Willi syndrome or Fragile X, both for the people affected and for their families, until death puts an end to it.

So here are four conditions, let's say for the sake of argument, that should be avoided at all costs. What are the other 5996?

Nature is astonishingly cruel. Science, by contrast, has the power of mercy.


This is indeed playing God, as all the usual campaigners were quick to point out last week. But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God? I am all for it, especially as God doesn’t seem to be doing it.

Humans playing god would hold some appeal to me if (a) results were guaranteed, (b) mistakes would not occur and (c) moral compromises were not made. IVF in general does not meet my conditions and it appears that this new innovation only magnifies its deficiencies ten-fold.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Making executions painless

The NY Times has an article about the discussion around the current method of execution employed by most of the United States. It seems the current method of lethal injection may cause quite a bit of suffering when not administered correctly, yet it is quick and peaceful. The most straightforward way to do the job, on the other hand, would take longer and be less convenient and pleasant for observers.

Ah, the ethical dilemmas! Like that of doctors and nurses who refuse to take part in executions and leave the job to unqualified people that botch executions and cause the suffering. Hmm.

It'd be easier, less costly and more ethical to just do away with the death penalty. In our modern age of high-tech prisons it's unnecessary and I fail to see why we spend millions of dollars prosecuting death penalty cases so that victims can get some kind of supposed "closure". (It costs less to house a criminal for life.) How about exchanging some "closure" for some effort towards preventing future crime? I can think of a lot of better ways to spend the money.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dehumanizing life

[I was reminded of] of a powerful pro-life speaker and writer who, many years ago, helped me become a pro-lifer. He was a preacher, a black preacher. He said: "There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life.

"That," he continued, "was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore out of your right to be concerned." This passionate reverend used to warn: "Don't let the pro-choicers convince you that a fetus isn't a human being. That's how the whites dehumanized us... The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify what they wanted to do and not even feel they'd done anything wrong."

That preacher was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.


The last time I saw Mr. Jackson [...] I [told him] that I'd been quoting in articles and in talks with various groups from his compelling pro-life statements. I asked him if he'd had any second thoughts on his reversal of those views.

Usually quick to respond to any challenge that he is not consistent in his positions, Mr. Jackson paused, and seemed somewhat disquieted at my question. Then he said to me, "I'll get back to you on that." I still patiently await what he has to say.

Nat Hentoff

Monday, June 12, 2006

MPAA protecting children from religion

The MPAA has given a movie ("Facing the Giants") a "PG" rating because it is too religious.

The MPAA, noted [Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films], tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was told that it "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions." (Terry Mattingly On Religion)

Are anti-religious films rated similarly because they might offend believers?

The road to hell

I saw a bumper sticker the other day proclaiming, "The road to hell is paved with Republicans". How nice, I thought, that this Democrat is willing to ascribe good intentions to Republicans where others are not. Or am I reading it wrong?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ultra-low sulfur diesel

Last Thursday, June 1, was the first step towards having cleaner diesel in the US. ULSD is now hitting the refineries and should be available to consumers in October. While current diesel engines will see a reduction in emissions (10%?), the real gain, a 90% reduction in emissions, will come when the next generation of diesel engines become available in the US.

It's about time that the US became serious about cleaner diesel. Why has it taken so long? The trucking industry. They wanted cheaper diesel. Well, I want a diesel that doesn't spew soot in the air and is a viable, more efficient alternative to gasoline. So there!

In the meantime, we may see less diesel cars available. VW is dropping its TDIs until 2008. And Chrysler has just announced that it is dropping the Jeep Liberty diesel. But expect to see a lot more diesel cars made available once our diesel matches Europe's. Car companies have known for a while how to make cleaner diesel engines, they've not been able to implement them in the US due to our dirty diesel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No Dodge Polo

Yes, VW will be building a new small car for Dodge to sell in the US. Alas, my Polo hopes have been dashed.

Since the Polo was deemed to small for America's super-sized tastes, Volkswagen is considering other possible platforms, with the last generation Jetta's currently residing at the top of the list. (Autoblog)

Ack, only Dodge/Americans would call the Jetta a small car.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rhythm method criticized

The range of birth control choices may have become narrower for couples that believe the sanctity of life begins when sperm meets egg. The rhythm method, a philosopher claims, may compromise millions of embryos.


[Luc Bovens, of the London School of Economics, in the Journal of Medical Ethics] argues that, because couples are having sex on the fringes of the fertile period, they are more likely to conceive embryos that are incapable of surviving.


Bovens calculates that, if the rhythm method is 90% effective, and if conceptions outside the fertile period are about twice as likely to fail as to survive, then “millions of rhythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death”.

New Scientist

Smart decision in June?

DaimlerChrysler AG expects to decide next month whether it will launch its small car unit Smart in the US, said Klaus Maier, head of sales and marketing at the company's Mercedes Car Group.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MS Word in "safe mode"

In the wake of at least one targeted attack that exploits a new flaw in Word, Microsoft is advising users to run the application in "safe mode." (News.com)

No word yet on why Microsoft Word, as shipped, defaults to "dangerous mode".

Update: Oh, and how about a plug for the ever-so-safe alternative, OpenOffice.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Veterans' data stolen

Personal electronic information on up to 26.5 million military veterans, including their Social Security numbers and birth dates, was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday.


At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said there was "no reason to believe at this time that the identities of these veterans have been compromised." (NY Times)

No reason? How about the little reason of a government employee letting his unauthorized, insecure notebook computer get stolen? Granted, there may be little chance that this information will be used fraudulently, but to me "little" does not mean the same thing as "no". When will people learn that PR bluster may buy you something in the short term but that you'll get labeled a dissembler in the long?

In the aftermath of the ChoicePoint debacle, several states have passed tough legislation aimed principally at forcing companies, schools and other handlers of private data to notify consumers when their information has been compromised. Other new laws permit consumers to freeze their credit as a way of foiling would-be thieves, or force new security standards on data handlers.

Several pieces of legislation are also pending in Congress, but so far the interests of the financial services and credit industries, which seek to limit inhibitions on data handling and the penalties for security breaches, have competed with those of consumer advocates. As a result, no consensus has emerged.

Ah yes, the credit industry lobbying against inhibitions and penalties. I guess the good news about a lack of "consensus" is that the states' laws haven't been rolled back. Here's to Congress not intervening where it's not wanted.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Soda agreement

I guess Colorado's Governor Bill Owens was right: if asked, corporations will do the right thing.

Those that know me know I was being a bit sarcastic. For good reason, I think!

Organic Consumers Union is reporting that the agreement the soda companies announced is completely voluntary. So, despite the grand pronouncement that most sodas will be removed by the 2008/2009 school year, with the remainder removed the following year, it may not happen.

We don't even know all the details of this secretly-negotiated deal because the Clinton Foundation hasn't made the actual agreement available on its website. (However, you can download the photo opportunities from the press conference.) What we do know is that this new policy is completely voluntary, which means it's unenforceable, with no accountability.

I guess we'll see what happens. The soda companies are allowing schools to renegotiate their contracts, but if the renegotiated terms aren't favorable enough, or if the schools aren't motivated enough, the schools won't do it. And things will remain as they are. And ...

Not a word is mentioned about the ubiquitous marketing children are subjected to daily in the form of branded score boards, school supplies, sports bags, and cups (just to name a few), which is required by exclusive Coke and Pepsi contracts. It's no secret that branding is the main purpose of these arrangements. Big Cola may shift a few products around or serve up fewer calories with this new deal, but what's most important to them is maintaining access to young and impressionable consumers in a captive environment.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Microsoft promotes Wii

Microsoft expects you to buy a Nintendo Wii! (... in addition to an Xbox 360)

"Tell me why you would buy a $600 PS3?" Peter Moore, a Microsoft vice president, said in an interview. "People are going to buy two (machines.) They're going to buy an Xbox and they're going to buy a Wii ... for the price of one PS3."


"People will always gravitate toward a competitively priced product -- like what I believe Wii will be -- with innovative new designs and great intellectual property like Mario, Zelda and Metroid," Moore told Reuters. (Washington Post)

Now all Moore needs to explain is why you would buy an Xbox 360. ;)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Black population shrinking

According to a recent census report, while minorities make up 33% of today's America, they are 45% of those under 5 years of age. This growth is mostly due to Hispanic (14% today growing to 22% under 5) and Asian (4% today growing to 15% under 5) birth rates.

America's black population is actually shrinking (15% today down to 4% under 5).

Correction: Doh! It appears the Washington Post mixed up the stats.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More abortionists against adoption

The images on the 12 specialty license plates issued in Massachusetts are innocuous. One features a Cape Cod lighthouse, another a sunny drawing of stick-figure children, another a brook trout leaping from the water.

But a Wakefield woman is hoping to create a state license plate that sends a far more controversial message: encouraging pregnant women to choose adoption over abortion.


But a leader of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts argued that the Registry should not allow Choose Life plates.

"Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts believes that state government should not be sanctioning political messages on license plates," Dianne Luby, the group's president and chief executive, said in a written statement. (Boston Globe)

Once again, what exactly do "pro-choice" advocates have against women choosing adoption?

Nintendo Wii & design

As a part-time video game player (one who waits for the game machine to get below $200 and for games to reach $20), I can't say I've been following the development of the next generation machines that closely. (After all, it would be a couple years before I'd buy one.) But the new Nintendo has caught my interest just because they're trying to do something different.

I honestly can't see, right now, what buying a new Microsoft or Sony machine would get me other than more expensive games. (I'm much more into playability and fun than the evermore realistic look that the industry seems obsessed with.) But I'm starting to think that the Nintendo could be a new, fun and innovative game environment. Couple this with a lower price (I've seen rumors guessing as low as $99, though I wouldn't count on that), and we may see one in my household sooner rather than later. ("May" being the operative word -- I haven't exactly had a lot of time to play games that don't involve my two-year-old.)

And now Time magazine has gotten a "first look" at the machine.

Nintendo has grasped two important notions that have eluded its competitors. The first is, Don't listen to your customers. The hard-core gaming community is extremely vocal -- they blog a lot -- but if Nintendo kept listening to them, hard-core gamers would be the only audience it ever had. "[Wii] was unimaginable for them," Iwata says. "And because it was unimaginable, they could not say that they wanted it. If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never surprise them. Sony and Microsoft make daily-necessity kinds of things. They have to listen to the needs of the customers and try to comply with their requests. That kind of approach has been deeply ingrained in their minds."

And here's the second notion: Cutting-edge design has become more important than cutting-edge technology. There is a persistent belief among engineers that consumers want more power and more features. That is incorrect. Look at Apple's iPod, a device that didn't and doesn't do much more than the competition. It won because it's easier, and sexier, to use. In many ways, Nintendo is the Apple of the gaming world, and it's betting its future on the same wisdom.

Sounds like a winning strategy to me! Now we wait and see if they can execute on it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Honda Fit Hybrid

Word on the street is that the you'll be able to get a Honda Fit with a hybrid engine in 2007 (when they first offer the 2008 model). It should have mileage in the 50s.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Perverse incentives

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that Congress should not impose an "arbitrary" standard on its own. Rather, Mr. Mineta said, it should let the administration develop "size based" rules that would impose different requirements for big cars and small cars.

"A size-based system eliminates the perverse incentives for manufacturers to produce smaller and more dangerous vehicles, instead of introducing fuel-saving technologies," Mr. Mineta said. (NY Times)

While we're talking about perverse incentives, about the Bush administration's size-based system, which encourages automakers to make their cars heavier so that they don't have to meet stricter mileage requirements?

As for "smaller and more dangerous vehicles", I guess Mineta has forgotten the only reason they're dangerous is because of all the large cars and SUVs on the road?

Toyota Aygo

Are you impressed with hybrid vehicles that get 40-50 mpg (US)? How about a diesel that gets upwards of 75 mpg?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mother's Day at Planned Parenthood

A recent e-mail communication from Jatrice Martel Gaiter, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., urged supporters to "honor your mother in a very special way" with a financial contribution to Planned Parenthood. Gaiter said that at Planned Parenthood's Washington affiliate, "Mother's Day also reminds us of our mission – to ensure that every child is wanted, nurtured, and enormously loved." (American Life League)

So is Planned Parenthood fulfilling its mission? Are children more nurtured and loved than they were before abortion became readily available? Is there less child abuse nowadays? (I'm inclined to think not.) Exactly what metrics does Planned Parenthood use to measure its success?

Democratic contempt

Caitlin Flanagan agrees with me:

The image of the Democratic Party that used to come to mind was of a workingman and his wife sitting at the kitchen table worrying about how they were going to pay the bills and voting for Adlai Stevenson because he was going to help them squeak by every month and maybe even afford to send their kids to college.

The Democrats made a huge tactical error a few decades ago. In the middle of doing the great work of the '60s -- civil rights, women's liberation, gay inclusion -- we decided to stigmatize the white male. The union dues--paying, churchgoing, beer-drinking family man got nothing but ridicule and venom from us. So he dumped us. And he took the wife and kids with him.

And now here we are, living in a country with a political and economic agenda we deplore, losing election after election and wondering why.

It's the contempt, stupid. (Time Magazine)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sodas out of schools

I guess Colorado's Governor Bill Owens was right: if asked, corporations will do the right thing.

The nation's largest beverage distributors have agreed to halt nearly all soda sales to public schools, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Under the agreement, the companies have agreed to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools, said Jay Carson, a spokesman for former President Bill Clinton. Diet sodas would be sold only to high schools.


How quickly the changes take hold will depend in part on individual school districts' willingness to alter existing contracts, the alliance said. The companies will work to implement the changes at 75 percent of the nation's public schools by the 2008-2009 school year, and at all public schools a year later. (Associated Press)

A good step forward. While diet sodas are also very unhealthy, at least they have less calories. Just yesterday there was an article in the NY Times about how older Americans are less healthy than older Brits, despite paying twice as much on health care. While the co-author of the report cited didn't seem to think obesity plays a factor, older Americans are much more obese than Brits. And with the increased ailments cited including "diabetes, hypertension, heart disease," you have to wonder.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pro-life = pro-death?

Andrew Sullivan on how "current pro-life forces" are actually "pro-death" (echoes of William Saletan):

The great tragedy of the extremism of the current pro-life forces is that they have become de facto pro-death. They allow for the early deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the developing world by opposing condoms in a health emergency; and they add to the number of abortions in America by making emergency contraception hard to find. In their theological abstraction, the logic is perfect and circular. On the ground, they are abetting death.

So by not making abortion (which is essentially what "emergency contraception" is) easier, pro-lifers "add to the number of abortions". I see. (Must be my "theological abstract logic" that has a problem with this.)

I'll concede that a later abortion is more messy (and more painful for the baby) than one done earlier. But to say that an earlier abortion is more life affirming? I don't think so.

Sullivan is giving us the choice of killing in a less or more brutal manner. But it's still killing. If that's the only choice, yes, please, let's spare the baby pain. But it's not the only choice (despite what some abortionists might want you to think).

Friday, April 28, 2006

Diesel registrations up

According to the Diesel Technology Forum, the number of light-duty diesel vehicle registrations grew by 31 percent last year, and as we know, like hybrids, diesels offer fuel economy that is 20 to 40 percent better than gasoline-only vehicles.

The DTF quoted an EPA study stating that if one-third of U.S. light duty vehicles were diesel, we would save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, or the amount that we currently import from Saudi Arabia.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Environmentalist Republicans

Some Democrats are up in arms because Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are endorsing a Republican, Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. It seems they're more interested in having Democrats elected than protecting the environment. And they call themselves environmentalists?

[Sierra Club Executive Director Carl] Pope rejects the argument that environmentalists must ally themselves with Democrats. "It is absolutely vital that environmentalism be nonpartisan," he said, adding that the focus should be on the long-term goal of breaking down partisan divides on green issues, not sharpening those divides today for near-term gains.

Unsurprisingly, Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, agrees: "If the environmental community turns its back on Lincoln Chafee, who is one of the strongest environmental leaders of our day -- Democrat or Republican -- then it will have no credibility with any Republicans going forward." She argues that it would be a big mistake for green organizations to alienate moderate Republicans who are trying to steer their party back toward the conservation ethic espoused by leaders from Theodore Roosevelt to Richard Nixon to John Chafee, Lincoln's Senate predecessor and father. "The only time you make any long-term, permanent progress on anything in this country is when you have bipartisan support," she said. (Grist)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ford and indulgences

It looks like Ford may be adding a way to purchase environmental indulgences from their web site.

Ford Motor Co. said it will give consumers concerned about harmful greenhouse emissions an opportunity to invest in clean energy projects via a new Web Site that will calculate suggested investments based on the amount of carbon dioxide produced while driving.

In a program called "Greener Miles," which is expected to be announced on Thursday, consumers can go to the Web Site to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide produced in one year of driving. The Web site will then suggest an investment linked to the cost of producing an amount of clean energy equivalent to the carbon dioxide produced.

Ford is partnering with TerraPass, a group that helps finance solar, wind and methane-driven energy projects, for the project, Niel Golightly, director of Ford's sustainable business strategies, told Reuters in an interview. (Reuters)

I don't suppose Ford will also add carbon emission stats amongst other car information?

Bush suspending environmental rules

President Bush on Tuesday ordered a temporary suspension of environmental rules for gasoline, making it easier for refiners to meet demand and possibly dampen prices at the pump.


Easing the environment rules will allow refiners greater flexibility in providing oil supplies since they will not have to use certain additives such as ethanol to meet clean air standards. (Associated Press)

Another example of Americans unwilling to make any kind of sacrifice or lessen their standard of living.

These laws or either good or they're not. If they're not, how about rescinding them permanently, Mr. Bush? Because the problem with rising oil prices is not going to go away. And if all it takes is a 30- or 40-cent rise in gasoline prices to make us roll back environmental regulations, are we in trouble.

Ordinary people

It seems that our entire educational system is designed to scorn the idea of the ordinary -- the idea that, in fact, we are all meant to occupy a modest place, in a family, a community, or a church, a place that is seldom of our own making. But what is wrong with the ordinary? God likes ordinary people; that is why he created so many of us. What is duller than a panoply of primadonnas of the tenth magnitude? The insight of Christianity rather is that there is something wondrous about this rock, that tree, that carpenter over there turning a post on a lathe, or that mother rolling out the dough for something as wildly fantastic as gingerbread.

It all has to do with place, and cheerfully or humbly occupying it.


How many of us scorn the ordinary, and with it -- though we don't want to admit it -- the Ordainer who made us for its duties and its rewards?

Anthony Esolen

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Environmental indulgences for sale

To people who take the threat of global warming personally, driving a car that spews heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can be a guilt trip.

But to help atone for that environmental sin, some drivers are turning to groups on the Internet that offer pain-free ways to assuage their guilt while promoting clean energy.

It involves buying something known as a carbon offset: a relatively inexpensive way to stimulate the production of clean electricity. Just go to one of several carbon-offset Web sites, calculate the amount of carbon dioxide produced when you drive, fly or otherwise burn fossil fuels, and then buy an offset that pays for an equivalent amount of clean energy.

Of course, emissions could be reduced the old-fashioned way -- by flying less, turning off the air-conditioning or buying a more fuel-efficient car. But that would probably require some sacrifice and perhaps even a change in lifestyle. Instead, carbon-offset programs allow individuals to skip the sacrifice and simply pay for the right to pollute.


Web sites like terrapass.com, carbonfund.org, nativeenergy.com and self.org focus on automobile emissions because drivers can become aware of their carbon footprint every time they fill up. (NY Times)

Something that involves money but no self-sacrifice or change in lifestyle -- the American way!

Calling all green Christian conservatives

For too long, conservatives have ceded political efforts to care for creation to liberals. We Christian conservatives are finally recognizing that conservation is a matter of moral and spiritual integrity. And we're learning that the challenge facing humankind from climate change dwarfs the narcissism of the usual left-right politics.

Politics, however, is the primary way to address a challenge to the commons this massive -- and politics won't shift until our paradigm for thinking and talking about the environment does. The responsibility for that lies with open-minded and imaginative folks from both the liberal and conservative camps -- men and women who care more about conserving the natural world and the human civilization dependent on it than they do about protecting their political purity and fundraising base.

Rod Dreher

Life's tragedies

Driving back from the Dallas airport this past weekend, I heard a segment on "This American Life" about an American civilian who worked in the Pentagon picking out bomb sites in Iraq and helping figure out how to hit them to reduce civilian casualties. I thought that this was an impressively humane way to wage war (which is an insane thought, but still...). The guy talked about how sitting in the Pentagon, he saw video from a drone aircraft show bombs dropped on a site where they thought Chemical Ali was hiding. The video showed body parts flying everywhere, and the Pentagon boys were thrilled. Some time later, this same man was in Iraq, standing in the crater, listening to an old Iraqi man sob over how the blast had killed 17 members of his family. This got to the American. It got to me.

Life is so tragic, and we Americans, we seem to have no comprehension of the tragic sense. Father Alexander Schmemann observed in his diaries that that seems to be characteristic of the middle-class mentality. Maybe so. (Rod Dreher)

If you're in a middle-class cocoon, poke your head out every once in a while and look for the tragedies around you. They may be half-way around the world or right next door. See what you can do to help.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gasoline prices by county

Check out gas prices by county. As of the above snapshot, California and New York have it bad; Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah have it (relatively) good.

Cellphone rip-off

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you know I'm cheap when it comes to cell phones. Still, it boggles me that people so blatently pay for functionality they don't use.

Cellphone companies, especially Sprint and Verizon Wireless, have been aggressively promoting mobile video services, which cost an average of $10.70 a month for access to sports, news and weather clips. More than a quarter of cellphones now in use can play such videos. But only 1 percent of wireless subscribers are using their phones to watch them, according to a recent survey by the NPD Group, a market research firm. (NY Times)

Kudos to the people who don't see the need to pay $10.70 for cellular video. But why did you buy a phone with the functionality if you're not going to use it? If my math is correct, at least 24% of current owners are doing this.

But, you say, I got my phone for free! (Or heavily discounted.) I see. What kind of contract did you sign with your "free" phone? Do you really having a phone that can receive and play video clips doesn't cost anything?

Lawn mowers & pollution

Gasoline lawn mowers are big polluters.

Gallon for gallon -- or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart -- the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines. (NY Times)

Adding a golf-ball-sized catalytic converter would drastically cut emissions and add, maybe, $20-25 to the cost of a mower. In California this would be like taking 800,000 cars off the road. But manufacturers are opposed. Why?

Briggs and some other American equipment makers argue that the converters could add a dangerous amount of heat to already hot engines, creating a fire hazard.

The opinions on this is mixed. And it's the same argument used against adding converters to automobiles, yet we've somehow worked around the fire hazard there.

tightening small-engine standards nationally would take 1,750 jobs from [Wisconsin] and send them to China.

Nonsense. Everyone selling machines in this country would have to comply, including the Chinese. It would be a level playing field.

Of course, given America's problem with obesity and importing foreign oil, perhaps this would be a good time to plug old-fashioned push reel mowers?

Christians and cremation

I am surprised by how often Christians are stunned to hear me say that cremation is not a Christian act. Previous generations of Christians would have understood exactly, but today an anti-cremation stance seems at best Luddite and at worst carnal. People will ask, "Can't God raise a cremated Christian just as he can raise a decomposed buried Christian?"

Our eschatology has everything to do then with how we "dispose" of the "remains" of our dead loved ones. Since we believe in the resurrection of the body, we don't see a corpse as "garbage." From the time of our earliest ancestors in the faith, we have buried our dead, committing them to the earth from which they came with the conviction that they will one day be summoned from it once more.


[A]theists and "freethinkers" in America pioneered the practice [of cremation] in America precisely because they denied the resurrection of the flesh.

Russell D. Moore

Sacred meals

Father Finley said the goal, through the church's feasts and fasts, is for families to realize that the meals they share together are also sacred. Thus, the altar table and the family table are linked. Both are "manifestations of the ways that God feeds us throughout our lives," he said.

It's hard to grasp this in an age in which food is surrounded by golden arches and plastic toys more often than golden vestments, incense and icons.

"There's no room for fellowship in a McDonald's culture," he said. "Every now and then people realize this. They feel isolated and rushed and cheated. They know something is wrong."

Terry Mattingly

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hunting and gathering in the supermarket

Out in nature, if you're a creature looking for something to eat, you might see some attractive looking red berries and think to yourself, "I wonder if I can eat those without getting sick? And what about those mushrooms?" Well, the same thing is happening in the supermarket. There are many tasty things, some of which can kill you. Trans fats, for example, or all the sugar we're eating.

So we're back where we were once upon a time, trying to navigate a treacherous food landscape -- full of attractive things, but some of which are liable to shorten our lives.

Michael Pollan

Yahoo Mail spam

Yahoo Mail recently added technology that supposedly authenticates a sender is sending from the address in the header. The problem is that they often get it wrong! I've gotten plenty of spam that, when sent to Spamcop, is found to be from a completely different domain.

So what is my main beef with this? When Yahoo Mail thinks it's successfully authenticated the source of the mail, that mail lands in my Inbox instead of the spam folder. So while I may not be getting more spam, it's more bothersome. And the real kicker? All of this new spam in my Inbox says it's being sent from "yahoo.com". And Yahoo Mail says it's verified that it's from "yahoo.com"! Something is wrong when an email provider can't even correctly verify that it sent an email.

So what is the solution? I set up a filter that removes anything sent (supposed or real) from "yahoo.com" from my Inbox. Problem solved! Every single piece of email I get from "yahoo.com" is spam. Kind of sad, eh?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why stars name babies Moxie, Moses and Apple

"Everyone I know with an unusual name loves it," [Penn Jillette] wrote. "It's only the losers named Dave that think having an unusual name is bad, and who cares what they think. They're named Dave."

NY Times

Firefox & Safari browers gain market share

AppleInsider is reporting that both the Firefox and Safari (for Mac) browsers have gained market share.

Although it maintains its standing as the No. 3 browser on the Internet, a recent market share report by Net Applications shows Apple's WebKit-based Safari to have garnered a 3.19 percent share in March, an increase of 1.81 percent from last year.

During the same time period, Microsoft's Internet Explorer saw its market share slip over 3 percent, from 88 percent down to 84.70 percent. FireFox -- the only other browser to succeed Safari in the rankings -- appears to have benefitted the greatest from Explorer's slump, posting a near 3 percent gain to 10.05 percent market share, up from 7.38 percent a year ago.

It should not be too surprising to hear that the Seventh Leper readership is even more progressive. Recent browser marketshare on this blog:

IE 6.0: 66%
Firefox: 18%
Safari: 14%
Mozilla/Netscape: 2%
Konquerer: 1%

A Democrat I can vote for

Facing their best opportunity to control both branches of state government in 40 years, Colorado Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that their candidate for governor, Bill Ritter, opposes abortion.


Local abortion rights activists are despondent. "Do you want to run for governor?" Kathryn Wittneben, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, asked a reporter. "Are you pro-choice? If you're pro-choice, you could run."

Ritter joins the party's candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Jr., and the highest-ranking Democratic politician in the country, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, as prominent examples of anti-abortion Democrats.


With that goal in sight, Democrats have increasingly rallied behind Ritter. Some of his supporters do not hide their frustration at the belated support.

"It's a testament to how out of touch the leadership of the Democratic Party in Colorado is," said Susan Barnes-Gelt, a former Denver City Council member with a long history of working for the state party. "The Democrats have made a huge mistake letting themselves be identified as a single-issue party, and that issue is choice."

LA Times

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ten US Cities best prepared for an oil crisis

From SustainLane.

1. New York City
2. Boston
3. San Francisco
4. Chicago
5. Philadelphia
6. Portland
7. Honolulu
8. Seattle
9. Baltimore
10. Oakland

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Colorado governor vetoes school junk food law

Speaking of school junk food, Colorado's governor, Bill Owens, just vetoed legislation that would have required "at least half of a school vending machine be stocked with nutritious choices".

Owens, a confessed McDonald's junkie, said he's not anti-apple. He just "cannot support legislation that micromanages school districts and their policies," he wrote in the veto letter released Wednesday.

Responded Democratic House Majority Leader Alice Madden of Boulder, the sponsor of House Bill 1056: "It's interesting the author of CSAPs is worried about local control." She was referring to the mandatory Colorado Student Assessment Program tests.


In his veto letter, Owens pointed out that the Capitol's vending machines contained only three snacks that "might be considered 'healthy."' That led his spokesman to say the bill was "hypocritical." (Denver Post)

Wow. If the guidance we give to kids is to be limited by our "hypocrisy", what are we doing telling them anything?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Windows security

Last week, a Microsoft data security guru suggested at a conference that corporate and government users would be wise to come up with automated processes to wipe clean hard drives and reinstall operating systems and applications periodically as a way to deal with malware infestations. What Microsoft is talking about is a utility from SysInternals, a company that makes simply awesome tools.

The crying shame of this whole story is that Microsoft has given up on Windows security. They have no internal expertise to solve this problem among their 60,000-plus employees, and they apparently have no interest in looking outside for help. I know any number of experts who could give Microsoft some very good guidance on what is needed to fix and secure Windows. There are very good developers Microsoft could call upon to help them. But no, their answer is to rebuild your system every few days and start over.

Robert X. Cringely

NY Times: thumbs up on Fit & Yaris

The NY Times has a review today of the new Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. It liked them both, but the Fit came out slightly ahead because of its four doors and innovative back seats (allowing more storage).

I like the look of the Yaris better, and this little detail made me like it even better.

The base price of the Yaris hatchback is $11,530 with a manual transmission (and a quaint throwback, crank windows, which provide a great upper-body workout).

Did you see that? Crank windows? Cool!

That said, having a family, I'd probably need the four doors and increased storage.

Virtualization on Intel Mac

An article on virtualization (e.g., running Windows and MacOS simultaneously on an Intel-based Mac) is in today's Wired News.

Parallels' Rudolph said dual-booting systems are not in tune with the way people work. Having to shut down OS X to boot into Windows wastes time, he said, adding that a Mac running Parallels' virtualization software is almost as fast as a dedicated Windows box.

"If a native Windows machine runs at 100 out of 100 on speed, our version of virtualization runs at a 90 or 95," he said. "It's very fast and very stable."

I agree. The exception being game playing, since you want 100% of your CPU and virtualized 3D doesn't appear to be fully supported yet.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Attack of the emaciated clones

I've got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don't want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I'd rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny, a thousand things before "thin".

JK Rowling

Thursday, April 06, 2006

School junk food

The days when children consume two orders of French fries in the school cafeteria and call it lunch may be numbered. A bipartisan group in Congress plans to introduce legislation today that would prohibit the sale in school not only of French fries but also of other fatty or sugary foods, including soft drinks.


Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who has been pushing such a bill since 1994, said: "Congress is finally catching up with what parents have believed for a long time. Members of Congress are hearing from their constituents and recognizing this has become a national problem. I think finally members of Congress are asking, 'Why do we have soft drink vending machines in our schools?'" (NY Times)

I'll tell you why: because schools have sold out to the soft drink industry. Give the schools a couple hundred thousand dollars and they'll let you fatten and poison their students.

And what does the soft drink industry have to say about this?

The American Beverage Association, a trade group, said the legislation was unnecessary because since last August members of the association have limited sales of full-calorie soft drinks to 50 percent of offerings in high schools.

Thanks ABA! I knew we should have trusted you from the beginning.