24 November 2008

At a New York Seminary, a Green Idea Gets Tangled in Red Tape
At one point, the seminary waited three months for the city Department of Transportation’s permission to drill into the sidewalk, Ms. Burnley said. “The conversation went like this: ‘What is the status?’ ‘It has no status.’ ‘Do you need more information?’ ‘No, we have what we need.’ ‘Then how can we get it moving?’ ‘You can’t get it moving.’
Lets get one thing clear from the start, I do not think that bureaucracy is always the problem. Most bureaucracies were put in place because there was an issue that needed to be addressed. People were putting bad wiring into houses, the electricity would short, start a fire, and burn down three houses; answer, electrical inspections. But we all know there comes a point when the bureaucracy becomes so dense it takes on a life of its own, and halts progress.

I think we might see more of this as individual groups take the Green Energy movement into their own hands. From making sure solar panels are installed on homes properly, to deciding if your neighbor gets to put up a small wind turbine, to colleges installing larger turbines and geothermal heat pumps. We need to be able to get this technology in use, but we can't give it a free pass. Look at corn-based ethanol and the damage it has done to local aquifers; we can't let the Green-ness of a thing blind us to the potential problems. But neither can we let a good idea die in the thickets of red tape.

But are there enough people like Ms. Burnley and Mr. Frawley — human drill bits — to drive through the crust of the status quo? She laughed. Not drill bits, she said, “human battering rams.”
I hope so, we badly need them.

10 November 2008

Small nuclear reactors, Safe?

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes
I don't know how I feel about this at all.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.
Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.
First off, I'm pretty much opposed to nuclear power across the board. The reactors may be safe, but it's the waste that is dangerous for millennia. Then again, I'm not sure I trust the reactors either. That said, these do have a pretty strong potential to bring electrical power to many people without producing CO2 on site.

CO2 output is only part of what we need to look at when trying to make decisions about new sources of energy. We have to look at every component, and we have to look at each one from cradle to grave as it were. Where would they get the radioactive fuel? Where would it go in the end? So they're encased in concrete, what about regions that are prone to earthquakes?

'You could never have a Chernobyl-type event - there are no moving parts,' said Deal. 'You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it's too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.'
I beg to differ Mr. Deal, the whole contraption has to move to get there, as does the spent fuel and the refill fuel. Transport of spent fuel rods around the US has been opposed time and time again.

I think I would want to hear a LOT more about how this works before I let them install one in my neighborhood. But I live in a nation where we have the luxury of opposing things like this. I'm sure there are plenty of places where the need for electricity outweighs the (apparently minimal??) risks.

09 November 2008

Obama's Speeches

Some time back in the fall of 2004 I downloaded Barack Obama's keynote address from the Democratic Convention. I don't even remember how I got it. But here it is for you to enjoy. Keynote 2004.

And to have things come full circle, here is his victory speech from Tuesday. Victory 2008.

I do have the acceptance speech from this year's convention, but weighing in at 42 minutes and 39 mb, (even after I edited out him being introduced and about five minutes of "Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much.") I don't know where anyone would host it for free. If you want it (cause you're a huge nerd like me) let me know.

06 November 2008

My day at the Polls

I got up before dawn on election day and drove a half hour in the dark to a north east suburb of the Twin Cities. I was a DFL "challenger" though the DFL didn't want us challenging anyone (besides, the law says I would have to have personal knowledge that the person couldn't vote, hard to do when you don't live there). Really I was there to be the eyes and ears of the party and to report back any problems.

I sat myself down in a corner and got ready to spend the day people watching. I sat behind the same-day-registration tables and watched people register and reregister to vote. There were two major themes; the problem with the same-day-registration law, and the wonderful people that came and really really wanted to vote.

First, the problem with the current law. I'm not sure when the law was written, or when it was last updated, but there are some obvious problems. To register a voter has to bring a form of photo ID to prove that they are who they say they are, and a bill with their name and current address. Or they can get a voter registered in that precinct to vouch for them, a staff member of a group home will also work.

So the problem is that only specific bills are accepted and some things that logically should work, don't. Signed leases? Nope. Car payment? No. Medicare payment? Try again. Paystubs? Nope. There were even two different people who thought maybe an alcohol citation would work. They didn't. (Quote of the day: "I was in an accident I wasn't aware I was in.")

The other problem I saw could be addressed if a signed lease could be used; there were at least three couples that had moved on the first of the month. All they had were leases, no bills had come yet.

But here is where I start to feel better about democracy. ALL of the people that had moved came back with someone to vouch for them, or a receipt for a new drivers license. One couple was turned away twice and the second time the guy was talking like he wasn't going to come back. But they did, separately, and both voted. Even the woman who was probably 6 months pregnant. A young man that was registered with his wife earlier in the day, was brought back with a friend to vouch for him and they brought another woman with them. More than that, he realized that he lived down the hall from the couple at the other end of the table and could have vouched for them too.

But the most heart warming thing I saw was a older woman, blind and deaf, with an aid who registered and voted. It must have taken the better part of an hour for them to fingerspell the entire registration form, the entire ballot and her vote.

18 October 2008

This woman is from my state.


She's long been known to be rather nuts, but this takes the cake. Now, when you look at Congresswoman Bachmann's record of being a right wing nut, and the current beautiful shade of blue that the state is polling on the presidential election, you might wonder what the heck is going on. Bachmann is from the 6th district which is primarily the northern suburbs, from the Wisconsin border, up over the Twin Cities and west out past St. Cloud. A blend of rural and suburban that leans a little red. Bachmann was elected in 2006 and her reelection seemed well inside possible despite being, well, bat shit crazy. But apparently this little outpouring of McCarthyism has lead to a small surge in donations to her opponent. This might get interesting.

But there is something more here. When you look Bachmann's apparently sincere belief that Democrats and Democratic party's nominee for president might be anti-american, and put it in the same context as the vile things said about Obama at Republican rallies, there is an obvious theme. These are the equivalent of a Freudian slip. The party officials can only talk about "palling around with terrorists" for so long before their supporters make the logical connections and start saying the things the party officials could never get away with. Its one thing when supporters with only the power of the vote and their voice scream things at rallies. But you know the meme has grown bigger when an elected official, up for reelection no less!, thinks she can get away with saying this on a national cable channel.

One more thing, even the most liberal, left wing, progressive elected Democrat in the federal government believes in our democracy enough to try to change it from the inside. That faith that our government can be fixed, and is not fundamentally flawed, is proof enough for me of their pride in America and the American system of governance.

Addendum: I made that lol, what luck that Bachmann used Impact as her campaign font!

15 October 2008


The last debate is tonight and McCain has been saying he will utter the name William Ayers at some point, which is probably a guarantee that he wont.

I'm not a drinker, but if McCain says "that one" again, I think we can all agree that you have to finish your drink and blame the person to your right.

14 October 2008

This will take years

Judge postpones hearings for RNC 8

The court cases stemming from the RNC protests are starting to wind their way through the courts. Many people arrested and charged with felonies at the time have had their charges reduced to misdemeanors. Which is good for them, but it hints that the original charges were more for intimidation than anything else.

There were eight people arrested on the Friday before the RNC. Because they were arrested after the close of business before a three day weekend, they were held until the last day of the convention. They had their hearings postponed today at the request of their lawyers.
Criminal complaints allege the eight are members of an anarchist group that was attempting to disrupt the convention and assault police.
Oh, gosh, anarchists are SO scary. Yeah, uh did you see what those cops were wearing?

Photo credit: Zak Forde

I don't think anyone wearing anything less than the same really stood a chance at hurting these cops. (And there were literally hundreds more just like these three.) Wanting to do something, and actually having the ability are not the same thing. I've talked about this before. Plotting to do something is different than gathering information and writing violent poetry, but there's still that part where they didn't actually disrupt the business of the RNC.

Larry Leventhal said he and other defense attorneys working on the case can't mount good defenses until they see reports from various law enforcement agencies that provided security during the RNC.

"It's important to know what the charges are based on so we can prepare a proper defense," said Leventhal. "There are reports from the FBI -- we have nothing, and they were all over the place. These are reports from other jurisdictions -- we have nothing. All we have are materials from Ramsey County."
I have no doubt that the lawyers will get what they need. If there is nothing else I have learned while working as Queen of the Copy Machines at a law firm, its that lawyers are really good at getting what they want, and being a real pain in the other side's ass when they don't.

13 October 2008

Enzymes vs. Metal Catalysts

Mushroom enzyme could strip pollutants from fuel cells

This had to come up sooner or later.

They have demonstrated that laccase, an enzyme produced by fungi that grow on rotting wood, can be used as a cheaper and more efficient catalyst. Fuel cells use chemical reactions — such as that between hydrogen and oxygen — to produce emissions-free electricity. But current technology is expensive and requires electrodes that contain rare metals such as platinum.

When we talk about sustainable technology, one of the things that often gets over looked is the metals. Especially the heavy, toxic, and rare ones. And especially the ones mined in terrible conditions in poorer nations. We really don't like to think about the way our lovely technologies are dependent upon plundering the natural resources of other nations.

Scientists and entrepreneurs have come up with ways to replace the oil used in energy and the oil used in making some plastics with other things. So this step of replacing metal catalysts with biological enzymes was bound to start happening.

Materials that can hold the enzymes, such as carbon, are cheap and plentiful. But the second problem could prove a more difficult problem to crack. "This has puzzled scientists for decades, why are enzymes so large?" said Fraser Armstrong, a professor of chemistry at Oxford University. "There are a lot of people trying to work out how to make small molecules do the same thing. If you could do that, you could put a thousand times more enzymes on a surface."

This is where it pays to try to figure out the shape of the enzyme and the way the active site works. There is probably a large portion of any given enzyme that goes towards putting it in it's proper place in the cell, and interacting with other proteins, that wouldn't be needed in a fuel cell. The key is to take away the parts you don't need, keep the parts you do and then get the cell to produce this new stripped down protein in high concentrations. That takes some serious protein analysis and genetic modification. This biotechnology is decades out. But its being thought about and worked on, that's the first step.

26 September 2008

Hey there sweet stuff.

New Salvo in Splenda Skirmish

As you might guess by the name of this blog, I am skeptical of things that taste sweet, but are not sugar. Fake sugars are a good way to trick your body, but I'm really not sure that tricking your body is a good thing. Now there is more information out on the newest artificial sweetener that you knew would be out at some point.

The latest salvo comes from Duke University researchers, who have published a study that says Splenda — the grainy white crystals in the little yellow packets — contributes to obesity, destroys “good” intestinal bacteria and prevents prescription drugs from being absorbed.

Gosh, its bad for you. Splenda looks like sugar to your tastebuds, but enzymes that use the glucose and fructose are more discerning than that. All the regular hydrogens have been stripped off and replaced with chlorine atoms.

But wait a second, there is more to this article and this study than just the bad things about Splenda.

But the Duke study was financed by the Sugar Association, the lobbying group for the natural-sugar industry and a chief competitor to and legal adversary of Splenda.
One of the lead researchers of the study, Dr. Mohamed B. Abou-Donia, said Monday that the Sugar Association had “no input” into the study’s findings and conclusions.

Ah, hahaha. You knew it had to be something like that.

But really, I've never seen the point of artificial sweeteners. If you're trying to cut down on your intake of sugar, suck it up and stop eating it. Eating these things that taste sweet get your body ready to deal with sugar, but when nothing resembling sugar comes, things are bound to get a little (if not a lot) off kilter. If something tastes good that usually means that its okay to eat, but that only worked before society got around to inventing things that taste good and will kill you; lead acetate for one, ethylene glycol for two. Our bodies have evolved to eat glucose and fructose, and intentionally misleading our bodies on something this fundamental to our biology, just doesn't seem like a good idea.

25 September 2008

What happens on Wall Street doesn't stay on Wall Street

Withdrawals hit Bank of East Asia

I'll admit that I don't really understand economics, and global economics even less. But I know what a run on a bank looks like.

The Bank of East Asia has denied rumours that it is in financial trouble, after thousands of customers queued to withdraw their savings.

And I can tell that this is not unrelated to the things that are happening in New York.

It also said that its total outstanding exposure to US bankrupt bank Lehman Brothers was HK$422.8m (£29m), and to US insurer AIG was HK$49.9m (£3.5m).

I'm feeling real optimistic about life right now....

24 September 2008

Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.

Study Finds Major Shift in Abortion Demographics

Abortion. THE topic for lighting any social situation on fire. Want to kill a great party? Want to drive a wedge between a new couple? Let's talk about where life starts, the role of the government in utero and watch it all burn.

But many times this is pure speculation; many people who can talk about abortion till they are blue in the face have never had one, I'd guess that fully half will never even get the chance (I'm looking at you gentlemen). So, who is having abortions?

During that period [1974-2004], the proportion of abortions obtained by women younger than 20 dropped steadily, falling from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004. For those younger than 18, it fell from 15 percent of all abortions in 1974 to 6 percent in 2004. At the same time, the proportion of abortions obtained by women in their 20s increased from 50 percent to 57 percent, and the share done for women age 30 and older rose from 18 percent to 27 percent.

Younger women are having fewer abortions, while older women are having more. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, 35 years ago. The group of women that make up the 30 and older has gone from people born 30 years before Roe v. Wade, to people born right around the same time. The women that were 18 in 1973 were late Baby Boomers; women that were 18 in 2004 were, well, me and my friends.

So what hypothesis are being tossed about to explain these changes?

"A lot of policymakers are stuck 30 years back when most women getting abortions are teenagers and college students, and that isn't so much the case these days." (Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute.)
"Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies," said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Unfortunately there's a large number of uninsured people in this country, and if you are uninsured you are less likely to have access to affordable health care, including affordable birth control."
Michael J. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama who works with the Family Research Council, attributed the drop in teenage pregnancies to a combination of factors, including increased contraceptive use, more teenagers delaying sex and state laws requiring parental consent.

"The states with the most active pro-life laws have seen the biggest abortion declines," he said.

[Remember, Family Research Council is more aptly called the Patriarchy Research Council]

While I think the first two hypothesis are much smarter than the last one, I think there might be a generational argument to be made. My parents are late Baby Boomers, and the social pressures about sex and abortion have changed drastically from when my mother was my age. I've long believed that the more society represses sex, the less healthy it becomes. The harder you push the line that sex is only for marriage the more pre- and extra-marital sex there is and the more risky it will be.

So as sex has become something its okay to talk about, the safer and healthier it has become. Safer and healthier sex leads to fewer pregnancies and fewer pregnancies lead to fewer abortions. Despite the push of the Patriarchy groups and the Bush administration for Abstinence Only Education, there is more knowledge out there about safe sex than ever before. The youngins can hop on the internet and learn more about sex than their sex-ed teachers could tell them about.

In conclusion, read Dan Savage's column. It is the best sex advice out there paired with the most hilarious kinks out there. 

23 September 2008

Register to Vote!

Minn. voters nearing record registration number

Voter registration in Minnesota is on pace to hit an all-time high.
This is a very, very good thing. Getting people registered is very important. In most states, if you don't take the time to register, you can't vote on election day.

But we Minnesotans are lucky, we can also register at the polls. And let me tell you, the Republican's HATE this. The two sides can pretty much be summed up like this; Democrats don't want anyone who should vote to be turned away, Republicans don't want anyone who shouldn't be allowed to vote to do so. Democrats err on the side of more people voting, Republicans err on the side of less people voting. The people that show up and register at the polls tend to be the working class, the poor, the people that are too busy to register before election day. These people tend to vote for Democrats. Now you see why Republicans don't like this whole, register at the poles thing.

Nearly 3.13 million people are already registered to vote, just shy of the number who were on the rolls after the election in 2004. That's out of a possible 3.7 million eligible voters.

In 2004 Minnesota had 2.8 million people vote in the presidential election. That worked out to about 77% of those eligible. I hope we can get at least that many on election day this time round.

Check to make sure you're registered here.

03 September 2008

Babies Everywhere!

So by now we've all heard thatSarah Palin's daughter Bristol is pregnant. This was revealed to quash rumors that Mrs. Palin's youngest son was actually her grandson by Bristol.

The republicans have been trumpeting about how brave the senior Palin was in choosing to continue the pregnancy upon learning that the fetus had Trisomy 21, Downs syndrome. Now they're going on about how great and brave it is for underage Bristol Palin to not terminate her pregnancy.

But hey wait a minute, if Sarah Palin had her way her brave choice would never have existed. There would be no choice to make, brave or otherwise. And I wonder how much of an informed choice young Bristol was really offered.

Before being picked for the VP slot on the Republican ticket, Palin was going to talk at a lunchon here in St. Paul with Phylis Schlafly. Basically two hard working career women talking about how much women need to be at home taking care of the children. As we chanted out side the Xcel Center on Monday, "This is what hypocrisy looks like."

01 September 2008

I'm just sunburnt

I was in downtown St. Paul today, but I stayed along the official protest route and saw nothing outside the regular bored looking riot cops standing on the side walk. I didn't get maced, sprayed, detained, arrested or had sound grenades lobbed at me.

However, many of the riot cops have been busy running around after the RNC Welcoming Committee and others (Funk the War was one I heard of). There were some windows downtown were smashed. And the pepper spray, sound grenades and smoke bombs have been flung. Some journalists have been arrested along with the demonstrators.

But there are still arrests being made, on Sheppard (the road we take to work in the morning) Harriet Island (where protesters are supposed to be able to camp) and on the bridges over to said Island.

I've stopped noticing the sound of helicopters, and noticing only when there aren't helicopters overhead.

Other bloggers will cover this better than me, and if you want to keep on top of it as only the internet can let you, head over to Coldsnap Legal Collective's twitter stream. But I'll tell you what its like at work tomorrow. I already know that some of the windows I walk past every day were busted in.

30 August 2008

101st Post!

And its about the goddamn Republicans taking over my city! Yay?

I've made a map of the Controlled Zone and its access routes into and around (but not through) said Controlled Zone. Don't try to take your car or your bike through there. Be careful taking yourself into there as well, those cops are antsy and those Republicans are evil.


Welcome to the RNC

Authorities raid, search protesters' hub

Cops have raided the meeting site of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist group long planning to protest the RNC and the Republican warmongers infesting my fair city.

The Pioneer Press did not see the warrant. But witnesses quoted from the warrant, which was read aloud by authorities. They said authorities were looking for "items that could be used for direct action techniques, ranging from computers, Xboxes, Xbox games, Molotov cocktails and matchstick heads."

Okay, I may be 23, but I've never been much into videogames, anybody out there in internet land want to explain to me why the cops would want Xboxes? Did they break their Wii? Has Microsoft released some special tutorials on how to bomb the Xcel center that are only available on Xbox?

In related news, Downtown St. Paul was weird yesterday during lunch. There were more people out, but it wasn't really clear how many of them were cube dwellers gawking and how many were honest to god Republicans. Except for that one woman with really blond hair, really big pearls and a portly husband in a suit jacket and a cowboy hat; they stood out like a sore thumb, looking really confused and haughty.

All the mailboxes were taken out, and the mail in the office can't be over a certain weight and we have to hand it directly to the mail carrier. How exactly sister dearest will get to her coffee slinging job an hour earlier in the heart of the control zone is still being ironed out.

24 July 2008

Iraq and the Olympics

Iraq Team Banned From Olympics

I'm not sure how this is going to play out, but it seems to me to be a damn shame.

The IOC suspended Iraq's national Olympic committee in June after Baghdad dismissed elected officials and installed its own people who are not recognized by the IOC.


The IOC says the Iraqi government did not accept an invitation to come to its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, to try to end the dispute.

Granted they were sending all of 4 people, but there is symbolism in sending people to the Olympics. It sends a message of stability (though sometimes its the stability of a dictatorship) and stability is something Iraq has been sorely lacking in. And I'm sure the athletes are very disapointed, I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to go to the olympics because of government interference.

23 July 2008

We've seen this before

Ex-EPA Official Says White House Pulled Rank
This is the sort of thing that has become so common under this administration that I don't know if I really have anything more to say on the topic.
Yesterday, however, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett -- who resigned last month and has since divulged key details about how President Bush and his deputies have influenced the agency's decisions on climate policy -- testified before the committee that Johnson had concluded that California's request was legally justified -- until White House officials ordered him to reverse the decision.
What's that line from that little shit Grover Norquist? Ah yes,
“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” – The Nation, 10/12/2004
I'm not sure its small enough to be drowned in a bathtub, but I'm pretty sure that its starved and beaten enough that it can't do its job properly. The EPA knuckles under the White House, the FDA can't figure out where the salmonella in the salsa is coming from, and the VA won't (can't?) cover the medical bills for returning vets.

Bureaucracies get a bad rap. When they are good, they are very very good, but when they are bad, they are horrid. And you only remember the time it took 8 hours at the DMV and forget all the times things run smoothly. The EPA needs to be able to do its job without the politicos mucking things up. Sure the politicos are needed so that it can get paid, but its job requires an objective view. And you can't get an objective view with the White House breathing down your neck or choking you with the purse strings.

Thank goodness the 20th of January is approaching (I'm not too worried about the 4th of November.)

25 June 2008

Bush administration wont read emails it knows it wont like.

White House Refused to Open Pollutants E-Mail

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

They didn't like what the E.P.A. was going to tell them about greenhouse gases, so they didn't open the email. How juvenille.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

In order to get the administration to even read their emails, the E.P.A. has to rework them so that they offer no substance, no oppinion, no scientific fact. The Bush administration wants nothing stronger than white bread reports, since anything more would upset their world view that global warming, although happening, is not the danger we scientists and concerned citizens make it out to be. The reason is the same as it has ever been; aknowledging the dire threat of global warming compels them to do something about it, and that would hurt the big corporations that support the Republican party.

Simultaneously, Mr. Waxman’s committee is weighing its response to the White House’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents relating to the E.P.A.’s handling of recent climate-change and air-pollution decisions. The White House, which has turned over other material to the committee, last week asserted a claim of executive privilege over the remaining documents.

In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Fratto, the White House spokesman, said the committee chairmen did not understand the legal precedent underlying executive privilege. “There is a long legal history supporting the principle that the president should have the candid advice of his advisers,” Mr. Fratto said. Emphasis added.

Not that he'll actually listen to it.

15 June 2008

Dear Public Masturbator

I dunno about you Dad, but mine prefers a beer, Mom's the liquor drinker. I also don't know about your dad, but mine was a hippie skateboarder in the 70's, not a booty chasing booze hound. He still is, but now its bikes. He made pancakes in the morning, played with bikes, and went grocery shopping for the family.

Happy Father's Day.



11 June 2008

The Story of Underfunded Mandates and Tomatoes

F.D.A. Reports Progress in Tracing Salmonella

167 people are sick with a salmonella infection from certain types of raw tomatoes.

The agency warned consumers over the weekend to avoid certain raw red plum, red Roma and red round tomatoes and products containing them. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and those sold with the vine still attached are not associated with the outbreak, officials said.

This pops up from time to time. But with food traveling farther and being spread farther, its harder to pin point things and to regulate them. Think how much more trouble Dr. Snow would have had if the water from Broad Street was being shipped, nearly unregulated throughout Europe.

But the incompetence of the current administration overwhelms even my interest in epidemiology.

In November the food and drug agency released a “food protection plan,” but the Bush administration did not ask for the money to finance parts of it until Monday night. The health and human services secretary, Michael O. Leavitt, said on Monday that he would amend the administration’s budget request by asking for an additional $275 million for next year, $125 million of which would go to food protection.

I feel I might need to kick my cynicism up a notch. Unsurprised is not enough, one must now assume that whatever part of the government was put in place to take care of whatever is falling apart now, is currently massively underfunded.

08 June 2008

Substance and Misogyny

I am hesitant to wander into this discussion because it has erupted elsewhere in great spewing volcanoes of vitriol and bile. But as someone who caucused for Hillary and was later disappointed by some of her choices, I would like to try to maybe talk about this carefully.

Misogyny alone did not kill her campaign, but it did play a role. There were substantive disagreements I, and many others, had with some of the ideas she put forward. I can't support a summer gas tax holiday, and I thought the 3AM add was a little tasteless. But I don't expect that I will always agree with a candidate or politician on all issues, and am willing to overlook somethings in the search for a viable alternative to the waning Republican stranglehold.

One thing that is markedly different between the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign is the structure of the support. Clinton was much more involved with insiders and people who have been doing this all their lives. Obama's supporters tended to have come into their own politically much more recently. Grassroots wont always get you elected, and lord knows you can get elected without them, but this time around, grassroots was more productive and more profitable. Just how it went this time.

That said, there was plenty of misogyny that was spewed out. Its one thing to bring up that a gas tax break would not be passed on to the consumers, but eaten as profit by the oil companies. Thats a substantive critique.

"I have often said, when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs." -Tucker Carlson

That, I think we can agree, is not a substantive critique of any part of Hillary Clinton's campaign. Moreover, that specific comment is something that could be applied to any uppity bitch that scares Tucker Carlson, so really any of us. Tucker Carlson is an easy target, but many of the non substantive comments were pure misogyny. See Kristen Schaal.

What about those questions that walked that uneasy line between pundit drool and honest criticisms of her policy proposals? All those questions that wouldn't have been asked if she were a man? Those comments with pregnant pauses, meaningful tone of voice, those vocal cues that have come to be the modern wink and a nudge? That is where all this gets really nasty. When some hear a comment and think that its something that should be asked, and others think it would never even come up if there were no women in the race. We could hash every comment, try to come to a ruling of misogynist or just stupid, but I don't really want to see this at that high of a resolution. I'd really rather focus on getting a Democrat in the White House, and more in Congress.

21 May 2008

The political world keeps on spinning.

I supported Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday, and when I went to my district convention. I still think that she's a wonderful person, a superb Senator and would make a great president. But an absolute inability to admit defeat, to the point of moving the goal posts is a little much.

Neither Senator Obama nor I have won the 2210 delegates required to secure the nomination. And because this race is so close, still separated by less than 200 delegates out of more than 4,400, neither Senator Obama nor I will have reached that magic number when the voting ends on June the 3rd. Source

The talkers on MSNBC last night were saying that this is positioning, that this is a way to make sure that, come the right moment, Clinton can get something in return for bowing out. My father was talking (over the TV talkers) about how Hillary would be good for the VP slot. I'm not 100% sold on that idea, but he was making good arguments.

We are anxious for November around here. We're crunching numbers, looking at maps and graphs, talking over the cable talkers, spinning our own yarns about where this is all going to go. I can barely wait.

11 May 2008

No Boomer, actually you don't know what its like out here.

Here's a pair of articles, neither about the US, but talking about the same trend and I'm willing to bet that the same is true here.

After the boomers, meet the children dubbed 'baby losers'

'Some talk of a war between the generations, but that's a little simplistic. It is more that the system means that the haves are keeping what they have and no one is helping the have-nots,' said Chauvel. 'The big determinant in France now of success is not your educational level but the wealth of your parents, if they can support you during your twenties as you fight your way into a closed employment market.'

Young people entering workforce still earning less than parents did

Across all age groups, median salaries for full-time workers have changed little in 25 years. Workers today make, on average, a mere $53 more than they did in 1980, when adjusted for inflation, according to the census.

One could argue that this is the US, not Europe or Canada, but I seriously doubt that the demographics there are really that much different than the demographics here.

But as the boomers retire, surely jobs will open up. Maybe.

The looming retirement of the baby boom generation and the labour shortage that's expected to ensue could, however, spell good news for young folks anxious to enter the labour market or earn more cash.

Still, Morissette cautions the jobs may not materialize.

"In the face of labour shortages, some firms will make use of foreign outsourcing of services and will use labour abroad to fill up their orders," he said.

"These labour shortages might not necessarily lead to wage increases for younger workers."

Lehmann added there's also a good chance young people struggling to find well paying work today may simply be too old to take advantage by the time the market opens up.


So the boomers retire, here in the US they get on to the already stressed Social Security roster, and the people that are supposed to be earning money to refill the coffers, can't earn enough to build the stability that the middle class needs.

I'm not expecting to live beyond my means. I don't want a big house, two big cars and a huge TV, but I want to be able to buy a house in the next five to seven years. I want to be able to afford a child. I want a job that puts food on the table. I know that my grandparents gave my parents the down payment on the house I grew up in, and I'm not too proud to accept that kind of help. But I want to make it on my own, and that looks harder and harder everyday.

By the way, congrats to all the new college grads. I've been out here in the real world for a year, and let me tell you, that shock you're feeling, your parents don't actually know what its like.

10 May 2008

The Age of Oil Must End.

Clearly I've been neglecting this. I've got a steady 9 to 5 at a law firm thats been a steady 8 to 6 as The Big Case got ready to go to trial. But the case is settled into its court room and my part is pretty much over until the case ends in a few weeks. So I'll be back up to posting three or four times a week. Hopefully. Anyway, since I haven't posted in weeks I don't feel bad about not being on my usual topic schedule.

Oil Costs To Offset Stimulus Package

Since Congress and Bush unveiled an economic stimulus package Jan. 24, the price of the OPEC basket of crude oil has jumped by $32.51 a barrel, raising the cost of U.S. oil imports enough to offset the entire stimulus package over the course of the year.

Does this really surprise anyone? The stimulus package was supposed to be a shot in the arm for an economy where most people's ARMs had already exploded. The price of oil will never go down, maybe it will go down a little bit, small daily or weekly fluctuations. But like global climate change, the small day to day changes can't mask the relentless march upward.

"We're engaged in a painful experiment in discovering how high the price [of oil] has to go before it really, really hurts, before it hurts enough to slow demand globally," said Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank.

He's dead on. Something has got to give because we can't go on like this. We've known for some time now that eventually the economics of limited resources would drive the price of oil beyond what is reasonable.

The price of oil will never come down.

No gas tax holiday, no ethanol blend, no hybrid technology, no fuel efficiency standard, no maximum purchase at the pump, no drilling offshore, in oil sands or national wildlife reserves can change that. Even if we could get the cash price down, the climate change cost is, its increasingly obvious, more than we can really afford. The heyday of petrochemicals must end. We have no choice in that. What we can choose is what kind of withdrawal from oil addiction we will have. Are we going to deny that this is killing us until we hit rock bottom, or are we going to come to terms with whats going on here and get help?

18 April 2008

Canada moving to ban BPA

Canada Likely to Label Plastic Ingredient ‘Toxic’
I've talked about this before, and I basically came up with, "Eh, we're poisoning ourselves anyway." So now the Canadian government is taking steps to ban BPA.

The public and industry will have 60 days to comment on the designation once it is released, setting into motion a two-year process that could lead to a partial or complete ban on food-related uses of plastics made using B.P.A.
This is the sort of thing that takes time; there are plenty of industry groups that are going to want to talk the Canadian government's ear off. But ultimately, the health of the people and the environment will hopefully win out.

Jack Bend, a professor of pathology at the University of Western Ontario in London and one of the Canadian government’s outside scientific advisers, declined to comment on what action Health Canada would take. But he said he was concerned about the widespread use of B.P.A.

“The first thing is that it’s an endocrine disrupter, there’s no question about that,” Professor Bend said, referring to the chemical’s impact on the hormonal system. “Should people that are exposed to these low levels of this chemical be outrageously concerned? I’d err on the side of not creating panic. We simply don’t know. But we should find out.”
We seem to be quite good at letting one part of science get far ahead of other parts. We make chemicals and integrated them into our lives before we have even scratched the surface of how the chemicals will effect our bodies or other living things. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring really got us moving on looking closer at the environmental impacts of the chemicals we put out there. But the closer we look, the worse it seems to get. Dioxins in Vietnam, PCB's in polar bears, endocrine disruptors in hermaphroditic fish and on and on and on.

Maybe I'll use my liter Nalgene to hold knitting needles. Oh, and I like that the NYT used the same picture in both articles.

UPDATE: Nalgene has decided to drop BPA containing plastics from their production line. They didn't go so far as to say that BPA was dangerous, but said that consumers would prefer plastics without BPA. NYT notes that the canning industry says that there is no replacement for their use of BPA. I don't buy that for a second.

12 April 2008

How graphs can lie to you

I want to discuss graphs for a bit. When we were wee first years at college, we spent a fair amount of time talking about how to make graphs well. Anyone can make a graph in Excel, but you need some knowledge to choose the right graphs for the right sets of data. You need to know when you need error bars and how to choose the right size error bars. Scale is an important aspect as well. Have a look at these two graphs.

This screen capture was taken Friday night, little before 7 pm central time.

The two graphs set the front runner as the whole and the other candidates as portions of that whole. No matter how many people are added, Obama and McCain stay as 100% of the available graph. But the more important issue is that it makes it look like Obama and McCain have the same amount of support, and that Hillary is way behind McCain. Thats part of the reason I started making my own graphs.

This graph is linked to the data on my google spreadsheet, it will update.

This graph puts all six of the candidates that ABC/Facebook is tracking on the same scale. Its pretty clear how huge of a lead Obama has among the Facebook crowd. Its also clear that Hillary is actually ahead of McCain by about 35,000 people, but thats rather hard to see since the difference is much smaller relative to Obama's lead.

So when you see a graph, look for the scale and just because two bars look the same doesn't mean that they're the same value.

08 April 2008

Pawlenty shows no love for St. Paul

St. Paul officials: What does Pawlenty have against us?

Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the bonding bill, but not before using the line item veto to cut $208 million in projects, many of them in St. Paul. But wait, St. Paul is hosting the RNC later this summer and Pawlenty's name has been floating around as a possible veep pick. Is it really such a good idea for Pawlenty to write St. Paul out of the bonding bill, when the city is about to go on display for the national convention of Pawlenty's own party?

"What does the governor have against St. Paul? What have we done?," (Sen. Sandy) Pappas asked.

"This is just a blatant attack on St. Paul and its residents, I think, and on Alice Hausman and her constituents," added (Sen. Ellen) Anderson.

DFL Rep. Alice Hausman is the lead bonding negotiator for the House and is from St. Paul. She attended the governor's briefing, but left before it ended.
There are a few things from the back story to keep in mind; the reason we have a bonding bill that is such a big deal is because Pawlenty made a "No New Taxes" pledge, and Pawlenty had said before that it was too big earlier, so the partial veto is not unexpected. Its the way St. Paul was singled out that is surprising people. The phrase bandied about this evening was a paraphrase of the New York Daily News; "Pawlenty to St. Paul: Drop Dead"

You know, that third headline might not be that far off from the current situation...

07 April 2008

La Nina doesn't negate climate change

Global temperatures 'to decrease'
La Nina is once again going lead to cooler temperatures this year but that doesn't mean that the earth isn't warming overall.

"When you look at climate change you should not look at any particular year," he (The World Meteorological Organization's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud) said. "You should look at trends over a pretty long period and the trend of temperature globally is still very much indicative of warming.

"La Nina is part of what we call 'variability'. There has always been and there will always be cooler and warmer years, but what is important for climate change is that the trend is up; the climate on average is warming even if there is a temporary cooling because of La Nina."
But just you wait, the Republicans and other climate change deniers will seize on this summer's cooler temperatures to tell us again that anti-business liberals are just making this up. Michelle Bachmann will come up with something about how its all just made up by the CFL manufacturers.

Now I don't expect all of my elected officials to understand the quantum physics behind how CO2 converts infrared radiation to heat (I only just understand it), but I do expect them to be humble enough to not blow their mouths off about things they really don't understand. In my more cynical moments I'm sure that the strong ego and thick skin needed to run for national office kills off any naturally occurring humility that might be in them.

Enough of that, back to the science. La Nina and El Nino, as Jarraud says, are natural variations. Global warming and the resulting climate change are long term changes due to levels of CO2 in the atmosphere that don't seem to have occured in the past 400,000 years. (For a sense of scale, the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago.) My question is how are the El Nino and La Nina events changing as the global mean temperature rises? How the ocean temperatures will change as the air temperature changes is not clear. Will the Pacific Ocean be even warmer in El Nino and even colder in La Nina, or will the difference get smaller so that the effect gets smaller? Or will the events happen more often?

The problem we run into here is how far back our data goes. We've got air temperature readings in the US going back to the Civil War, but we've only been taking satellite readings of the temperature of the oceans for a few decades at most. We just don't know exactly whats going to happen, we have more questions than answers, and I have to admit that it scares me sometimes.

04 April 2008

Where do your drugs come from?

In our household, we take our prescriptions to a locally owned pharmacy, one of the last in the area I'm sure. But we need to look further back; a few weeks back there was a contaminant found in the popular blood thinner heparin called attention not just to drugs made in China, but to what the actual chemicals are derived from. In the case of heparin, the answer is pig intestines, and the pictures of Chines peasants cleaning pig intestines in their homes has made some people think.

Seeking Alternatives to Animal-Derived Drugs

Before we genetically modified bacteria to take over the job many drugs were made from animal products, insulin and growth hormones to name just two. But some things just don't transfer well, and heparin is actually a mixture of disaccharides and just one doesn't work the quite same as all of them together. That makes the synthetic version, with only one of the disaccharides, more expensive and less effective.

“Any time you take a tissue or an extract process from a tissue from one species and put it into a another species or even another animal, you run the risk of unwanted pathogens that you didn’t know were there; that’s been responsible for repeated problems over the course of time,” Dr. Brown said. “If you can do something without taking tissue or a product from another being, you’re ahead of the game.”
Specifically they discuss the threat of prion disease, like mad cow but from pigs. With chemicals that are extracted, you don't have to worry about rejection because, hopefully, its pure enough to not have anything that would provoke an immune response.

But the article doesn't focus on heparin, but rather on the enzymes that people with cystic fibrosis need to live and digest food properly. A pharmaceutical company is working on a process that uses microbes rather than pigs to produce the enzyme, much like insulin is now, but its not finished yet.

“You don’t ever know what’s going to happen to pigs,” said Dr. Campbell of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “We wanted redundancy in the system and a backup. If there was a recall of these products for six months, a number of people would die.”
Thats what it really comes down to, redundancy. If there is only one source, that source could be animal, vegetable or mineral, a recall is a recall. Thats another reason pharmaceutical monopolies are bad, if one company goes under, has their plants shut down, or relies on the same tainted Chinese manufacturers, there are humans that would suffer for lack of their drug.

02 April 2008

Just in case you weren't sure...

Its true, I'm a huge nerd. This graph I made tracks support of the major candidates based upon the Facebook/ABC US Politics application. I record the data using Google documents over my lunch break, but I also have an Excel file on my computer that I update in the evening.

There are a couple things that I find interesting. The first few are in the raw numbers; Obama has a commanding lead, Paul has a strong contingent, and McCain only broke one hundred thousand supporters last week. The next few interesting things are in the change in support from one day to the next. McCain gains more people per day than Clinton. The day after Gravel announced he would seek the Libertarian Party's nomination, he started gaining supporters. For awhile there, the net gain of people for all three Republican candidates was less than McCain's because Huckabee was loosing so many supporters. The next interesting thing is on sheet two, each candidate's daily gain of support as a percentage of the net gain. Obama's daily gain is consistently sixty to seventy five percent of the daily gain. He is gaining more people than everyone else combined every day.

Now the graph of Change in Support will, I think, be more interesting as the sample size increases. But for now I think it just shows that less happens on Sundays.

The thing to keep in mind is that this is far from a representative sample of Americans, and probably not even a great sample of young Americans. Facebook started as a site for college students with a valid .edu email address. While it has become an open site, I don't think it would be unfair to guess that it still skews toward the college student. Plus, the people who have this application and have used it to show support for a particular candidate probably care about national politics a bit more than the general population.

So if this isn't a representative sample, is it really that interesting? I think so and not just because I made it. It does show that there are at least a million people who have gone out of their way (but not terribly far) to show their support for a candidate for president. Will this translate into votes? Votes by young people? I don't think you can tell that from this data. Especially since there really isn't anything like it to compare it to.

27 March 2008

How the Youth of Today get their news

Finding Political News Online, the Young Pass It On
Not surprisingly, this article about how the young share news online was emailed to me by a good friend. The general issue of the article isn't new to me, but maybe it is to the journalists. Rather than sitting down and watching the nightly news, or reading the entire paper, the young read articles online, especially ones recommended by friends, and then pass links on to others. There are some interesting lines that really capture the idea.

Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

College students don't have the time to sit down and read the NYT or watch the 5 o'clock news. The news has to get to them, and that comes as emails, link shares on Facebook and instant messenger. But even if its delivered straight to our inbox, most people I know are more likely to read something that has been recommended by someone they know. When you use your friends as a filter, you know what kind of a filter you are getting; George likes stories about China and other Asian countries, Ann only sends stories about abortion and birth control, and Crazy Joe sends stories about Ron Paul with mocking comments. Plus, you automatically have someone you can discuss the piece of news with.

In the days after Mr. Obama’s speech on race last week, for example, links to the transcript and the video were the most popular items posted on Facebook. On The New York Times’s Web site, the transcript of the speech ranked consistently higher on the most e-mailed list than the articles written about the speech.

I think the reason is pretty clear; we are aware that punditry is not real information. "Political analyst" is a term thrown about with so little care and tossed on to so many talking heads on the churning 24 hour news that many don't trust that the "analysis" we're getting. We have seen why we need to go to the source document, and its not because the dust of history has clouded meaning, but because the slime and mud of the pundits has obscured the truth of each action and word.

Maybe we should worry that the "real" news isn't getting through, that people of like minds will filter the news so that we only hear things that confirm what we already believe. Will the college student that only cares about football only get news from other friends that care about football? Maybe, but is that really any worse than the local news that feeds us soft stories from the national feed about rescued puppies rather than the violence is Darfur, Burma and Nepal?

I'm a young adult, and my friends are people I respect and like, and what they find interesting in the news is probably interesting to me too. My friends consistently care about what is going on in the wider world. I can't say the same for some media outlets that report international news with the sigh of a child cleaning her room.

21 March 2008

What happens if you don't vaccinate.

Public Health Risk Seen as Parents Reject Vaccines

One of my favorite bloggers, Orac over at Respectful Insolence, blogs a fair bit about the "Autism is caused by vaccines" crowd. He's been noticing that for many its not just about the unproven link to autism, its really just straight up anti-vaccination silliness. And as public health officials have been warning for ages now, if you don't get your children vaccinated, you risk an outbreak. Well, its happened, and the anti-vaccine folk seem to be unapologetic.

“I refuse to sacrifice my children for the greater good,” said Sybil Carlson, whose 6-year-old son goes to school with several of the children hit by the measles outbreak here. The boy is immunized against some diseases but not measles, Ms. Carlson said, while his 3-year-old brother has had just one shot, protecting him against meningitis.

“When I began to read about vaccines and how they work,” she said, “I saw medical studies, not given to use by the mainstream media, connecting them with neurological disorders, asthma and immunology.”

Ms. Carlson said she understood what was at stake. “I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk,” she said.

Vaccinating your children is not sacrificing them. To acknowledge that you are putting other children at risk of potentially deadly disease, and yet do nothing, thats selfish. The article latter says that some see the anti-vaccine parents as a parasites benefiting from the protection of the vaccinated majority. Parasite is a little strong, but the analogy is apt.

Alexandra Stewart, director of the Epidemiology of U.S. Immunization Law project at George Washington University, said many of these parents are influenced by misinformation obtained from Web sites that oppose vaccination.

“The autism debate has convinced these parents to refuse vaccines to the detriment of their own children as well as the community,” Ms. Stewart said.

Whats that line about a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing? This is one of those times when the inability to tell the difference between real science and quackery is dangerous. Usually its benign, or it will con you out of some money. Some more dangerous quackery will lead people to delay or refuse treatment. But this is dangerous to more than just the poor schmuck that gets taken in. This is dangerous to the rest of us.

There is substantial evidence that communities with pools of unvaccinated clusters risk infecting a broad community that includes people who have been inoculated.

For instance, in a 2006 mumps outbreak in Iowa that infected 219 people, the majority of those sickened had been vaccinated. In a 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana, there were 34 cases, including six people who had been vaccinated.

The disease can use the unvaccinated as a petri dish, changing its genome and then jumping over to the vaccinated. Now different enough from the vaccine to spread among the vaccinated, the outbreak really gets going.

So get your children vaccinated, not just for their health, but for all of ours. The risks are small, the benefits huge. Its like paying your taxes or not breaking the sewer system. Its just the good thing to do.

19 March 2008

The key is subtlety

Justices Overturn Louisiana Death Sentence
Yes, there is still racism in this country, and no its not just private citizens being idiots. There is still racism entrenched in our justice system, and not just in the drug laws, or the racial profiling by the cops.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction and death sentence of a Louisiana man who killed his estranged wife in a jealous rage, finding that the trial judge “committed clear error” in excluding black jurors from the trial.

A black man was convicted and sentenced to die by an all white jury in the south. In 1996. Were talking about stupidity that belongs back in 1954, not in my short lifetime.

Sure the prosecution had some excuse for not seating black jurors, but those excuses hardly hold up in the light of day.

Justice Alito wrote that the prosecutor’s explanation for dismissing Mr. Brooks — that he was worried that Mr. Brooks’s nervousness over his studies would incline him to vote against a death sentence to avoid long deliberations — was not believable.

“The implausibility of this explanation is reinforced by the prosecutor’s acceptance of white jurors who disclosed conflicting obligations that appear to have been at least as serious as Mr. Brooks’s,” Justice Alito wrote, noting that a white juror who had expressed concerns over his wife’s illness and the conduct of his independent contracting business had been seated.

This is the sort of racism whose subtlety has allowed its practitioners to hide behind a shrug of the shoulders and a claim of ignorance. (There is a sexism, closely related, that does the same.) But just because this bigotry doesn't scream on the streets, doesn't mean its any less hurtful, any less ignorant or any more acceptable. So much of the racism and sexism in this country is like neutrinos that pass through every barrier and stream through all of us all day. But unlike neutrinos, these bigoted ideas hurt, cut and kill.

I'm glad that the Court was able to see this for what it is and send a message to all the lower Courts that this is not acceptable. You cannot pack the jury then shrug your shoulders and say "What? That's just coincidence!" Maybe we really can have a legitimate discussion about race in this country. As John Stewart said last night about the coincedentally timed speech by Sen. Obama, "So at 11am on a Tuesday a Politician talked to Americans about race as if they were adults."

Lets talk about this like the adults we are.

18 March 2008

More lead from China and Reebok's money

Reebok's deadly lead charm draws $1 million federal fine

Two years after a Minneapolis boy swallowed part of a charm bracelet given away with a pair of athletic shoes and died of lead poisoning, the shoes' maker, Reebok, has agreed to pay the government $1 million to settle allegations that it violated the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

One million isn't that much for a company like Reebok, but it is more than the government usually fines. But this is not a case where the facts were really in question. The charm the little boy swallowed was 99% lead and there is no question that it directly lead to his death.

Reebok International representatives could not be reached for comment Monday night. But Heuer (the family's attorny) said company executives and lawyers were "compassionate and professional" about the recall. They issued a quick public apology and did not force Jarnell's family into extensive litigation, he said. "Most corporations, when something like this happens, get up and deny, deny, deny," he said.

Sometimes even the big corporations, with legions of lawyers, have to admit that they made a huge mistake. Thankfully no one else died and the recall went smoothly.

The question remains, however, when Reebok designed this little charm and contracted out the job, how did they end up with a product that was nearly pure lead? I'm sure that they didn't ask for a lead charm, but when they contracted it out, did they check the reputation of the manufacturer, or did they just look at the price?

I'm starting to think that "Made in China" should be treated as a type of warning label in and of itself.

11 March 2008

Unionizing in the AG's office

Union battle heats up in A.G. Swanson's office

Since there is a lawyer in my family, I've been hearing rumblings for a while. The allegation of union busting isn't new, but some of the attorneys have gone public about what they've seen.

Lawler said she was on the job just a week when an attorney, who introduced himself as the head of the office social committee, took her out for coffee and delivered a strong anti-union message.
Lawler said the same attorney later approached her and other employees, asking them to sign what she described as a loyalty petition.

"The second paragraph is all about how great Lori Swanson is, how she's the first attorney general to graduate at the top of her class, how she's the first attorney general with such extensive public and private experience, how she never brings politics into the office, how she's all around a great leader," Lawler said. "And then the last paragraph is about how we decry the union's tactics, we don't want them representing us and they don't speak for us."

While union busting tactics have been around for as long as there have been unions to bust, but Lori Swanson ran for the AG seat as a Democrat with an endorsement from the DFL. If we had known that she was going to actively suppress unionizing, she wouldn't have gotten the DFL endorsement and that would have seriously hurt her chances at getting the job.

But this isn't over yet. Lawler was interviewed on MPR and in that interview she brought up some ethical issues she had encountered on the job along with the aforementioned issues of union busting. For bringing up her concerns in public, rather than through the proper channels at the AG's office, Lawler has been suspended.

AG's office defends suspension of attorney
During an interview, Lawler also described wrestling with ethical issues in her job. She said one issue came up when Swanson directed her to quickly file lawsuits against mortgage foreclosure consultants even though the attorney general had no defendants in mind.

"And that was kind of the case across the board," she said. "She's just have an idea about a lawsuit, and she'd want it filed as quickly as possible. The biggest was she wanted people who'd be willing to appear at press conferences."

Those ethical issues, which Lawler also shared with other reporters, were specifically referenced in the letter from Deputy Attorney General Karen Olson notifying her of the administrative leave.

Interesting timing don't you think?

Back in the first article they make it clear that this isn't just about having a union or not having a union. Its about having the State Attorney General's office staffed with good lawyers who want to be there.

Jody Wahl left the attorney general's office in January after 25 years. Wahl said she saw more than 50 professionals leave the office in the past year, but it appeared to her that Swanson wasn't interested in the reasons.

She said the attorney general never recognized the union discussion as a management issue.

"There wasn't an understanding that this was truly an internal, staff-driven effort to have conversations with their colleagues about whether obtaining union representation would work to benefit the work of the attorney general's office," Wahl said. "Instead, it appears there was a sense that this was driven by outside forces, by former political rivals or former staff members, or whatever. And that isn't the case."

I have a feeling this is going to get worse before it gets better.

28 February 2008

Slow float to England.

Cocaine galore! £7m of Colombia's finest washes up on Cornish beaches

A while back a shipment of rubber bath toys fell into the ocean and washed up all along the western coast of North America. It was an interesting story of modern shipping and sea currents. Another example has come to light, but the the objects washing up are not rubber ducks, turtles and beavers.

The origin does not take much detective work; some of the packages are marked "Colombia" in faded writing. But how they ended up in the sea remains a puzzle.

The age of the packages, and the presence of warm water-loving barnacles suggests they may be floating all the way across the Atlantic from the Caribbean. One theory is that smugglers dumped the cocaine overboard as they were pursued by American or British anti-drug patrols.

Huge bundles of uncut Columbian cocain are washing up on the shores of England and the English are a little worried about it. Firstly, because each bundle is a huge amount of cocaine and secondly because of its purity. Because it hasn't passed through the usuall layers of dealers, this stuff is dangerous.

Sure the, cocaine is dangerous and finding it on a beach would be an adventure, but the fact that it floated all the way from the Caribean on the Gulf Stream? Thats the really cool part.

27 February 2008

Oil companies and Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Weighs Exxon Valdez Damages

The federal government indicted Exxon on five criminal charges, with potential penalties totaling $5 billion. The company soon agreed to plead guilty to three counts with a fine of $25 million, or less than 1 percent of the total potential criminal fine, plus $900 million in civil fines to be paid over a 10-year period. In addition, the company paid $2.1 billion in cleanup costs, and several hundred million dollars more to fishermen for their lost summer catch. In all, the company would pay $3.4 billion.

But the money that Exxon doesn't want to pay is the punitive damages. The punitive damages are the fines that the court assigns to the defendant in punish them for being stupid and breaking law. Its supposed to discourage the defendant and its peers from doing it again. You can't put a company in jail, but you can fine them lots of money.

And boy, they sure don't want to pay it. Exxon has taken this all the way to the Supreme Court.

But Exxon contends that because this accident occurred at sea and is governed by maritime law, which is the sole province of the federal courts, there should be no punitive damages at all.

Part of me wishes I could know more about the law here, but then I remember that I don't really want to be a lawyer and thats probably what it would take to really understand this.

But I do know one thing about what will happen at the Supreme Court today; Clarence Thomas wont be asking any questions.

26 February 2008

Bridges and Vetos

House and Senate override governor's veto

A $6.6 billion transportation bill is now law after both the Minnesota House and Senate voted for the first time to override a veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The House voted 91-41 to override the governor's veto, and the Minnesota Senate followed shortly after by a vote of 47-20.

The Minnesota State House and Senate passed a ¢5 per gallon increase in the gas tax to pay for an increase in the transportation budget. But Pawlenty took a "No New Taxes" pledge before he was elected and, while he has increased "fees" on tobacco, he stood by his tax pledge and vetoed the bill. But everyone with any memory voted to over ride the veto, because we had an effin bridge fall into the river and people DIED!

If I seem a tad bit worked up over this, thats because I am.

I honestly don't understand why Pawlenty did this. The bridge collapsed, and he vetoed a bill to help pay for the replacement, upkeep and maintainence of other bridges in the state. Plus other road repairs and some public transit. For ¢5 more per gallon. ¢5.

He must really want to be the most anti-tax governor out there to veto this. I can't think of an analogy that fully conveys the stupidity of vetoing a small tax to pay for something with such emotional appeal. (And how often is there an emotional appeal to infrastructure?) He should just eat some puppies and get it over with.

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, questioned some of the first-term Democrats on the floor about whether they campaigned for a tax increase last election.

"You folks, again did not campaign a couple summers ago on the mantra that you were going to raise taxes. That was Minnesotans' biggest fear about turning the reins of this government over to your party," said Emmer. "Same question to you, Rep. Madore. Are you going to vote to raise the taxes the hard-working families of your district in this family?"

Yes I am and I'm going to tell you why," responded Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley. "The bridge went down on Aug. 1, and a gentlemen from my district died. He left four children and I went to his funeral. I stood there with his family and I looked at them in the face. And when you're asking me, 'Is his life worth a nickel a gallon?' I'm telling you it is"

The Republicans claim that the gas tax and the bridge are separate issues. They are separate issues in so much as we can never know if the bridge would have stayed up if the transportation budget had been increased earlier. But the gas tax is going to the transportation budget, and while that is not paying for the replacement 35W bridge, it is going to (at least try to) prevent another bridge from falling down.

24 February 2008

Lots of people voted this past week.

Wisconsin Primary results
Obama 646,007
Clinton 452,795
Others 12,483
Total 465,278

McCain 224,226
Huckabee 151,201
Others 31,832
Total 407,259

Whats interesting is that the combined total for McCain and Huckabee is less than Clinton alone got. While the Republicans had only about 58 thousand less people, they had more people voting for someone other than the top two candidates. This has been a running trend, when both parties have their primaries on the same day the Democrats have a larger turnout than the Republicans. There could be many reasons for this. Maybe the Democratic race is inspiring more people to come out, but the Republican race is just as tight. I think its pretty clear that the middle of the political spectrum is not happy with the way the country has been run for the past seven years. And the result is more people showing up for the primaries in general and the Democratic primaries in specific.

But this was hardly the most exciting election that took place in the past week. Pakistan had an election and Musharraf's ruling party was soundly defeated. I can't find a reference right now, but I saw in the paper that the party received about 15% of the vote. Whats amazing to me is that the party has admitted defeat. But as I told my mother the other day, I'll really believe democracy has come to when someone else comes to power. Thats not to downplay what has finally happened in Pakistan, but rather to say that I don't trust Musharraf to not act like so many dictators that have come before and make some bid to hold on to power. I am cautiously optimistic about the democracy in Pakistan.

23 February 2008

NYT as a classroom with McCain as the example

The McCain Article
Not precisely DC drama, but rather a discussion about a story about DC drama.

The article included reporting on Mr. McCain’s relationship with a female lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee led by Mr. McCain. Since publication of the article, The Times has received more than 2,000 comments, many of them criticizing the handling of the article. More than 4,000 questions were sent via e-mail to The Times on Thursday night and Friday. Editors and reporters who worked on the article answered some of the questions on Friday.

The journalists who worked on the article go on to tackle some of the questions that people raised. As they do that, they talk a bit about how a news paper is run and how journalists report on a story. When asked about the irony of the editorial page endorsing McCain while the news side was working on this story, their reply was this.

A. The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. We in the newsroom did not speak to anyone at the editorial page about the story we were working on about Senator McCain. They did not consult us about their deliberations over endorsements of the presidential candidates. I’m the political editor, and the first I knew of the McCain endorsement (and of the endorsement of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side) was when I read them in the newspaper. In all of our internal discussions about the news story subsequent to the endorsement, I do not recall anyone bringing it up.

The fact that I already knew this isn't the interesting part. What interests me is that the paper took the time to sit down and explain this to the public. It felt like I was reading a journalism instructor patiently explaining things to a class. Answering these questions fully and carefully makes me respect the paper more than I already did.

On the internet, any wanker can pound out a bitchy letter about whatever is getting their panties in a twist. And more often than not, that bitchy letter is full of mistakes, in both logic and often grammar, and a fundamental misunderstanding of whatever it is thats pissing them off. Going through and addressing each problem is usually an exercise in futility, because even if you convince one person that they're wrong, there are hundreds more to take their place. So for the NYT to do this, and do it so well and so thoroughly is really classy. Sometimes I feel kind of bad for using the NYT for so many of the stories I comment on, but then they go and do something like this. This is why I read the NYT and this is why I don't feel bad about it.

Tomorrow I'll put up summaries of all the things I wanted to write about this week, but was too tired and busy to sit down and write. There were elections in Wisconsin and Pakistan, and how often do those things coincide?

18 February 2008

A bus full of secrets and hydrazine.

Missile Defense Future May Turn on Success of Mission to Destroy Satellite

I know this satellite thats coming down on our heads has been blogged about a lot but thats because it so darn interesting. I mean its the size of a bus, its full of secret spy stuff and deadly gas, and it might fall on our heads unless the military can blast it out of the sky. Life rarely sounds this much like a movie.

Often compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the shooting down of ballistic missiles with an interceptor rocket is difficult, as an adversary’s warheads would be launched unexpectedly on relatively short arcs — and most likely more than one at a time.

So it should be easier for the Standard Missile 3, a Navy weapon launched from an Aegis cruiser in the northern Pacific, to find and strike a satellite almost the size of a school bus making orbits almost as regular as bus routes around the globe, 16 times a day.

Even if they manage to hit this one, its not exactly something they can point to and say "Look we can do it, we need 80 gazillion dollars to make us safe from the terrorists with ballistic missiles!" But watch, they'll try. And they probably will get the money. We don't seem to be able to say no to the military and its demands for money.

But what really interests me in all this is the fuel, hydrazine, that if it were to break only upon landing and not before, would be really bad. Hydrazine is N2H4 and its corrosive and noxious as a liquid. If it crashed much of it would vaporize and that would lead to a cloud of hydrazine gas. CNN reports Gen. James Cartwright saying that the cloud would be the size of two football fields.

So shooting it down is probably a good idea. I wonder if we'll be able to see an explosion? The hydrazine is on there as fuel and while the reaction isn't an oxidation reaction its still highly exothermic. Its also taking place while in orbit and outside of the atmosphere so that probably would effect any exothermic reactions that would take place. I don't know enough about explosions to speculate more than that. I hope we get to hear more about the physics of it.

14 February 2008

Illegality of ideas

Appeal judges clear Muslims of terror charges

Britain's overzealous terror laws have been in the news again. Unlike last time people are getting out of jail rather than being put in.

Five young Muslim men yesterday had their terrorism convictions quashed after judges concluded that reading Islamist material was not illegal unless there was "direct" proof it was to be used to inspire violent extremism.
They were prosecuted under section 57 of the Terrorism act 2000, which makes it an offence to have books or items useful for a terrorist. Striking down the convictions, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips said: "[Section 57] must be interpreted in a way that requires a direct connection between the object possessed and the act of terrorism."

This position is closer to what I was talking about when I discussed the case of Samina Malik. The ideas, the information, is not what should be illegal; it is the action that should be illegal. What is strange is what one of the defendant's lawyers said.

Malik's solicitor, Saghir Hussein, said: "The judgment means there must be a direct connection between possession [of material] and acts of terrorism. A book about how to make bombs would come under section 57, not a book that contains ideological material. It's just like reading Mein Kampf does not make you a Nazi."

A book with bomb directions would be illegal? A bomb isn't hard, its all about making pressure in a confined space that breaks when the pressure reaches a certain point. The concept isn't hard, but successful construction without premature explosion or arrest is the hard part. Making it is the hard part, as it should be.

Maybe there is something in British culture that I'm missing. There is probably something about there experience with terrorism as practiced by the IRA that is coloring this. There may be a larger percentage of the population that could be described as radical Islamicist. I'm not sure, but I know that I don't like the idea that possesion of knowledge is a punishable offence.

06 February 2008

Polar Bears and Caucuses

A Cool Dip for a Warming Planet

This is my alma mater and last year I took part in the first polar bear splash. That time it was a cold rainy February day and we never got a fire started. Looks like the weather was a bit better this year. I still know many of the people in the slide show.

In other news, my precinct had a turn out of 178 people where it usually has between 12 and 25. The presidential break down was 98 Obama, 74 Clinton, and 6 others. The school we met at had three other precincts as well and the line to find out which room to go to was out the door. So I grabbed a one of the maps someone had printed out and helped.

Everyone I've talked to said that the turn out at their caucus was amazing too. Even the one person I know who went to the Republican caucus said that they had twice as many people as they had been expecting. An interesting night to say the least. Back to the regular schedule tomorrow.

05 February 2008

Forget Mardi Gras, It's Super Tuesday!

Today is Super Tuesday. Here in Minnesota, we democrats are part of the DFL, the Democratic Farmer Labor party. (I've been told that in alley cat races it stands for dead fucking last, but I assure you, the DFL here is not dfl.) And the DFL has a caucus system that has been explained to me a number of times and that I've been part of only once before. I'm pretty excited about the whole thing and I figured nows as good a time as any to editorialize a little more directly.

I'm caucusing for Hillary. Come November I'll vote for the Democrat. I'm caucusing for Hillary not because I don't like Obama, or because I like the way she dresses. In reality, both candidates are equally far from my actual position. I'm much further left than most of the elected Democrats. So on the issues, each candidates strengths and weaknesses pretty much even out. And choosing between potentially the first woman president or the first black president seems to me like trying to choose between cake or ice cream, homemade pancakes or homemade French toast, a nice long soak in a tub or a full massage. You get the point.

So then why Hillary, and not Obama who appeals to a more hopeful view? My peers seem to like him, at least according to Facebook. But my more conservative peers on Facebook seem to think Ron Paul is a great guy.

So I'm taking that with a grain or two of salt.

I'm caucusing for Hillary because I want to see a woman in the White House really running things. This country needs to get back on track, and all the great talk about where were going means shit if the train is still off the rails. I've been talking this over with my mother and with a close friend. My friend and I came to the conclusion that we like how Hillary handled all the Monica shit. She decided to stay, and we think its because she saw more in the relationship than just a promise of monogamy. We think that that shows an ability to see the complexity and depth of a relationship.

Plus Hillary has come out in support of reinstating the Office of Technology Assessment, which is like turning to all the scientists out there and giving them a big thumbs up.

04 February 2008

WaPo picks up PIN

Inhaling Pig Brains May Be Cause of New Illness

Fittingly, the first person to detect a faint signal in all the noise was the interpreter.

The 33-year-old woman who worked for eight years working with Spanish-speaking patients at a medical clinic in southern Minnesota noticed something familiar as she translated the story of a young meatpacker last September.

Earlier last summer, she had heard a version of it from two other workers at the same slaughterhouse, and had told it to their doctors, who were different from her current patient's. When the consultation was over, she pointed this out.

Nothing new in this Washington Post write up on PIN, but its nice to see a bigger paper pick this story up.

02 February 2008

Pig Brain Mist and PIN

There are two write ups on this one; the secondary source is "Austin pork plant investigation zeroes in on pig brains" and the primary source is "Investigation of Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy Among Swine Slaughterhouse Workers".

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control have given an update on the disease down in Austin, Minnesota. The Star Tribune nails down the idea that has been floating in my head since I first heard about this.

Pigs and humans are such biologically similar mammals that researchers are trying to find ways to use pig organs to replace diseased human organs. So it's not surprising that if the immune system creates cells to attack proteins from pig neural tissue, those immune cells might also attack human neural tissue as well, experts said.

If the body is attacking an influx of nervous tissue from pig brains, it isn't much of a leap for that same attack to be wrongly redirected to the body's own nervous tissue. Our bodies are very good at attacking invading infections, but unfortunately when that system turns back on the body things go badly. See lupus, MS and Chrohn's.

I don't think that we evolved to be able to deal with liquefied and aerosolized brains. Touch them, eat them yes; inhale them, no. So it doesn't surprise me that things might go wrong. I wonder who came up with the idea of using air to remove the brain anyhow? Bet they feel pretty bad right now.

The experts have decided upon a name for the cluster of symptoms, progressive inflammatory neuropathy or PIN for short. They looked at other large slaughter plants in the US and found two more that were using pressurized air to blow the brains out.

To date, no cases of PIN have been identified in association with workers at the Nebraska plant. However, several workers at the Indiana plant have been preliminarily identified with neurologic illnesses and similar histories of exposure to head-processing activities at that slaughterhouse. Further assessments of these patients, and additional measures to identify other workers with illness, are being conducted in Indiana. As a result of this investigation, all three plants have stopped using compressed air to extract brain material.

The health officials are also looking to talk to anyone who has worked at the Austin plant since the air pressure system was installed a decade ago. The problem is that the job has a high turn over rate, with many of the workers being immigrants. In December of 2006 a different meat packing plant in another small Minnesota town was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and took away hundreds of workers. So finding everyone that worked at the Austin plant over the past decade is impossible from the start. Which means there is a chance that there is someone out there who might never figure out why their limbs stop working and go weak.

Revere over at Effect Measure has a post about this too. Revere is a public health scientist and credits the medical specialist who was seeing several of the patients. A very good post from a blogger I really like.