Sunday, May 31, 2009

Words fail me

Doctor Slain at Church

Tiller was shot in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church, where Sunday morning services were being held, Stolz said. The gunman then pointed a gun at two men who tried to stop him before driving away in a 1993 blue Ford Taurus, authorities said.

Brilliant at Breakfast has a good post up about the American Taliban with links to other sites.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vegetarianism is looking good

I just finished reading this interesting book. Farm Sanctuary is both a place and a movement that advocates for the humane treatment of livestock. It was founded by Gene Baur in the 1980s. Farm Sanctuary has been pushing hard against industrialized agriculture and the inevitable animal abuse it entails, and has had some successes. In California, for example, they managed to persuade the legislature to enact laws making it illegal to slaughter "downer" cattle for human consumption. Learning that in most places that a steer not being able to walk to the slaughtering chute on his own didn't prevent that sick steer from ending up as steak does make Boca Burgers suddenly look a lot more appetizing than they used to.

Theoretically, that's no longer true in this country, but it wasn't until March of this year that downer cattle were removed from the human food chain. The inability to walk is one of the symptoms of "mad cow" disease; I can't help but wonder just how many people are walking around now with BSE prions slowly wending their way into neural channels and causing dementia that's being misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's.

On one level I found myself thinking the author was more than slightly nuts for getting a little too warm and fuzzy about chickens having personalities and sheep actually being capable of thought. On another, though, the descriptions of the incredibly inhumane conditions that factory farming entails really makes a person wants to switch over to living on legumes ASAP.

The author also brought out an interesting point when it comes to livestock. All the breeds favored now for milk production, meat production, egg production, etc., have been bred to the point where they're essentially incapable of breeding naturally. I've known for a long time that the domestic turkey, for example, has been bred to the point where that humongous breast makes it impossible for the tom turkeys to get it on with the hens. Turkeys have to be artificially inseminated. That's also happening with chickens -- although in the case of chickens it isn't so much that they're physically incapable, it's more a bizarre case of the meatier the chicken the more insane the cockerels are. The mature roosters are apparently psycho, so aggressive and violent they kill the hens in the process of trying to mount them. Very, very strange.

In any case, birds have it worst when it comes to factory farming, swine are kept in appalling conditions, most dairy cattle lead wretched lives, and beef cattle have it the best. Cattle feed lots can be pretty disgusting in terms of the cattle enduring mud, dust, and crowded conditions, but they are able to move around. Of course, even if cattle feed lots are the least inhumane of the factory farming options, they're still a nightmare in public health terms because the cattle are grain-fed, which encourages E. coli, and then the e. coli gets into the watershed and ends up contaminating vegetables being grown downstream, like spinach and lettuce.

I'm enough of a carnivore that I'm probably never going to give up red meat entirely, but am thinking that it's time to explore locavore options, like tracking down some of the farms where they raise livestock on grass and sell direct to the consumer.

The sad thing with farming, of course, and the book never really gets into it, is why we wound up with these humongous industrialized operations to begin with. Some of it was economies of scale, but in other cases it was an unintended consequence of good intentions. Dairy farms, for example, became regulated to the point where a small farm could not afford the equipment needed to meet the standard for selling grade A milk for human consumption (i.e., a totally closed system that takes the milk straight from the cow to a bulk tank that's kept chilled to a certain temperature). They had to grow to stay in business. When you get beyond a certain number of cows, it's too big an operation for it to be strictly a family operation -- you need hired hands. If you have hired hands, you have to get bigger. And so it goes -- an endless growth loop with an end result of "farms" with 5000 cows. By then, of course, it's no longer a farm -- it's an industrialized factory and an environmental nightmare.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

They're probably ice skating in Hell today

I had a doctor's appointment this afternoon. Left my office at 1:30, got to the clinic at 1:37, the appointment was for 1:45 -- and at 1:45 I was actually talking with the doctor!

This may be a first.

[I've had a cough for over a month that just won't go away. I was hoping for something exotic with an unpronounceable name, but the reality appears to be a really boring minor sinus infection triggering post-nasal drip. Solution: antibiotics for a week, and if that doesn't do it then less common possibilities get checked out.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm back to work

but apparently no one else is this week. At least one of the reasons why I was discouraged from taking annual leave so I could accompany the S.O. to the tundra is now clear: my team lead wanted me here because she was planning to be gone. Ditto a whole herd of other people. I noticed the parking lot was looking pretty empty compared to a typical morning, so I guess we should all hope no killer flu hits today -- Large Nameless Agency is definitely not running at full capacity.

It was a rather quiet weekend at home. The S.O. and the dog went on their merry way, the back of the truck packed full of stuff that the S.O. thinks he's going to need while working on the retirement bunker, and I retreated to the recliner with a good book. Or two. Or three. One of the library books (Mummy Dearest) was a nice fun read in which one author (Joan Hess) paid homage to another (Elizabeth Peters). It had a lot of in-jokes that fans of the latter would find amusing, and I did. The book ends with the heroine declaring that the absolute one thing she will not do while in Egypt is to give in to the cliche of being photographed while sitting on a camel in front of a pyramid -- and then when you look at the back cover, there's the author: sitting on a camel in front of the Great Pyramid at Giza. You gotta love an author who can mock herself.

The weather was sufficiently wet and dreary that I didn't venture far from the recliner until this morning. The one bright spot was a vintage dress finally sold on Etsy, giving me hope the others will eventually move, too.

I did listen to various news shows, did the usual weekend C-SPAN immersion, but must be hitting the saturation point (again) because listening to the tinfoil hat crowd didn't trigger much of a reaction. It does floor me that there are still people out there in wackaloon land who want to keep harping about the infamous 'fake' birth certificate. Some of them are good for a laugh, e.g., the ones who only memorized half of Rush's talking points and so babble about Obama being born in Hawaii* and therefore not a citizen, but most are just pathetic.

I'd ask rhetorically just how long this whining is going to last, but I already know. The next four years for sure, and probably the next eight. The Clinton-haters didn't let up on Bill the entire time he was in office; the Obama-haters aren't going to be any different. And now. . . back to work.

*A digression: the ignorance of many Americans is never ending. I find it perfectly believable that there are a lot of wackaloons who would believe being born in Hawaii would make a person a noncitizen because I've run into many people who think Michigan's upper peninsula is part of Canada -- and just recently I heard a great story about the Atlanta Olympics. When people from Albuquerque called the agency here in Georgia that was doing advance ticket sales via phone orders they were told that the tickets could only be sent to U.S. addresses, not to foreign ones like in New Mexico. The frightening thing, of course, is those people are voters.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, important stuff on C-SPAN

They're talking about funding the National Parks. A representative from the National Parks Foundation is describing how underfunded the parks currently are, and what the benefits of the parks can be to the public beyond the obvious (i.e., hiking trails).

Naturally, the first caller was a member of the tinfoil hat crowd and treated listeners to a rambling paean to a park that is not part of the National Park system. Fortunately, that person seems to be the exception. All the calls since then have been from rational adults who love the parks and are concerned about the impacts of idiotic legislation like the recent bill allowing people to carry loaded weapons in National Parks.

Photo is from Cane River Creole NHP in Louisiana.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Pinochet treatment

I was hoping this would happen, but didn't expect it quite so soon:

Judges at Spain's National Court, acting on complaints filed by human rights groups, are pursuing 16 international investigations into suspected cases of torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, according to prosecutors. Among them are two probes of Bush administration officials for allegedly approving the use of torture on terrorism suspects, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Maybe my fantasies about seeing Darth Cheney do a perp walk will come true after all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No surprise here

From today's AJC:

Georgia drivers among nation’s worst

In fact, the only unexpected thing was reading that Georgia wasn't at the absolute bottom of the list.


Charlie and the S.O. are leaving for Michigan later this morning. They're spending the summer up on the tundra; I'll be stuck here in Atlanta sweating and cursing the smog. Thanks to accepting the 90-day detail with the journal, I can't take annual leave until July.

I'm not sure which of them I'm going to miss more. Granted, Charlie is Tammi's dog so he's usually not here, but I have been enjoying the early morning walks with him.

The S.O., on the other hand, cooks.

Never eating sushi again, redux

The June issue of the journal is out. Once again readers can learn stuff that I'm reasonably sure some of us would be happier not knowing. You know what the worst part of the article accompanying the above illustration was? It was learning that despite having several meters of tapeworm emerge from one's butt, as well as experiencing various other symptoms of gastro-instestinal distress (e.g., the trots), sufferers generally did not lose any weight! I mean, what's the point of hosting a parasite if the not-so-wee beastie doesn't even live up to its reputation*?

[*Back before the FDA started cracking down on drug companies in the 1930s, there were a few that actually sold encapsulated tapeworm segments as a "diet" aid.]

Friday, May 22, 2009


We ran out of coffee at work today. It was hell. Our normal brew is cowboy coffee so strong it's hard to get a spoon into it; caffeine from a vending machine in the form of Coke or Dr. Pepper just doesn't make the grade.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brown v Board of Education

I can't believe I managed to forget about the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It was Sunday, May 17.

Brown v. Board NHS was established in 1992 when President George H. W. Bush signed the enabling legislation, but did not open to the public until 2004. The site interprets, for the benefit and inspiration of present and future generations, the people, places, and events that contributed to the landmark United States Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in public education. Furthermore, the site interprets the integral role of the Brown case in the Civil Rights Movement, preserves the former Monroe School and cultural landscape, and assists in the interpretation of related local, national, and international resources that further the understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Monroe School and its cultural landscape have been beautifully restored and the exhibits are first class. If you're ever in Topeka, don't miss it. Just be sure to bring lots of Kleenex -- the film "Race and the American Creed" is a heart breaker.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Still missing Omaha

It's only been two years. Maybe one of these days I'll stop missing Omaha and the Park Service.

Day at the museum

The younger daughter was in town for the weekend. The original plan had been to go up to Cartersville to Etowah Mounds State Park to gape at the mounds and gaze at the Mississippian artifacts in the park museum, but it rained. So we settled for the Fernbank Museum of Natural History here in Atlanta.
The place wasn't nearly as busy as you'd think it would be on a rainy Saturday -- it strikes me as the perfect place to bring kids, especially little boys, because they all seem to go through a Calvin-like phase where they're fascinated by T. Rex -- but maybe more families are seeing museums that charge admission as an expense they can't afford.

The museum is currently hosting a traveling exhibit, "Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries," that's quite interesting. Turns out a lot more dinosaurs apparently had feathers than was suspected a few years ago. Some of the newer finds are also really, really strange looking. The colors are all pure speculation, of course, but the tail knobs, horns in odd places, and other weirdness shown in the dioramas are based on actual fossils. All in all, an interesting afternoon.
[Persons in photo are total strangers who just happened to be standing by Giganotosaurus when the S.O. took the picture.]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lies, damned lies, and Social Security

It's kind of gotten lost in all the kerfuffle over the empty-headed Miss California and her wardrobe malfunctions, but that perpetual target of the right wing is back: Social Security. The latest set of estimates indicates the trust fund will be exhausted a couple years earlier than anticipated, so naturally the talking heads who read the news are busy trying to gin up some hysteria. All the usual bits of misinformation are being repeated ad nauseum, the primary one being that "OMG Social Security will be depleted in [insert year here]!!!"

Bizarre. They may read whatever is shoved in front of them but Wolf Blitzer et al apparently have the comprehension levels of a first-grader. Social Security will not be depleted in 2000-whenever (anywhere from 2037 to 2045, depending on the projections being used); that's the possible year the trust fund zeroes out and the system has to rely solely on contributions being made to the system by workers. And that's assuming absolutely no fixes to the existing system are made, such as removing the earnings cap on taxing wages or upping the age at which a person would qualify for full benefits -- I've never heard a suggestion about upping the age when we all can start collecting partial benefits, which is 62.

When I was listening to the news CNN had a clip of President Obama suggesting the first -- removing the earnings cap -- but of course Wolf et al totally ignored that particular sound bite and instead blathered on breathlessly about Social Security not being there 40 years from now. The man's an idiot.

Of course, having recently sat through a 2-day pre-retirement workshop during which everything a person could ever possibly want to know about Social Security, federal pensions, and private investments was laid out in excruciating detail, I know that Wolf isn't alone in being an idiot. Most Americans are clueless when it comes to Social Security. I heard some truly strange questions asked by co-workers, and if my co-workers (who I would hope are slightly better read and/or informed than the average American) are clueless, that doesn't give me much hope concerning the rest of the populace.

For a start, it's absolutely astounding how many people still labor under the mistaken belief that Social Security is an investment plan. No, no, no, people, it's old age insurance! The money we all pay into Social Security isn't an investment, like buying a bond or putting money into a 401k, it's an insurance premium to protect us from starving to death if we get too old or too crippled to work. When the system was first proposed, in fact, that's how it was described: Old Age Insurance. And just like every other insurance system, it's based in large part on the assumption that a goodly number of the people paying into the system are never going to have to collect, which is why the retirement age for full benefits is set where it is. Back in the 1930s actuaries looked at death rates and deliberately set the minimum age high enough that the number of people who actually collected would be low enough to make the system sustainable. In 1935 the life expectancy in the U.S. was 61; in 2005 it was 77. And there's the Social Security problem in a nutshell; people are living too long.

I could go on, but I need to get to work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's still May

After reading some of the strange comments I've been seeing in various places around the intertubes lately, I'm thinking more people (me included) need to remember it's still May, It's Okay Not To Blog Month. The blogosphere is not the real world. It's time to put down the Cheetos, push away from the desk, and go breathe some fresh air.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Doing our part for economic recovery

And we were actually sensible instead of going for the Nissan Xterra of my dreams.

Some people need to leave the basement more often

Saturday morning. C-SPAN. Ten minutes into "Washington Journal" and the tin foil hats come out. It's as predictable as the sun rising in the east or the air being unbreathable in Atlanta in July. (And the S.O. just pointed out that it's just as predictable that if it's the weekend I'll do a post about the tin foil hats. So I'm a creature of habit. There are worse things to blog about.) Anyway, this morning once again the reich wing wackaloons are trotting out The Birth Certificate. Or the supposed lack thereof.

I'm not sure which is more hilarious -- the notion that some radical Islamic sleeper cell cleverly arranged for Obama's birth back in the 1960s and carefully manipulated his life so he'd be in just the right place to be elected President in 2008, which is the most elaborate of the fantasies I've heard spun out in C-SPAN calls, or the simpler fantasy that at some point after Obama began his political career the original birth certificate showing a purported birth in a foreign country vanished and a forged one appeared. Which, I assume, also included going around the world finding every single micro fiche copy of the Honolulu paper from that time period and substituting doctored microfilm that included the birth announcement.

Then again, I have a hunch quite a few of the wackaloons are totally convinced Hawaii itself is a foreign country so it doesn't actually matter where Obama was born -- the key thing is they don't like him for purely visceral reasons (he's black and he's smarter than they are) so there's got to be something they can use as an excuse. I can understand the impulse. Obama's predecessor made my skin crawl. Fortunately, when it came to finding rational reasons to dislike a politician, aWol provided plenty of ammunition. No one had to go all the way back to hovering over Barbara Bush in the delivery room to come up with stuff to use for Bush-bashing; we had lovely recent material like the "My Pet Goat" video. Although, of course, it would have been so much more fun if it had involved aWol with a goat instead of just reading about one, but, despite intriguing rumors, we never got that lucky.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ego surfing

This is so cool. Our vaccination article got the lead for the May issue, and I'm not the last author listed.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's still raining

One of the first 45s* I ever bought -- and also one of the songs that tend to run through my head whenever I wake up to the sound of rainwater running off the eaves.

In retrospect, I'm not sure why I bothered to buy it when I'd been hearing it through the floor of my bedroom for months. At the time, my family was renting an apartment on the second floor of a building in Saxon, Wisconsin. Today the structure is a one-story place known as (the last time I checked) The Bear Trap, one of those typical smalltown Wisconsin taverns. Until the 1990s, though, it was two stories. It had probably begun as a hotel with a hallway running right down the middle of the building. At some point it was remodeled into apartments, 3 or 4 coldwater units that shared a bathroom, which did get hot water, thank goodness. For the approximately 5 years we lived there, most of the other apartments were unoccupied -- another thank goodness, or getting ready for school in the morning could have been a real headache.

When we moved in, I thought it was a huge improvement over the family's previous digs. We'd moved to Wisconsin in mid-winter because the Old Man had finagled a promotion to section foreman with the Chicago & Northwestern. Financially it was no doubt a big step up, but I don't recall us kids being too thrilled about it. The first place the Old Man found for us to live was in the middle of nowhere -- the former Kimball railroad depot. It was cold, it was drafty, heat was provided by a woefully inadequate oil-burning space heater, and plumbing consisted of the classic little brown shack out back. The biggest thing it had going for it, I assume, was it came furnished so my parents didn't have to worry about moving furniture back in the days before U-Haul. We had to walk up what felt like the world's longest driveway to get to the bus stop for school, and the closest neighbors all seemed to be retired farmers. Then when Spring arrived we discovered most of the local vegetation consisted of poison ivy, and the predominant fauna were woodticks. (Now that I think about it, it was like a dress rehearsal for visiting Arkansas.)

Moving into an apartment with steam heat and indoor plumbing was, of course, wonderful. And the fact there was a bar right under my bedroom with a jukebox blasting until late at night was a bonus. (Another insight: no wonder I was able to ignore my kids fighting once they got big enough to start annoying each other -- I'd already spent five years of my life tuning out much rowdier combatants.)

[*If you need to ask what a 45 is, you're too young to appreciate the Cascades.]

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tin foil hat time

Don't even have to wait for phone calls this morning on C-SPAN -- all I have to do is listen to Ed Gillespie run his mouth. You name it when it comes to the Bush legacy and Gillespie will either lie about it or put some weird spin on it. You know those domestic terrorists like Eric Rudolph and Tim McVeigh? The nutcases who bomb federal buildings and abortion clinics? Gillespie calls them people who "love life." When it comes to Ed's ability to cater to the far-reich wing wackaloons, political hack doesn't even begin to cover it.

The S.O. switched the tv to NBC because he couldn't stand to listen to Gillespie for one more second. Guess it's tin foil hat time in Georgia, too. According to the local news folks, the state's lone case of swine flu has magically vanished. The state health department has decided that even though the patient is in a hospital in LaGrange, it's not a Georgia case after all. It's Kentucky's, because that's where the woman is from.

Then again, Georgia is a state that's great at putting a happy spin on problems by wishing them away. They've reduced their poverty rate by denying (or cutting off) welfare benefits to most of the people who qualify -- if they never issue a TANF check, they can claim there's no one in the state who needs the help.

And, speaking of stupidity on a massive scale, a definite failure to communicate, the AJC has an article today about the state health department doing a fax to all the clinicians in the state asking them to report possible swine flu cases ASAP to the health department, including sending in specimens to be checked. Except they didn't bother to provide instructions on just exactly what they meant by specimens, how to take them, and where to send them. One doctor said that he did have a patient he had questions about, so he called the state health department for information. He got voice mail. He persisted, finally connected with a human who told him to "use the special packaging," which he didn't have. She said they'd send him some -- but by the time he received it, too much time would have elapsed and the sample would be useless. He had taken a throat swab, but wound up just throwing it away.

LNA may have its act together, but, if Georgia is any indication, a lot of the states don't. Once again I'm thinking we'd better hope we never do have a truly serious air-borne illness hit, because if one does, we're well and truly fucked.