Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Buy a stack of postcards, put postage on them and address them to a member of the military serving overseas. Take the stack and several pens out somewhere, get people to write supportive messages on the postcards and drop them in the mail.

I did this a couple weeks ago for a friend in Iraq, and he just received the postcards. It works especially well if you hand them out in a bar -- the messages will be much more varied and entertaining. It only costs a couple dollars, it was fun to do and it will be meaningful for anyone serving away from home.

Now go and do your good deed.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

My senior seminar (the last class I have to take to graduate with my political science degree) is on food and government food policy. We're reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan now, which is an interesting and often alarming description of the foods we eat, why we eat them, and how they're made.

Pollan has an article in the NYT today:

"...if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat." (NYT)

The article is really long, but that's the main idea. Eat fruit and vegetables, some meat, and stay away from processed "foods." If you look carefully, a lot of things in the supermarket are even labeled like they're non-food products. What we commonly call "American cheese" is labeled "cheese food" or "cheese product." I'd rather not eat "product."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"I judge you when you use poor grammar:" almost 110,000 strong.

This is incredible. I created this group on a whim, and it caught on quickly. I'm working on designing some t-shirts for the group, so keep checking back for updates. I'll link to the shirts when they're ready.
Keep fighting the good fight!
(Explanation for those of you not on Facebook: Facebook is a social networking site, similar to MySpace, except that Facebook was originally just for college students. I created a group a few months ago titled "I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar," and the membership has been increasing wildly ever since. We're now on the verge of 110,000 members.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kerry's out.

No, really?

It would have been fun to have him in the race, just for kicks. Oh well.

"We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach..."

Microsoft tried to hire a blogger to change Wikipedia entries so they'd be more flattering to them. Is it an ethical issue?

Wikipedia is known as an online encyclopedia that almost anyone can edit, although some parties (PR firms, campaigns) are barred from changing entries. By hiring a blogger to change the entries, Microsoft was working around the Wikipedia restrictions.

But the real question is: why would they risk a scandal just to change a Wikipedia entry, which doesn't even get that much exposure? Those entries are only seen by people who purposely set out to find them, which wouldn't be their target audience anyway.

Monday, January 22, 2007

About all those single American women:

Remember that statistic that came out a few days ago, about women and marriage? A study by the NY Times said that 51% of American adult women were living without a spouse, and "family advocacy" groups told us that was a lamentable statistic. As I wrote about here, I didn't see anything negative in that conclusion, and now some analysis is coming out to support my stance:

Statistics show that college educated women are more likely to marry than non college educated women — although they marry, on average, two years later. The popular image might have been true even 20 years ago — though generally speaking, most women probably didn’t boil the bunny rabbit the way Ms. Close’s character did in 1987. In the past, less educated women often “married up.” In “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith triumphs. Now, marriage has become more one of equals; when more highly educated men marry, it tends to be more highly educated women. Today, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver would live happily ever after.

Women with more education also are becoming less likely to divorce, or inclined to divorce, than those with less education. They are even less likely to be widowed all in all, less likely to end up alone.

“Educated women used to have a difficult time,” said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. “Now they’re the most desired.” In Princeton, where he lives, men used to marry “way down the line,” Mr. Popenoe said. No more. (NYT)

The article closes with another positive finding:

All this leads to a happiness gap, too. According to the Marriage Project, the percentage of spouses who rate their marriage as “very happy” has dropped among those without a college education, while it has risen or held steady among those better educated.

Body parts everywhere.

I woke up to CNN saying that today is supposed to be the worst day of the year: Blue Monday. The weather is bad (63* and rain all day here in Charleston), leftover Christmas credit card bills are piling up, and most people have broken their New Year's resolutions.

Then I looked online, and the biggest headline on my home page was: "Body Parts Everywhere."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Bill, I'm whoever you want me to be."

-- Stephen Colbert on The O'Reilly Factor the other night. The two men were guests on each other's shows on the same night. Some other memorable quotes:

Colbert: "You know what I hate about people who criticize you?"
O'Reilly: "What?"
Colbert: "They...they criticize what you say, but they never give you credit for how loud you say it."
O'Reilly: "That's true. There are not many people as loud as me."
Colbert: "Or how long you say it."

Here's O'Reilly on Colbert's show, and here's Colbert on O'Reilly's.

John Edwards is a college basketball fan!

I'm watching the UNC/GA Tech game, and the camera keeps zooming in on John Edwards in the stands. Is it bad that my opinion of him has gone up since seeing him at the game?

"She's growing up. Get used to it." (NYT)

And what better way to demonstrate your maturity than playing a rape victim in a movie?

Twelve-year old Dakota Fanning plays a young rape victim in the independent film "Hounddog," which premieres at Sundance Film Festival this week. The problem is that the film most likely violates child pornography laws. Even though Fanning herself has been publicly justifying her (her agent's? her parents'?) decision to film the rape scene, the controversy is unending. The movie was filmed near Wilmington, NC, and there's a petition asking the district attorney to prosecute the people involved for participating in producing child pornography.

The NY Times article is quite kind towards the filmmakers, and I was almost convinced by the time I finished reading. However, laws protecting minors don't take effect only when the minor invokes them. The laws exist to protect minors, who are assumed to not be mature enough to give consent (for example, to sleep with an adult or to film a rape scene in a movie). The law makes those activities illegal regardless of the minor's consent.

This could be a precedent for a lot of other films and art, and I hope the issue is given proper consideration.

'I'm in to win."

Hillary Clinton throws her hat in the ring.

Friday, January 19, 2007

When camera phones attack.

Michael Agger at Slate vilifies the camera phone, citing the recording of Saddam Hussein's execution as the peak in recent shameful uses for the phones:

In glorious retrospect, it seems like a terrifically bad idea to give the world a spy camera that looks and functions like a cell phone. Peeping Toms quickly realized the potential for upskirt pics and shower-room souvenirs. Chicago tried to block cell phones from gyms, and a California legislator has proposed a law requiring the cell phone to make a shutter snapping sound or flash a light when a picture is taken. We have trained ourselves to be wary when a cell phone is pointed at us, but the device's relative inconspicuousness still creates problems. In Saudi Arabia, women have been taking pictures of other women unveiled at weddings and e-mailing them to matchmakers, a practice that has caused uproar in a culture in which any sort of image can be cause for loss of honor.

Technology can't be blamed for the bad uses that people dream up for it. Camera phones, like any other technology, are ethically neutral. People decide what to use it for, and people should be blamed when bad decisions are made. Although Agger does describe some positive outcomes involving camera phones, he sticks to his argument that we'd be better off without them.

He gets this part right:

One consequence of this is an altered perception of the gravity of our day-to-day routines. We are now more aware of ourselves as observers of "history." When a van catches fire in front of our house, we and our neighbors are now out on the lawn recording. We e-mail this to our friends, who testify to the enormity of the event, and then we all await the next sensation. This impulse can be positive, but it also fuels the increasingly destructive American habit of oversharing. The snapshot speaks with a small voice: I'm alive and I saw this. The cell phone camera picture or video is a shout from the rooftop: Check out this crazy thing that happened to me.

Technology does seem to bring out the narcissist in people.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sojourner Truth:

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him."

-- From a speech at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio (1851).

The page-view problem.

David Carr:

Here at The Times, the Most E-Mailed list on our Web site has gone from being an in-house curiosity to a measure of salience, as much as getting an article on the front page. The list can be wonderfully idiosyncratic — last Friday, a six-month-old goof on using animal training on husbands (“What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage”) reappeared alongside Thomas Friedman’s meditation on the president’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

But at some point, ratings (which print journalists, unlike their television counterparts, have never had to contend with) will start to impinge on news judgment. “You can bemoan the crass decision-making driving by ratings, but you can’t really avoid the fact that page views are increasingly the coin of the realm,” said Jim Warren, co-managing editor of The Chicago Tribune. (NYT)

Print journalists have had to deal with their own "ratings" system in the past: distribution. The more newspapers or magazines sold, the better. However, online newspapers allow editors to keep statistics on which articles get the most views, instead of an issue (of a magazine, or printing of a newspaper) as a whole. It takes pandering to a whole new level, and just might lower the quality of writing at newspapers.

The page-view problem might also change the kind of issues that get the spotlight. Instead of editors having total control over what makes the front page, readers will have more input. The more page views an article gets online, the more likely that it will make the front page of the print issue -- if there's a new development by the next day. People are tired of hearing about the Iraq war? Put Britney on the front page! That'll sell some newspapers.

Uh oh.

Charleston smoking ordinance.

Last Tuesday, the Charleston City Council voted in favor of the Smokefree Ordinance, which would ban smoking from all public buildings (restaurants and bars included). The vote was 9-4, however, the ordinance will be read and voted on two more times before it can become actual legislation.

At first glance, it seems invasive for the government to limit where people can smoke in public places. Personal freedom is worth defending, but when exercising a freedom hurts bystanders, it ceases to be a personal act. Smoking doesn't just harm the smoker; it harms anyone around the smoke. Obviously, the main concern is lung cancer from secondhand smoke.

Putting aside the most troublesome potential effect, there are other concerns -- such as my personal grievance, cigarette burns. I have 3 different scars from accidental cigarette burns by others, and while their sincere apologies are appreciated, they can't do anything about the scars.

The next reading of the ordinance is Tuesday, January 23, at 5:00pm at 180B Lockwood Drive (across from Riley Park). There will be a chance for people to speak, so go and let the City Council hear your argument.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

51% of American adult women are living without a spouse.

“For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage,” Dr. Frey said. “Younger women understand this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ era.” (NYT)

Women being less dependent on men and marriage shouldn't be a negative thing. Even if you believe that traditional marriages are ideal, two independent parties who decide to come together would create a stronger marriage than one party who feels dependent on the other or on the institution.

More explanation is available at the link.

Excerpts from an interview with Paula Abdul:

Interviewer: "Did you have any idea in the beginning that this was going to be this kind of hit? I mean, it was doing really well in England I guess..."

Paula: "I did. I really did. I really believed that this was going to be a huge, huge show, and it would change variety, I mean we're named into being a reality, but it's reality-variety, and it's a fantastic show."

Interviewer: "Besides the obvious, how has it changed your life?"

Paula: "Ha, you- it's a funny question, you know, you- I've always had this thing with my career, that I'm able to overcome hurdles, and, Laker Girl, you'll never be- you'll never be a choreographer, and then I win every award in choreography, and then I secretly record an album, and they say..."

Abdul actually seems more coherent when her sentences are written out, but in the video it's apparent that she's inebriated. I see rehab in her future.

Obama Barack announces formation of presidential exploratory committee.

Which is another way of saying "I'm running for president, but I'm not going to announce it yet."

Monday, January 15, 2007

When I was watching Top Chef today, the host directed the chefs to pack up "using your Gladware" and "leave the Kenmore kitchen..."

It was then that I realized product placement would take over the world. This article confirms my fears.

Competing philanthropies:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with its $30-billion-plus endowment that dwarfs all others, now dominates discussions of philanthropy, and the philanthropic experiments of young billionaires like Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll are studied and mimicked.

But the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation are fighting back, hoping to get more impact for their money, increase their influence and extend their legacies by changing the way they have operated for years. They are pushing to streamline their operations by eliminating internal fiefs and to improve their efficiency by increasing collaboration among staff members. (NYT)

It's ironic how charities are motivated by greed (for attention? prestige? the "number-one" label?) to compete with one another. Whatever the motivation, at least the outcome is good: more people being helped.

Later on, ranking the philanthropies by size of their endowments:

With roughly $12.5 billion in assets, the Ford institution is the country’s second largest foundation, but it is just one-third the size of the Gates Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation is 15th or 16th in the pecking order with roughly $3.6 billion, and the Carnegie Corporation, with $2.6 billion, is no longer among the top 20.

"During the hanging, one of the men was inadvertently decapitated..."

Two of Saddam Hussein's associates were hanged to death before dawn today after their conviction for crimes against humanity, the Iraqi government said. During the hanging, one of the men was inadvertently decapitated, which further raised tensions in the country just two weeks after the spectacle surrounding the hanging of Hussein.

Iraqi officials carried out the executions of Hussein's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and the head of the revolutionary court Awad al-Bandar, at 3:00 a.m. Monday, for their role in the killings of 148 men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail following an assassination attempt. (WaPo)

This is the last that I'll post about the death penalty for a while, lest you think I've got a strange fixation. However, I will say that this is horribly unacceptable. After the debacle that was Hussein's execution, you'd think that extra precautions would be taken to ensure that nothing outrageous happened this time. Like, say, the decapitation of a condemned man.

How long can this stay interesting?

Be thankful my interests are broader than this.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

“They’re amputating in order to save the patient,” said an executive at a competing publishing company.

The New York Times on Time, Inc.'s job cuts:

People magazine’s article this week on Britney Spears and her “new guy,” model Isaac Cohen, is five paragraphs long. It was reported and written by seven people.

Seven people to write one article? Writing with a group has always taken longer in my experience, and the end product is less cohesive. Some projects benefit from multiple sources of input, but not writing. Although People is not exactly The New Yorker (sarcasm), the quality might actually improve with fewer writers contributing to each piece. Also, seven reporters on one article is just absurd.

The end of capital punishment?

Lethal injections, once thought of as perfection revealed, are now on hold in Maryland, California, Florida, Missouri, South Dakota. Doctors say that, if improperly administered, they might cause the condemned to die in pain. Since this pain violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and since lethal injections are now the method of choice for almost all executions, opponents think they may have found the way to do away with capital punishment in America. (WaPo)

Word of the day:

Recidivism. Try to define it before clicking on the link.

Lunch with the cartoonists at The New Yorker.

How many times have you heard this: "I just read The New Yorker for the cartoons."?

My perception of The New Yorker, and the people who write/draw for it, is that they're a bunch of self-important academics who've found an outlet for their own pretentiousness. But don't take my word for it -- read the article for yourself. (NYT)

"You're freer to vote your conscience," said Rep. Jo Anne Emerson.

This paragraph struck me in the Washington Post article today about the Republican minority in Congress:

Freed from the pressures of being the majority and from the heavy hand of former leaders including retired representative Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), many back-bench Republicans are showing themselves to be more moderate than their conservative leadership and increasingly mindful of shifting voter sentiment. The closest vote last week -- Friday's push to require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare -- pulled 24 Republicans. The Democrats' homeland security bill attracted 68 Republicans, the minimum wage increase 82. (WaPo)

I've never thought about the "pressures of being the majority," but it's true. Being the minority party has freed some of them up to be more moderate, to -- presumably -- follow personal convictions. This could be a great thing for the GOP.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"There can be no justification for such a senseless act of violence," U.S. Ambassador Charles P. Ries said this morning...

A missile hit the US Embassy in Athens, Greece today. I studied in Athens last spring, and when we first arrived our program had us register with the Embassy. There's a huge iron gate in front with soldiers stationed by it, and to get inside you have to go underground, through two metal detectors in a security station, and then climb a staircase back up into the compound. It's almost comical to compare the heavily-fortified American Embassy to the humble office buildings around it that house the other embassies.

Although I became familiar with the Greek passion for strikes and protests, the violence was at a minimum during my semester there. Thankfully, no one was injured in this attack.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

David Beckham wants to make a difference.

"There are so many great sports in America," the former Manchester United star [David Beckham] said. "There are so many kids that play baseball, American football, basketball. But soccer is huge all around the world apart from America, so that's where I want to make a difference with the kids." (WaPo)

I'm betting that the $250 million that the LA Galaxy soccer team offered was a bigger factor in his decision than a desire to "make a difference." My skepticism aside, Beckham in the US just might inspire more kids to play soccer, and it certainly will create a bigger fan base for American soccer.



Top Bush administration officials, pushing the president's case for sending thousands of additional troops to Iraq, faced tough grilling on Capitol Hill today as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers demanded specific answers on how the new plan will lead to victory in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace held a morning news conference before Rice faced senators in a sometimes contentious hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gates and Pace then testified in the afternoon before the House Armed Services Committee and Rice went before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Accountability is never a negative thing. They should have to explain, in detail, why their plan will work this time. There's more at the link.

The war.

I'm having trouble writing about politics lately. All the news is centered around the war in Iraq, and I just don't feel qualified to make a judgement about it. My gut feeling is that an increase in soldiers, as President Bush announced will happen last night, might be a good thing -- in the SHORT term. It will give the troops who are already there more protection, more power, and more latitude to get done what they need to do. However, I'm not comfortable with increasing the number of troops in Iraq indefinitely.

While I don't necessarily agree with the president, last night's speech was the most honest and forthright I've ever heard him be. It's significant when a president says "Mistakes were made, and I take responsibility."


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Life at $7.25 an hour.

The Washington Post's David Finkel wrote a comprehensive piece on the complexities of raising the minimum wage in today's WaPo. I usually take the position that public policy decisions are separate from morality, but it is hard to deny that some policy choices are moral issues -- especially when evaluated at the individual level.

"The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over," [Nancy] Pelosi said.

Pelosi, D-California, announced Wednesday that effective immediately, House members would no longer be able to light up in the ornate Speaker's Lobby off the House floor where lawmakers mingle during votes.

The room is often hazy with smoke, as it was Tuesday night as the House voted on anti-terror legislation; Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, often has a cigarette in hand, for example. (AP via CNN)

I have little sympathy for smokers, and none for those who started smoking in the past few years. It's surprising that it has taken this long to ban smoking in the House.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?

Enough to break the ice. Hi, I'm Sharon.

[I dabble in Bad Jokes.]

"[T]he government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."

"...as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen."

From the Treaty of Tripoli.


I started a Facebook group a few months ago titled "I judge you when you use poor grammar." Today, it surpassed 100,000 members.

Keep up the good fight!

How unhealthy is it, really, to be model-thin?

It depends.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Alabama football.

Alabama just hired a new football coach, Nick Saban, who is reportedly being paid the highest salary of any college football coach in the nation. The eight-year deal will pay Saban $32 million PLUS other benefits. That's $4+ million a year.

Because the football program brings in so much money for the school, it makes sense for them to shell out what's needed for the best coach they can find. Right?

That's fine, until you consider that Alabama public schools rank below the national average in all of the testing areas mandated by No Child Left Behind. There's a solid argument that the money would be better used to improve the state's public schools as a whole.

ADDED: I was just told that football coach salaries are typically drawn from the revenue of boosters, alumni associations and the football team itself, but I couldn't find any information backing that up. However, even if the money is taken from the football team itself, the team is a part of the university, which is part of the state's public school system. My argument still stands.

Do you smell that?

The biggest story today seems to be the strange smell in New York City. The last 15 minutes of CNN on TV has been devoted to the situation:

Authorities were investigating widespread reports today of a strong odor that many described as similar to natural gas, permeating parts of New York City and nearby areas of New Jersey during the morning commute. In some buildings, office workers were evacuated and subway and train lines affected, but the mysterious smell did not appear to be harmful. (NYT)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Obesity "report cards."

NY Times:

The practice of reporting students’ body mass scores to parents originated a few years ago as just one tactic in a war on childhood obesity that would be fought with fresh, low-fat cafeteria offerings and expanded physical education. Now, inspired by impressive results in a few well-financed programs, states including Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee have jumped on the B.M.I. bandwagon, turning the reports — in casual parlance, obesity report cards — into a new rite of childhood.

The article gives the impression that the student's BMI is stated in a letter sent home to parents, without directly addressing the student. The phrase "rite of childhood" calls to mind public, gym-class measurements in which scores are compared and students are teased, but a letter to parents is hardly that.

Legislators in other states, including New York, have proposed them as well, while some individual school districts have adopted the practice.

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast. Some students have physical education for only half the school year, even though 34 percent of kindergartners were overweight or at risk for it, according to 2003-4 reports.

The BMI-reporting program is a good idea, but districts should prioritize cafeteria reform before they send letters to parents telling them to deal with their chubby kids.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Back in Charleston

After another long drive, I'm back in Charleston. Classes -- for my last semester in college --start Monday, so regular posting will resume then. Be happy that your break is longer than mine.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Ashley's smaller and lighter size makes it more possible to include her in the typical family life..."

In a case fraught with ethical questions, the parents of a severely mentally and physically disabled child have stunted her growth to keep their little "pillow angel" a manageable and more portable size.

The uterus and breast tissue of the bedridden 9-year-old girl were removed at a Seattle hospital, and she received large doses of hormones to halt her growth. She is now 4-foot-5; her parents say she would otherwise probably reach a normal 5-foot 6.

The case has captured attention nationwide and abroad via the Internet, with some decrying the parents' actions as perverse and akin to eugenics. Some ethicists question the parents' claim that the drastic treatment will benefit their daughter and allow them to continue caring for her at home. (AP via CNN)

As medicine and technology progress, I expect many more ethically murky situations like this --and laws attempting to address them.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's a new year, all right.

Dems take control of Congress and pledge a "new effort" at bipartisanship.

Also, here's an article on the new ethics rules that the Democrats have proposed:

Democrats, who campaigned relentlessly last year on the theme of a Republican culture of corruption, introduced the proposed ethics rules as part of a week of choreography designed to deliver the message that they did not intend to do business as usual in Washington. In some cases, like restrictions on the use of corporate jets, the rules on gifts and travel by lobbyists go further than what Democrats had pledged earlier.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Oh, well if Pat Robertson said it...

...it MUST be true. Right?

The Jungle

“I aimed at the public’s heart,” he [Upton Sinclair] famously declared, “and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

“The Jungle,” and the campaign that Sinclair waged after its publication, led directly to passage of a landmark federal food safety law, which took effect 100 years ago this week. Sinclair awakened a nation not just to the dangers in the food supply, but to the central role government has to play in keeping it safe. But as the poisonings of spinach eaters and Taco Bell customers recently made clear, the battle is far from over — and in recent years, we have been moving in the wrong direction. (NYT)

My political science capstone (the final class required for any major) this semester is about the government's involvement in the food industry. How much of a burden does the government have to regulate what we eat?

The topic is especially appropriate given the recent e. Coli outbreaks and the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the first federal food safety laws.

Excellent article title:

"The Power of Free Will: Experiments suggest that conscious choice is an illusion, but some experts choose to disagree." (NYT)