Saturday, March 31, 2007

The three silliest things I've read lately...

A pinch of bureaucrat-ese, a smidgen of imprecise language and some garden-variety human foolishness...
  • In the 2006-2011 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Strategic Plan (pdf, page 22) I found the following institutional goal:
    "By 2165, reduce the incidence of melanoma skin cancer to 14 new skin cancer cases avoided per 100,000 people from the 1990 baseline of 13.8 cases avoided per 100,000 people."
    The report gives no context for this statement so it's hard to know exactly what they're talking about or how they plan to achieve this goal, but still... I don't know whether to be impressed that they're thinking so far ahead or depressed that they set their sights so low. I mean, what are the odds we'll still even have an EPA in 2165? Unless the EPA starts doing their job on climate change melanoma will be the least of our problems by then.
  • Then we have a vague warning from a book on household and office health hazards:
    "Other studies suggest computers might be a source of electromagnetic radiation."
    Gee, you think? Apart from the fact that the primary purpose of a computer monitor is to emit electromagnetic radiation (i.e. light), I suspect they might be missing a modifier here. It's certainly conceivable that computers might be a source of harmful high-energy electromagnetic radiation (I honestly have no idea) -- but, as written, the sentence would seem to implicate every lump of normal matter in the known universe.
  • I've blogged before about Fish & Wildlife Service political appointee Julie MacDonald who has a history of arbitrarily over-ruling (and verbally abusing) FWS scientists in order to avoid placing animals on the endangered list. This week the Inspector General's office of the Dept. of the Interior released it's report (pdf) on Ms. MacDonald's malfeasance. The report is full of damning interviews with her colleagues and evidence that she leaked sensitive documents to law firms fighting the Endangered Species Act. However, our intern Meredith found a hilarious passage buried on page 21 involving internet role-playing games. TMP Muckraker also noticed the passage and has the details. Pretty funny.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Power to the Peaceful

We saw Michael Franti & Spearhead Friday night at the 9:30 Club -- a show which was partially a benefit for Iraq Veterans Against the War.

If you're not familiar with his music, he's a great hodgepodge of reggae, funk, hip-hop, soul and rock -- and an endless fount of danceable protest songs (listen here).

Anyway, it was a great and uplifting show. Sometimes you just need to jump up and down to a blast of goofy, end-the-war, music-will-set-us-free idealism. My only complaint is that for the last 4-5 songs of the set there was a breakdown somewhere along the singer's voice to soundsystem to eardrum pathway, and some unpleasant feedbacks along the way knocked the sound mix out of wack.

Sound system problems aside, you've got to love a guy who can follow-up a Bob Marley cover with the theme from Sesame Street. Pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

winter into spring

Before I left Chicago I fell into the habit of taking a picture of the streetcorner outside our apartment each morning before I went to work. I collected 118 images from February 9 through July 4, 2006 (meaning there were 28 days that I forgot, or was out of town). Here they are wrapped into a short movie.

The pictures aren't perfectly aligned (although I might try to make panotools do the alignment someday...) but it's still kind of neat to see the slow change of the seasons and the way the light changes from day to day. Still, it seems like it needs a soundtrack somehow -- although YouTube would probably nix that eventually. George Winston seems an obvious choice, but I was also thinking Mos Def's "May-December" would work nicely. Any other thoughts?

(For the record, I got this idea from watching Paul Auster and Wayne Wang's charmingly unusual film Smoke). Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The new Bob Dylan album

Bob returns to his musical roots with a series of songs adapted from a beloved American poet: Dylan Hears A Who. In addition to being pretty durn funny, the tunes are actually surprisingly good (and very very Dylan-esque). And it all makes a twisted sort of sense if you think about.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

If I Had A Hammer...

When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

When it comes to foreign policy, George Bush only has one tool: the largest, shiniest, most expensive hammer the world has ever seen. A hammer so powerful that no nail has ever been able to withstand its force. Unfortunately, he keeps trying to use this hammer to reprogram computers -- with predictable results.

Consider: Iraq is a huge mess. Our invasion and occupation has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, touched off a civil war, destabilized the region and utterly alienated most of the world. But I have a great idea, why don't we ... keep doing the exact same thing as before but with more troops! We'll call it a surge! That should work great!

Consider: Iran is (maybe) trying to create nuclear weapons and is (maybe) supplying arms to Shia militias in Iraq. That sure sucks! (Now we don't actually have any hard evidence of this, but, hey that's never stopped us before...) I know, why don't we ... drop some bombs on them! I'm sure that won't backfire and create more hatred towards the US! What could possibly go wrong?

Sarcasm aside, military might almost never triumphs over committed popular resistance (just ask any former colonial power). Our involvement is not just self-interested and destructive, it's also making things worse with each passing day. Of course, there are some things that we Americans could do to help create a better future there -- but they're long term stuff like (1) stop buying oil, (2) push for a serious solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, (3) fund grassroots programs to improve educational and health access for women, and (4) I don't know, maybe stop supporting horrible dictators in the first place. This is the work of a generation.

In the short term: the time has come to leave. Our troops simply shouldn't be policing a civil war and it is time to bring them home. The American people support troop withdrawals -- heck even active duty soldiers are skeptical of the surge -- and the Democrats are searching for ways to make it happen. The fate of the Middle East ultimately rests in the hands of the people who live there -- they'll figure it out much faster than Bush will.

This picture is from last month's anti-war rally here in DC. The four-year anniversary of the war is coming up this month...