Mar 30, 2007

Keeping It Positive [LINK]

I recently learned that Governor Deval Patrick, fresh from several minor public relations "mis-steps" that has distracted citizens away from his worthy agenda, has now unveiled a website that he set up with campaign funds. Already it is being criticized by cynics who say it is a sop to his netroots base. The site is designed so that it's easy for you, the citizen, to propose innovative new policy ideas, as if you're at a local Town Hall meeting. You set up a new idea and try to attract "votes." Unfortunately, since the only way to comment on these ideas is to vote in favor of them (unlike actual democracy), that has led to a lot of spurious "votes" used to heap abuse on them. And I'm ashamed to admit I found it hard to resist that temptation myself.

For example, there was one proposal to label genetically modified food, and out of sheer habit (I guess from frequenting blogs) I found myself voting for it just to have to opportunity to characterize it as "daft" and wonder whether we should label nectarines, too. Another discussion about mass transit led to ever-widening demands for rail service into Boston, including one man who lived in Barnstable on Cape Cod, a whopping 70 mile commute from Boston. Voting "for" the measure, I asked him to please have some mercy and maybe move closer to town, otherwise would he at least be willing to settle for Fung Wah? (For non-locals, Fung Wah -- literally, "great wind" -- is a discount bus line run by Chinese Americans that shuttles between New York and Boston for about $15. The bus drivers have acquired a bit of a reputation for reckless driving, and the buses themselves have been known to roll over, catch fire, and have trouble fitting through toll booths.)

After I made these comments, I felt a bit guilty. After all, this is a positive forum, and there's no need to poison the well. As for the many inappropriate postings claiming the Bush Administration demolished the World Trade Center in order to make war in the Middle East, just ignore them and don't make it worse by making it seem they earned their votes. The best approach is to create a new, positive issue, and not just complain all the time. I thought for a while, and here's my first substantial policy proposal. Please tell me what you think:

While everybody agrees that curbside recycling is a good policy, there's something else we can do to reduce our waste stream and, literally, lessen our footprint upon the earth. I would like to see more citizens of the Commonwealth separating out their compost. Doing so has dramatically reduced the amount of curbside trash I produce, has provided a generous source of gardening fertilizer, and has even led to fewer incursions into my trash can from raccoons.

By "compost," I mean any kind of plant matter: anything from the outdoor leaves and grass clippings we already collect to non-meat/non-dairy kitchen scraps, which, shamefully, many people currently send down their garbage disposals, letting it mix with raw sewage! All that is necessary is a small, airtight bucket kept in your kitchen. These could be emptied at curbside along with other recycled matter, or people can keep their own composter(s). While compost "heaps" are relatively difficult to aerate and may attract scavenging animals and other vermin, a preferable approach is to modify a capped metal barrel (55 gallon drums work well), punching a few airholes and cutting a small door for input, then mounting it on casters so that it can be turned and watered periodically. For urban dwellers, these composters could easily be kept in basements of apartment complexes and condominiums. The resulting fertilizer could be provided for free to our region's struggling family farms.

While this may seem like an audacious proposal that imposes unfamiliar burdens, note that people have already positively embraced bottle surcharges, and recycling has become very popular, especially among school-age children. Keeping meat scraps separate from fruit-, vegetable-, and nut matter is certainly no more difficult than (let's face it) looking for a little number on a piece of plastic to see if it can be recycled. There is even reason to believe the practice may lead to positive health benefits among those not already on sewer lines due to the effects of suburban sprawl. If they see their trash bills go down or don't need to travel to the dump so often, they may be encouraged to eat more vegetables, further benefitting local farmers. They may likewise be encouraged to eat more stir-frys (whose leftovers are easy to separate) and fewer casseroles that are held together with large amounts of artery-clogging cheese.

Please join me in supporting a compost-friendly Commonwealth.

P.S.: egg shells are okay.

We'll see how well that does, and if it attracts much comment perhaps I'll post another idea, originally proposed by Ernest van Der Haag as part of a debate, but which I can't help but think would work: death penalty for murders committed on even days, and life imprisonment for those committed on odd days. His idea was to quantify whether there was a deterrent effect once and for all, but I figure it would also serve as a useful compromise, considering the roughly 50/50 split for and against that controversial issue.

And I'll be sure to post my own issue demanding that genetically modified food be labeled, but only if it can be proven less safe than organic food, which of course has bugs in it.

Anyway, browsing Governor Patrick's website has given me a lot of interesting ideas, and I'm eager to share them! They're certainly no crazier than those of the 9/11 Truth crowd.

Mar 27, 2007

Save the Date! [LINK]

A proclamation approved by the affirmative vote of all nine members of the City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 5, 2007:

The Love Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization, has announced Global Love Day to facilitate in establishing Love and Peace on our Planet; and
We are One Humanity on this Planet; and
All life is interconnnected and interdependent; and
All share in the Universal bond of love; and
Love begins with acceptance and forgiveness; and
With tolerance and compassion we embrace diversity; and
Together we make a difference through love; now therefore be it
That the City Council go on record declaring May 1, 2007 as Global Love Day, a day of forgiveness and unconditional love. Global Love Day will act as a model for all of us to follow, each and everyday; and be it further
That we invite all citizens to observe this day which honors Global Love, World Peace, and Universal Joy; and be it further
That the City Clerk be and hereby is requested to forward a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to The Love Foundation, Inc. on behalf of the entire City Council.

Mar 24, 2007

Warming Event Not Snowed Out After All [LINK]

It turns out the global warming teach-in and "fair" being held at the local high school was today, not last weekend as I previously thought. I couldn't tell because for days on end the sign outside the library advertising the event was covered with a big wall of icy snow from when the plows came through, and I couldn't make out the date. While I couldn't attend, it's a good thing they held it today, because some more snow is coming in tonight, but only about four inches this time.

Of course this weather is evidence of absolutely nothing about long-term climate trends. What it does prove is that the people planning such events in New England at any point before, say, April or so might be more profitably employed fetching shopping carts from supermarket parking lots.

Mar 20, 2007

Cathy's World Is About To Get Larger [LINK]

A few days ago I sent an email to Cathy Seipp asking if she would mention my PMC ride in her blog. I didn't hear back from her, so I figured fair enough. She's been battling lung cancer herself, and I certainly understand how passing the hat for a bike-a-thon might be seen as trite or inappropriate. (Frankly, I'm not sure if Bryce was ever on board with the idea, either.)

Now I'm shocked to learn from her daughter's posting that Cathy went into intensive care with collapsed lungs, after which they learned from doctors that her end is imminent. It seems so freakish to hear that, so soon after reading her previous posting making idle fun of celebrities. Bizarre how that post's comments turned from the usual trivial nonsense we all yap about to a sorrowful vigil for a wonderful woman fighting for her last moments.

Now I'm dreading refreshing my news reader, knowing the other shoe is about to drop. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

UPDATE: Cathy died on Wednesday. She was 49. What a sad time. I was familiar with her NRO pieces, which though they often skewered some nitwit or other, always displayed a light, conversational style, as if you're chatting with her over coffee. Reading over so many tributes, I've also grown impressed with the amazing group of friends she had assembled, and it's hard not to feel like you start to know them after a while. Aside from Cathy's extraordinary writing, that will be another legacy. While so many friends relate that Cathy was the one who introduced them to everybody else, I get the sense they will continue to gather and laugh in her absence. Cathy's daughter, Maia, just recently started college. What an awful time to lose your mother, when you're just starting to feel comfortable as an adult. Still, I take solace that Maia will be able to rely on these people.

Mar 15, 2007

Pan Mass Challenge '07 [LINK]

A year and a half ago, I rode in my first Pan-Mass Challenge, a two-day bicycle ride across much of Massachusetts that benefits research at Boston's world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I originally envisioned that the ride might offer some encouragement for my brother-in-law, Bryce McHale, in the midst of his treatment for colon cancer. Instead it marked a premature memorial, since he died from surgical complications a few days shy of his 41st birthday. This year I will participate in this remarkable, inspiring event for a third time, riding a 192-mile course along with some 5,000 other bikers the first weekend of August. I ask for your help in sponsoring my ride.

The PMC is the nation's oldest fundraising bike-a-thon, and its most successful charitable athletic event. Last year it raised $26 million for Dana Farber's Jimmy Fund, with an outstanding 99 percent of all funds raised going directly to developing new treatments. For its part, Dana Farber receives near-perfect scores from the National Institutes of Health in the quality and efficiency of its research. They are at the very top of their field.

This year I'll be riding as part of the Caring for Carcinoid team. Carcinoid is a relatively rare form of cancer that, while not what killed Bryce, has features making it an interesting subject for the sort of basic genetic research applicable to all cancers.

My fundraising goal this year is $6,500. My personal goal is to get to the finish line each day well before noon, and in general to whistle past riders with far more expensive bikes. While it may seem like August is an awfully long way off, I've learned you do a lot better when you start off early and keep a steady pace.

To make a tax-deductible contribution by credit card, please follow this printer-friendly link and press the "e-Gift" button in the red sidebar:

If you prefer to contribute by check, please send me an email (the name of this blog, "at" gmail-dot-com) and I'll contact you with details.

Thank you for your consideration, and I hope you contribute whatever you can.

UPDATE 4/12: I punched the Pan Mass Challenge's entire two-day route into Google's new personalized maps. Here's the first day's ride and here's the second. The 50-mile ride I'm planning out to the starting line the day before is here. If you prefer Google Earth, you can import the corresponding KML files from here, here, and here.

Since Google's new interface lacks a map-sharing capability, I managed to port them over here to Platial, which provides a nice social tagging interface, not to mention a very helpful community-relations rep in the person of Tracy the Magnificent... uh, Amazing... uh, Astonishing... (whatever). Take a look at the map in the sidebar for an overview of the first day's ride; I recommend BIG MAP view. You can comment on any of the points in the route, add your own points, and even "steal" the map. Really, that means "share" it on other sites, since mine's not going anywhere!

Mar 14, 2007

"One of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability." [LINK]

The opening sentence from an AP dispatch:

A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite.
Yes, they froze their asses off. To stay would have meant losing fingers and toes. One hundred freaking degrees below zero. But here's the fun closing quote from Ann Atwood, one of the expedition's organizers:
Atwood said there was some irony that a trip to call attention to global warming was scuttled in part by extreme cold temperatures. "They were experiencing temperatures that weren't expected with global warming," Atwood said. "But one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability."
Actually, as exemplified by this statement, one of the things we're seeing with global warming is its unfalsifiability. Had the expedition encountered unusually warm temperatures, it surely would have served to exemplify a clear warming trend. Since they did not, global warming still serves as a handy explanation for unexpectedly frigid temperatures. I mean, really. These people didn't expect it to be outrageously cold up at the north pole, and they blame this oversight on global warming?

[Via Belmont Club]

Mar 13, 2007

Why I Fear for This World [LINK]

While filling up my gas tank this morning, I noticed a big yellow sticker on the pump listing the alcohol content for various grades. Next to that was another sticker that read: "For Automotive Fuel Use Only."

We Are the People Who Stand in Water [LINK]

The March 12 issue of Sports Illustrated features a cover story titled "Sports and Global Warming: As the Planet Changes, So Do the Games We Play. Time to Pay Attention." The cover features a retouched photograph of the Florida Marlins' Dontrelle Willis standing nonchalantly in the middle of a baseball stadium full of water that goes up past his knees.

[Via Tim Blair]

Who will pay for the girl's therapy once it is needed? [LINK]

The opening sentence of a Boston Globe story:

A Boston woman has filed a lawsuit alleging that a doctor at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts bungled her abortion in April 2004 and that she had no idea she was still pregnant until about six weeks before her daughter was born in December.
The mother wants several doctors to pay damages, including the cost of rearing the child. According to the story, neither the mother nor her two-year-old daughter suffer any physical problems.

Mar 11, 2007

Being Called a "Faggot" Is Worse Than a Death Threat [LINK]

My latest letter to the Boston Globe. Latimer's own letter was in response to a column by Jeff Jacoby.

While there was nothing at all funny about recent appalling attempts at humor by Ann Coulter and Bill Maher, at least I got a laugh out of Rich Latimer's letter defending the disproportionate attention given to Coulter's remarks. From his analysis I take it that prominent political figures are supposed to be far more alarmed at being crudely labeled as homosexual than at open talk of assassinating them, which is to be dismissed as a matter of political opinion. Thank you, Mr. Latimer, for clarifying the principled liberal response to this matter!

Mar 5, 2007

What it means to hit your head against the wall [LINK]

The Village Voice's Deborah Jowitt reminds us:

Watching William Forsythe's Three Atmospheric Studies ... situates me as close to a battlefield as I ever want to be. Except for a woman (Jone San Martin) who speaks the single sentence, "This is composition one, in which my son was arrested," the first section of this tremendously disturbing piece could depict any war anywhere....

The only sounds are of bodies thudding against the floor and the grunts and whimpers of the performers as they rush around -- entangling, grasping, falling, rising -- and their escalating breathing. At first, their stop-and-start groupings are almost sculptural, and, as if in a film being wound both forward and back, the act of pressing an enemy to the floor can also look like helping a comrade to rise. The same acts recur, gaining in speed. Many times, the man (Ander Zabala) who represents the son is pinioned between two others. Is this really an arrest or just an arrested moment?

Forsythe's company is based in both Dresden and Frankfurt. His dancers come from eight different countries. As an American working in Europe, he must experience strongly the shame that many here feel for the catastrophic war begun by the U.S. ...

Mar 3, 2007

Women and Minorities Hit Hardest [LINK]

Hard to think someone actually took the time to write this letter to the Globe:

I write to comment on proposed postal rate increases and the "forever" stamp that would remain valid regardless of the increases. Justification for the rate increases and the "forever" stamp, such as increased fuel costs, do not disguise that these changes would benefit the wealthy and businesses at the expense of average and low-income postal customers.

It seems that postal fuel cost increases are largely due to bulk mail, which weighs more and costs more to transport per unit than first-class mail. Yet it costs less to send bulk mail.

People at or below average income are far less likely to stockpile "forever" stamps than are businesses and wealthier individuals. Those least able to afford postal rate increases will then eventually subsidize the cost of honoring outstanding "forever" stamps when rates go up again....

Mar 1, 2007

Outsider Art #247 [LINK]

From Mara Altman's Village Voice profile of Mark Kirschenbaum, who produces erotic origami when not working his day job as an IT consultant:

His designs are complex: Each figure requires more than 100 steps, and each is made with only one sheet of paper. The blowjob piece, which he calls "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," is multicolored -- the lips red, the penis beige -- and is constructed using paper with a different hue on each side. The model with a couple in the 69 position, called "Each One, Eat One," is made from one large gray sheet of paper. He envisions each model for more than a month before working the design out on paper. From the design to the actual paper figurine, at least another month is necessary....

While he's had trouble getting the world to view his pornigami as serious art, commercially, Kirschenbaum has had more luck. In 2001, Playboy commissioned him to make a vagina out of a dollar bill, and just this January, Maxim commissioned copulating bunnies, each made out of a hundred-dollar bill. Like a makeup artist, he was on standby as they shot the scene. He had just a single touch-up; one of the bunny's ears had come slightly undone.