Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oink, oink, oink: Tax dollars for mule museum?

Talk about government pork:

In tiny Bishop, California, five hours north of Los Angeles, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, wants to build a museum honoring the mule.

McKeon has requested a $50,000 earmark to explore the possibility of building a museum in the town that every Memorial Day weekend holds the biggest mule celebration in the United States.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Decline of the Conservative Evangelical Movement

New York Times Magazine examines the recent political crisis of the conservative evangelical movement:

Today the movement shows signs of coming apart beneath its leaders. It is not merely that none of the 2008 Republican front-runners come close to measuring up to President Bush in the eyes of the evangelical faithful, although it would be hard to find a cast of characters more ill fit for those shoes: a lapsed-Catholic big-city mayor; a Massachusetts Mormon; a church-skipping Hollywood character actor; and a political renegade known for crossing swords with the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Nor is the problem simply that the Democratic presidential front-runners — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards — sound like a bunch of tent-revival Bible thumpers compared with the Republicans.

The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations.

One positive trend here is that the next generation of evangelical leaders are not just obsessed with gays; they're looking at the rest of the bible too:

Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The End of an Injustice

The Georgia Supreme Court has freed Genarlow Wilson, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Ethical Dilemma of Monumental Proportions

At 8 o'clock tonight, Red Sox play the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. At the same time, my fraternity is having one of its important meetings of the year. What's a loyal Red Sox fan and Phi Kappa Sigma brother to do?

UPDATE: I've arrived at a compromise: have my mom text me the score every fifteen minutes. Go Sox!

Rivers, reservoirs drying out in the American West

Water managers are scrambling for solutions as water levels drop in the arid West. The combination of cyclical drought and, probably, global warming-induced drought, are creating a dire situation:

Last May, for instance, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the United States government’s pre-eminent research facilities, remarked that diminished supplies of fresh water might prove a far more serious problem than slowly rising seas. When I met with Chu last summer in Berkeley, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which provides most of the water for Northern California, was at its lowest level in 20 years. Chu noted that even the most optimistic climate models for the second half of this century suggest that 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear. “There’s a two-thirds chance there will be a disaster,” Chu said, “and that’s in the best scenario.”

In the Southwest this past summer, the outlook was equally sobering. A catastrophic reduction in the flow of the Colorado River — which mostly consists of snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains — has always served as a kind of thought experiment for water engineers, a risk situation from the outer edge of their practical imaginations. Some 30 million people depend on that water. A greatly reduced river would wreak chaos in seven states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. An almost unfathomable legal morass might well result, with farmers suing the federal government; cities suing cities; states suing states; Indian nations suing state officials; and foreign nations (by treaty, Mexico has a small claim on the river) bringing international law to bear on the United States government. In addition, a lesser Colorado River would almost certainly lead to a considerable amount of economic havoc, as the future water supplies for the West’s industries, agriculture and growing municipalities are threatened. As one prominent Western water official described the possible future to me, if some of the Southwest’s largest reservoirs empty out, the region would experience an apocalypse, “an Armageddon.”
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Only in Japan

This can't possibly be effective, can it?

TOKYO, Oct. 19 — On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine.

The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine. Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is still in development, but she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.
Check out the slide show that accompanies the Times article. It's a classic.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Horrors of Socialized Medicine, Cont.

One of the main tenets of American political discourse is that Socialist Medicine must be avoided at all costs, lest we be subjected to Endless Waiting Times and Denial of Care by Government Bureaucrats. It would truly be a shame if we had some form of government-run health care. Take dentistry, for example. Imagine if we had a government-run dental system. It's my guess that you would see people waiting for months even for major surgery on decaying teeth, millions of Americans going without routine care, and even some children dying from a lack of treatment.

Oh, wait-- that's the system we have now:

For American dentists, times have never been better.

The same cannot be said for Americans’ teeth.

With dentists’ fees rising far faster than inflation and more than 100 million people lacking dental insurance, the percentage of Americans with untreated cavities began rising this decade, reversing a half-century trend of improvement in dental health.

Previously unreleased figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2003 and 2004, the most recent years with data available, 27 percent of children and 29 percent of adults had cavities going untreated. The level of untreated decay was the highest since the late 1980s and significantly higher than that found in a survey from 1999 to 2002.

Despite the rise in dental problems, state boards of dentists and the American Dental Association, the main lobbying group for dentists, have fought efforts to use dental hygienists and other non-dentists to provide basic care to people who do not have access to dentists.

For middle-class and wealthy Americans, straight white teeth are still a virtual birthright. And dentists say that a majority of people in this country receive high-quality care.

But many poor and lower-middle-class families do not receive adequate care, in part because most dentists want customers who can pay cash or have private insurance, and they do not accept Medicaid patients. As a result, publicly supported dental clinics have months-long waiting lists even for people who need major surgery for decayed teeth. At the pediatric clinic managed by the state-supported University of Florida dental school, for example, low-income children must wait six months for surgery.

In some cases, the results of poor dental care have been deadly. A child in Mississippi and another in Maryland died this year from infections caused by decayed teeth.

This is why it's so important for Bush to veto S-CHIP. Health insurance for children is just one step down the road to socialized medicine. The next thing you know we might have government-run dentistry. If a few children have to go without health insurance to preserve this fine dental system of ours, so be it.

Deny, Deny, Deny

Today El Presidente Bush made an extremely classy speech in front of the White House today, urging heavily against a House resolution that labels the killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as a "genocide."

Why you ask? Because God forbid we piss off Turkey, a key ally in the war on terror:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said good relations with Turkey are vital because 70 percent of the air cargo intended for and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by the U.S. forces in Iraq flies through Turkey.

So essentially, we have to be nice to Turkey to help us fight the war in Iraq and deny the senseless slaughter of Armenians so long ago. Nice, just nice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bush saves us all from the dangers of children's health insurance

Remember how Bush was courageously preparing to save us all from "socialized medicine" by vetoing an expansion of children's health insurance? Well, he just did it. What a hero.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Radiohead shocks the music industry

One of the best modern rock bands is going to sell its next album on its website. And the album is going to cost.... exactly how much you're willing to pay:

In Rainbows will be released as a digital download available only via the band's web site, Radiohead.com. There's no label or distribution partner to cut into the band's profits — but then there may not be any profits. Drop In Rainbows' 15 songs into the online checkout basket and a question mark pops up where the price would normally be. Click it, and the prompt "It's Up To You" appears. Click again and it refreshes with the words "It's Really Up To You" — and really, it is. It's the first major album whose price is determined by what individual consumers want to pay for it. And it's perfectly acceptable to pay nothing at all.

Radiohead's contract with EMI/Capitol expired after its last record, Hail to the Thief, was released in 2003; shortly before the band started writing new songs, singer Thom Yorke told TIME, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."
This very visible blow to the staggering music industry has to hurt:
While many industry observers speculated that Radiohead might go off-label for its seventh album, it was presumed the band would at least rely on Apple's iTunes or United Kingdom-based online music store 7digital for distribution. Few suspected the band members had the ambition (or the server capacity) to put an album out on their own. The final decision was apparently made just a few weeks ago, and, when informed of the news on Sunday, several record executives admitted that, despite the rumors, they were stunned. "This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."
It's worth remembering the impending doom of the record labels isn't exactly something to be sad about:
Even under the most lucrative record deals, the ones reserved for repeat, multi-platinum superstars, the artists can end up with less than 30% of overall sales revenue (which often is then split among several band members). Meanwhile, as record sales decline, the concert business is booming. In July, Prince gave away his album Planet Earth for free in the U.K. through the downmarket Mail on Sunday newspaper. At first he was ridiculed. Then he announced 21 consecutive London concert dates — and sold out every one of them.
Less money for the record labels and more money for the artists? Sign me up.

We can only hope

Will Christian conservatives back a third-party candidate if the Republican Party nominates pro-choice Rudy Giuliani? I hope so. A commentator at the New York Times says:

Let the Republicans nominate Rudy so the Evangelicals can run a 3rd party candidate. We’ll get a Clinton in the office with just a plurality of the vote. Sounds like 1992 all over again!
Yee hah!