Thursday, October 26, 2006

For your consideration:

Al Gore's constant compaigning and new movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth, have helped to spread the issue of global warming to more and more people.

Recently, I received a message on my Yahoo! Fulbright forum about using his material to teach about global warming in English classes. Another person responded with the website Here's a little about Milloy, the author of that website:

"Steven J. Milloy is a columnist for Fox News and a paid advocate for Phillip Morris, ExxonMobil and other corporations. From the 1990s until the end of 2005, he was an adjunct scholar at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. Milloy runs the website, which is dedicated to debunking what he alleges to be false claims regarding global warming, DDT, environmental radicalism and scare science among other topics.[1] His other website, CSR, is focused around attacking the corporate social responsibility movement. He is also head of the Free Enterprise Action Fund, a mutual fund he runs with tobacco executive Tom Borelli, who happens to be listed as the secretary of the Advancement of Sound Science Center, an organisation Milloy operates from his home in Potomac, Maryland .

In January 2006, Paul D. Thacker reported in The New Republic that Milloy has received thousands of dollars in payments from the Phillip Morris company since the early nineties, and that NGOs controlled by Milloy have received large payments from ExxonMobil [3]. Milloy has spent much of his life as a lobbyist for major corporations and trade organisations which have poisioning or polluting problems. He originally ran NEPI (National Environmental Policy Institute) which was founded by Republican Rep Don Ritter (who tried to get tobacco industry funding) using oil and gas industry funding. NEPI was dedicated to transforming both the EPA and the FDA, and challenging the cost of Superfund toxic cleanups by these large corporations. His funders have included: 3M, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Motors, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lorillard Tobacco, Louisiana Chemical Association, National Pest Control Association, Occidental Petroleum, Philip Morris Companies, Procter & Gamble, Santa Fe Pacific Gold, and W.R. Grace, the asbestos and pesticide manufacturers."

Al Gore's work was thoughtful and well presented - it was also interesting, something I did not expect after seeing him in action in 2000. He did one thing that concerned me - he did not mention the threat of an ice age. Typically, the earth will readjust itself if it gets too warm by going into an ice age (of varying magnitudes) within a few decades. This happened around 1300AD(CE) or so, when the earth cooled very quickly after four centuries of warm weather. Weather patterns derived from ice cores showing geological history for thousands of years show this cycle. An ice age could be just as threatening to the world population as the out of control temperatures Gore is predicting. As of right now, the earth has not been as warm as it is now since the Romans controlled the Mediterranean.

You know it's warm when grapes and olives grow well in West Midlands, England.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Louis L'Amour is the AWESOMEST

Quotes from a pretty awesome pulp Western-

Haney shrugged. "That's your funeral. From all I hear you have enemies enough without choosing any more. Also, from all I hear, you deserve them."
"What?" Reynolds eyes blazed. "Don't sass me, stranger!"

"Sure!" Ross smiled. "Box N men can die as well as any others. It was a fair shake from all I hear. All three had guns, all three did some shootin'. I haven't heard any Renolds men kickin' because it was two against one. Kind of curious, that. I'm wonderin' why all the RR men are suddenly out of town?"
"You wonder too much!" It was the man from the springs. "This is none of your deal! Keep out of it!"

"Ross," Sherry said suddenly, "you've promised to take me to the crater in the lave beds. Why not today?"
He hesitated uneasily. "That place has me buffaloed!" he said after a while. "I never go into it myself without wishing I was safely out. The way those big rocks hang over the trail scares a man. If they ever fell while we were in there, we'd never get out, never in this world!"
She smiled. "At least we'd be together!"

*ahem* Now THAT'S some durn-tootin' fine writing, there.

The romance in the last quote is almost overwhelming. Almost, but not quite.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

White Lilies

This is a short story I wrote as a form of therapy after my senior year of high school when I took a creative writing class in college. Senior year was a pretty tough year for a lot of us, a couple people I knew committed suicide later. Reading it now, it's kind of funny but also reflects a certain amount of self-indulgence. I wrote it at 18, a year after graduation. Hope you like it!


My first impressions of Mrs. Weyrick are somewhat hazy, but her most remarkable feature is her hair. It is frizzy and a bleached-blond color. Her hair looks remarkably like a refugee from a bad eighties sitcom. Not only is it frizzy and bleached, but it has no body, so it sits on her head in weird angles. I am quite sure the intended effect is the “tousled” look, however, the look comes off more like “bed hair.” It is about four inches long, in tight springy curls that tend to frizz more than spring.

Her second major feature is her small, thin mouth. It isn’t particularly remarkable by itself, but she wears bright red and intense fuschia lipstick, which she is constantly chewing off. On several occasions, I have caught myself staring at her mouth, fascinated as she chews her lipstick while I’m talking. Not only is this annoying, but before she is able to reapply her lipstick, her mouth is its normal color with a brief line of vivid color in a perfect oval outlining her lips.

Mrs. Weyrick’s voice is the stuff of dreams—for a phone sex operator. Her voice is medium-low pitched, and often catches in the back of her throat, like a singer with a head cold. She speaks with a soft, gentle inflection, probably from her years as a juvenile delinquent counselor. I often marvel at how a woman with such a beautiful voice and such a wealth of experience could make so many students so upset with only a few words dropping from those thin, lipstick-edged lips.

We are playing a piece by Jan van der Roost. It reminds Mrs. Weyrick of her days belly-dancing, and she proceeds to regale us with tales of her days with tiny cymbals in each hand, and rattles at her waist and ankles. She does a tiny dance and shakes her hips to show us how to belly-dance, and I can barely keep my breakfast from making an appearance in the middle of class. I am certain her second husband, Dave, appreciates this experience. Her students, myself included, do not. However fascinating belly dancing may be in an abstract sense, it is far from fascinating, and bordering on repugnant, when it is your six foot tall, two hundred pound, middle-aged band director.

By this time, Mrs. Weyrick has retired the bleach blond hair, and now has a truly resplendent auburn color going. I could be nice and say that it looked pretty, but I would be lying. It is just a difficult to look at her new hair without strong attempts to swallow laughter, but at least her hair is longer, and less frizzy now.

She tells us a story of when she went to a horn convention as a performer in Washington D.C. Apparently, an inebriated conductor asked her to sit in his lap, an event which Mrs. Weyrick tells in its full glory and hideousness. Adam, the tuba player, turns to me, and says, “He must have been very drunk!” Although I am sure Mrs. Weyrick heard the comment because I saw her purse her lips, she displayed no other outward signs of annoyance or displeasure.

Partly because of community college and my job, and partly because of personal issues, I begin cutting classes at the high school (I only take band at high school). The only reason I stay in band is because nothing in the world means more to me as a high school senior band member than going to All-State. I see it as the pinnacle of my musical success in high school.

I finally quit band right before an important contest at Columbia Basin Community College. I remember my friend Melissa’s words when she saw me a few days later. “Why didn’t you tell us? How could you do this to us?” I broke from my friends, from the close-knit community of people for whom I cared because of my resentment towards a woman. A woman who didn’t care about me one way or the other.

I attended the awards banquet for the third year in a row. Both of the previous two years, I received “Most Valuable Player” awards. I know that I will not receive one this year, and many people will not want to see me here at all. My closest friends welcomed me, and it was their friendship and support that gave me the courage to attend the banquet and even have the audacity say hello and wave to Mrs. Weyrick. I received no awards that year, no surprise to me.

When I returned from a family vacation at the end of the summer after graduation, my friend Michelle tells me that Mrs. Weyrick has breast cancer. This woman that I had resented and nearly hated now had breast cancer, and there was a possibility that she could die. I could be glib and say that I had an epiphany, and I realized what a selfish little teenager I truly am. I could say that I realize that teachers are the worst people to hate because they have the most difficult jobs. I could say all that and more, but the only true thing to say is that the news barely affected me, and I cared far more about my co-worker Dave and his condition than I could possibly ever care about his wife.

When I came to visit before I leave for Central, I brought some white lilies with me. I presented them to her with a card in which I wrote, “I’m sorry for everything I did to you last year. Get well soon. Rachel.” She acknowledged my gift and said, “You were young, it doesn’t matter.” Although I felt obligated to offer my apologies and regrets for my past behavior, she still managed to irk me with her comments. “Young, doesn’t matter…young and stupid,” I muttered to myself leaving her office.

The last time I went home, I went to visit the band at a basketball game. Mrs. Weyrick was sporting a stylish wig due to the loss of her own hair because of chemotherapy treatments. The wig was a dark reddish-brown that looked like it came from a fashion plate made in the ‘60’s. It was short, with long, tapered sideburns. I find it ironic that the only time she is capable of having a good hair day is when her own hair is gone. I waved hello to her, and she waved back. I went to sit by my friends.

I haven’t seen her in a while, and I can’t truthfully say that I miss her.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Myspace *CHOKE* madness

I recently wrote a post in which I lamented the loss of old friends from high school, particularly my very cool - heh, cool - band friends. We were not what I would call cool in high school, but I thought they were pretty awesome, and it was nice being part of a group for a change. So, I was in the doldrums about all that, and being away from my hometown, where I run into someone I know every time I go to the store (7000 people, one store that sells good food. Central Market ROCKS!!!).

Turns out, they're all on myspace. At least, a couple dozen are anyway. I signed up so I could make comments on my cousin's page - her kids are adorable! - then I kind of got carried away 'cause I was bored and set up this whole page thing with a picture of Stephansdom in the background and everything.

So, I've been co-opted. It's sad - I refuse to actually blog on myspace though, I'm going to keep the ones I have. Too much effort to switch again for one thing, and also, people on myspace can be really intrusive. There are lots of weirdos who say they want to be your "friend" and I haven't figured out how to screen the real people from the people with no lives who add porno sites to their "friends" lists. If you have your page set to public - which I do, there's not anything to hide, I suppose - then any weirdo out there can see your page along with the old high school/hometown people you'd like to reconnect with.

On the plus side, I found some music by one of my favorite singers, Janis Ian (At Seventeen - look it up!).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Zimbabwe or Botswana - AIDS doesn't care

Zimbabwe has been receiving more and more coverage in the news as of late because of how completely out of control the situation in that country is. Since President Mugabe started seizing the private property of white landowners about five years ago, the economy has been spiralling out of control, in a similar way to Germany after WWI. Inflation is so great here that people literally have to use bricks of currency to buy basic necessities. Zimbabwe is home to some of Africa's most important species of wildlife. The Zambezi plain, for example, was the shooting location for one of the IMAX films about African wildlife that I remember watching as a kid. Corruption, crime and poverty are rampant in Zimbabwe and the government there is unable to control their own workers. Park rangers recently killed five elephants with AK-47s in an effort to find a rogue elephant, elephants the park rangers were supposed to be protecting. Tourism, a major source of income for the nation, has suffered dramatically in the past five years as Zimbabwe has been overwhelmed by poverty and violence. Even Victoria Falls seems not to be the attraction it once was and certainly ought to be.

Neighboring Zimbabwe, Botswana is the wealthiest country in Africa - which still isn't saying much - with about half of its income derived from diamond sales. Gaborone is everything Harare is not: there are high rise buildings, a diversified economy, and all the hallmarks of a stable, modern society. Botswana has a zero tolerance policy for corruption, and is the least corrupt country in Africa according to a Berlin based research group (Nigeria is typically among the most corrupt, for example). The country's non-diamond mining sectors are growing at a rate greater than 5% per year (the US economy is growing at a little over 1% per year and slowing), and the country's overal GDP is on the rise. Still, the growth isn't enough to absorb the country's growing labor markets and many people even in the capitol city of Gaborone live without access to running water.

Both countries, however, are afflicted with an AIDS/HIV crisis that shows no signs of abating. In Botswana, 1 in 3 adults are estimated to have AIDS/HIV. How can a continent of struggling nations, beset with the difficulties of narcissistic dictators, crushing debt, and undeveloped natural resources, combat the greatest epidemic - reaching pandemic proportions in Africa - seen in modern history? You can't build a country from orphaned children and sick adults. Unfortunately, the problem doesn't seem to be getting any better, even with the best efforts of many international aid organizations attempting to provide quality health care for affected people. Somewhat well-off or just dirt poor - African nations are fighting the same battle against a disease that is completely misunderstood by most Africans.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What is beauty?

This Friday, I'm leading a discussion in one of my English classes on the topic of beauty. The questions are basically ones about who decides what is beautiful, what makes us feel beautiful, and is an obsession with beauty something that only women must deal with.

Some random observations regarding the definition of beauty:
  • painted toenails are beautiful?
  • Cleopatra's nose - if that was at one time beautiful, I want to go back to Antiquity in a time machine where my nose can be appreciated for the thing of beauty that it most certainly is. heh. heh.
  • Rubens' paintings of women v. pictures of a Milan catwalk
  • When did the mother goddess look go out of style? And why??
  • Audrey Hepburn is clearly a beautiful woman. But I must say I prefer the look in this Renoir - no gaunt cheeks or hollow clavicles here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Men are from Mars, Women ... yada yada yada

I have almost given up on my cute new black boots. They hurt. A lot.

If you're in a relationship and you're having communication problems with your partner, read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This book is not perfect - in fact, it is riddled with stereotypes and sweeping statements about gender based behavior but - a lot of what he says to DO is rather helpful in everyday practice, even if the reasons he gives for why men and women are different can be difficult to swallow.

I think the most important part of his book is pointing out how completely essential it is to treat our partner with respect and love as much as humanly possible, and to respect that their point of view is not necessarily - or even very often - our own, and thus we need to do what we can to understand what they say and do from their point of view.

The funniest part of the book is when the author made a few plugs for his self-help tapes as a ways to improve relationships. No better promotion than self-promotion, right?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Food rantings

Last night I had a long dinner with Tanja. I enjoy the custom of eating food slowly while talking a lot. It fits my life preferences quite nicely.

Somehow I got onto the subject of food - note to anyone who doesn't care to listen to me ramble on about food - don't bring it up. The garbage that passes for food for the average American supermarket shopper is completely disgusting. You wouldn't feed your dog that food if you knew what you were actually eating. People try to tell me they don't have the money to buy the real meat, so they buy bologna. Yet they can still pay for cable. These same people who put supreme gasoline in their cars will also eat cheeseburgers from McDonalds.

I'm not against cheeseburgers, or fries, or pizza, or sugar - I'm against how poorly they are prepared, and how many additives and preservatives (and these are the NICE bits of garbage) that are added to the foods. Making a hamburger for yourself on your home barbecue from beef bought at your local market is a far cry from McDonald's swill. Potatoes you cut up and fry in olive oil and herbs in your own kitchen is even further than what passes for a starch at a fast food restaurant. Do those things even look like they're made from a real potato? There must be potato in there somewhere, but I certainly have a hard time finding it.

I ate a bite of a hamburger from Burger King this summer - the first fast food hamburger bite I had eaten since my second year as an undergraduate. It made me physically ill. Maybe because people don't realize how yummy a good hamburger that isn't slathered in cheap condiments and fake cheese can be? Maybe that's why they choose to spend their money in fast food restaurants. Either way, I think it's gross. I will stick to my freshly baked bread from the corner grocery, yummy locally produced goat cheese, and prosciutto from Italy. By the way, this all costs about 4euro here, as opposed to the $12 that would have cost me at home to buy decent food.

Portion control - the White Castle original hamburger to the McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (contains 62% daily value of fat, 3g of trans fat - 1/10 of an ounce of the kind of fat that doesn't leave your arteries for five years, according to the latest studies). How did this happen? Even the Big Mac is only around 45% of daily value for fat.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is this Plato's heebie-jeebies?

Sometimes, when I'm waiting for the bus, I get in these introspective fits. I call them fits because they're usually quite short then they're over and done with. These are the fits when I think of all the people I've known and been friends with during life, and how - in the short number of years I've been breathing air on this planet - I've made and lost touch with more friends than I can count. This always gets me into a bit of a funk, then I eventually cheer up when I see an example of some really spectacular crown moulding or smell a yummy breakfast pastry. Such is life... the trivial and shallow always seems to take over and crowd out the deep and intellectual unless you fight a constant battle. Then you get a headache. I haven't yet given into the urge to buy one of the pastries - I'm being disgustingly healthy. I even make myself sick.

Highlights from the lyrics of "Existential Blues"

"You ask so many questions, what answers should I choose?
Is this schizoid paranoia, or just existential blues?

I was on a quest!
To dream the impossible dream.
Walking down the road one day, doo-dah, doo-dah,
I was walking down the road,

I was looking for the truth of life,
When I came across all these little people, little people
Little people all around me.
They looked up at me and said, "Hey, mister, are you tall?"
I said, "Yes, I'm tall, but who are you weird little whiners?"
And they looked up at me with their big, red, bloodshot eyes and said:
We are the lollipop kids, the lollipop kids,
The lollipop kids.
We are the lollipop kids!
And we'd like to welcome you to Munchkinland!

I said, "Hey! Hey, weird little whiners, I am on a quest
To dream the impossible dream.
Walking down the road one day, doo-dah, doo-dah,
I said, "Hey kids, I'm looking for the truth of life.
Where do I go, who do I see?"
They said, "Slow down, mister, in order to find the truth of life,
one must see THE WIZARD!"
I said, "THE WIZARD?
Well, where does this wizard, old wise one, live?"
They said, "You see the big, green, glow-in-the-dark house up on the hill?"
I said, "Yes, I see the big, green, glow-in-the-dark house up on the hill.
There's a big, dark forest between me and the big, green,
glow-in-the-dark house up on the hill.
And a little old lady on a Hoover vacuum cleaner going
'I'll get you, my little pretty, and your little dog, Toto, too!'.
I don't even have a little dog, Toto."

Such predicaments, I must forge ahead!
To dream the impossible dream.
Walking down the road one day, doo-dah, doo-dah.
I must find the truth of life.
I said, "But you know, kids, I can handle a big, green, glow-in-the-dark house
up on the hill, I can handle a darn forest, I can handle the little old lady,
But that's a very strange road you're sending me down!
I've seen yellow stripes in the middle of a road before, but kids,
uh, never quite that wide!"All right, tighten your shorts pilgrim, and sing like da Duke.
Follow the yellow brick road (Come on)
Follow the yellow brick road (Everybody sing)
Follow, follow, follow, follow,
Follow the yellow brick road
If ever a wonderful wiz there was,
The Wizard of Oz is one because,
Because, because, because, because, because,
Because of the wonderful things he does!
La-la-la-la-la-la-la, ha-ha!
We're off to see the wizard,
The wonderful Wizard of Oz!

Some girl with psychic power, she said, "T-Bone, what's your sign?"
I blink and answer, "Neon!" I thought I'd blow her mind.
She's reading Moby Dick by some fruitcake named Herman,
She's chomping on a knockwurst, was the duchess really German?
You ask so many questions, what answers should I choose?
Is this really Butte, Montana, or just existential blues?

Really Butte, Montana?
Is this Plato's heebie-jeebies?
Is this schizoid paranoia?"
(Star Trek-like sound effects)

Goodnight, folks!