Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone, uPhone, we all scream for iPhone

Kieran has a hilarious take on the iPhone today, which nicely balances my excitement and skepticism about the new product. Although the iPhone seems very awesome and cool, I always wonder about the utility of such things. Most people don't need a phone that does all that, and Jon Stewart loves to point out that when you start combining things, you tend to not get the best of either ("what you get is a crappy phone and a crappy camera"). As someone who takes a while to get on board with trends (I just purchased my first iPod this year -- that's late, considering I'm in the "Millennial" generation), I'll wait to see if the iPhone is all it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sushi Nation

I'd never had sushi before I was in college. Now, sushi today is as ubiquitous as a good steak. But today the NYTimes reported that one of sushi's essential ingredients -- bluefin tuna -- is overfished and sushi chefs are experiencing shortages.
The problem is the growing appetite for sushi and sashimi outside Japan, not only in the United States but also in countries with new wealth, like Russia, South Korea and China. And the problem will not go away. Fishing experts say that the shortages and rising prices will only become more severe as the population of bluefin tuna — the big, slow-maturing type most favored in sushi — fails to keep up with worldwide demand.

Last year, dozens of nations responded by agreeing to reduce annual tuna catches in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans by 20 percent in an effort to stabilize populations. But the decision only seemed to crystallize growing fears in Japan about tuna shortages, helping to push up prices of the three species of bluefin — northern, Pacific and southern — that are considered the best tuna to eat raw.

Now, sushi chefs are contemplating using mammalian raw meat to meet the needs of this popular entree. Recent articles like Nick Tosches' in Vanity Fair and Sasha Issenberg's book The Sushi Economy have brought attention to the fact that when the whole world consumes vast amounts of a natural resource, there's trouble.

The thing about sushi is that it was nonexistent in America before the mid-70s. Over the years, it has become more and more popular. Now, there isn't enough natural supply to keep up with the demand. But how do you convince people to stop eating sushi? How do you convince a profitable industry to preserve the natural stock of fish? Keeping in mind that the fishing industry is extremely hard to regulate. There's just a lot of ocean, and not nearly the means to supervise it all. Any kind of regulation on the market portion would likely cause a burgeoning black market -- totally unregulated and at high risk of being unsafe for consumption. It sounds like the Times is right, and sushi chefs will have to start experimenting with other kinds of meat, and bluefin tuna will become part of a "premium" line of sushi, available at the top-of-the line sushi restaurants.

But this is the problem with globalized or nationalized culture, right? Things are no longer special or regional. You can get the same things everywhere.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

War Opposition

Brian is right that Obama's main appeal comes from the fact that he opposed the war when other candidates did not. It's the edge up he has over Edwards and especially Clinton. But the thing is, most of the contry was behind the war at the beginning of the invasion (a poll in March 2003 found that 65 percent of respondents thought the war in Iraq "helped" the war on terrorism). I was only after the bodies started piling up that people began to question the motives of the administration for going to war. In that way, Clinton and Edwards are like the rest of America. They have to come to terms with supporting the war then and now opposing it now.


I've decided to quarantine myself at home today to prevent spreading my virus/bacteria/whatever sickness has taken possession of me to everyone at Take Back America. Sadly, I'll miss out on some great speakers: Edwards, Obama, Richardson, and Gravel are all speaking today.

More on Pay Discrimination

Via Matt: Sara Mead uses Department of Education data to demonstrate that no matter the category of profession, men still out-earn women. Sure, a lot of factors can play into this: taking time off for the kids, taking lower-paying gigs that offer more flexible working hours, the tendency to be "support" staff rather than leaders, and so on. The bottom line is that as a woman, I can expect to earn less than my male counterparts.

Pay Discrimination

Today I have a piece up on TAP Online about the Ledbetter case. SCOTUSblog also revisits the case, spelling out exactly what the problem with the case is: While the court had previously noted that there were exceptions to the statute of limitations as in Bazemore v. Friday, they have now decided that there is no exception to the statute of limitations, even if an obviously discriminating pay system is in place. Ledbetter's case is parallel to the Bazemore case in a lot of ways, since she and other women at the company seemed to be on a distinctly separate pay scale, but it appears because the number of women at the tire factory was so small they didn't have leverage to prove that they were expressly experiencing pay discrimination based on sex.

Part of this is that Bazemore could point to a payscale put in place before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. But, in a post-Civil Rights Act world, we tend to think we're beyond discrimination. If a woman is experiencing pay discrimination, it's her fault that she didn't speak up sooner. Listening to Ledbetter testify, it's hard to say that because it seems clear that she put up with a lot of shit over the course of her career at Goodyear. Pay discrimination is simply the final slap in the face -- something that's screwing her over to this day, because she earns less in retirement and social security.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The 5 Natural Wonders

The UN is formulating a "Natural Wonders list. The following were nominated:

  • South China Karst: described as being unrivalled for the diversity of its karst features - a unique underground landscape formed by water eroding limestone and marble rocks
  • Rainforests of Atsinanana, Madagascar: home to a unique array of species, 80-90% of which are only found on the island nation. Deforestation has destroyed more than 90% of the original forest
  • Jeju volcanic island, Korea: includes a shield volcano that is about 1.2 million years old, and an "impressive and significant" system of lava tubes (underground tunnels formed by lava flows)
  • Primeval beech forests, eastern Europe: found in Slovakia and Ukraine, the woodlands are "an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests"
  • Teide National Park, Spain: situated on the island of Tenerife, the park was nominated for its "mature, slow-moving and geologically complex volcanic system"
  • I'll have to add this to my rather lengthy list of "Places to travel when I actually have money."

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Death in Mexico

    The BBC reported today that a politician from Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party was slain while driving. This is the latest and most high-profile of the more than 1,000 deaths that resulted from drug-related violence this year.

    Mexico is a place of unrest, and yet, reporting on the state of this violence doesn't get much press. Reporters are targeted for asking too many questions, but there seems to be little discourse about our neighbor to the south other than how to keep people from crossing the border. It seems obvious to me that what goes on in Mexico should be of great concern to us. We have abandoned the war on drugs for the war on terror -- and we're losing on both fronts.

    It's true that some of the violence can be linked to the weapons smuggled from the U.S. to Mexico. Mexico has strict bans on purchasing weapons, but the relatively lax laws here allow the drug cartels to be just as well armed as the military there. While we're so concerned with our safety when it comes to border security, we should think about what Mexico has to gain from better checks on weapons at the border as well.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Help a Coal Brother Out

    Democrats just came up with a really stupid idea. This will do nothing to solve long-term environmental problems -- and may even make global warming worse, and is essentially a subsidy for dirty energy to keep coal from going under in a world where (hopefully) innovative clean energy solutions will be valued.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Grammar Check

    Today's NYTimes quoted Bush as saying:
    “They can try to have their votes of no confidence, but it’s not going to determine — make the determination who serves in my government,” Mr. Bush said, adding, “This process has been drug out a long time, which says to me it’s political.”
    Is it even worth saying that "drug" grammatically incorrect and he should have used "dragged"? Probably not.

    Saturday, June 9, 2007

    Suicide Indians

    Wow. I know that life on Indian reservations in this country is rough. This excellent article in the NYT today talks of a suicide pandemic (three suicides and countless attempts) in South Dakota:
    Here at Rosebud, when six high school girls were approached at the Boys and Girls Club one recent afternoon for their reactions to the suicides, four said they had tried suicide. The four compared notes on their methods — two slashed their wrists, two overdosed on pills — and their motives. “There are a lot of reasons,” said Areina Young, a 16-year-old cheerleader at Todd County High who overdosed on sleeping pills and codeine in February. “We have a lot of issues.”
    It's a combination of things, for sure. It seems to me that there are few cultures valued less in this country than American Indians. Many schools in these rurual areas stuggle with students just as much or more than their inner-city counterparts. The good news is that South Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan introduced a bill to provide some funding to prevent more suicides, but the sources of the problems remain somewhat intangible.

    Dr. Death Now Free

    Jack Kevorkian is now free and says he has no regrets. "I did the right thing," BBC quoted him as saying. It's hard for me to see the opposition to assisted suicide. In many cases, we're talking about elderly individuals who are at the end of their lives anyway. They'd like to have a bit of control over their exit and once they've taken care of all the things they need to (funeral arrangements, etc.) then they have a desire to go, likely surrounded by family and friends. As someone who has been in the hospital room to watch a family member pass, I have to say: As sad as it is, there's a nice sense of finality to it. It really helps family members cope better. I think assisted suicide in such cases isjustifiable.

    Al Franken Watch

    Minnesota state Rep. Robin Brown (DFL), who represents the district that includes Al Franken's hometown of Albert Lea, MN, has endorsed Fanken's candidacy for U.S. Senate. Brown was among 19 state legislators who endorced Franken recently. Franken is positioned to win the DFL nomination, but is still polling 22 points behind Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

    Well At Least There's Albania

    Albania, it seems, welcomes the United States to the G-8 summit. This teeny country (I had to look at the map to the left of the story just to remember where it was, but to be fair, geography is not my strong suit.) is extremely grateful for the Clintons' support during the Balkans war. You have to wonder, though, if their level of unabashed support hasn't gotten a little creepy:
    Albanians’ support for the war in Iraq is nearly unanimous, and any perceived failings of American foreign policy are studiously ignored. A two-day effort to find anyone of prominence who might offer some criticism of the United States turned up just one name, and that person was out of the country.
    Nearly unanimous? Every other country thinks this war is a bad idea, including our own, according to some handy polling data. Don't these people read the headlines?

    Friday, June 8, 2007

    Bad Surgeon General

    James W. Holsinger, the current chief medical director at the VA and nominated to be the next surgeon general, is bad. He not only has some conservative and homophobic views about the world, but he also appears to be a bad doctor. It's hardly surprising that a Bush nominee is scary and inept, but when it comes to being "America's Doctor," I'd really like us to try to find someone who can make good judgments about the health of Americans. I'd hardly like to see America in the stirrups with this guy on the other side.

    So This Is the Reason

    ... my passport hasn't arrived yet. Thanks to our over-strict rules, the passport I submitted more than two months ago is nowhere near my house. It sounds like it's a good thing I didn't have any definite plans to leave the country soon.

    The Next Wolfowitz

    Brad Plumer has an excellent column in the latest issue of TNR (I hope his regularly-reported columns continue in come capacity even after he's finished as a reporter/researcher). He warns of the dangers of Bob Zoellick, who is working hard at appearing to pay attention to the leftist groups in light of the Wolfowitz disaster. It seems counterintuitive to me in some ways to look at replacing a World Bank leader so quickly. Understandably, having someone in place ready to go at the end of the month when Wolfowitz leaves is optimal, but a vetting process seems extremely important for an organization that is responsible for so much of the world's wealth.

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    Stem Cells

    Today the House overwhelmingly passed a sure-to-be-vetoed bill for federal funding of stem cells, ironically on the same day newspapers reported skin cells may now be able to serve the same function of embryonic stem cells. Even though everyone is extremely excited about this -- even saying it could "sidestep the ethical debates," I think this just goes to show that opponents of stem cell research because it could kill little babies are just wrong.

    This science shows that skin can be manipulated to do the same thing an embryo does. Just like we learned in biology, every cell contains our entire genetic makeup. The objection is that embryonic cells have the potential to create new life based on the genetic makeup of one person. I'm certain that science will begin to show all cells have the capability to create new life (anyone seen Gattaca?) and then what is and is not life becomes very blurry. I would actually argue that this weakens opposition against stem cell research because it opens the door to all kinds of renditions of human life from other cells.

    Initially, people objected to organ transplants for much of the same fear about the person's soul, as I read in Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (a book I would highly recommend). Constantly worrying about this never seems very productive to me. As someone who has seen family members suffer and die due to diseases that could have been cured through both organ transplants and possibly stem cells, I'm more open to the possibilities that science holds, as other liberals are.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    Western Franchises in Saudi Arabia

    Via Matt: Megan Stack shares her experiences in Saudi Arabia. She doesn't like the experience. There, even in places like Starbucks and McDonald's, she's treated as the other. Not only is each woman forced to wear a floor-length robe called an abaya, but they must stand in separate lines from men. Stack asks a relevant question: "If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?"

    This is the complicated relationship liberals have with Muslim countries. We want to encourage human rights and equality for women, but we don't necessarily want to enforce Western-centric views, especially with military power. Matt proposes an interesting solution: boycott U.S. franchises that enforce gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia. The problem with this is that Americans are lazy and once a boycott is proposed you get people saying something to the effect of, "Well, I feel guilty that women are experiencing discrimination, but what can I do? I just happen to like my Starbucks."

    Instead of bombing Saudi Arabia, for instance, the state department could be funding women's and human rights groups that are fighting this kind of thing. The bottom line is, there is very little the Western individual can do about how women are treated in Saudi Arabia. I agree that making one's voice known--writing letters to Starbucks, for instance--may help, but ultimately there will need to be vast social change in Saudi Arabia if we want women to experience the same freedoms there as they do here.

    On another note, this story made me grateful to be living here (woo, patriotism!) rather than in a country where I have to cover every portion of my body.

    The National Anthem Project

    I'm confused about this. Is the national anthem getting a bad rap? Other than the fact that the words are sort of complicated and the melody is near-impossible, even for professional singers, I didn't think anyone was really hating on the national anthem. And who actually celebrates Flag Day? I even get every bullshit federal holiday off and we don't take Flag Day.

    I went to look at the sponsors (Jeep, The History Channel, Girl Scouts, various military groups, and Mrs. America, among others) and realized it's just some big patriotic masturbation in the midst of an unpopular war. The event is getting chaired by First Lady Laura Bush.

    The underlying theme seems to be to give money to schools so they can teach children the words and melody of the national anthem. How about just giving money to schools so they can teach children, period? How about making sure kids can do math and read books? There are a lot of schools that are struggling just to provide enough teachers and books to the kids in the classrooms, and it's understandable that patriotic music education had to go in those circumstances. Priorities, people. Priorities.

    ... And Back

    After a slight personal hiatus, I'm back.
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