Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 December, 2006

"Banned" Cartoons 10: "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat"

"Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat" is a short from Universal Pictures that was released on 28 March 1941. It is also the name of a hit song from the previous year written by Don Raye. According to Wikipedia, the song is a "bawdy, jazzy tune, the song describes a laundry woman from Harlem, New York whose technique is so unusual that people come from all around just to watch her scrub". The cartoon takes this idea and transposes it onto the American South.



The racial stereotypes are evident right away from the titles with the image of the mammy. The story begins with a scrolling panorama of a Southern town on the Mississippi River. We see our washing woman and signs proclaiming it to be Lazytown.





Life is slow in Lazytown as evidenced by the caricatured residents who are either slumbering or taking their sweet time picking the cotton.



Then a riverboat docks with the captain yelling that they'll be stopping for a lunch break.



Aboard is a curvaceous, well-dressed woman.



She turns all the men's heads as she approaches the woman washing clothes and tells her, "That ain't no way to wash clothes. What you all need is rhythm." The city-slicker proceeds to show her how it's done in Harlem.





The singing and dancing at the washboard gets all of the black-faced stereotypes of Lazytown singing and dancing.











At the end, the woman boards the riverboat again and his on her way with the whole town waving her goodbye.



"Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat" is such a great song that it's hard not to tap your feet and enjoy the lively song & dance here despite the stereotypes. It is interesting to note here that the song was strictly about a woman from Harlem yet the cartoon's creators decided to shift the scene to the South. The Southern characters here are portrayed in caricatured black face while the woman from Harlem looks normal. She doesn't have big, exaggerated lips and note also that her skin is lighter than that of the Southerners; she has a nice shapely figure whereas everyone else is either bone-thin or obese. This is an example of what Wikipedia calls the "exotic sex symbol" stereotype which we saw in "Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears". And so the cartoon deals with a lot of stereotypical dichotomies: black vs. white, North vs. South, and urban vs. rural.

I cannot find anything to indicate why the makers of the short decided to shift the scene south instead of having it take place in Harlem. Did they look down upon Southerners? Or rural folk? Regarding race, Walter Lantz, who directed "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat", was quoted as saying, "The first thing that happened was the elimination of all my films that contained Negro characters; there were eight such pictures. But we never offended or degraded the colored race and they were all top musical cartoons, too." I think that these are the first words I've found by a creator of the cartoons I've looked at here that actually addresses how these people viewed their work. If we take Lantz at his word that his intentions were not meant to be hurtful, it doesn't change the fact that his portrayals of blacks fed into a miasma of harmful stereotypes. That this is so was underscored by Spike Lee in his movie Bamboozled which featured footage from "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat".

Even if Lantz was not out to offend, it is difficult to understand how someone with motives to entertain could not see that there just might be something wrong with portraying an entire town as being lazy, having huge lips, and loving watermelon. But I guess this speaks to the time. That he wasn't out to offend doesn't mean that Lantz and others at the time didn't hold essentially hurtful views. As I watch more of these cartoons with stereotypes of blacks, I wonder just how far our popular entertainment has come. Have the stereotypes here been put away only to be replaced by new ones? Hip-hop gang bangers and single mothers on welfare are pretty prevalent. In her article about the lack of recognition given to black actresses called "Invisible Women", Stephanie Zacharek makes a distinction between cultural conditioning and racism. Perhaps this is helpful when looking at these cartoons. One can surely be taught to think of blacks in stereotypical ways without actually holding any malice towards them. Presumably many, if not most, audience members in 1941 viewed "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat" as exactly what Lentz said it was – a musical – and not a comment on blacks generally. They were conditioned to ignore the harmful stereotypes. Likewise, the TV shows and films of today whose only black characters have baggy pants and large gold chains could be the product of conditioning and not racism itself, though the former surely aids the latter. Popular entertainment may have discarded the minstrel show but it retains the use of stereotypes and still has a long row to hoe when it comes to its part in "conditioning" people's notions of race.



"Herr Meets Hare"
"What's Cookin' Doc?"
"Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears"
"All This and Rabbit Stew"
"Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time"
"Uncle Tom's Bungalow"
"Frigid Hare"
"Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips"
"Africa Squeaks"
|| Palmer, 10:41 AM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

29 December, 2006

Screeds from Sam Harris

Sam Harris has a couple new articles up:

"10 myths -- and 10 truths -- about atheism"
"God’s Enemies Are More Honest Than His Friends"
|| Palmer, 5:53 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The History of Role-Playing Games

Dungeons & Dragons was created by Cheeseheads back in the 1970s and thusly were role-playing games born. You can learn all about the genesis of this obsession of dorks everywhere in March at a lecture to be held at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Role-Playing Games
Lory Aitken of Pegasus Games will discuss how the role-playing gaming genre got its start in Wisconsin in the 1970s with the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, then will lead the audience in a role-playing scenario.

Date: 3/24/2007
Event Times: 1-3:30pm


My friend Don in Chicago is threatening to come up for the event and has expressed his desire to play a half-elf. So come join us for a little history and lots of spring bock afterwards.
|| Palmer, 5:42 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Friday Skin

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26 December, 2006

R.I.P. - James Brown

James Brown has died.
|| Palmer, 9:41 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 December, 2006

Hot Toddies

I've recently started writing a couple columns up at Dane101.com: Memo From the (Other) Beer Desk and Liquor Locker Letters. Neither of the names is mine, for the record. I want to reprint my first LLL entry as it's quite appropriate for the season.

At some point this balmy weather shall turn to winter and it will actually be cold & snowy outside. It can't be long before the streets are bathed in snow. And when that happens, you will want to be prepared with a heady drink to fend off the chill. To that end, I am going to present a couple hot drinks to shelter you through this season and perhaps also make strained family gatherings a bit more palatable.

Glögg (pronounced "gloog") is mulled wine or wine heated with spices. The drink is native to Scandinavia and to their neighbors across the North Sea, the Danes, as well as to the folks a bit west across the Atlantic Ocean in Iceland. Recipes vary but here is a basic one that is leftover from my New Year's party of 2005:

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups red wine
1 3/4 cups port
1 cup sugar
Peel from 2 oranges
2 cinnamon sticks
10 cardamom pods
10 cloves
1 cup aquavit
8 tablespoons raisins
8 tablespoons chopped almonds

Warm wine and port with sugar in a pot over medium heat. Put orange peel and spices in a cheesecloth bag and tie off. Add to wine. Simmer 20 minutes. Add aquavit and simmer 5 minutes longer. Remove spices. Place 1 tablespoon each of raisins and almonds in mugs and add hot wine.

Aquavit or akavit ("water of life") is a clear distilled liquor that's flavored. In the case of the Aalborg akavit from last year's party, it was flavored with caraway, although you can also find varieties with anise, citrus, etc. Vodka is a frequent substitute and, with this being Wisconsin, brandy is also used commonly.

In Finland the drink is known as Glögi and I approached a friend of mine whose parents are from there for a Finnish take on the elixir. His father said that Finns often add juniper berries to the steeping process and I would imagine that 10-12 of them would do the trick for the above recipe. He also said that the addition of cranberries or cloudberries adds a regional touch. Methinks a trip to Douglas County (the heart of Finnish Wisconsin) is in order for further Glögi research.

Glögg or Glögi or Gløgg or however you want to spell it is a tasty way to keep warm and, with all that red wine, is surely an excellent source of flavonoids.

The next drink to aid you in keeping warm this winter comes from Hungary. Not only is the drink native to that country, but the recipe comes from another friend's cousin who lives there.

The drink is called Mézes Ágyas Pálinka which translates to "Concubine palinka with honey". Palinka is Hungarian brandy that is made from plums, apples, pears, apricots, or cherries. The recipe I was given contains a metric measurement which I've (roughly) converted as well as a couple ingredients that lack any indication of just how much to use. I've not yet made this drink so some experimentation is in order.

Ingredients:
1 liter fruit brandy (palinka)
20-30 dkg honey
dried fruit (raisin, peach, prune, etc.)
clove
cinnamon

The honey is in dekagrams above. 20-30 dkg comes out to a range of roughly 7-9 ounces. (N.B. - these are ounces of weight, not fluid ounces.)

To prepare:
Put the honey in a large bottle and then place bottle in a water-filled pot. Heat the water until it's boiling, and the honey becomes fluid. Stop heating!

Pour the palinka slowly into the bottle. Then add the dried fruit, clove, and cinnamon.

Let it grow cold, and then let it relax for 3-7 days. During this period you can shake it sometimes.

Stir well while heating and serve.

When summer comes back around, you can also drink it cold, but, I am told, not ice-cold! Shake well before serving.

In addition to keeping up with area brew news and tasting & reviewing beer, I've also got a couple other ideas in mind for articles and one involves bracket. The problem is that I can't fucking find any in this town! I went into Steve's Liquor on University yesterday after work and, after not seeing any, asked if there was some to be had. I got a blank look and was asked, "What's that?" I was hoping to find some from White Winter Winery up north but would have settled for any brand. So I was really shit out of luck. This only exacerbated the situation as I was told by the folks at Star Liquor on Willy Street that they had no plans to carry any of the brackets from the Viking Brewing Company, again up north. I've never had the Viking stuff but am keen on trying it. And White Winter's traditional oak bracket is da bomb! I really don't want to have to drive up to Iron River but needs must when the devil drives.
|| Palmer, 9:31 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Old Friends

Last Friday, I met The Dulcinea and her kids at the Barnes & Noble on the west side right after work. We needed to blow some time before heading to the cinema to see Eragon. I'd given Des, her oldest, a copy of the book for his birthday last month and promised to take him to see the film. I found it mediocre but we went for Des. He too had reservations about it and I was proud when he launched into a tirade on why the book was better. Couple this with the fact that he started playing Dungeons & Dragons this year and it is obvious that he's going to be a full-fledged nerd when he is older. While we were at the bookstore, I noticed a book - Baseball in Eau Claire. While this is in itself interesting as I lived near Eau Claire for about 3 years, what was more interesting was the author, Jason Christopherson. I went to high school with a Jason Christopherson who was really into baseball. The author blurb said he lived near Eau Claire and had a wife named Shelley. The Jason I knew had a girlfriend in high school named Shelley. It just had to be him.

The next night The Dulcinea and I had dinner with our friend Miss Pamela, her daughter Neko, hubby, and her brother Bill who recently moved here to Madison. I've known Pam and Bill since 1987 or so when we were in high school. Neko got her stylin' shoes which I bought in Chicago last month. They were so cute with these big strawberries on them. At 6 months, Neko probably couldn't give a hoot but I was proud of my baby shoes selection ability. It had been several years since I'd seen Bill and it was nice to see him again. If anyone here in town is looking for a drummer, he is looking for a gig. Our time together was brief but fun.

This small stretch of encountering high school classmates and their books was rather neat. When I got home, I found a Christmas card from yet another former classmate. Last I'd heard, he was in New Jersey but he now lives in Illinois. My friend was still married to his high school sweetheart, whom I knew, and they have 2 kids. Their son looks almost exactly like my friend. How time flies.

Sunday was Miss Regan's third birthday so I went out to lunch with her and her parents before going to see Happy Feet. It was Regan's first cinema adventure! We took the row of four seats in the middle of the theater. Regan sat down but didn't weigh enough so the seat flopped back up squishing her against the back. It was really funny. Then she began to see her grandmother everywhere. Every middle aged woman she saw prompted "Grandma Nori!" One after another. I think Regan was able to watch about 10 minutes of the film before she started to get antsy and wander around. She ended up roaming the aisle a bit before returning to sit on one of our laps. For my part, I don't know if I've ever been so cold in a theater. Mel kept her coat on while I just wrapped my arms around myself. I also don't know that I've ever seen such a blatant political message in an ostensibly children's film.

Last night I was watching some TV when a car pulled into our driveway. None of us were expecting anyone so I was surprised when Pete barreled in the door drunk. That is, I was surprised to see Pete but not that he was full of holiday cheer. It had been too long since I'd seen him and even longer since he'd passed out on the couch. Just like old times.

Tonight I'll be dining with The Dulcinea and my roomies. Sunday and Monday I'll be in Chicago with family. Upon my return, I'll have a new episode of Torchwood and the Doctor Who Christmas special for the watching. Where did 2006 go?
|| Palmer, 9:10 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

22 December, 2006

Friday Skin

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21 December, 2006

Ring Out Those Solstice Bells!

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20 December, 2006

I'm no urban planner, but...

Paul Soglin has made a post about Mayor Dave's Trolley Folly. In "Trolly(sic) Follies: Let The Voters Decide", Soglin argues that voters should get to decide as to whether the city should go forward with what would be "the largest financial commitment in the history of the city". This is a matter about which I've been arguing over at BadgerBlues.org. I'm in agreement with Soglin and my interlocutor at BadgerBlues that any money for light rail would be better directed at improving the buses in this town.

With all this talk of rail and buses, I had to wonder why Madison Metro bus service has so many problems. Granted, some people have no problems with their service but it seems that many folks do. I went up to their webpage and looked at schedules and such. Finding that taking the bus to my place of employment would increase my travel time by 150%, I left the Metro site and poked around the rest of the city's webpage. Maps. I love maps. Ask The Dulcinea – there's a cartophilia gene in my family. Looking at a Madison street map, I had to wonder if a contributing factor to poor Metro service is our streets. Look at this section of the west side:



Most of Madison west of Segoe Road is similarly laid out. Now contrast this to a section of Chicago's north side:



Who designed the streets of Madison's west side? A city planner on LSD playing with an Etch-A-Sketch? I'm glad I'm not the prefect of Madison Metro because I'd have no idea how to adequately serve areas like that either. I readily admit that I have no background in urban planning. So, does anyone reading this have any idea if such a layout hampers public transportation? How about public utilities? And why was the grid pattern abandoned?
|| Palmer, 2:46 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

18 December, 2006

"A history of Madison's trolley system"

Jay Rath has authored a nice history of trolleys in Madison.
|| Palmer, 8:07 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Do Unto Others, Ms. Ridley

The November 10-16 issue of The Madison Times featured an editorial by Joi C. Ridley which I found irksome and irritating. It was entitled "On gay marriage" and that Ms. Ridley constantly deferred to the Vatican, the Bible, and whatever group of bishops she could find should give you an indication of her purpose.

Ms. Riley's main problem is that she takes the Janus-like institution of marriage and conflates the two faces.

Many of us know homosexual couples or have homosexual friends. But this doesn't mean that the church – or the law for that matter – should redefine the most basic of human relationships because of every new situation that arises.

She then proceeds to quote the Vatican or Catholic officials ad nauseam.

I agree with Vatican (and now government) officials that warn "marriage is not just any relationship between human beings."

As stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop…

The Bible says that marriage comes from the loving hand of God, who fashioned both male and female in the divine image…

My feelings are best summarized with a statement, yet again, from the Vatican…


First of all, advocates of gay marriage, at least generally, are not out to tell the Catholic or any other church whom they can join in marriage. The fight is about what a government by, for, and of the people will or will not recognize. If homosexuals want to revolutionize whatever churches they belong to, that's between them and their church. The government and people who are not members of a particular church should stay out of it. But, Ms. Ridley, your deity and your holy book need to stay out of our government. Two people of opposite genders may have a civil marriage quite outside of any church. I attended a civil marriage several years ago and the happy couple quite purposely omitted your deity and deferred to a judge. Marriage as an institution has a life outside of religion.

Ms. Ridley proposes an analogy for us. She says that gays wanting to marry are the equivalent of a smoker wanting to light up in the home of someone who does not allow smoking inside. The analogy fails because marriage is not equivalent to someone's home. Being treated fairly and equally under the law which is common to us all is not the same as someone's private property. Even if it were, the law in this case does not say that the homeowner gets to decide whether or not the guest can smoke at all. Their ban on smoking extends as far as their property line in the analogy whereas, when it comes to gay marriage, the homeowner gets to dictate policy for everyone in the country at all times and everywhere. Although the analogy fails, it is still instructive. It tells us that Ms. Ridley views marriage as belonging to her and her ilk and is for them to define alone. Gay people cannot share in it because God gave it to them! If God fashioned male and female in the divine image, then the divine image is multi-sexual because Yahweh fashioned gay people in the divine image as well. So why not extend marriage to them? Ms. Ridley quotes the Vatican: "Marriage is a gift to be cherished and protected." How does gay marriage attack straight marriage, Ms. Ridley? What's your answer, Pope I-protect-child-molesters? What can homosexuals do to the institution of marriage that heterosexuals haven't already done?

Another thing that irritates me about Ms. Ridley is her intellectual dishonesty. She says:

I have homosexual friends, and I empathize with the immense pressure that society places on them. I am not criticizing anyone's lifestyle or decisions. However, I also understand that these same friends, while they should not be violated or harmed in any way because of their lifestyle, cannot be extended certain liberties under the covenant of "marriage."

Firstly, homosexuality is not merely a lifestyle. You were born straight and your gay friends gay in Yahweh's image all. Secondly, if you're going to use the Bible as your defense of discrimination (just like, say, slave owners in the 19th century), then be consistent about it.

Ms. Ridley writes:

As stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Marriage, as instituted by God, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in intimate community of life and love." Although gay couples may meet part of the requirements, I was under the impression that we are not allowed to pick and choose what parts of marriage we want.

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." That's what your petty, vengeful deity said. If gay couples can't pick and choose what parts of marriage they want, then you can't pick and choose what parts of the Bible you want. Stop cherry picking passages you like from the Bible and following them and at the same time ignore the ones you don't like. And stop promoting treatment of homosexuals that you wouldn't want for yourself. Didn't your deity promote a Golden Rule of some kind? Stop telling gays that they're second class citizens and undeserving of equality under the law when you wouldn't want that for yourself.

EDIT: Just after having posted this, I found a wonderful column by Leonard Pitts, Jr. called "Why defense of gays matters". He writes:

I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else's.
|| Palmer, 8:02 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

A Tale of Intestinal Fortitude at Tyranena

Last Thursday was the latest Grant's Hopluck Dinner out at the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills. This was not just any old Hopluck, however, but rather the 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off. The Dulcinea had been honing her recipe the previous few weeks for the occasion and had an exceptionally tasty chili with chocolate and the requisite beer. In this case, it was Chief Black Hawk Porter. (All dishes at the Hoplucks must have some Tyranena brew in them, you see.) We arrived around 6 and found ourselves to be chili #9. (Number 9…number 9…)





Folks were basking in the glow of the holiday lights in the tasting room readying their stomachs for the night by swilling suds. Well, most folks were. It was a family event and so there was a smattering of kids drinking Tyranena's root beer and even a couple dogs wandering the place. One of them, a little guy, was hopping around in a frenzy at the wonderful aromas emanating from the hallway where the tables filled with an ever-increasing number of chilis.





And so The Dulcinea and I bellied up to the bar. Much to our delight, they had their Spank Me Baby! Barleywine on tap. I was a little worried at first because The Dulcinea has an affinity for barleywine and a history of losing her bouts with New Glarus' Tail Wagger variety. But one pint proved enough for her and instead she concentrated on chili. I do want to say that we both found Spank Me Baby! to be tasty but that it lacked a certain fullness.

Towards 6:30 folks starting grabbing bowls and eating chili so we followed suit.



The hallway became home to many people contemplating the subtle and not-so-subtle flavors of the chilis and sniffling all the while. Brewmaster Rob Larson hustled in and out of the hallway at a frantic pace stopping occasionally to laugh at me as I stood there sweating. There was one very small crockpot that had a skull & crossbones on it that was called "Death's Revenge". I didn't see many folks go beyond lifting the lid and peeking inside. A group of boys who were around 8 or 9 displayed wisdom beyond their years and let it lie undisturbed.





I, however, was not so wise and put a few teaspoons into my bowl. As you can hopefully see from the picture above, whole peppers and chunks of peppers with seeds intact floated atop the heady stew. And there were slices of habaneras. I began by leaving the peppers alone and just sampling the broth and meat. It was, obviously, very hot, but nonetheless quite tasty. The problems really started when I began eating the peppers. I swear to you that I didn't mean to serve myself 3 strips of habaneras but I did. So I'd run to the bar and swill down some suds which cooled my mouth for about 3 seconds which was long enough to get back into the hallway and start inflicting more pain on my palate. At some point I began salivating profusely. My mouth was on fire and my body was doing everything it could to put the fire out except force itself to stop eating. (Stupid mind-body duality!) My face was flushed and I was sweating up a storm. Uff da! But it was such a good pain.





The green chili above was excellent and won the award for most unusual chili. It has Brussels sprouts in it and I believe the meat was turkey. I guess you've gotta deal with those Thanksgiving leftovers somehow.

As we waited for the winners to be announced, I sampled Tyranena's seasonal brew, Shantytown Doppelbock while The Dulcinea and I indulged in some truffles from Legacy Chocolates that were made with Tyranena beer.



The chipotle variety had some zing to 'em and were quite tasty.

Finally Stacy hopped onto the bar and announced the winners in the 3 categories. There was most unusual, which I noted above; spiciest chili that is still edible; and I think best overall was the last category. And here are the winners:



I was really buzzed by this time but wasn't sure if it was from the beer, the peppers, or the chocolate. Probably all three. It would have been nice to have had a hotel room and taken Friday off because I would have liked to have stayed and had some more beer and chili samples. But it was a great time nonetheless. There were a lot of Tyranena regulars and contestants from previous years. While I met one guy there from Madison (who was last year's champion), most folks seemed to be from the area. This was only my second time at Tyranena but the impression I got from my initial visit was reinforced: the tasting room is much more than that. It's more like a neighborhood tavern than merely a place to sample the brewery's beers.

Look for the next Hopluck dinner to happen around St. Patrick's Day with an appropriate theme.
|| Palmer, 8:44 AM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

17 December, 2006

Israeli Defense Force: D&D Players Not Fit

The Israeli Defense Forces does not have a good view of recruits who play Dungeons & Dragons.

Does the Israel Defense Forces believe incoming recruits and soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons are unfit for elite units? Ynet has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and susceptible to influence,” the army says.

Fans of the popular roleplaying game had spoken of rumors of this strange policy by the IDF, but now the army has confirmed that it has a negative image of teens who play the game and labels them as problematic in regard to their draft status.

So if you like fantasy games, go see the military psychologist.


That's it. No more US funding until they treat us gamers fairly!
|| Palmer, 9:25 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

16 December, 2006

Friday Skin (On Saturday)

|| Palmer, 11:21 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

This Is Just Creepy

A man in Canada recently received a mechanical heart. No biggie. But this model keeps blood flowing at a steady pace resulting in no pulse and no measurable blood pressure:

The new mechanical heart, which is powered by batteries located in pouches on Mr. Langevin's body, provides a continuous flow of blood so the patient has no pulse.

“Mr. Langevin happens to be the only individual currently living in Canada without a pulse and without a measurable blood pressure,” Dr. Cecere said Wednesday.
|| Palmer, 10:00 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

14 December, 2006

A C-SPAN for Science

A group of people are trying to bring a new television station to your channel line-up: The Science Network:

Imagine turning on your television—any time of day or night—and watching a heated debate about the impact of science on your life: from stem cell research and cloning to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in your food. From the biology of violence to the chemistry of addiction. From the puzzles of depression to the latest breakthroughs on aging. From the evolution of morality to the complexities of consciousness. From the exploration of space to the discovery of life beyond Earth.

Imagine eavesdropping on scientific meetings and Congressional hearings—getting the background buzz about science and its impact on social issues from education, ethics, and economics to law, psychology and religion.

Imagine a network that delivered the latest lecture by Stephen Hawking on the nature of time or by Jane Goodall on the chimpanzees of Gombe. Or archived footage of the late Richard Feynman mesmerizing an audience with his Nobel-wattage intellect and irreverent humor. Perhaps you would find yourself in the midst of a marathon reprise of landmark television series like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos or Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, rescued from retirement. Maybe a showing of Life Story, the dramatization of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double helix of DNA—or a Nova marathon. You might be taken into classrooms where America’ s star science teachers hold young minds spellbound with tales of our continuing odyssey to make sense of the natural world.

Put it all together and you have The Science Network (TSN).


Here's some of the programs you could watch should this come to fruition:

Science Week in Review
A 30-minute moderated panel modeled on Washington Week in Review (WWR) with a strong emphasis on social implications of science. WWR panelists are professional journalists, who present a “top story” and are then quizzed by their colleagues. Science Week in Review panelists would primarily be articulate working scientists (although there is clearly room in the mix for policy makers and science journalists).

Next
A 1-hour interview program (imagine a scientific “Charlie Rose”) in which a scientifically literate host explores the implications of developments in science and technology with key innovators and thinkers. Next will be wide ranging, from astronomy to zoology, and will also explore disciplines touched by new discoveries (law, aesthetics, economics, religion, ethics, consciousness, are all areas where the evidence of contemporary neuroscience, for example, challenges our everyday beliefs and intuitions).

The Podium
Keynote speakers from scientific meetings. Possibly more specialized sessions for small hours/time-shifted viewing.

Science Book TV
Modeled on C-SPAN’s Book TV, and Booknotes. In-depth interviews with authors of science and technology books; and taped-on-location Q&As with authors in bookstores.

Great Teachers
This is self-explanatory: bravura performances by teachers capable of evoking the excitement and providing the inspiration that led us to choose science as a vocation.

Science Road Show
A location program that visits places in America (and, with funding, internationally), where great science was—and is—being done, and runs a town-hall meeting on pressing scientific and technological issues.

Archive
The golden oldies of science. Reprises of retired programs that we would like to see again—like Cosmos, the Ascent of Man, Connections, episodes of Nova.

Until the network is up and running, you can watch some stuff online at the channel's Events page:

The Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's first meeting

The 2005 Skeptics Society Annual Conference: Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

The Legacy of Einstein's Science

Preparing for the Inevitable: Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases

Setm Cells: Science, Ethics, and Politics

TSN is also behind Beyond Belief 2006, a conference about reason, science, and religion. I've been watching some of this conference and it is exceptionally interesting. Sure there's a lot of rallying against the intrusions of religion and even religion itself, but there's also philosphy, neuroscience, anthropology, et al. Session 9 is fantastic as Sam Harris & Richard Dawkins defend their anti-theism, if I may use that term, against Jim Woodward & Melvin Konner. There are some great presentations/speeches followed by a very heated intra-atheism debate. I mean it was the Thrilla in La Jolla (California)! The Smackdown at the Salk (Institute)! It pitted anthropologist against biologist &; neuroscientist against neuroscientist in a no-holds-barred grudge match!





Boxing and wrestling analogies aside, it was not atheists vs. theists, it was atheist vs. atheist arguing about religion, what it does, how it works, and how it should be approached by society at-large. Fascinating, Captain.

I also highly recommend Session 7 and Mahzarin Banaji's presentation on how our preferences and biases inform social group memberships. Once you're done watching, go to the Harvard website and take some tests at Project Implicit to find out about your own preferences.
|| Palmer, 7:51 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Golden Age of Bacon

The Dallas Morning News declares that we are living in The Golden Age of Bacon.

Never have so many wondrous varieties of bacon graced our table. Applewood smoked, hickory smoked, maple smoked, corncob smoked, dry cured, salt cured, sugar cured, brown-sugar cured, honey cured, molasses cured, peppered, peamealed, cottage bacon, cinnamon bacon, bourbon-vanilla bacon, wild boar bacon, pancetta. Not to mention all the bacon wannabes made from turkey, beef, duck and the like.

Imagine awakening on a cold winter's morning to the aroma of frying bacon, sweet and smoky and salty..."Anywhere you find that smell, people are predisposed to be happy," says food writer Joanna Pruess, author of Seduced by Bacon: Recipes & Lore About America's Favorite Indulgence (Lyons Press, $24.95)


And according to Slashfood, 2006 has been The Year of Bacon.
|| Palmer, 7:40 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

13 December, 2006

Erecting a Wall of Separation Between Fat and State

Ben Brothers over at Badger Blues (I just love alliteration) has chimed in on the Great Madison Trans Fat Debate. Unfortunately his argument takes a wrong turn in the early stages. Mr. Brothers tells us:

The appropriate analogy to a trans fat ban is not a ban on Twinkies or a ban on alcohol. It’s a ban on E. coli, or shit, or mealworms…

This is an incredibly specious analogy. Trans fats are, as he points out, fats whose carbon atoms are oriented a certain way. They are not fecal matter, they are not bacteria, and they are not larvae. A more apt comparison is of trans fats to artificial coloring and preservatives. His analogy only serves to paint portraits of the Krafts and Archer Daniel Midlands of the world with horns and cloven hooves. This disingenuous semantic sleight of hand is about demonizing Brother's enemy, not describing food.

His motives are understandable given the title of his post: "Trans fats are about corporate responsibility, not personal health". But I think that even the title is a bit misleading. Readers are urged to not think of trans fats as "unhealthy ingredients", but rather as "pollutants" added to food "because it is cheaper for large industrial-scale food producers to use them instead of more natural (and edible) alternatives." He also favors "a city-wide effort to replace school lunches with locally-grown, organic foods from farmers in Dane County and Wisconsin."

Mr. Brothers is keen on a ban instituted by the state:

A Wisconsin-wide prohibition, on the other hand, would be a great idea, and could even have the added salutary effect of helping out our organic growers, family farms and local restaurants, who would be at less of a disadvantage against large conglomerates who can leverage the industrial food processes that benefit from trans fats.

Mr. Brothers has a bone to pick with agri-business and wants to co-opt our state government to exact a vendetta against it. To this I say: No, no, no – a thousand times no! How many years of legislative debate and how many bans will we have to suffer until you can drink your organic ginseng-laced herbal tea while watching as the walls of the Kraft corporate headquarters come crumbling down and the upper management of ADM commit seppuku? How about an explicit set of criteria for how far you want to go instead of "Big corporations are bad". Just as I object to Mr. Rhoads wanting to use the coercive power of government to force a lifestyle of which he personally approves onto everyone, I also object to Mr. Brothers attempting to use the coercive power of government to lash out at businesses of which he personally disapproves in an attempt to create a bucolic paradise where people drown themselves in a gluttony of locally-produced organics.

I too have a bone to pick with a certain sector of the food industry. But I will not ask Brenda Konkel, Mayor Dave, or Jimmy Doyle to pop into a telephone booth and don a cape and tights with a big "B" blazoned across the chest so they can go out using their superpowers to ban ingredients.

My suggestion that the city remove trans fats from the menus of our schools seems to be popular so I went and looked at the December Elementary School Breakfast & Lunch Menus. It looks like a ban on trans fats here would be a Pyrrhic victory, at best. This is because chicken nuggets and French fries cooked in trans fat-free oils are still shite. I'll wager that mealworms have more nutritive value than that crap. I was disappointed to see that we are feeding kids Poptarts & nachos but was absolutely appalled that we have a "Pizza Hut schedule". Henry David Thoreau would spin in his grave if he found out that the school named in his honor was feeding kids that slop.
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12 December, 2006

But Wait! There's More!

There is a trans fat free Crisco. The plot thickens...
|| Palmer, 3:27 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Gimme My Trans Fats

Since Nick Rhoads and I have been debating a ban on trans fats like New York's, I thought this was interesting. It was Crisco (w/trans fats) vs. oils sans them. Trans fats add to texture, flavor, shelf life - maybe I would shed a tear if it disappeared.

Yesterday's New York Times had an article detailing Chef Michael S. Schwartz's test of using Crisco, coconut oil, canola oil, peanut oil, butter and lard in baking and frying. The experiment took place at the Institute of Culinary Education, where Schwartz is an instructor. The dishes tested were tarte Tatin, the venerable French apple tart; French fries and fried chicken. Crisco was the only ingredient with a trans-fat content that breaks the city's new rules. Just as Chef Schwartz predicted, Crisco produced a tart with the flakiest crust. Meanwhile, the tart baked with butter had a firmer crust that was judged inferior. The tarte Tatin made with coconut oil was deemed tasty, but its crust was lumpy and crumbly.

And what of those two dishes so dear to the heart of every fried food lover you ask? French fries made with coconut oil were tasty, but limp. As for those fried in the dreaded Crisco, they were, you guessed it, crispier. As for the fried chicken, all varieties tasted great, regardless of whether they used trans-fats.
|| Palmer, 1:08 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

11 December, 2006

Today's Bold Initiative at the Wisconsin State Journal

Remember back in 2004 when Ellen Foley became editor of the Wisconsin State Journal? Do you remember her saying that the WSJ would "continue to seek bold initiatives to deliver quality journalism"? Well Foley was true to her words. She sought a bold initiative and journo Nikki Katz delivered the quality with today's front page story on pet psychics, "Animal communicators say they teach owners to talk to pets". The article devotes most of its ink to a couple charlatans named Asia Voight and Robin Williamson:

Voight also taught Robin Williamson of Madison, who started her animal communication career in 2001. Williamson originally worked with humans as a psychic and intuitive reader, but switched her focus to animals because "they needed a voice." She now has about 400 pet owner clients.

Voight and Williamson said they do the majority of their readings over the phone, connecting telepathically with the animal and translating the messages for the pet owner on the line.

Voight and Williamson charge $75 and $45 for a 30-minute reading, respectively.


Apparently Williamson just couldn't hack doing cold readings on humans anymore. Must be easier to scam money from folks when you have to deal with a dog or a hamster instead of a human being.

Gee Ms. Foley, was it a slow newsday? I guess stories of Bush's ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan on the front page just don't sell papers. Heaven forbid the front page of our morning daily have something useful on it. Shame on you for putting a charlatan on the front page; and shame on Katz for not taking those hucksters to task. Is tomorrow's front page going to feature a story on someone claiming to be skilled in haruspicy or augury? I suppose that it may as long as the accompanying photo is all warm & fuzzy.

You'd think that Madison, a city with a fairly well educated population and a bunch of politicos running around could have a paper that actually puts stories on its front page that are relevant to the community at large, reject the bullshit claims of psychics, and be written at something a bit higher than a 4th grade level. But, thanks to Foley and her ilk, you'd be mistaken. There's something wrong with the WSJ when pet psychics are the lead story and, arguably, the Chicago Tribune has better coverage of happenings in our state.
|| Palmer, 10:36 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

10 December, 2006

PSAS: Heinous Disease

PSAS (Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome) is ravaging women in Japan.

Growing numbers of Japanese women are afflicted with an illness that gives them orgasms virtually 24 hours a day. And with suggestions that it could be deadly, the women hardly know whether they're coming or going, according to Shukan Post (11/24).

"If a guy simply taps me on the shoulder, I just swoon. Even when I go to the toilet, my body reacts. I'm a little bit scared of myself," one woman sufferer tells Shukan Post.
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09 December, 2006

Countdown to Xmas

Finally, an advent calendar that I can appreciate.
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Porkalicious!

Just some random links about pork.

The bacon martini

Peace Through Pork

Seduced by Bacon cookbook

Bacon crunch bars

|| Palmer, 12:33 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Politics Were So Cool Back Then

A friend of mine from Chicago recently sent me an email about Victor L. Berger. If you've never heard of this Wisconsonian, you are not alone. I had no idea who he was until I read the email.

Born in Austria-Hungary in 1860, Berger and his family moved to the United States in 1878 and settled in Milwaukee in 1881. Along with Eugene Debs and others, he was a founding member of the Social Democratic Party. He won the election in 1919 for Wisconsin's 5th Congressional District (a position now held by James Sensenbrenner - how times have changed) but was denied his seat because of his conviction for violating the Espionage Act. My friend picks up the story: "I love Wisconsin: after his seat in Congress was ruled vacant, the Feds ordered a special election to fill it. Berger was promptly re-elected. That's just awesome. Politics were so cool back then..."

For more info on Berger, check out the Wisconsin Historical Society.
|| Palmer, 11:15 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Learn Polish @ MATC

Slavic culture doesn't get much attention here in Madison, unfortunately. However, those interested in the Polish side of things would be interested to know that the Madison Area Technical College will be offering folks the chance to learn Polish this spring. The course description is here. While not strictly a Polish 101 course, a former instructor noted, "New folks could register, as it is still at an early level, but those with previous classes under their belt will find it useful as well."

Did I mention that I spent most of last weekend making 300+ pierogi for the Polish Heritage Club of Madison's Wigilia bash only to find out that, due to health codes, they could not be served at the dinner? I've given some away but still have oodles left. I've gotta donate more to folks or else I'm gonna be eating them for the next year.
|| Palmer, 11:07 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

The Art of Siegfried Zademack

I recently found the The Virtual Gallery of Siegfried Zademack. Zademack is a German artist born in Bremen in 1952. I like his surreal imagery quite a bit. I love his style, which is old school, and how he juxtaposes objects of centuries ago against those which are very modern, such as computers. It's very striking and I can't help but look at his work and sit there trying to figure out what it's all about.



|| Palmer, 10:37 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"The Baker Boys: Stay Half the Course"

Greg Palast has a new screed up at his webpage called "The Baker Boys: Stay Half the Course". An excerpt:

Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room (camel in the tent?) that can't be acknowledged -- and the reason Baker is so desperately anxious to sell America on keeping half our soldiers in harm's way.

James III wants to seduce or bully Iran into stopping their funding of the murderous Shia militias. But the Shias only shifted into mass killing mode in response to the murder spree by Sunni "insurgents."

Where do the Sunnis get their money for mayhem? According to a seething memo by the National Security Agency (November 8, 2006), the Saudis control the, "public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads." Nice.

Baker wants us to bribe or blackmail Iran into stopping one side in Iraq's uncivil war, the Shia. Yet we close our eyes to the Saudis acting as a piggy bank for the other side, the Sunni berserkers. (The House of Saud follows Wahabi Islam, a harsh, fundamentalist sect of Sunnism.)

Why is Baker, ordinarily such a tough guy, so coy with the Saudis? Baker Botts, the law firm he founded, became a wealthy powerhouse by representing Saudi Arabia. But don't worry, the Iraq Study Group is balanced by Democrats including Vernon Jordan of the law firm of Akin, Gump which represents … Saudi royals.


I am so tired of how the media here in the States is portraying the Baker Report. Essentially they set up a false dichotomy: there's either the recommendations of the Baker Report or Bush's business as usual. The impression is left that there are no other alternatives besides these 2 when there are several, including just getting the fuck out of Iraq.
|| Palmer, 10:12 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Does This Swimsuit Make Me Look Fat?

A size 12 model was recently branded as being too fat in a beauty competition.

Barmaid Miss Hunter, 24 - who weighs 11 stone and is a healthy size 12 - was reduced to tears when she was castigated on the reality TV show for not taking a food and exercise regime seriously.

Swedish blonde Miss Berglund, 18, who made it to the final with her, was meanwhile praised for having a "sensational" body for modelling despite having a body mass index of 16.1.


Personally, I think Ms. Hunter looks fantastic in contrast to Ms. Skeletor. Decide for yourself.

|| Palmer, 10:04 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion"

Last Sunday's New York Times included a piece by Nicholas Christof called "A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion". It prompted replies, from amongst others, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Here they are.

A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion

If God is omniscient and omnipotent, you can't help wondering why she doesn't pull out a thunderbolt and strike down Richard Dawkins.

Or, at least, crash the Web site of www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com. That's a snarky site that notes that while people regularly credit God for curing cancer or other ailments, amputees never seem to enjoy divine intervention.

"If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day," the Web site declares, adding: "It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them."

That site is part of an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive led in part by Professor Dawkins — the Oxford scientist who is author of the new best seller "The God Delusion." It's a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism that he and others are proselytizing for.

He counsels readers to imagine a world without religion and conjures his own glimpse: "Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers,' no Northern Ireland 'troubles,' no 'honor killings,' no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money."

Look elsewhere on the best-seller list and you find an equally acerbic assault on faith: Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation." Mr. Harris mocks conservative Christians for opposing abortion, writing: "20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all."

The number of avowed atheists is tiny, with only 1 to 2 percent of Americans describing themselves in polls as atheists. But about 15 percent now say that they are not affiliated with any religion, and this vague category is sometimes described as the fastest-growing "religious group" in America today (some surveys back that contention, while others don't).

Granted, many Americans may not yet be willing to come out of the closet and acknowledge their irreligious views. In polls, more than 90 percent of Americans have said that they would be willing to vote for a woman, a Jew or a black, and 79 percent would be willing to vote for a gay person. But at last count, only 37 percent would consider voting for an atheist.

Such discrimination on the basis of (non) belief is insidious and intolerant, and undermines our ability to have far-reaching discussions about faith and politics. Mr. Harris, for example, makes some legitimate policy points, such as criticism of conservative Christians who try to block research on stem cells because of their potential to become humans.

"Almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering," notes Mr. Harris. "Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings."

Yet the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant — and mean. It's contemptuous and even ... a bit fundamentalist.

"These writers share a few things with the zealous religionists they oppose, such as a high degree of dogmatism and an aggressive rhetorical style," says John Green of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "Indeed, one could speak of a secular fundamentalism that resembles religious fundamentalism. This may be one of those cases where opposites converge."

Granted, religious figures have been involved throughout history in the worst kinds of atrocities. But as Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot show, so have atheists.

Moreover, for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger. Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people. God may not help amputees sprout new limbs, but churches do galvanize their members to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist. Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and Darfur's genocide, and believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.

Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let's hope that the Atheist Left doesn't revive them. We've suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.


Sam Harris' Reply:

To the Editor:

Contrary to Mr. Kristof’s opinion, it isn’t “intolerant” or “fundamentalist” to point out that there is no good reason to believe that one of our books was dictated by an omniscient deity.

Half of the American population believes that the universe is 6,000 years old. They are wrong about this. Declaring them so is not “irreligious intolerance.” It is intellectual honesty.

Given the astounding number of galaxies and potential worlds arrayed overhead, the complexities of life on earth and the advances in our ethical discourse over the last 2,000 years, the world’s religions offer a view of reality that is now so utterly impoverished as to scarcely constitute a view of reality at all.

This is a fact that can be argued for from a dozen sides, as Richard Dawkins and I have recently done in our books. Calling our efforts “mean” overlooks our genuine concern for the future of civilization.

And it’s not much of a counterargument either.

Sam Harris
New York, Dec. 3, 2006

Richard Dawkins' Reply:

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof is one of many commentators to find the tone of the newly resurgent atheism “obnoxious” or “mean.”

Ubiquitous as they are, such epithets are not borne out by an objective reading of the works he cites: Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation,” my own “God Delusion” and www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com (I had not been aware of this splendid Web site; thank you, Mr. Kristof).

I have scanned all three atheist sources carefully for polemic, and my honest judgment is that they are gentle by the standards of normal political commentary, say, or the standards of theater and arts critics.

Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn’t criticize religion. Ears calibrated to this norm will hear gentle criticism of religion as intemperate, and robust criticism as obnoxious. Without wishing to offend, I want “The God Delusion” to raise our consciousness of this weird double standard.

How did religion acquire its extraordinary immunity against normal levels of criticism?

Richard Dawkins
Oxford, England, Dec. 4, 2006
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Give the Gift of Reason This Season

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Friday Skin (On Saturday)

I Tivo'd SuicideGirls: The First Tour last night...

|| Palmer, 9:01 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

2 More Indian Restaurants Coming

Isthmus is reporting that Madisonians are getting two new restaurants to drown in ghee gluttony:

Downtown Madison cries out for a source of Indian food, and soon it will get one in Maharani Restaurant, scheduled to open the first week of January at 380 W. Washington Ave. That was the site, not long ago, of the Capitol Hill Grill and, not long before that, the Public House.

Maharani is the brainchild of Resham Singh, until recently of India Darbar,6119 Odana Rd. He says he will serve food from both the north and south of India at Maharani, as well as Swagat India Restaurant, which he is simultaneously developing at 707 N. High Point Rd. He hopes to open Swagat on Jan. 20.

“Swagat means ‘welcome’ in Punjabi,” says Singh, a native of the Indian state of Punjab. And maharani? It is Sanskrit for queen.

In addition to the restaurants, Singh operates the Maharani grocery store at 6717 Odana Rd.


Oh, precious vindaloo...
|| Palmer, 8:53 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

08 December, 2006

Making War in Madison

Nick Rhoads recently published a piece up at Dane101.com called "Next front in the war on trans-fat? Let's make it Madison" in which he expresses his desire to have the city ban trans fats. Like Rhoads, I prefer "natural" peanut butter. I think it tastes better because there's no added sugar. But it is here that our agreement ends.

Mr. Rhoads' ability to dictate what foods people eat ends at his own gaping maw. Stop trying to dictate the diets of others. Do I promote the consumption of trans fats? No. What I do promote is the city staying the fuck out of the business of determining what oils restaurants may use. Trans fats or no trans fat, fast food is shite. As the Wisconsin State Journal noted, people generally can't tell that the trans fats are gone. I suspect banning them will only serve to promote the notion that fast food has somehow been transmogrified into a paragon of healthiness. "Ooh! The trans fats are gone. Now I can eat at McDonalds with a clean conscience." Banning trans fats is not going to make fast food healthy nor discourage people from eating it; and a ban will not make people start exercising nor adopt a healthy lifestyle.

What attempting to ban trans fats will do is distract the city government from other issues that, in my humble judgment, are more important than the types of oil French fries are cooked in. Former mayor Paul Soglin harps on these issues, such as crime, poverty, and education, constantly. For instance, he notes that "while Madison used to have 1/3 the crime rate of the nation, it is now approaching the national crime rate". Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest prohibition trend from New York City, I would prefer the mayor and the council address these issues before tackling poor self-imposed eating habits. Let's work on crime, poverty, education, etc. first and then we can deal with polishing the facade we put on for Money magazine.

That Mr. Rhoads wants people to be healthy is noble and I certainly cannot take issue with this. However, if he wants to see restaurants stop using trans fats, then he and his fellow crusaders should band together and approach the restaurants. Start a campaign to let establishments know that they should not use trans fats and educate people about the health risks involved. But Mr. Rhoads and people like him need to stop trying to co-opt the city government to enforce their vision of how people should live their lives.

Next front on the war on poverty? Let's make it Madison.
|| Palmer, 9:51 AM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

07 December, 2006

Pearl Harbor Day



Today is the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For a look at the attack itself, check out National Geographic's page on it. After that, head over to The Library of Congress' website for "After the Day of Infamy" where you can listen to vox populi interviews with Americans in the days and months after the attack. Lastly, check out how the BBC reported the event at this page.

I always think of my dad when World War II anniversaries come around. He was a huge WWII history buff, especially the Pacific Theater. He inspired me to do a report on Pearl Harbor when I was in elementary school. I didn't even have to go to the library because the old man's bookshelves has tons of information on the attack.
|| Palmer, 11:10 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Chicken Fried Bacon

Mmmm...

My heart is palpitating just thinking about it.
|| Palmer, 9:47 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

05 December, 2006

Pandemic

On Sunday I watched the BBC Horizon show "Pandemic". (Horizon is akin to Nova here in the States.) It was concerned with the possibility of a bird flu pandemic amongst humans. I could have done without all the dramatizations as the scientists' descriptions and predictions were chilling enough. The virus was shown as a sphere with lots of protuberances, each with a group of spikes at the tip. The only thing holding back a pandemic is that those spikes can't attach themselves to most human cells. One little mutation and that could change, however. All an infected person would have to do is cough and the virus starts spreading. You breath in that efflux and the virus gets into your lungs and you're infected.

So I get into work on Monday not looking forward to another day of the old Sturm und Drang. At one point I locked my computer and started to get out of my chair when 2 guys who sit near me coughed. I froze and immediately thought about bird flu. It was an odd moment.

I found the program to be quite interesting as I knew virtually nothing about bird flu going in. Outside of learning how the virus works, the most fascinating parts were ones which brought up ethical dilemmas. For instance, who gets a bed in an Intensive Care Unit? A doctor who was interviewed remarked that his hospital has only 100 assistive breathing machines. What do you do when you've got thousands of people who need one? How do you decide who gets to be put on one of them? Another and, perhaps, even more perplexing dilemma involved vaccinations. Suppose a pandemic strikes and, a few months in, a vaccine is developed. You can only produce so much vaccine and can't give it to everyone. So who gets it? Should the elderly be denied because of their age? I mean, they've lived the majority of their lives already – so perhaps younger people who have the majority of their lives ahead of them should get the vaccine. If so, what young people? One argument goes that people between 20-40 should get preference. They have education and youthful vigor to do the work that needs to be done and to revitalize a decimated economy. What about children then? Should they be denied because their potential is too far away from being realized? You can watch Professor Peter Dunnill examine this question here. And does anyone really think that Third World countries would get much, if any, of the small quantities of such a vaccine?
|| Palmer, 1:41 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

01 December, 2006

Genes, Gender, and Sexuality

I learned a bit about genetics earlier this week when I watched a TV show and then started reading a book.

The first thing I did was to cozy up to my television and watch the BBC Horizon program "Ghost in Your Genes". The show dealt with epigenetics which is the study of heritable changes that are not caused by a change in your DNA sequence. It began with a profile of Marcus Pembrey, who was a clinical geneticist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London. He noted that both Angelman syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome are both produced when a bit of a person's genetic sequence on chromosome 15 is missing. The kicker is that, whether you get one or the other depends on whether it was your father or your mother than gave you the mutation. He wrote a paper on his epigenetic ideas in the mid-90s but it wasn't taken very seriously and just drifted into obscurity. Then there was Professor Wolf Reik who manipulated the embryos of mice to turn particular genes on or off and found that these genes remained in the same state in future generations. There was also Rachel Yehuda who studied the effects of stress on a group of women who were pregnant and inside or near the WTC on 9/11. She found the stress effects seemed to be passed down from mother to child but only in those women who were in their third trimester.

The program then went back to Pembrey who, in 2000, received an interesting email out of the blue. Swedish researcher Lars Olov Bygren found the article and contacted Pembrey. Bygren was studying the parish records of a small, remote town in northern Sweden called Överkalix. The records not only registered births and deaths but also detailed the harvests going back generations. The upshot of their work combing through these records was that they found that the experiences of people who suffered through a famine affected their grandchildren's life expectancy.

It ended with this sense of Pembrey having been vindicated. It gave viewers the sense that there was little dispute about epigenetics and that we're about to undergo a paradigm shift now because of the discovery. I really wish that it had talked more about the controversy. What do the naysayers have to say? And by what mechanisms do scientists think this works? I'm no biologist so they'd have to dumb it down for this layman but I'd have loved to hear about some of the proposed ways these changes are made.

My other encounter with genes came in the form of As Nature Made Him. It tells the story of David Riemer, who, in a Tiresias-like tale, was born as a boy but made into a girl only to become a boy again. David was born Bruce, 12 minutes ahead of his twin, Brian. When they were about 7 months old, their mother, Janet, noticed that they were having trouble urinating. A visit to the doctor revealed that they had phimosis, a condition in which the end of the foreskin narrows. This was easily cured by circumcision. And so the procedure was scheduled for 27 April 1966. None of the usual attending physicians was available so a general practitioner performed the surgery. Instead of using a scalpel, the doctor used a cautery machine. The details differ by account but, in the end, Bruce's penis was badly burned. It looked like a "little piece of charcoal" and eventually "baby Bruce's penis dried and broke away in pieces".

I just shuddered reading those words. And I felt so horrible for him. I mean, our genitalia are such an integral part of who we are and how we perceive ourselves. I'm reminded of another documentary I watched recently called Sex, Lies and Secrecy: Dissecting Hysterectomy. It argued that tens of thousands of hysterectomies are performed in North America every year. And 78% of them involve castrating the women, i.e. – removing their ovaries. There were some testimonies by women who had been castrated that were just heart-wrenching. While, say, excessive menstrual bleeding, might have gone away, so did a part of them. They talked about how different they felt afterwards. Their vivaciousness disappeared, they felt asexual, and their sense of being a woman or being feminine was gone. I can imagine that losing one's penis would have a similar effect. (Though certainly not the same as the penis is not a gonad but still....)

Bruce's story takes a tangent to Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins. A psychologist keenly interested in the effects of having ambiguous genitalia, he established the clinic at Johns Hopkins for transsexual surgery. The book portrays Money at first as a being rather eccentric and a very vocal proponent of sexual curiosity and exploration. He has written about various sexual fetishes in an effort to destigmatize and decriminalize them. But in the early 1980s, he made some positive comments about mutual relationships between men and boys as young as 10. In my mind, Money quickly went from someone whom I thought of admiringly to someone who held views that I found bordered on reprehensible, if not actually going over that line.

Money was very headstrong and did not suffer fools gladly. He was convinced that gender was imposed by environment and not via our genes. Money was a towering figure in the field and his word was essentially gospel. But not everyone agreed. In 1965, a graduate student in Kansas named Milton Diamond published an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology challenging Money's assertions. Fatefully, he wrote, "To support [such a] theory, we have been presented with no instance of a normal individual appearing as an unequivocal male and being reared successfully as a female." About a year and a half later, Bruce's mother would write Dr. Money asking for his help.

And so Bruce became Brenda. In 1972, Money published (with Anne Ehrhardt) Man & Woman, Boy & Girl in which he described the sex change procedure done on Bruce and declared it a total success which supported his theories. But, in reality, things were not completely as he described. Brenda was more than a tomboy – she acted completely like a boy. She urinated while standing up she played with toys traditionally associated with boys, she acted aggressively, and eschewed all things feminine. Mickey Diamond kept debating with Money and they even got into an altercation at a symposium on gender identity. Money stood up and yelled across the room, "Mickey Diamond, I hate your fucking guts!" They started arguing and some fists were thrown. Remember that next time you want to argue with a psychologist.

Money would see Brenda and Brian once a year – a check-up for Brenda, if you will. Disturbingly, he would eventually broach the subject of sex with them. Money thought that children should understand the differences between men & women at an early age as this led to them to a healthy understanding of their own genders. Money would ask the children whether they ever thought about sex, for instance. He would also show them pornography. This led to him asking Brian and Brenda to take off their clothes and inspect each other's genitals and having them "play at thrusting movements and copulation". Brian said that Money took at least one photograph of them engaging in faux copulation. The children's parent had no idea what was going on in these "therapy" sessions.

And that's as far as I've gotten. I do know a bit of what happens next, namely, that Brenda grows up and decides to become male again, becoming David. And I suspect it's going to be quite a tale. Money has apparently never commented on the book publicly so the picture drawn of him here is necessarily one-sided. This aside, As Nature Made Him is extremely interesting and gives the reader a lot of food for thought. Just as I'm no biologist, I'm no psychologist. But I am definitely of the view that gender has a significant genetic component. It was an interesting night of TV watching and reading. I learn how environment can turn genes on or off and that these states can be passed down generations. Then I learn that there are some things that environment just can't change. Genetics is absolutely fascinating. Despite having mapped the human genome, it seems like the only thing we got out of it is a clearer picture of our ignorance.

While Dr. Money comes off as being unorthodox, to say the least, in the book so far, I found that some of his notions brought up important issues. For instance, I agree wholeheartedly with his desire to destigmatize fetishes. That a good and healthy sexuality can go beyond heterosexual intercourse in the missionary position should be considered a self-evident truth here in the 21st century. But what about sexuality more generally?

I am again reminded of the documentary on hysterectomy. It was argued that Canadians and Americans have the notion that, when a woman undergoes menopause, she is automatically disinterested in sex and that her generative organs become superfluous. This stands in contrast to our views on men's sexuality. We men are supposed to never lose interest in sex. It should go without saying that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But what about children? I have not read any of Dr. Money's books so I'm going just from what I've read about him so far. Still, it seems obvious that he sees children as sexual creatures whereas society at large does not. In fact, we try to hide sex and sexuality from our kids. They're "too young", after all, right? I'm not going to condone children being forced to inspect one another's genitals but Dr. Money is surely right that kids are not devoid of sexuality, however nascent it may be. Money is quoted in the book as saying something like, "Boys whip out their penises all the time to see who can pee the furthest" and he's right. When we're a few years old, we are no longer allowed to run around naked and we are told that the bits between our legs are naughty. Kids aren't stupid, they may not know all the details of the plumbing but they know there's something interesting to be had down there. It becomes I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours.

So how should we teach kids about sex and sexuality? I'm not sure. I do know that this abstinence education is bullshit. And mostly religious bullshit at that. Even if these programs were not filled with lies about the efficacy rate of condoms and such, they'd still be bullshit. Just because a Christ supposedly didn’t have sex doesn't mean that it is dirty or should be a source of shame. There's got to be a way to relay a positive, honest message to kids about sex that will actually be helpful to them. Some way that isn't purely clinical and that doesn't just make sex out to be a world of diseases and unwanted pregnancies either. You've got to give an account of the plumbing, yes, and you've got to describe the possible bad consequences. But you must also teach that there are some potentially wonderful consequences as well.
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Friday Skin

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