Saturday, March 22, 2008

I'm off to Argentina!

It looks like I'll have to stuff a white dress and heels in my backpack if I want to tango. And I do, I do!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy birthday, dear peace sign!

It started life as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement, but it has become an international sign for peace, and arguably the most widely used protest symbol in the world. It had its first public outing 50 years ago on a chilly Good Friday as thousands of British anti-nuclear campaigners set off from London’s Trafalgar Square on a 50-mile march to the weapons factory at Aldermaston.

Gerald Holtom, a designer and former World War II conscientious objector from West London, persuaded the protest organizers that their aims would have greater impact if they were conveyed in a visual image. The Ban the Bomb symbol, now peace sign, was born.

Holtom considered using a Christian cross motif but, instead, decided to use letters from the semaphore -- or flag-signaling -- alphabet, super-imposing N (uclear) on D (isarmament) and placing them within a circle symbolizing Earth. The design was “to mean a human being in despair” with arms outstretched downwards.

Fifty years later, the peace sign is still relevant. Perhaps it should be modified somewhat to reflect not only humanity in despair, but Mother Earth as well.

Info from the BBC.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two-hour delay!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Intelligent design

Can you figure out what this is? Look closely and think, think, think. This particular item has been singled out of thousands of similar items for Best Design honors.

Check out my other blog, Culture Chakra, for more juicy tidbits.

Karl Marx and John Steinbeck

Karl Marx died today in 1883. Though I consider communism to be largely a failed experiment, I do agree with many of Marx’ tenets. Here is the opening paragraph of The Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

Today in 1939, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published. The following passage typifies the message of the book which made Steinbeck and his novel a capitalist-socialist battleground.

One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other…

When word of the book burnings, bannings, denouncements and death threats reached Congress, an Oklahoma representative rose up to “say to you, and to every honest, square-minded reader in America, that the painting Steinbeck made in this book is a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.”

I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse to know that truth that threatens the status quo has always been suppressed, and its proponents ever maligned. But remember that those on the fringe are the ones whose positions provoke a rethinking of assumptions, who spark epiphanies and change the course of human history. In the immortal words of another rabble rouser, Henry David Thoreau, Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. Let’s do!

Gardasil? Guard a shill.

Federal health officials are very disappointed with us. It seems we are not lining up in appropriately vast numbers to receive the vaccinations the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. To nudge us along, the results of a study involving 838 teenage girls, disproportionately black, Hispanic and poor — a survey completed nearly 5 years ago — have been released with much hype and hysteria. 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease! They are teeming with the human papilloma virus (HPV)! Go get your 9-year-old the Gardasil vaccine to prevent cervical cancer!

A few facts to mull over. First of all, HPV is actually 100 different viruses that live on the skin. They are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and cause terrible things like the embarrassing wart you had on your thumb in third grade. 37 of HPVs can be sexually transmitted. As with most viruses, an HPV infection generally resolves on its own, usually with no symptoms or lasting effects. In the case that an HPV infection lasts for years and years, it may indeed lead to cervical cancer. However, it is easily detected with a routine Pap test and, if found, successfully treated. So exactly how will vaccinating our 9- to 14-year-old daughters benefit anyone?

Well, it will benefit Merck and Company, the maker of Gardasil, to the tune of a billion dollars a year. It will benefit the doctors who provide the vaccination for $400 a pop, plus the cost of the three required office visits. It will benefit hospitals when the young girls become sick from the vaccine. In the 18 months since the vaccine was approved by the ever-vigilant FDA, there have been 1,981 emergency room visits and 143 hospitalizations directly attributable to Gardasil. It will also benefit funeral homes and morgues. So far Gardasil has caused 51 life-threatening events and the deaths of 11 girls. Lest you disbelieve me, you may check out the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System which is maintained by the CDC and the FDA.

Okay, I’m convinced, you say. I won’t vaccinate my daughter. Ah, not so fast. Merck representatives have been feverishly traversing the country encouraging state legislatures to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for young girls. That’s right: mandatory. Leading the obeisance charge is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who recently issued an executive order mandating that all girls entering the sixth grade receive the vaccine. Read this again, an executive order. He completely bypassed the Texas legislature, parental authority, and normal political process. He ordered Gardasil into law. And, guess what? He has ties to Merck. Why does this shit not even surprise me anymore?

Good at playing follow the leader, nearly every state legislature is going to mandate the HPV vaccine for girls between 12 and 14. This sickens me beyond belief.

To recap:
*The HPV encompasses more than 100 different viruses, 37 of which are sexually transmitted. Gardasil prevents only 4 of the HPV strains.

*HPV is so common that 80% of women have had it by the time they’re 50.

*HPV is easily detected during an annual gynecological exam and easily treated if found.

*Gardasil is expensive, dangerous, possibly deadly.

*The long-term effects of Gardasil are unknown. (Keep in mind the recently discovered connection between childhood vaccinations and autism).

One more tidbit of info. Merck is also the maker of Vioxx, a harmless little drug that relieves the pain of arthritis. Turns out, and of course they knew this, that Vioxx greatly increases the incidence of heart attack. It took more than a few deaths before Merck pulled Vioxx from the shelves, one of the largest drug recalls in history. The company is spending millions fighting and losing class-action lawsuits involving their last harmless wonder drug. What I wonder is why anyone continues to trust anything Merck claims. The strong-arm marketing campaign for Gardasil should be renamed Gardasil: Helping us pay for Vioxx losses one young cervix at a time.

Parents, please do NOT subject your daughters to Merck’s Gardasil vaccine. And when you are told by your school district that it is mandatory for school entry, remind them that under the law you are able to OPT OUT. It may take an affidavit from your pediatrician, but that’s an office visit you should gladly pay for.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hangboarding housewives club

For those of us who are too adrenaline-addicted to use common sense. Bring it, baby!


Of Boobs and Barbies

This is an artist's representation of the 32,000 elective breast augmentation surgeries performed every month in the United States.

Check out Chris Jordan's Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait for more amazing statistical artwork!

And thanks to my chum, Jacques, for bringing this to my attention!


Monday, March 10, 2008

In praise of Pope Benny and the boys

The Vatican has updated the list of the seven deadly sins! We are no longer to be concerned only with gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. As if these weren’t more than enough!

Oh, woe is I.

The new cardinal sins (those that require absolution from a priest to be forgiven — otherwise you’re lookin’ at a stint in Purgatory) are pollution, mind-damaging drug use, and genetic experimentation. Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, also made mention of the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. “The poor are always becoming poorer and the rich ever more rich, feeding unsustainable social injustice….If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that’s especially social, rather than individual.”

The church seems to be walking the walk here, at least where the Earth’s fate is concerned. During Pope Benedict’s papacy, Vatican engineers have developed plans for some Holy See buildings to use solar energy, including photo-voltaic cells on the roof of the auditorium for pilgrims’ audiences with the pontiff.

As for fighting social injustice, one needs only visit the Vatican to sense that perhaps the church has a way to go on this one. I’ve heard suggestions in the past that the church sell some of its astounding collection of artwork to help the poor. The reply is that the art should be considered public wealth, equally available for all to see. A reasonable argument, especially if one has the resources to make it to the Vatican.

As for the billions in real estate owned by the church, reference is usually made to Jesus’ obvious love for the temple in Jerusalem as justification. The big beautiful churches, after all, were not built at great monetary cost, but through the dedication of thousands of laborers and through the prayers of the faithful. Again, a reasonable position. The Vatican, the artwork, and the great churches of Europe are part of human history and probably shouldn’t be sold off to collectors and developers for fast cash.

It’s not often that I find myself in agreement with the Catholic church. But I have to say, I think they are on the right track here. Props to the Pope! Long live this particular Pope! At least for today!


Sunday, March 9, 2008

It's gonna take another revolution

Saturday, March 8, 2008

International Women's Day

On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. This NYC show of sisterly solidarity soon became an annual global event connecting women around the world, and seeking to empower them to fight for recognition, rights, and the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Great strides toward a culture of equality have been made in the past 100 years in many nations. Still, millions of women around the globe are not equal, not safe, not free.

International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8 for nearly a century, receives mere whisper in our country, probably because it's not a retail bonanza like Mother's Day or Secretary's Day. But around the world, even in many traditionally oppressive cultures, an exciting array of activities celebrate the collective power of women past, present and future.

The beautiful artwork above is by Margherita45. Check out more of her breathtaking collection at DeviantART.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Giant sandbox

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Paging Dr. Mario

I've always believed that allowing my children to play video games didn't automatically qualify me for Bad Mother of the Year honors, although some would disagree. Fortunately, Nintendo's Wii has made it more difficult for the holier-than-thous to cast aspersions on my parenting skills. If you've ever seen kids play Wii, you know that many of the games are physically somewhat rigorous. In addition, the development of hand-eye coordination, even entire body coordination, from video gaming is pretty astounding. My kids seem to have an intuitive connection to virtual reality that I certainly don't have.

Eric has a theory that the Department of Defense is keeping a close eye on young gamers for future recruitment into military service. Technology has enabled military operations -- from dogfighting to tank-dozing to missile launching -- to be performed using controls and video monitors, not hands and eyes. The real world has been reduced to a game! Becoming proficient at the game won't be enough in a high-stakes situation. Only expert gamers will possess the true intuition necessary to obliterate the enemy, and move to the next level.

Now I find that there is another benefit to playing the Wii -- the honing of surgical skills. My ex-husband, the surgeon, will be thrilled to know that all the time our children spend not studying may actually make them fine physicians one day!

With many of the Wii games, success is based on subtle movements of the wrist and hand. Similarly, endoscopic surgical procedures are performed, not by making a large incision and playing around in the goo, but by inserting into the body a narrow instrument with fiber optics and performing the surgery watching a video screen.

In a recent experiment with surgical residents, half the group played Wii Marble Mania and the full complement of Wii Play games for an hour; the other half did not. The gamers were then pitted against their less-fortunate colleagues in a computer-simulated laparoscopic procedure, and managed to attain 48% higher scores, on average, than the non-gamers.

The researchers behind the experiment are developing Wii software that will simulate surgical procedures. A training platform based on the virtual console could be used to train surgeons in developing countries instead of traditional virtual training tools that are usually more expensive.

Once again, my mother's intuition has served my children well. Goody-two-shoes mommies, I await my tiara.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Putting lipstick on a big fat pig

Brazenly pandering to a large local Asian population and hoping to attract members of a nearby Buddhist temple, a California McDonald's has gone feng shui. The restaurant’s owners say the designs are aimed at creating a soothing setting that will encourage diners to linger over their burgers and fries and, of course, come back again and again.

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of arranging objects to promote health, harmony and prosperity. The basic principles of feng shui include placing strategic representations of five natural elements — earth, water, fire, metal and wood — around the room to increase the flow of chi, or energy. The McDonald’s in this Los Angeles suburb boasts a wood ceiling, silver-coated chairs, rich leather booths, and red accents throughout the dining area to symbolize fire and good luck, laughter and prosperity. The textured walls patterned after ocean waves symbolize life and relaxation.

What could be more ludicrous than McDonald's, one of the original fast food restaurants and a major contributor to overall American un-wellness, using interior design to promote health and prosperity? Maybe they mean franchise health and corporate prosperity? I can't imagine that freely flowing chi is a pressing concern for diners who've just stuffed themselves with 1500 calories, none of which have provided them with any nutritional benefit whatsoever.

I will admit that the restaurant looks quite appealing. If only McDonald's had anything on the menu worthy of consumption, a cup of coffee even, I might pop in for a bit to open up my chakras and seek enlightenment. But they don't, so I won't. And I hope no one else does either.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Oaksterdam University

California is one of 12 states wherein the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal. But what happens when a cannabis patient applies for a job that requires a drug test? Surely an employer must overlook the level of THC in the blood of a legal pot user? Not so. California courts have ruled that employers are allowed to discriminate against legal stoners — something about federal law trumping state law. Jefferson must be turning over in his grave.

Even the law-abiding growers face unrelenting hassles from overzealous and holier-than-thou law enforcement officers. In our own state, where cultivating medicinal marijuana is legal, cops recently raided the home of a couple of medical providers, arrested them, and confiscated their inventory. Of course, once they’d shown their permit, the offenders were released. The plants, when they were finally returned, were dead on arrival. The couple asked for remuneration for their inventory and lost wages which was, not surprisingly, denied. Apparently the cops have no duty to take due care of personal property seized from law-abiding individuals.

In Oakland, California, a new university has been founded to help cannabis providers understand their legal rights, grow and distribute marijuana responsibly, and even prescribe different pot strains for specific maladies. The school is called Oaksterdam University, which I think is funny as hell. The following is one of the University’s course descriptions:

Budtending 101
Bartending for the cannabis industry. Train how to effectively and responsibly dispense cannabis to patients and consumers. Separate yourself from the other applicants for jobs at dispensaries. Learn about the different medical strains and their differing effects, and which strains are best for various medical conditions. Hear from a cannabis doctor regarding ethical and emerging political issues. Get information and details about the latest clinical studies.

Another course, one that is particularly relevant to all of us living in a police state, is Legal Issues 102:

Practice protecting yourself during police encounters. This course is a role-playing workshop that simulates encounters with law enforcement. Students will develop the knowledge learned in Politics/Legal Issues 101 through classroom practice asserting their rights in a police encounter. Examples and specific wording will be taught from instructors and students will be asked to participate in role-plays to solidify the knowledge. Most people give up their constitutional rights during encounters with law enforcement. These mistakes are avoidable, and this course should be a must for anyone working in the cannabis industry.

More information, as well as other course descriptions and an application for admission, can be found at OUs website.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Richard Brautigan, eccentric genius

Your Catfish Friend

If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think "It's beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, "I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them."