February 27, 2009

Vise-Grips, the Toolbox Hero

I used to think that pretty much every household problem could be fixed on the fly with Duct tape or WD-40.  Looks like I have to add Vise-Grips to my list.

Via Instapundit, How Vise Grips Saved My Life and other tales about this Toolbox Hero

Well, Clint was right on the money, as Vise-Grip manufacturer Irwin proved in a recent contest called "Tell Us Your Vise-Grip Story." Over the course of four months last year, Irwin received 845 entries from regular folks using Vise-Grips for everything from ad hoc auto fixes to emergency bovine surgery to–perhaps most surprising–marriages whose very existence hinged on a special pair of pliers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:02 AM | Permalink

Vise-Grips, the Toolbox Hero

I used to think that pretty much every household problem could be fixed on the fly with Duct tape or WD-40.  Looks like I have to add Vise-Grips to my list.

Via Instapundit, How Vise Grips Saved My Life and other tales about this Toolbox Hero

Well, Clint was right on the money, as Vise-Grip manufacturer Irwin proved in a recent contest called "Tell Us Your Vise-Grip Story." Over the course of four months last year, Irwin received 845 entries from regular folks using Vise-Grips for everything from ad hoc auto fixes to emergency bovine surgery to–perhaps most surprising–marriages whose very existence hinged on a special pair of pliers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:01 AM | Permalink

Only calories count

It doesn't matter what your diet, only calories count.

Tara Parker-Pope: For people who are trying to lose weight, it does not matter if they are counting carbohydrates, protein or fat. All that matters is that they are counting something.

That is the finding of the largest-ever controlled study of weight-loss methods published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. More than 800 overweight adults in Boston and Baton Rouge, La., were assigned to one of four diets that reduced calories through different combinations of fat, carbohydrates and protein. Each plan cut about 750 calories from a participant’s normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1,200 calories a day.

While the diets were not named, the eating plans were all loosely based on the principles of popular diets like Atkins, which emphasizes low carbohydrates; Dean Ornish, which is low-fat; or the Mediterranean diet, with less animal protein. All participants also received group or individual counseling.
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The lesson, researchers say, is that people lose weight if they lower calories, but it does not matter how.

“It really does cut through the hype,” said Dr. Frank M. Sacks, the study’s lead author and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It gives people lots of flexibility to pick a diet that they can stick with.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

Playtime and nature time necessary for health and evelopment

The brain uses two forms of attention. “Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests, while “involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls onto our lap.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying for a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.

“It’s pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue,” Dr. Faber Taylor said. “Our attention has to be restored from that fatigue, and there is a growing body of research evidence that nature is one way that seems particularly effective at doing it.”

The New York Times reports on recess.  Tara Parker-Pope concludes:
The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.
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Playtime and nature time are important not only for learning but also for health and development.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:23 AM | Permalink

February 24, 2009

Changes in the Brain

At least one neuroscientist warns that social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification and making young people more self-centered.

Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.

'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.'
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'I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.
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A study by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board found teenagers now spend seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen.

I think it's not just a phenomenon for younger people.  Many are wondering whether Google is Making Us Stupid.

what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:36 PM | Permalink

February 23, 2009

Prawo Jazdy

Ireland's worst driver, Prawo Jazdy, wanted in counties from Cork to Cavan, managed to evade justice by giving a different address each time he was stopped, until his cover was blown.

"Prawo Jazdy is actually the Polish for driving licence and not the first and surname on the licence," read a letter from June 2007 from an officer working within the Garda's traffic division.

"Having noticed this, I decided to check and see how many times officers have made this mistake.
"It is quite embarrassing to see that the system has created Prawo Jazdy as a person with over 50 identities."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:32 AM | Permalink

Tech Folk Remedies

I liked these low-tech fixes for high tech problems.

Pick up broken glass from the kitchen floor with a slice of bread.

Keep your cellphone cool,  in a purse or on a belt, to preserve its battery.

If your printer’s ink cartridge runs dry near the end of an important print job, remove the cartridge and run a hair dryer on it for two to three minutes. Then place the cartridge back into the printer and try again while it is still warm.

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Cellphone in the toilet. Take the battery out immediately, to prevent electrical short circuits from frying your phone’s fragile internals. Then, wipe the phone gently with a towel, and shove it into a jar full of uncooked rice.

It works for the same reason you may keep few grains of rice in your salt shaker to keep the salt dry. Rice has a high chemical affinity for water — that means the molecules in the rice have a nearly magnetic attraction for water molecules, which will be soaked up into the rice rather than beading up inside the phone.
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You need to clean a skipping DVD or CD, but as a bachelor you don’t have any sissy cleaning fluids? Soak a washcloth with vodka or mouthwash.

Alcohol is a powerful solvent, perfectly capable of dissolving fingerprints and grime on the surface of a disc. A $5 bottle of Listerine in your medicine cabinet may do the job as effectively as a $75 bottle of DVD cleaning fluid. A
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Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

"I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen."

The backlash against feminism continues as more women come to grips with their decisions to forego children for a career.

Madonna syndrome:  I should have ditched feminism for love, children and baking.

A playwright who embraced the feminism espoused by her mother and flaunted by Madonna now feels betrayed.

My mother was a hippy who kept a pile of (dusty) books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bed (like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning). She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. I fought with my older brother and won; at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.

Now, nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen.
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I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear.

Increasing numbers of my feminist friends are giving up their careers for love and children and baking. I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side, but the problem is not so much time as mentality. I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships because I thought I had all the time in the world. Many of my friends did the same. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:16 AM | Permalink

February 19, 2009

A Sobering Look at the Consequences of Distraction

If you  haven't read Digital Overload is Frying Our Brains, it's probably because you been distracted no doubt due to digital overload.

Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, interviewed.

Our society right now is filled with lovely distractions — we have so much portable escapism and mediated fantasy — but that's just one issue. The other is interruption — multitasking, the fragmentation of thought and time. We're living in highly interrupted ways. Studies show that information workers now switch tasks an average of every three minutes throughout the day. Of course that's what we have to do to live in this complicated world.
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This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you're scattered and diffuse, you're less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it's hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking.
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Interruptions are correlated with stress, and a cascade of stress hormones accompany that state of being. Stress, frustration and lowered creativity are pretty toxic. And there are studies showing how the environment shapes brain development in kids.
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Dark ages are times of forgetting, when the advancements of the past are underutilized. If we forget how to use our powers of deep focus, we'll depend more on black-and-white thinking, on surface ideas, on surface relationships. That breeds a tremendous potential for tyranny and misunderstanding. The possibility of an attention-deficient future society is very sobering.

"Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age" (Maggie Jackson)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:58 AM | Permalink

Gene linked to Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's study finds parental link

Children of parents with Alzheimer's disease can develop memory problems in their 50s or even younger - much earlier than previously thought - according to a large study released yesterday by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine.

The study subjects, who carried a gene strongly linked to Alzheimer's, performed worse in memory tests, on average, than other middle-aged people who had the same gene but did not have a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The difference in memory between the two groups was equivalent to approximately 15 years of brain aging, researchers found..

"How big an effect we saw was surprising," said Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a BU associate professor of neurology and senior author of the study. "It was like you were comparing two groups, 55-year-olds to 70-year-olds."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:51 AM | Permalink

"Defensiveness has swept over the culture like a giant wave."

Something’s amiss when a girl in kindergarten, all of 40 pounds, is led away in handcuffs by police.

Philip Howard on the legal shackles that keep us from doing what's right and what makes common sense.

The totality of stupid rules and lawsuits does not come close, however, to describing the effects of the modern legal order. It has changed our society. In this new legalistic culture, people no longer look inside themselves to do what’s right. Instead they focus on possible legal implications. What if something happens? How will you justify your decision?

Defensiveness has swept over the culture like a giant wave, drenching daily choices in cold water. Doctors routinely order tests and procedures that they don’t believe are needed—squandering so many billions of dollars, according to some estimates, that the waste could provide health insurance to the 47 million Americans who are uninsured. Hardly any disagreement in the workplace is far from the threat of a possible discrimination claim. Teachers and principals spend their days filling out forms and “making the record clear,” just to show they’ve been attentive to legal concerns. Authority has been turned upside down. A 2004 survey by Public Agenda found that 78 percent of middle- and high-school teachers in America have been threatened with lawsuits or accused of violations of rights by their students.

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We have it backward. The legal shackles that frustrate teachers, doctors, and managers in daily dealings are not the inevitable price of a working social order. Modern law is a main cause of the decline of our social order. Schools and hospitals are failing in part because the people within them no longer feel free to make decisions to make them work.

America indeed is in a crisis—a crisis of individual freedom. We have lost the idea, at every level of public life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. We have become a culture of rule followers, driven to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. Gradually, without noticing when it happened, we’ve lost our ability to make the choices needed to run a society.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:48 AM | Permalink

Children's books published before 1985 banned and burned

Are we really on the verge of losing millions of books published before 1985?

Walter Olson on The New Book Banning

It’s hard to believe, but true: under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute. Merchants, thrift stores, and booksellers may be at risk if they sell older volumes, or even give them away, without first subjecting them to testing—at prohibitive expense. Many used-book sellers, consignment stores, Goodwill outlets, and the like have accordingly begun to refuse new donations of pre-1985 volumes, yank existing ones off their shelves, and in some cases discard them en masse.

The problem is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), passed by Congress last summer after the panic over lead paint on toys from China. Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive: that is, goods manufactured before the law passed cannot be sold on the used market (even in garage sales or on eBay) if they don’t conform.

Why is Congress doing nothing about this?

The American Library Association spent months warning about the law’s implications, but its concerns fell on deaf ears in Congress (which, in this week’s stimulus bill, refused to consider an amendment by Republican senator Jim DeMint to reform CPSIA)

The cost for a library to comply is prohibitive. One librarian estimated that 75% of the books in her children's library are pre 1985.  The cost of testing each  of them would be more that the entire city budget.

Ace asks Who needs free books or cheap clothes in this economy anyway, right? Or retail jobs, or charity?

Walter Olson at Overlawyered quotes the associate executive director of the American Library Association, ”Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she said, “or they ban children from the library.”   

As well as the president and publisher of Random House Children's Books, Chip , “This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable. …It has to be stopped.”

Ace  sums it up.

So, to recap: Henry Waxman and his accomplices (including, we should note, many Republicans,) have managed to pass a bill which, inter alia,

1) requires the destruction or other removal of huge supplies of secondhand clothes, in winter,
2) may or may not preclude libraries from lending huge chunks of their childrens’ collections,
3) effectively removes as-yet-uncalculated amounts of inventory from salability from small- and medium-size businesses, without compensation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 AM | Permalink

February 16, 2009

Who Lost Britain?

After being invited to the House of Lords to attend a showing of his 17 minute film Fitna, Geert Wilders was denied entry into Britain

On his flight to London, he told The London Times that the British Government was “the biggest bunch of cowards in Europe..."They (the British government) are more Chamberlain than Churchill."

Why?  We know why.  Still, it was news to me that the CIA warned Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the U.S.
A British intelligence source revealed that a staggering four out of 10 CIA operations designed to thwart direct attacks on the US are now conducted against targets in Britain.

One former intelligence officer who does contract work for the CIA dismissed Britain as a "swamp" of jihadis.
Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, admitted in January that the Security Service alone does not have the resources to maintain surveillance on all its targets. "We don't have anything approaching comprehensive coverage," he said.

Mike McNally on Why Britain Should Never Have Banned Geert Wilders

For the last couple of years I’ve been holding out against those who claim the spread of Islamic extremism in Britain, the reluctance of the government to combat it forcefully for fear of offending Muslims, and the reluctance of the media, legal, and political establishments to even discuss the issue spell doom for the country. My argument was that while such appeasement and cultural self-loathing make it difficult for us to win the war against the extremists, we could never lose it.

Unfortunately, it looks like we just lost.
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Our long and proud tradition of tolerance and free speech is in tatters. It’s doubtful that many of the ministers and officials involved in the decision to ban Wilders have even seen Fitna, the Internet film that shot him to notoriety. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, wheeling out the trope that “the right to free speech doesn’t include the right to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater,” claimed the film contained “extreme anti-Muslim hate.” If Miliband has seen the film, then he’s lying; if he hasn’t seen it, he’s guessing. There’s extreme hate, for sure, but it’s all coming from Muslims. Fitna uses the words of Muslims themselves, in the form of verses from the Koran and video clips of extremist preachers, juxtaposed with footage of terrorist attacks.

David Pryce-Jones

Things are happening on the political scene in Britain which even a few short years ago would have been unthinkable.
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He is, Jacqui Smith's Home Office pretends, nothing less than a threat to "public security."

How so? Wilders was invited by a member of the House of Lords to show their lordships his film Fitna, all seventeen minutes of it. Among the meanings of this Arabic word in Wehr's Dictionary are "sedition, riot, discord, dissension, civil strife." The film is out to show that the Qur'an contains verses that encourage these bad outcomes, setting Muslims against themselves and others. This is a serious argument, even if clips of terror outrages make the film deliberately sensational, even lurid. Unfortunately, the acts of terror are real, and readings from the Qur'an bear upon them.
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Free speech has been a particularly English glory since Milton first argued that it was a principle of freedom itself. Dissidents, rebels, and freedom fighters from Karl Marx and Mazzini to Stalin and Salman Rushdie have had the opportunity to say what they wanted, whether or not anyone disapproved. Now thanks to one Jacqui Smith, so comfortably padded by the taxpayer, this principle of freedom is suspended.

Geert Wilders faces criminal prosecution in the Netherlands for "inciting hatred and discrimination: and "insulting Muslim worshippers" through his public statements and his 2008 film Fitna as a result of pressure put on European states by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) writes Bat Yeor on Geert Wilders and the Fight for Europe

The OIC is one of the largest intergovernmental organizations in the world. It encompasses 56 Muslim states plus the Palestinian Authority. Spread over four continents, it claims to speak in the name of the ummah (the universal Muslim community), which numbers about 1.3 billion. The OIC’s mission is to unite all Muslims worldwide by rooting them in the Koran and the Sunnah — the core of traditional Islamic civilization and values.

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The OIC is a unique organization — one that has no equivalent in the world. It unites the religious, economic, military, and political strength of 56 states. By contrast, the European Union represents half as many states and is a secular body only, and the Vatican — which speaks for the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics — is devoid of any political power. Many Muslims in the West resist the OIC’s tutelage and oppose its efforts to supplant Western law with sharia. But the OIC’s resources are formidable.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:21 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2009

Hoping it's not so

 Rainbow's End

Rainbow's End in California.  Photo by amateur photographer Jason Erdkamp.

No pot of gold found.

Is it possible that  Federal obligations exceed world GDP?

The $65.5 trillion total federal obligations under GAAP accounting not only now exceed four times the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, the $65.5 trillion deficit exceeds total world GDP.
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"Social Security and Medicare must be shown as liabilities on the federal balance sheet in the year they accrue according to GAAP accounting," Williams argues. "To do otherwise is irresponsible, nothing more than an attempt to hide the painful truth from the American public. The public has a right to know just how bad off the federal government budget deficit situation really is, especially since the situation is rapidly spinning out of control.

"The federal government is bankrupt," Williams told WND. "In a post-Enron world, if the federal government were a corporation such as General Motors, the president and senior Treasury officers would be in federal penitentiary."

via Instapundit who said  "I don’t think it is. I certainly hope not." 

Me too.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

Living without God

Realizing they must offer more if they want to replace religion, a new new atheist like Ronald Aronson wrote that the
“the most urgent need” for secularists today: a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one’s life.”

Peter Steinfels examines The New Atheism, and Something More in his review of Living without God


"Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided" (Ronald Aronson)

A “new atheism must absorb the experience of the 20th century and the issues of the 21st,” he wrote. “It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death and explore what hope might mean today.”

“religion is not really the issue, but rather the incompleteness or tentativeness, the thinness or emptiness, of today’s atheism, agnosticism and secularism. Living without God means turning toward something.”

For Mr. Aronson, that “something” is not the ideal of an autonomous individual striding confidently into the dawning future but the drama of an interdependent humankind embedded in complex systems of forces, knit into networks of natural environment, historical legacies, social institutions and personal relations.
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More originally, he argues that this interdependence should summon gratitude — gratitude “for,” even if not “to.” Giving thanks, he recognizes, has been central to religion, and secular culture needs to be enriched with an equivalent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

February 14, 2009

What Love Means

Ng   Te Amo  In Stickies
Every one of these stickies attached to a building in Guatemala is inscribed "Te amo Christina".
This photograph won honorable mention in the
National Geographic International Photo Contest

From a passalong I saved just for today, what love means to children, aged 4-8.

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
Rebecca - age 8

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth."
Billy - age 4

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other. "
Karl - age 5

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."
Terri - age 4

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss"
Emily -age 8

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen,"
Bobby - age 7

"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,"
Nikka - age 6

"My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night." Clare - age 6

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."
Mary Ann - age 4

"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones."
Lauren - age 4

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."
Karen - age 7

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget,"
Jessica - age 8

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:00 AM | Permalink

February 13, 2009

My vote for the Best Job in the World

Maybe, you've heard about the best job in the world.    Tourism Queensland is looking for a Caretaker for the Great Barrier Reef, someone with enthusiasm, good personality, presentation skills and at least one year's relevant experience.  It pays $150,000 Australian dollars for a six-month contract plus accommodations on Hamilton Island.

A great job if you can get it and I have a young friend, Anna Duffy, who's applied and who I hope does get it

 Anna Duffy

Take a look at her video application.  It's less than one minute long. I haven't embedded it so you'll go to the official site to watch it and there be able to give her a vote.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:19 PM | Permalink

"I Love Jesus But I Drink A Little"

This is hilarious - Ellen DeGeneres talks to Gladys from Austin, Texas.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:48 AM | Permalink

Biking with the sons to the Dairy Queen

To the Dairy Queen and Back by John Landretti, in Orion

Sometimes my sons and I stop the Burley Train at this open place and lean it against the goldenrod. We find spotted knapweed to look at, rosehips and blackberries. The boys like to gaze back at the highway. They wonder where it goes, so we talk about the Big Horns and the Greasy Grass, or the Ohio River and the worn hills of Kerouac’s “bushy wilderness” back east. Now and then we get into history, and I might spin an account of the early railroads, perhaps quote a few rousing lines from Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” When they ask about the Indians, and what has become of their ways, I might recount the Sioux at Wounded Knee, speaking in the plainest terms. The perspectives jar, the language varies, and I let my boys fall into that space between. They fill it with questions.

“Listen,” I say, raising a finger. “Do you hear it?”

They stiffen, and we hear once more: the elusive warble.

“A loon,” I explain. I tell them straightaway we are lucky.

Nights later Mathieu says at bedtime, “We heard a loon on our way to the Dairy Queen—didn’t we, Dad? We’re lucky. Right, Dad?”

I turn out the lamp and touch his hair, my fingers in the radiance of a child forming his world.

via Culture Making

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 AM | Permalink

February 12, 2009

Hell Down Under

-Bushfire In Victoria

"Everybody's gone. Everybody's gone. Everybody. Their houses are gone. They're all dead in the houses there. Everybody's dead," cried survivor Christopher Harvey as he walked through the town of Kinglake, where most people were killed.

-- One massive bushfire tore through several towns in the southern state of Victoria on Saturday night, destroying everything in its path. Many people died in cars trying to flee and others were killed huddled in their homes, yet some escaped by jumping into swimming pools or farm reservoirs.

The exploding bushfires in Victoria are Australia's worst natural disaster in more than a century.    The death toll stands at 181 and will no doubt rise as more bodies are discovered.    It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster.

One father. a journalist who escaped with his family  wrote
They warn you that it comes fast, but the word fast doesn't come anywhere near describing it. It comes at you like a runaway train. One minute you are preparing. The next you are fighting for your home. Then you are fighting for your life.

But it is not minutes that come between; it's more like seconds. The firestorm moves faster than you can think, let alone react.

Police suspect the fires may have been deliberately set.
a source said it appeared the Victorian blazes had been started in accordance with a plan. They appear to have been set in a semi-circle, the individual parts of which would join up to form a huge wall of flame.

Marysville, the 'ground zero' of destruction has been declared "one huge crime scene".

Prime minister Kevin Rudd described the arsonists as 'mass murderers' and has said the arsonists should 'rot in jail'.

A-Bushfire-Burns

One firefighter described the horror and the awful decision to save themselves knowing they were leaving people to die.

"We had people banging on the sides of our tanker begging us to go back to houses where they knew there were people trapped, but we couldn't because if we had, we'd all be dead too," Mr Munday said.

"There were children running down the streets with flames behind them. It was hell. I never want to go back to that place, never.

 Australian Fire Photo

A graphic of the path of destruction.    Photos at The Big Picture.

Many bodies were burned beyond recognition and may never be identified.

-Covered Body Australia

One man climbed onto a pub roof to save 400 people
ARMED with only a garden hose, tradie Peter Thorneycroft didn't hesitate before climbing on to the roof of Kinglake's National Park Hotel.

With dozens of children sheltered in the hotel's cool room, he knew it was the only way to put out embers threatening to ignite the building.  Despite struggling with an arm injury, the 43-year-old also fought the embers with buckets of water handed up by brave locals.
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"It was like a cyclone, like a tornado," Mr Thorneycroft said yesterday.    "The ground was constantly shaking. It was absolutely deafening. It was just complete darkness. I never panic . . . (but) I was s......g myself.
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Eleven years after losing his Kinglake home in a fire, Mr Thorneycroft left his new home to defend the pub. Miraculously the house survived.  Wife Jodie, 41, had left the area but kept in constant phone contact during the drama.  "Everyone was just in hysterics," she said.

"He just kept going, 'Everyone's dead, everyone's dead' and I just said, 'Shut up and do what you've got to do'."

 Hero Australian Bushfire


Greens also get some of the blame
The fire experts said not enough had been done to thin out forest areas that posed a danger to small communities in the heart of the bush.  The green lobby is against forests being thinned out because they say clearing bracken, logs and fallen leaves upsets the balance of nature.

In Strathewen, a town ravaged by the fires, resident John Murphy was more terse.

'I was told by the Greenies that I mustn't touch this twig or that stick because a mouse might want to live under it,' he said. 'Well to hell with the mice. People are dead - and so's the mouse.'

One man who lost his mother and brother in the fires criticized the town council's failure to give property owners permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for bushfire season.

We've lost two people in my family because you dickheads won't cut trees down.  We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road … and you can't even cut the grass for God's sake."

Millions of animals feared dead
Kangaroos, wombats, native birds and reptiles stood little chance against the swiftly advancing blazes that devastated more than 400,000 hectares in the state of Victoria.
Corpses of dead wallabies and kangaroos still lined roads in the worst-hit areas, with rescue crews were too busy to clear them from sight. There were also reports of birds and bats falling out of the sky during the fires. One turtle was found with its shell fused together.

One koala was saved, now called Survivor Sam.  YouTube video here.

 Koala Saved-1

Donations to the Victorian bushfire appeal at the Australian Red Cross.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 AM | Permalink

La Dolce Video

A lovely story about La Dolce Video or how a Korean immigrant's collection of videos that became a local institution in the East Village is now on its way to Salemi, an ancient town in western Sicily run by artists.

Plans under way include what is described as a Never-ending Festival — a 24-hour projection of up to 10 films at once for the foreseeable future.
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“It’s not the East Village,” Ms. Pauli said. “We can’t try to make a replica of that. But it’s a new door we can open. And we would like to involve Kim’s Video members and all the community of film lovers in New York, and in America, and anywhere.”

The collector Yongman Kim

lamented the end of the business that he loved, a business that once allowed him to carve out his own contribution in America. And he mourns more than the loss of his movies.

“My passion was the introduction to my new community in U.S. of my film love,” he said. “This kind of passion is no longer welcome, due to the new technology of the Internet.”

He looked off into the distance. “The future of the video rental business is really dying and declining so fast, so fast,” he added. “I realized this thing so late.”

But he also knows that for his collection, bright days may lie ahead 3,000 miles away.

Of the group from Salemi, which he described as “very serious and sincere,” he said, “I don’t have any doubt that they will have a great program with my collection.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink

"The first instance of mass book-burning in the 21st century"

A four-volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization seems to be 'Too Christian' for Academia?

Wiley-Blackwell, a major academic press, was set to release its four-volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization this month. According to the encyclopedia’s editor, George Thomas Kurian, the set had been copy-edited, fact-checked, proofread, publisher-approved, printed, bound, and formally launched (to high praise) at the recent American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference. But protests from a small group of scholars associated with the project have led the press to postpone publication, recall all copies already distributed, and destroy the existing print run. The scholars’ complaint? The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, they have reportedly argued, is “too Christian.” “They also object to historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims,” Kurian says, “but at the same time want references favorable to Islam.”
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Political correctness in academic publishing is nothing new, but it would be unusual, to say the least, for ideological pressure to lead a publisher to reverse itself so late in the process, especially given the significant financial losses involved in pulping a print run of a gigantic four-volume encyclopedia. As Kurian puts it, “This is probably the first instance of mass book-burning in the 21st century.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 AM | Permalink

February 11, 2009

"Excessive individualism"

Is it any surprise that a "Me-first" attitude fails children?

Children's lives are being blighted by Britain's selfish society, a landmark report concludes.

The  Good Childhood Inquiry claims that almost all of the problems now facing young people stem from the culture of "excessive individualism" that has developed in recent decades.

It says the "me-first" attitude of adults is causing family breakdowns, competition in education, a growing gap between rich and poor, unkindness among teenagers and premature sexualisation by advertisers.

The pioneering two-year investigation, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and based on interviews with 35,000 children, parents and professionals, claims British children are less happy than those in almost any other developed country.
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The study blames these problems squarely on the growth of a struggle for personal status and success, which it says has filled the vacuum created by the decline of religious belief and community spirit.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 PM | Permalink

Who was behind the electronic run on the banks?

Rep Kanjorski: $550 Billion Disappeared in "Electronic Run on the Banks"

 

It was about September 15th [sic]. … On Thursday at about 11 o’clock in the morning the Federal Reserve noticed a tremendous drawdown of, uh, money market accounts in the United States to the tune of $550-billion was being drawn out in in a matter of an hour or two.

The Treasury opened up its window to help, and pumped in $105-billion into the system, and quickly realized it could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. They decided to close down the operation, to close down the money accounts. … If they had not done that, in their estimation, by 2 PM that afternoon $5.5-trillion would have been withdrawn and would have collapsed the U.S. economy and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed.


We talked at that time about what would have happened. It would have been the end of our economic and our political system as we know it.

So that's what  former Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernake told the Congress behind closed doors, scaring the bejezzus out of them and shocking them into supporting the first $700 billion to bail out the banks.

More at Capitalism Gone Wild

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

Unqualified graciousness

A young woman put on a black abaya to go to a small town in Alabama, named of all things, Arab,  Arab, Alabama, to see how people would react.

"I expected people to say, 'What is this terrorist doing here? We don't want your kind here,' " said Woldt, a 22-year-old blue-eyed Catholic, recalling her anticipation before stepping into a local barbecue joint. "I thought I wouldn't even be served."

Instead, Woldt's experiment in social anthropology opened her own eyes. Apart from the initial glances reserved for any outsider who might venture through a small-town restaurant's doors, her experience was a pleasant one.

On her way to the bathroom, Woldt said, "One woman's jaw dropped, but then she smiled at me. ... That little smile just makes you feel so much better."

This unexpected experience has just been one of Woldt's takeaway moments on her current journey. She is one in a team of five mostly 20-something Americans, led by an esteemed Muslim scholar, who are crisscrossing the nation on an anthropological mission. Their purpose: to discuss American identity, Muslim identity, and find out how well this country upholds its ideals in a post-September 11 world.

Muslim in America: a 'voyage of discovery'

Another report on the project   
Despite Ahmed's unqualified conclusion that Americans stereotype Muslims -- he and his team have encountered almost unqualified graciousness -- particularly as they toured the South.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:17 AM | Permalink

"You'll never know what your people did for those kids tonight"

The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, "You'll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You'll never, ever know."

An inspiring story by Rick Reilly about a high school football team.

Hat tip Wittingshire

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:11 AM | Permalink

February 10, 2009

Banned in Britain

Invited to visit the British House of Lords, Geert Wilders, member of the Dutch parliament, found himself being told by the British ambassador to the Netherlands, that he was not welcome, reportedly because his visit would constitute a threat to the public order.

Mr Wilders responded to the decision in fighting mood, telling Dutch media that he still intended to travel to London:“I’ll see what happens at the border. Let them put me in handcuffs.”

This is an appalling decision I can only presume was approved at the highest levels of the British government.

Indeed, here is the letter given Mr. Wilders from the British embassy

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK.

Melanie Philips tells it like it is

So let’s get this straight. The British government allows people to march through British streets screaming support for Hamas, it allows Hizb ut Tahrir to recruit on campus for the jihad against Britain and the west, it takes no action against a Muslim peer who threatens mass intimidation of Parliament, but it bans from the country a member of parliament of a European democracy who wishes to address the British Parliament on the threat to life and liberty in the west from religious fascism.

It is he, not them, who is considered a ‘serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society’. Why? Because the result of this stand for life and liberty against those who would destroy them might be an attack by violent thugs. The response is not to face down such a threat of violence but to capitulate to it instead.
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Wilders is a controversial politician, to be sure. But this is another fateful and defining issue for Britain’s governing class as it continues to sleepwalk into cultural suicide.  If British MPs do not raise hell about this banning order, if they go along with this spinelessness, if they fail to stand up for the principle that the British Parliament of all places must be free to hear what a fellow democratically elected politician has to say about one of the most difficult and urgent issues of our time, if they fail to hold the line against the threat of violence but capitulate to it instead, they will be signalling that Britain is no longer the cradle of freedom and democracy but its graveyard.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:18 PM | Permalink

February 9, 2009

I'd much rather buy Australia

Now, I can understand, much as I don't like it, bailing out the banks because without a functioning financial system, the economy breaks down.

What I don't understand is the pressure to pass the stimulus bill, in truth a spending bill.  This recession is nowhere near as bad as the recession in 1981-1982 or 1973-1975 as this graph from JMF shows

 Recessions

Viking pundit via Maggie's Farm says

Including debt service, the cost of the Generational Theft Act is estimated at $1.175 trillion, all of which will be borrowed to be paid by America's children.

Think of it this way: we're going to borrow and spend almost one Russia, or one India. We could buy South Korea or Mexico.
We could have our own continent by purchasing Australia and all their handsome actors and actresses. We could have Belgium, Sweden, and still have some pocket change left over for Greece. We could have five Hong Kongs.

Personally, I'd much rather buy Australia.

Harvard economist Robert Barro, says in the Atlantic

This is probably the worst bill that has been put forward since the 1930s. I don't know what to say. I mean it's wasting a tremendous amount of money. It has some simplistic theory that I don't think will work, so I don't think the expenditure stuff is going to have the intended effect. I don't think it will expand the economy. And the tax cutting isn't really geared toward incentives. It's not really geared to lowering tax rates; it's more along the lines of throwing money at people. On both sides I think it's garbage. So in terms of balance between the two it doesn't really matter that much.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:16 PM | Permalink

"People are given gifts. They squander them, mostly"

Everyone gets gifts, just not all so obvious and noteworthy. What are you doing with your gifts? They go stale after a while, whether you use them or not. Use them, now, and wisely. Regret is a terrible thing.

Sippican

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink

Talking Ants

Another wonder, Hills are alive with the sound of ants.

 Ant-Nest

Advances in audio technology have enabled scientists to discover that ants routinely talk to each other in their nests.

Most ants have a natural washboard and plectrum built into their abdomens that they can rub together to communicate using sound.

Using miniaturised microphones and speakers that can be inserted unobtrusively into nests, researchers established that the queens can issue instructions to their workers.
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Professor Jeremy Thomas, of the University of Oxford, said improvements in technology had made the discoveries possible because it meant the ants could be recorded and subjected to playbacks without becoming alarmed.

By placing miniature speakers into the nest and playing back sounds made by a queen, the researchers were able to persuade ants to stand to attention.

“When we played the queen sounds they did 'en garde' behaviour. They would stand motionless with their antennae held out and their jaws apart for hours - the moment anyone goes near they will attack,” he said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:14 AM | Permalink

France embraces MacDo's

I found this stunning

McDonald's announced at the end of January that it now earns more from sales in Europe — particularly France and Britain—than it does in the United States.

The French also spend more per purchase at McDonald's than anyone else in the world, according to the company's latest financial report.

And the most popular tourist attraction in Europe is ...Euro Disney.

Europeans showing some love for Americana

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:08 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

The Undead

40% of coma patients in a 'vegetative state' may be misdiagnosed.

Ttrapped inside their own bodies, apparently switched off to the world, but still alive: they are the undead. 

Adrian Owen’s first experiment on Kate involved presenting her with photographs of her mother and father, followed by fuzzy, meaningless pictures, while her brain was being scanned. “We found,” he says, “that areas of Kate’s brain burst into activity when pics of her family were shown that accorded perfectly with the brain locations of healthy volunteers doing the same task.”

This did not necessarily mean that she was fully conscious. It has been established by David Menon’s research that an anaesthetised patient’s brain can respond to certain stimuli without being actually aware. But Owen’s first experiment revealed that Kate’s brain was not entirely devastated: there were islands of activation. In fact, Kate has no memory now of seeing the pictures. And as she returned to consciousness, she remembers people speaking without understanding what they were saying. The first words she understood as meaningful words, and not just noise, were spoken by her mother. Kate remained in hospital for a further six months, returning gradually to responsiveness in fits and starts. The scan had given her parents and the medical staff confidence that her brain might begin to heal itself slowly with systematic stimuli. They were right.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:06 AM | Permalink

What causes personal bankruptcy?

Megan McArdle on a recent study that finds job loss and medical condition NOT the major cause of personal bankruptcy.

Rather, it's over-consumption, spending on houses and cars,  that people can't afford that drives people to file for bankruptcy.

This paper utilizes the population of personal bankruptcy filings in the state of Delaware during 2003 and finds that household expenditures on durable consumptions, such as houses and automobiles, contribute significantly to personal bankruptcy. Adverse medical conditions also lead to personal bankruptcy filings, but other adverse events such as divorce and unemployment have marginal effects. Over-consumption makes households financially over-stretched and more susceptible to adverse events, which reconcile the strategic filing and adverse event explanations.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 AM | Permalink

Doctor fixed data on autism

Surely you've heard about the link between autism and vaccines.  Some parents have been terrified to have their young children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.  The fear of such vaccination led to the return of measles in England, Germany, Switzerland and Italy

The London Times reports that the doctor who sparked the scare with his study in the British medical journal Lancet
linking autism with vaccinations fixed the data to make the link.

MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism.

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.
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Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:51 AM | Permalink

February 8, 2009

Recession will end in 2009 says CBO even without stmulus

So why spend the money?  After reading what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said about the stimulus package,

CBO, the official scorekeepers for legislation, said the House and Senate bills will help in the short term but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment, actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing.

the more I think it's a bad idea.

International Business Daily wrote

The agency projected the Senate bill would produce between 1.4 percent and 4.1 percent higher growth in 2009 than if there was no action. For 2010, the plan would boost growth by 1.2 percent to 3.6 percent.

CBO did project the bill would create jobs, though by 2011 the effects would be minuscule.

"The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money" is on point even if often misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville

UPDATE:  An amazing graphic in the Washington Post on Taking Apart the $819 billion Stimulus Package

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 PM | Permalink

A fog so thick ...

"The financial system created a fog so thick that even its captains could not navigate it."

In Our Epistemological Depression, Jerry Muller argues that major recessions are characterized by something novel. 

This crisis was not created by something that gets reflected in the financial system, but a crisis caused within the financial system itself.

The most important bubble of the last decade or so was not of the housing sector, but of the financial sector, a bubble reflected by the 20 percent of S & P 500 profits that were made in the financial sector.
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a large role was played by the failure of the private and corporate actors to understand what they were doing. Most heads of ailing or deceased financial institutions did not comprehend the degree of risk and exposure entailed by the dealings of their underlings—and many investors, including municipalities and pension funds, bought financial instruments without understanding the risks involved.

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Diversification and complexity, which are both supposed to reduce risk, turned out to have unintended and unanticipated negative consequences. The purported virtues mutated into vices.
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Without financial institutions that people have faith in, a fiscal stimulus is unlikely to have much of a multiplier effect.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:36 AM | Permalink

" if you lose too much weight after the age of 40..."

If you're over 40, don't worry too much about those last ten pounds. 

Scientists who have studied facial aging say

“Excessive loss of weight can be detrimental to youthfulness and attractiveness,’’ Dr. Guyuron said. “It’s a warning if you lose too much weight after the age of 40.’’

Other factors that may accelerate facial aging are what you would expect - smoking, sun exposure, stress - and what you wouldn't - use of antidepressants.

Twins and the Wrinkles of Aging from the Well blog at the New York Times.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:18 AM | Permalink

February 7, 2009

"Family breakdown a triumph of human rights'

When I read the the head of the United Nations Population Fund said that family breakdown is a triumph for human rights against "patriachy" all I could think of was Brave New World where the idea of a family was repellent because 'everyone belongs to everyone else'.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:01 AM | Permalink

February 6, 2009

Straight from Central Casting

Straight from central casting comes Harry Markopolus says Dana Milbank in the Washington Post

geeky, with too-big glasses and a prominent comb-over. When he spoke, it was in the vocabulary of a man who had watched a lot of detective movies.
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a next-generation Dirty Harry -- a derivatives industry vigilante, part Lt. Columbo, part Adrian Monk, with a dash of "Dragnet" and "Lethal Weapon" sprinkled throughout his testimony.
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Markopolos recounted how he figured out Madoff was a fraud ("It took me about five minutes") and how he proved it ("I did about four hours of modeling").

The lawmakers were impressed. "I would like to just say for the record that I see you as a modern-day Greek hero," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

Markopolos had a knack for blunt and colorful language befitting an action hero. He recommended that the SEC hire industry veterans who "have gray hair or no hair." He looked up at the panel's chairman, Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), who is gray and mostly bald. "You'd be perfect," Markopolos said.

He used detective-movie phrases, such as "There is no light and only darkness." Wall Street, he said, has a "code of silence," and Madoff now is held "under penthouse arrest."

The sleuth's choicest words were reserved for the SEC, which he assaulted with a vengeance once directed at Madoff. "I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them, and somehow they couldn't be bothered," he complained.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:44 AM | Permalink

"The presumption that the only road to power passes through the Ivy League"

There was so much animus against Sarah Palin by so many, including many friends, that I could never understand.  Yuval Levin manages to explain some of it in The Meaning of Sarah Palin.

Indeed, the overheated response to Palin’s presence on the national stage, from both friend and foe, was oddly disconnected from Palin’s actual actions, statements, and record. It was a turn of events no one could have anticipated, and one that has much to teach us about American political life in our day.
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Palin was assigned every view and position the Left considered unenlightened, and the response to her brought into the light all manner of implicit liberal assumptions about cultural conservatives. We were told that Palin was opposed to contraception, advocated teaching creationism in schools, and was inclined to ban books she disagreed with. She was described as a religious zealot, an anti-abortion extremist, a blind champion of abstinence-only sex education. She was said to have sought to make rape victims pay for their own medical exams, to have Alaska secede from the Union, and to get Pat Buchanan elected President. She was reported to believe that the Iraq war was mandated by God, that the end-times prophesied in the Book of Revelation were nearing and only Alaska would survive, and that global warming was purely a myth. None of this was true.
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To be sure, some criticisms of Palin were entirely appropriate. She had no experience in foreign or defense policy and very little expertise in or command of either.
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The reaction to Palin revealed a deep and intense cultural paranoia on the Left: an inclination to see retrograde reaction around every corner, and to respond to it with vile anger. A confident, happy, and politically effective woman who was also a social conservative was evidently too much to bear. The response of liberal feminists was in this respect particularly telling, and especially unpleasant.

“Her greatest hypocrisy is her pretense that she is a woman,” wrote Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago.
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Applied to politics, the worldview of the intellectual elite begins from an unstated assumption that governing is fundamentally an exercise of the mind: an application of the proper mix of theory, expertise, and intellectual distance that calls for knowledge and verbal fluency more than for prudence born of life’s hard lessons.

Sarah Palin embodied a very different notion of politics, in which sound instincts and valuable life experiences are considered sources of knowledge at least the equal of book learning. She is the product of an America in which explicit displays of pride in intellect are considered unseemly, and where physical prowess and moral constancy are given a higher place than intellectual achievement. She was in the habit of stressing these faculties instead—a habit that struck many in Washington as brutishness.
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This is why Palin was seen as anti-intellectual when, properly speaking, she was simply non-intellectual. What she lacked was not intelligence—she is, clearly, highly intelligent—but rather the particular set of assumptions, references, and attitudes inculcated by America’s top twenty universities and transmitted by the nation’s elite cultural organs.
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The reaction of the intellectual elite to Sarah Palin was far more provincial than Palin herself ever has been, and those who reacted so viscerally against her evinced little or no appreciation for an essential premise of democracy: that practical wisdom matters at least as much as formal education, and that leadership can emerge from utterly unexpected places. The presumption that the only road to power passes through the Ivy League and its tributaries is neither democratic nor sensible, and is, moreover, a sharp and wrongheaded break from the American tradition of citizen governance.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:32 AM | Permalink

February 5, 2009

Vitamin D to prevent MS

Maybe you've heard the quote "Genes Load the Gun, But Environment Pulls the Trigger".  That's what I thought of when I read this article in the London Times.

Vitamin D is a ray of sunshine for multiple sclerosis patients

Multiple sclerosis could be prevented through daily vitamin D supplements, scientists told The Times last night. 

The first causal link has been established between the “sunshine vitamin” and a gene that increases the risk of MS, raising the possibility that the debilitating auto-immune disease could be eradicated. 

George Ebers, Professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Oxford, claimed that there was hard evidence directly relating both genes and the environment to the origins of MS.  His work suggests that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and childhood may increase the risk of a child developing the disease. 

He has also established the possibility that genetic vulnerability to MS, apparently initiated by lack of vitamin D, may be passed through families.  These risks might plausibly be reduced by giving vitamin D supplements to pregnant woman and young children. 

“I think it offers the potential for treatment which might prevent MS in the future,” Professor Ebers said.  “Our research has married two key pieces of the puzzle. The interaction of vitamin D with the gene is very specific and it seems most unlikely to be a coincidence of any kind.”
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Until now there has been no scientific proof of the links. However, Professor Ebers and his team have shown that vitamin D affects a particular genetic variant, identified as the one that increases the risk of developing MS threefold.

They suggest that a shortage of the vitamin alters this variant, thus preventing the immune system from functioning normally.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:02 PM | Permalink

Fidgeting, yawning and generally rude

That how's you tell a person's class?

The wealthy fidget, yawn and generally appear rude, say researchers.

Researchers said those born into privilege may feel less of a need to make a good impression and so are more inclined to fidget when talking to other people.

In contrast, their poorer counterparts are anxious to make a good impression and so are more attentive.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, in the U.S. studied videotapes of 50 conversations between pairs of strangers.

Those from wealthy backgrounds appeared more distracted, playing with their hair, removing flecks of dust from their clothing, fidgeting and doodling.

However, those who were less well off made more of an effort to engage in conversation with the other person, they found.

The study also revealed that when other people were shown clips of the tapes, they were able accurately to guess the person's socioeconomic status based on their body language alone.

The article continues

Previous research has shown that those who fidget are less likely to become fat because they are getting valuable exercise without being aware of it.

proving the needlepoint saying You can never be too thin or too rich or apparently too rude.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:47 PM | Permalink

February 4, 2009

Systemic Rape to Recruit Suicide Bombers

I was stunned at this story.  It's hard to fathom such depravity

'Mum' had 80 women raped for suicide missions
A WOMAN suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

Samira Jassam, 51, was arrested by Iraqi police and confessed to recruiting the women and orchestrating dozens of attacks.

In a video confession, she explained how she had mentally prepared the women for martyrdom operations, passed them on to terrorists who provided explosives, and then took the bombers to their targets.

"We arrested Samira Jassim, known as 'Um al-Mumenin', the mother of the believers, who was responsible for recruiting 80 women'', Major General Qassim Atta said.

Gateway Pundit has the photograph of this "mother of all believers"

 Mum Terrorist

Some of those women were mentally disabled, Down syndrome women that were used to kill dozens in Baghdad.

Michael Leeden writes

This provides us with a particularly ugly picture of the recruitment of the faithful, which did not take place purely as the result of religious indoctrination, and the well-known dehumanization of the targets of the suicide attacks.  In this case, the victims are the women themselves, who are first deliberately stripped of their worthiness, humiliated in their own eyes and those of their families, and then offered a bloody “redemption” by the terrorists.

We have known for some time about the seedy side of Islamic terrorism, ranging from the widespread use of drugs to the manipulation of psychologically damaged children.  But, for me at least, this is the first account of systematic rape as a recruiting method.  It ought to disgust everyone, but it should be especially repulsive to Muslims, for their religion is being cynically used in conjunction with sexist brutality in order to kill their own women as well as their (mostly Muslim) victims.

This story also suggests that the appeal of “martyrdom” is either not all it has been cracked up to be, or is losing its appeal in Iraqi society.  Either way, it gives us hope that the terrorists are losing, which is abundantly confirmed by the relentless drop in “martyrdom operations.”  But what terrible damage they have inflicted on their own people.

UPDATE:  James Taranto makes it clear what's going on.
In any case, assuming the rape story is true, consider the many levels on which this is depraved. A Muslim woman is arranging for Muslim men to rape Muslim women in order to shame those Muslim women into committing suicide for the purpose of murdering other Muslim men, women and children. And all of this is done in the name of Islam.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:20 AM | Permalink

February 3, 2009

"In public sector America things just get better and better"

It's easy when you make the laws to vote for automatic pay raises, high public pensions and great health care benefits way into retirement.    Far too easy.

Gilt -Edged Pensions

They're creating a nasty social problem as well. America, in case you hadn't noticed, is dividing into two nations. The 22.5-million-strong public sector (that includes retirees) is growing ever larger, and enjoying ever greater wages and benefits often guaranteed by state constitutions.

In private-sector America your job, assuming you still have one, hangs on the fate of the economy. If your employer ever offered a pension for life, like young officer Goss is receiving, odds are it has stopped doing so, or soon will. Those retirement accounts you scrimped and saved to assemble? Unless they are invested in Treasurys, they aren't doing too well. In private-sector America the math leads to the grim prospect of working longer and living poorer.

In public-sector America things just get better and better. The common presumption is that public servants forgo high wages in exchange for safe jobs and benefits. The reality is they get all three. State and local government workers get paid an average of $25.30 an hour, which is 33% higher than the private sector's $19, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Throw in pensions and other benefits and the gap widens to 42%.

Just what we need, another looming fiscal crisis. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:40 PM | Permalink

What's going to happen to the Protestant ethic?

The emergence of what Max Weber described as the Protestant ethic represented an important point in the evolution of capitalism because it combined a reverence for hard work with an emphasis on thrift and forthrightness in one’s dealings with others. Where those virtues were most ardently practiced markets advanced and societies prospered. And, as Wesley foresaw, what slowly followed was a rise in materialism and a reverence of wealth for its own sake.
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To survive all of this it seems capitalism needs a new dose of restraint. But absent a vast religious revival in the West, which seems unlikely, where will a renewal of the virtues of the work ethic come from? That question becomes ever more difficult to consider because as religious practice fades and our institutions reject traditional values, so too does the memory of the role that these elements played in the rise of capitalism.

Can Free Markets Survive in a Secularized World by Steven Malanga

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:04 AM | Permalink

Working at Wal-Mart

A senior editor for Wired magazine gets a job at Wal-Mart

Life at Wal-Mart

The job was as dull as I expected, but I was stunned to discover how benign the workplace turned out to be. My supervisor was friendly, decent, and treated me as an equal. Wal-Mart allowed a liberal dress code. The company explained precisely what it expected from its employees, and adhered to this policy in every detail. I was unfailingly reminded to take paid rest breaks, and was also encouraged to take fully paid time, whenever I felt like it, to study topics such as job safety and customer relations via a series of well-produced interactive courses on computers in a room at the back of the store. Each successfully completed course added an increment to my hourly wage, a policy which Barbara Ehrenreich somehow forgot to mention in her book.

My standard equipment included a handheld bar-code scanner which revealed the in-store stock and nearest warehouse stock of every item on the shelves, and its profit margin. At the branch where I worked, all the lowest-level employees were allowed this information and were encouraged to make individual decisions about inventory. One of the secrets to Wal-Mart’s success is that it delegates many judgment calls to the sales-floor level, where employees know first-hand what sells, what doesn’t, and (most important) what customers are asking for.
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As for all those Wal-Mart horror stories—when I went home and checked the web sites that attack the company, I found that many of them are subsidized with union money. ...Why are unions so obsessed with Wal-Mart? I'm guessing that if the more-than-a-million Wal-Mart employees could be unionized, they would be compelled to contribute at least half a billion dollars per year in union dues.


Subsequently I considered writing about my brief experience, but a book defending a company that has been demonized does not have a large potential audience, and the writer tends to be dismissed as either hopelessly naive or bribed by corporate America.

Similar factors result in someone such as Adam Shepard remaining relatively obscure.

If you haven’t heard of Adam Shepard, this illustrates my point. His remarkable book Scratch Beginnings, now being promoted through www.scratchbeginnings.com, describes how he went through an experience far more gruelling than my brief flirtation with low-paying work. He placed himself in a homeless shelter with $25 in his pocket, found a job as a day laborer, then worked for a moving company, and after 10 months had a pickup truck, an apartment, and $2,500 in savings. His conclusion: People can still make it in the United States if they are willing to live carefully on a budget and work hard.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 AM | Permalink

February 2, 2009

Some good news

The election in Iraq
Voting for provincial elections was by every measure a success. 

"How can we not vote? All of us here have always complained about being oppressed and not having a leader who represented us. Now is our chance," said Basra voter Abdul Hussein Nu
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"So far, so good. The significance? Historic," U.N. Special Representative Staffan de Mistura told Reuters at a polling station in a Baghdad school.
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Charles Krauthammer says

What you have is the growth of civil society. And what's going to happen after this election, because of the vast number of parties, is going to be the bargaining among them, and you're going to get all kinds of interesting coalitions.

It is the beginning of a civil society in Iraq and the strengthening of a democracy. And, in a way, it vindicates the surge and the entire idea of Iraq as capable of having a real democracy.

Even the New York Times reported

Iraqis voted on Saturday for local representatives, on an almost violence-free election day aimed at creating provincial councils that more closely represent Iraq's ethnic, sectarian and tribal balance. By nightfall, there were no confirmed deaths, and children played soccer on closed-off streets in a generally joyous atmosphere.

Rainforests coming back bigtime

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate,
for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:27 PM | Permalink

Broken Britain

The effects of the world wide financial crisis are revealing deep strains on peaceful civil society.    I am afraid this is just the beginning.

Muslim population 'rising 10 times faster than the rest of society'
The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.

The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.

David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, said: “The implications are very substantial. Some of the Muslim population, by no means all of them, are the least socially and economically integrated of any in the United Kingdom ... and the one most associated with political dissatisfaction.

You can feel the testosterone and more in the air as Muslim youths, 'peace' protestors, shouting Allah Akbar  chase London policemen down the street.

Video at Harry's place.

It's hard to make any sense of this - Nurse suspended for offering to pray for patient's recovery.

At last week's hour-long meeting, Mrs Petrie says she was told the patient had said she was not offended by the prayer offer but the woman argued that someone else might have been.

In too many places, the right not to be offended has trumped both freedoms of religion and speech.  What results is 'thought police'.

Nat Hentoff points out what little notice was paid to the U.N. Resolution on December 18, 2008.

In an 83 to 53 vote, with 42 abstentions, the U.N. General Assembly urged nations to provide "adequate protections" in their laws or constitutions against "acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general."
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Only Islam and Muslims are specifically named in this resolution against religious defamation, sponsored by Uganda on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, and cosponsored by Belarus and Venezuela. Opponents included the United States, a majority of European countries, Japan and India.
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Floyd Abrams, the nation's leading protector of the First Amendment in the Supreme Court and in his writings. In his Dec. 9 lecture on global communications, issues at the United Nations itself in New York, he cited a recent study by the European Center for Law and Justice finding "that laws based on the concept of 'defamation of religion' actually help to create a climate of violence."

"Violators of these laws, as applied in most Muslim countries, are subject to the death penalty,

Last week we learned about the two grandparents who had cared for their 5-year-old grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter almost since birth because their mother was a drug addict were considered by social services 'too old' at 59 and 46 to care for them adequately.    The  children were removed and placed in foster care in preparation for adoption by a gay couple over the objections of their mother who wants their grandparents to raise them.

They were stripped of their carer's rights and informed they would be barred from seeing the children altogether unless they agreed to the same-sex adoption.

The distraught grandfather said: "It breaks my heart to think that our grandchildren are being forced to grow up in an environment without a mother-figure.


"We are not prejudiced, but I defy anyone to explain to us how this can be in their best interests. The ideal for any child is to have a loving father and a loving mother in their lives."

Peter Hitchens writes about how bad it is.
If I never again had to read or write a word about homosexuals, I would be very happy. I really don't want to know what other people do in their bedrooms. But these days they really, really want us all to know. And, more important, they insist that we approve. No longer are we allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves, while being polite and kind.

We are forced to say that we think homosexuality is a good thing, that homosexual couples are equal in all ways to heterosexual married couples. Most emphatically, we are compelled to agree that homosexual couples are just as good at bringing up children as the children's own grandparents. Better, in fact.

Many people who believe nothing of the kind now know that their careers in politics, the media, the Armed Services, the police or schools will be ruined if they ever let their true opinions show. I am sure that many of them regularly lie about their views, to avoid such trouble.

We cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state, compelled to wave our little rainbow flags as the 'Gay Pride' parade passes by.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:27 PM | Permalink

The evil plot to destroy the world

My vote for best Superbowl commercial

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 PM | Permalink

The Demise of Democracy

I'm not surprised that Europeans are finally waking up to the demise of democracy.  I just didn't expect it so soon.

The peoples of Europe have finally discovered what they signed up to. I do mean "peoples" (plural) because however much political elites may deceive themselves, the populations of the member states of the EU are culturally, historically and economically separate and distinct. And a significant proportion of them are getting very, very angry.


What the strikers at the Lindsey oil refinery (and their brother supporters in Nottinghamshire and Kent) have discovered is the real meaning of the fine print in those treaties, and the significance of those European court judgments whose interpretation they left to EU obsessives: it is now illegal – illegal – for the government of an EU country to put the needs and concerns of its own population first.
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Meanwhile, demonstrators in Paris and the recalcitrant electorate in Germany are waking up to the consequences of what two generations of European ideologues have thrust upon them: the burden not just of their own economic problems but also the obligation to accept the consequences of their neighbours' debts and failures. Each country is true to its own history in the way it expresses its rage: in France, they take to the streets and throw things at the police, in Germany they threaten the stability of the coalition government, and here, we revive the tradition of wildcat strikes.

But the response from the EU political class is the same to all of these varied manifestations of resistance. Those who protest are being smeared with accusations of foolhardy protectionism or racist nationalism when they are not (not yet, anyway) guilty of either

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:54 AM | Permalink

Madoff and the SEC

Have you wondered why the SEC didn't take action against Bernie Maldoff despite warnings from Harry Markopulous, an independent  financial fraud investigator and past president of the Boston Security Analyst Society who wrote the SEC to say that Madoff was running the world's largest hedge fund back in 2000?

Arnaud de Borchgrave reveals a family connection I've not seen reported anywhere else in Ignorance is not bliss.

Another is the interesting relationship between Mr. Madoff's niece Shana, a rules-compliance officer at her uncle's business, and her now husband, Eric Swanson, an attorney and former SEC compliance officer. Mr. Swanson was also tasked with reviewing Madoff's business in 1999 and again in 2004. He married Shana in 2006. A co-founder and former head of the Nasdaq stock exchange, Mr. Madoff was widely regarded as beyond reproach. He also bragged about his ties to the SEC.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

America as the last man standng

A brave speech by a brave man.  Geert Wilders in New York last September on America as the last man standing

Wilders has been a member of the Dutch parliament since 1998.  Trained as a lawyer, his first film Fitna, only 16 minutes long, became the subject of world-wide controversy before it was even seen.

Robert Spencer,  director of Jihad Watch, described Fitna thus

The main part of it features a series of quotations from the Qur’an, followed by scenes of violent acts committed by Muslims.
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The core objection to the film was that it linked Islam with violence.

And that points up the odd myopia of virtually all of the objections to Fitna. It was not Geert Wilders, but the many Muslims he shows in his film, who link Islam with violence. And that link has already been made innumerable times around the world — by Islamic jihad warriors, not by non-Muslim “Islamophobes.” Omar Bakri, once the leading jihadist in Britain but now in exile from the Sceptered Isle, even went so far as to say that with a few small edits, Fitna “could be a film by the Mujahideen.”

On January 21, 2009, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ordered the criminal prosecution of Geert Wilders for insulting Islam.  Some say he went too far when he likened the Koran to Mein Kampf.    For Americans, who enjoy an almost absolute freedom under the First Amendment, it's  hard to conceive anyone being criminally charged for political speech, especially in a western democracy.

As someone remarked, Wilders is under 24 hour police protection because of threats on his life by violent Islamists, yet Wilders is criminally charged for expressing his opinion on violent Islam.

Bruce Bawer had this to say about the charge.

But Wilders—who for years now has lived under 24-hour armed guard—would not be gagged. Thus the disgraceful decision to put him on trial. In Dutch Muslim schools and mosques, incendiary rhetoric about the Netherlands, America, Jews, gays, democracy, and sexual equality is routine; a generation of Dutch Muslims are being brought up with toxic attitudes toward the society in which they live. And no one is ever prosecuted for any of this. Instead, a court in the Netherlands—a nation once famous for being an oasis of free speech—has now decided to prosecute a member of the national legislature for speaking his mind. By doing so, it proves exactly what Wilders has argued all along: that fear and “sensitivity” to a religion of submission are destroying Dutch freedom.

Here's what Geert Wilders said last September

I come to America with a mission. All is not well in the old world. There is a tremendous danger looming, and it is very difficult to be optimistic. We might be in the final stages of the Islamization of Europe. This not only is a clear and present danger to the future of Europe itself, it is a threat to America and the sheer survival of the West. The danger I see looming is the scenario of America as the last man standing. The United States as the last bastion of Western civilization, facing an Islamic Europe. In a generation or two, the US will ask itself: who lost Europe?
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Many European cities are already one-quarter Muslim: just take Amsterdam, Marseille and Malmo in Sweden. In many cities the majority of the under-18 population is Muslim. Paris is now surrounded by a ring of Muslim neighbourhoods. Mohammed is the most popular name among boys in many cities. In some elementary schools in Amsterdam the farm can no longer be mentioned, because that would also mean mentioning the pig, and that would be an insult to Muslims.  In France school teachers are advised to avoid authors deemed offensive to Muslims, including Voltaire and Diderot; the same is increasingly true of Darwin. The history of the Holocaust can in many cases no longer be taught because of Muslim sensitivity. In England sharia courts are now officially part of the British legal system. Many neighbourhoods in France are no-go areas for women without head scarves.

 Geertwilders

Dear friends, liberty is the most precious of gifts. My generation never had to fight for this freedom, it was offered to us on a silver platter, by people who fought for it with their lives. All throughout Europe American cemeteries remind us of the young boys who never made it home, and whose memory we cherish. My generation does not own this freedom; we are merely its custodians. We can only hand over this hard won liberty to Europe’s children in the same state in which it was offered to us. We cannot strike a deal with mullahs and imams. Future generations would never forgive us. We cannot squander our liberties. We simply do not have the right to do so.

This is not the first time our civilization is under threat. We have seen dangers before. We have been betrayed by our elites before. They have sided with our enemies before. And yet, then, freedom prevailed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:31 AM | Permalink