Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One Night Stand

To look at him, he was everything you could hope for: handsome, well-dressed, nice smile, open demeanor. Listening to him, he was smart, eloquent, and saying all the things I wanted to hear. I felt good. Elated, even. I was excited about the next date on Tuesday, in a way I had not been in years.

And then, it was all over.

This past Tuesday night, Pete and I went over to the Carpenters' Union in St. Paul to hear Senator John Edwards at a campaign rally. I had not been to such an event since 2004, when it was John Kerry, and before that, it was Paul Wellstone. It has been hard to get involved since that major loss. I vote, I keep myself informed, but attending events and volunteering have fallen by the wayside.

It was -14 with a -37 windchill Tuesday night, and yet about 1200 people poured into the Union hall, waiting to hear their candidate. I love Minnesotans; we really are a hearty people. I was planning on supporting Edwards at the caucus on February 5, but I had not gotten emotionally involved.

I forgot how exciting rallys such as this can be. I get very emotional and generally tear up, and then have to try to hide it by yawning because it feels ridiculous to be misty over a political event. But taking part in civic engagement and being in a room full of people who have similar dreams for this country really gets to me.

Of course, if the candidate finally arrives--they are always late--and he or she is not electrifying or the message is off, that excitement quickly dissipates. This was not the case on Tuesday night. Senator Edwards was perhaps 45 minutes late, but when he was announced, the crowd went nuts, screaming and cheering, punching the air with campaign signs. He came through the crowd to get to the stage, which added to the excitement and is a good thing for someone styling himself as a populist to do. Paul Wellstone did that.

It was a good speech. Not only did he hit on his major talking points and have plenty of pithy buzz phrases, but he actually had policy ideas and quick notes on how to get them done. It wasn't just a theme speech, based on "experience" or "change." It was "this is what we need to do, this is what I am going to do, and this is how."

He promised that we would have something other than war to be patriotic about, that America is better than having 37 million citizens living in poverty, that we deserve a president who actually believes in the Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Wouldn't that be novel? After the speech, he worked through the crowd, shaking hands, and we went home happy that we had gone, ready to put our yardsign up, and excited to caucus on Tuesday.

Then yesterday, he suspended his campaign, and I am left to choose between two candidates who can't seem to stop bickering and get to actual policy issues. I am going to an Obama event on Saturday. It's at the basketball arena, you can't bring signs, I bet we will be searched, and it's not going to be the same. If Clinton comes, I'll try to go hear her as well. I'll caucus on Tuesday, but I won't enjoy it as much as I would have.

Scientology Makes You Eloquent

“I’d like to go on vacation and go and romp and play and just do that you know what I mean? I mean... that’s what I want it to be... okay? That’s how, you know, there’s times I’d like to do that, but I can’t... because I know... I know... so... I you know... what you know... you just... you I you have to do something about it. It’s not... you know you can sit here and wish it was different and then you look at it and you go ok this errrruuhhnn ok and there’s that moment where you go you know, I have to do something don’t I? Yep, I have to do it because I can’t live with myself if I don’t, and it’s and that really is it.” –Tom Cruise

I don't think I can add anything to that, though I have plenty to say about Scientology. The above quote is brilliance, and that is how I am going to live my life from now on.

Visual Aid

This was on Paul Krugman's blog, on

I just thought it was interesting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An (Im)modest Proposal

In 1729, Dr. Jonathan Swift published his idea for how to keep the children of the poor off the public docket in Ireland. It was quite simple and well thought out: of the stock of some estimated 120,000 burdensome children, 20,000 would be “reserved for breed,” including 4,000 males or one to every 4 females, “which is more than we allow for sheep.” The remaining 100,000 would be sold to “persons of quality and fortune” to provide them with “good table.” A further benefit to this plan would be that the hides from the infants could be used to make gloves and shoes and the like, as well as the fact that many of these children would be “papists,” thus reducing the number of Catholics causing trouble.

Here in Minnesota, in 2008, our problems are still apparently caused by the poor and the sick. Instead of using eloquent satire to illustrate the fallacy of certain arguments, our illustrious governor uses what has become known in America as “common sense” to quietly lay blame on unfortunates in this country who need social services. In modern American “common sense,” you say a lot of words that sound good and get people’s heads nodding, in order to keep them from thinking about the actual meaning of the words.

For instance:
"The state is overemphasizing social services and welfare at the expense of some other key priorities, like K-12 education, like higher education, and like transportation."

Actually means:
“The reason your roads are bad and your bridges are falling and your kids’ educations are failing is because of poor people and sick people.”

It is not the lack of a sustainable transit plan, which invests in a long-term infrastructure or the continued hamstringing of our public school system by a federal government and satellite state governments who are against public education in general; it’s not any of the other budget lines that consume funds; it’s because all the money that could be going to roads and kids is going to the poor and sick who are sponging off the rest of us hardworking citizens. So let’s divert funds from social services into the roads so that if you are on welfare and can’t afford a car, you will be spurred to get a job and buy a car.

This statement:
"[These programs have] already consumed the federal government's budget to the point they're in debt, and I don't know how they're going to get out.”

Actually means:
“Poor and sick people have gotten the federal government into debt.”

That’s what has gotten the federal government into such trouble, from surplus to deficit in 8 years: poor and sick people. It’s not a second futile run at full-scale supply side economics. Furthermore, it’s not tax cuts and breaks for corporations and the wealthy; it’s not the defense department and the two wars. Neither is it massive bureaucratic reorganization for uncertain outcomes.

Poor people and sick people are nefarious. Business leaders told the governor all about people who are trying to earn less so that their kids can have health care. And he nodded in agreement, having heard of the very same plot. It’s not that health care is such an important and costly issue to Americans that they would rather have less money in pocket than risk losing public assistance; these people are freeloaders who are scamming the system. Who asked them to have all those kids, anyway?

Employers complain about the high cost of health care insurance for their employees, and the governor tries to think of ways to help the employer because too many of those people are winding up on subsidized care. If you are a member of the working poor, and you make too much to qualify for subsidized care, but your employer does not offer care, you are pretty much a nuisance and are on your own.

Then the governor headed to Florida to stump for John McCain, because we know what is really important to him as the co-chair of the candidate’s national presidential campaign.

Is cutting social services going to alleviate poverty? That is what many conservatives like to say; that it is only the crutch of government aid keeping these people from entirely supporting themselves. If you remove that crutch, they can learn to walk on their own. Never mind that no one has their crutches taken away without a plan for rehabilitation. Never mind that in order for one to have crutches, one must have been injured in some way. And if you are injured in some way in America, you had better either have good benefits or plenty of cash on hand.

Water, Water Everywhere

It’s my latest crazy-making thing: bottled water. At a recent work conference, I think they went through four cases of the stuff, and I had no control over it. Had I control, it would not have been there in the first place. I was trying to figure out how to get a point across to people about the futility, frivolity, and wastefulness of bottled water without sounding like a crazed hippie, and when I could not figure out a non-preachy way to do it, I said nothing and just stewed.

Here are a few facts about that lovely bottle of Dasani, Aquafina, Fiji, Poland Spring, or whichever brand you choose to lug around with you, for whatever reason:

* It’s estimated that it takes anywhere from 6 to 24 times the water in a bottle of water to create a bottle of water.

* The UN estimates that if the world took ½ of what it spends on bottled water (100 billion annually) and invested it in water infrastructure and treatment, everyone in the world could have access to clean drinking water.

* The EPA has more stringent quality standards for tap water than the FDA has for bottled beverages.

* 40% of bottled water is tap water.

* Only 14% of plastic water bottles are recycled, and a plastic bottle in a landfill will take 1,000 years to biodegrade. Incinerating them releases chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. 40 percent of the bottles that are sent to recycling are exported, consuming even more resources.

* PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles (plastic #1) are intended for single usage and some studies have shown that toxins from PET #1 bottles can leach into the water. These bottles are also derived from crude oil, consuming even more fossil fuels. Simply making the bottles consumes 17 million barrels of oil a year, which could fuel more than 1 million cars.

* 1.5 billion barrels of oil are consumed each year to produce the plastic used for water bottles (the equivalent of fueling 100,000 cars for one year).

* Tap water arrives at our homes through an existing infrastructure that is energy efficient, while bottled water has to be transported using fossil fuels.

* Water shortages have begun to occur around bottling plants in Texas and the Great Lakes region, threatening farmers and fishers.

* Dasani is owned by Coca-Cola, Aquafina is owned by Pepsi, Poland Spring is owned by Nestle.

* Bottled water can cost around $10.00 a gallon, which is more than a gallon of gas.

Get your annual water quality report from your local water service, which will tell you what contaminants are in your water and at what levels. My water here in St. Paul, for instance, is pretty good. Learning what is in your water can help you to make informed decisions about what kind of filtering system you may want to have, if any. Then get yourself a nice stainless steel water bottle, and bring your water with you wherever you go.

Hot Chocolate

Sometimes, the simplest things can make me feel so shallow.

Last night, we decided to watch the movie “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” It’s an Irish movie that was recommended to us before we went to Ireland. I guess that I was hoping for an upbeat, pastoral, pub movie filled with pints of Guinness because the emotionally draining, political dirge that rolled out in front of me was not quite what I was up for as an ending to my weekend.

That is not to say it was not a good movie. It just made me feel shallow, as I kept wishing for a song or two to appear. It follows the course of two brothers through their engagement with the cause for Irish independence in the 1920’s, and it’s not a chipper narrative. If you had any doubts about the brutality of occupied Ireland, this film will take them away. If you wondered how close humans are to becoming that which we most despise, this will show you. If you crave a cup of hot chocolate, made with real milk, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, and fresh spearmint, put this movie on, and I’ll probably make it.

I guess I am glad that I saw it. It must be an effective piece because I am still thinking about it and the issues that it raised. When does a cause take over our lives, including our rational thought? How truly different are we from those who we oppose? Is it only power that differentiates us, and were we to obtain that power, would we act in the same way? Is one quarter cup of cocoa enough for three cups of milk?

I would say that the cause has taken over rational thought when it causes us to no longer see our fellow humans as individuals with feelings as acute as our own; deep down, we are probably not all that different from those we oppose—they feel as deeply about their issues as we do; absolute power corrupts absolutely, and even the most benign of people will find themselves changed by wielding it; and one quarter cup of cocoa is the minimum. Start with organic, locally produced milk from cows who get to wander pastures, use honey instead of sugar, add a little cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, and remember that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Traveling Blogs

I have numerous blogs. It confuses even me. There's the eco-blog on vox, the catch-alls on livejournal and myspace, and this blog on our Ireland trip. I am going to leave the Urban Ecosystem one where it is ( and move the Ireland and any other travel-related items to so that, if I ever get out of Ireland, I will be ready to write on our upcoming trip to Hawaii and any other trips we take. That leaves kittywhumpus to be what it is supposed to be: all over the place. I don't think I will go too far back in my other catch-all blogs except for a few tasty pieces here and there, but I'll be posting my musings on many subjects right here.