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Saturday, June 30, 2007

News of the weird - South American lake disappers

It's not global warming - it just fell into the earth! Go to the websites to see photos:



100-foot deep Andes lake disappears
June 21, 2007

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- When park rangers patrolled the area in the Magallanes region in March, the two-hectare (five-acre) lake was its normal size, officials say.

But last month they found a huge dry crater and several stranded chunks of ice that used to float on the water.

One theory is that an earthquake opened up a fissure in the ground, allowing the lake's water to drain through.

"In March we patrolled the area and everything was normal," said Juan Jose Romero from Chile's National Forestry Corporation, Conaf.

"We went again in May and to our surprise we found that the lake had completely disappeared. All that was left were chunks of ice and an enormous fissure."

Geologists and other experts are being sent to the area, which is some 2,000km (1,250 miles) south of the capital, Santiago, to investigate.

The region is shaken by frequent earth tremors and one idea is that a strong quake which hit the neighbouring region of Aysen in April opened up the fissure in the bottom of the lake

Friday, June 29, 2007

Roberts court eviscerates Brown v. the Board of Ed

An unmitigated tragedy. Severely limits VOLUNTARY desegregation programs.


Voting 5-4, the court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., invalidated programs in Seattle and metropolitan Louisville that sought to maintain school-by-school diversity by limiting transfers on the basis of race or using race as a "tiebreaker" for admission to particular schools.

Both programs had been upheld by lower federal courts and were similar to plans in place in hundreds of school districts. Roberts said such programs were "directed only to racial balance, pure and simple," a goal he said was forbidden by the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

His side of the debate, the chief justice said, was "more faithful to the heritage of Brown," the 1954 decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional. "When it comes to using race to assign children to schools, history will be heard," he said.
. . .
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion. He said the chief justice's invocation of Brown vs. Board of Education was "a cruel irony" when the opinion in fact "rewrites the history of one of this court's most important decisions."

Here's some uplifting analysis of the court's swing to the right:

Rightward Ho!
Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen
CBS News


Whether you believe the Supreme Court is heading toward a precipice or redemption, there is no longer any doubt it is moving, rapidly and intensely, toward the right.
. . .
No one should be surprised. It was as predictable as humidity in Washington in August. President George W. Bush promised during the 2004 election that he would, if given the opportunity, turn the Court rightward — and on this promise, at least, he has succeeded. Senate Democrats, especially those on the Judiciary Committee, saw this trend coming, too. They warned over and over again during the Alito and Roberts confirmation hearings that the nominees were playing possum; hyping up their humility while downplaying their ideology. In the case of Alito, especially, they were correct.

It doesn't matter whether you call these folks the Roberts Court, or the Kennedy Court or the Alito Court. The result is a Supreme Court that this past term consistently sided with big business interests over consumers; with employers over employees; and with law enforcement goals over individual rights. It is a Court that is more conservative than was the Rehnquist Court, which was more conservative than its predecessor, the Warren Burger Court, which of course was more conservative than the Earl Warren Court. When a Reagan appointee like Justice Kennedy is the last best hope for moderates, you know where you can find the gravity of the Court.


I heard additional analysis over the weekend, including the distressing observation that Roberts had asserted during his confirmation hearing that he was committed to increasing the rulings based on consensus, but, in fact, this court issued more 5-4 rulings than any court session in (I think) 30 years. Typical for the Bush administration - promising one thing while doing quite the opposite.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Our brains are not hardwired!

This is from Newsweek's current issue: "181 Things You Should Know." Freakin' fascinating. I thought I was up on this stuff, but I had no idea! Below is the link and an excerpt.


When Does Your Brain Stop Making New Neurons?
By Sharon Begley
July 2, 2007 issue

Few laypeople understand that genetic determinism have been so discredited. Most still embrace the idea that our fate is written in our DNA. "It's puzzling that determinism is so attractive to so many people," says UCSF's Merzenich. "Maybe it's appealing to view yourself as a defined entity and your fate as determined. Maybe it's in our nature to accept our condition."

There is an irony to that. When people believe that their abilities and traits are fixed, interventions meant to improve academic performance or qualities such as resilience and openness to new experiences have little effect. "But if you tell people that their brain can change, it galvanizes them," says psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University, whose 2006 book "Mindsets" explores the power of belief to alter personality and other traits. "You see a rapid improvement in things like motivation and grades, or in resilience in the face of setbacks." None of that happens, or at least not as readily, in people who believe they are stuck with the brain they have.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Amen to this!

Saw an absolutely awesome bumper sticker on a local car:


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Paris Hilton got out of jail today!!

Now on to news that really matters.

Elizabeth Edwards supports gay marriage

Over the weekend at a gay pride event in San Francisco, Elizabeth Edwards said that she is "completely comfortable" with gay marriage (and that she doesn't see what anyone else's marriage has to do with her!) It's the first public statement supporting gay marriage from any campaign, as far as I know. Of course, she's not the actual candidate, and her husband hurried to reassert that he disagrees, but still, it's high profile support in the context of the presidential campaign, and that's a good thing.


Supreme injustice

We are the species that clamors to be lied to. -Joyce Carol Oates

That title may be an overstatement, but the Supreme Court has issued a flurry of rulings as their session comes to a close and virtually all of them are going in the wrong direction, IMO.

- An Alaskan teen lost his appeal for free speech protection because the poster he held up was interpreted as encouraging drug use ("Bong Hits for Jesus") - a shocking ruling, really.

- But campaign money was speech that is actually worth protecting - the Court limited the interpretation of provisions of the McCainFeingold campaign finance reform law regarding television ads paid for by corporations.

- The interests of corporations were also protected in a ruling limiting the scope of the Endangered Species Act; not a surprising ruling, but disappointing none the less.

- And worst of all, a suit protesting the use of (presidential as opposed to congressional) funds to promote religion was struck down (apparently the tax payers have no say in presidential discretionary spending); a really chilling ruling that is heralded as ushering in a new era of "hostility" toward the principle of separation of church and state.


Monday, June 25, 2007

"In need of a cure"

Sobering summary of US healthcare situation.

(I was alerted to this article on excellent blog, Hullabaloo: http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/).

In need of a cure
By Susan Brink
LA Times



But now, the knee-jerk attitude that the U.S. is the best place on earth to be sick, fueled by the reputations of great institutions like the Mayo Clinic and by America's leadership in drug and technology development, is beginning to be challenged by rigorous international comparisons. There is increasing evidence that, despite justified pride in individual institutions and medical breakthroughs, the world's biggest medical spender isn't buying its citizens the longest, healthiest lives in the world.
. . .
Amid stacks of reports, all with wonky measures of access, equity, efficiency and medical outcomes, two statistics stand out. The U.S. spends more on medical care than any other nation, and gets far less for it than many countries. According to the 2006 analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. spends an annual $6,102 per person — more than any other country and more than twice the average of $2,571. Yet Americans have the 22nd highest life expectancy among those nations at 77.2 years (compared with the analysis' average of 77.8 years). People in Japan, the world leader in longevity, live an average of 81.8 years.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pirates franchise ends with a splash

I went to see Pirates 3 this weekend. Good, but not great. About an hour and a half into it I looked at my watch and said "Gads, we have another whole hour of this!" You really shouldn't be thinking that during an adventure movie!

Minor complaint: what the heck was up with Keith Richards? Why even bother getting him involved for such a short and insignificant scene?

Major complaint: way, WAY too much plot - I couldn't keep track of it, though not quite as bad as the second movie. Do teenage boys have a special talent for sorting it all out, or do they just not care? About halfway through the movie one of the British seaman remarks to another regarding Jack Sparrow: "Do you think he has a plan or is he making it up as he goes along?" and I thought: that's exactly what I was wondering about the filmmakers! It really does feel like many plot points and even some characters are just thrown in, like, "what the heck." Do they think we like all these complications or do they think it gives the movie more credibility or gravitas? I think the charm of most adventure movies, like the first Pirates and the very first Star Wars movie, is the wonderful simplicity of the plot. I'm not talking about dumbing it down, just sticking to the basics, or more importantly, sticking to quality basics, instead of trying to prove something by complicating things.

The only thing I really liked was Elizabeth Swann's expanded presence - elevated to the Pirate King and giving speeches rallying the pirates - great stuff! And Orlando Bloom looked SO smokin' at the end as the captain of the Flying Dutchman - that was worth it right there.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

"The Inverse Power of Praise"

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. -- Helen Keller

This Sunday Times Magazine story completely blew my mind.

The Inverse Power of Praise
By Po Bronson
New York Magazine


Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.
. . . .
Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.
. . . .
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”


Friday, June 22, 2007

Cheney really has some nerve

I heard this report on TV and NPR this morning:

The Senate Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.” The Vice President's staff proposes abolishing the agency within the National Archives that is responsible for implementing the President's executive order.

On the cable news channel I was listening to (CNN? MSNBC? I forget, since I switch between the two), they reported that this is part of a campaign Cheney has pursued since the 1970s - he asserts that there's too much oversight on the executive branch! The mind boggles. What I find really humorous (if it wasn't too painful to laugh about) is that he claims not to be part of the executive branch, but still has the authority of the executive branch to eliminate this office. You have to admire his complete willingness to suspend all obligation to logic.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Oh please

Supposedly great strides in the Senate - the passage of a green(ish) energy bill that raises CAFE standards for the first time in 20 years: 40% by 2020 - from 25 MPG to 35 MPG. On the surface, that's substantial progress, but in reality, it's totally pathetic. European countries already exceed 35 MPG right now, let alone in 13 years, AND requirement for future improvement (4 MPG each year after 2020) had to be eliminated from the bill to get it passed. Another provision that had to be scrapped - taxes on oil and gas companies to fund pursuit of alternatives. I'm not opposed to the bill, I just think it's a sad reflection of our lack of understanding of the urgency of the issues that are at stake.


After much lobbying by Billie Jean King, Serena Williams and others, Wimbledon finally raised the amount of the prize for women players, to be equal to the men's prize. The French open immediately followed suit.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Better and better

I really liked this - what he says about poets should be true of any citizen of the world, IMO:

A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it going to sleep.
-- Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And yet another great quote

It's like, at the end, there's this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid?
-Richard Bach, writer (1936- )

Sunday, June 17, 2007

MLK quote

This quote has been bouncing around in my head ever since I read it.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit - you not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
-Martin Luther King, Jr., civil-rights leader (1929-1968)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A whole story in one sentence

Check out this site - poignant, fascinating:


Friday, June 15, 2007

"I see Iraq here."

This quote says it all. His plan was to start in Iraq and spread democracy, but this is what GWB's Middle East policy has actually wrought:
"I see Iraq here. There is no mercy. We are afraid. See how ferocious this fight was? There is no future for us."

- GHASSAN HASHEM, 37, a civil servant, on Palestinian strife in Gaza.



Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Freebirth" movement

I came across this while looking for something else. I appreciate their attitude re female empowerment and all that, but since I had trouble during both my deliveries, this does strike me as a bit reckless. (My friend Stessa says they should move to Honduras or Somalia for awhile and see what real freebirthing is all about.)


'Freebirth' movement growing
Unassisted deliveries growing in popularity in the U.S. and Britain
May 23, 2007

LONDON - They insist they’re no superwomen, they have no special powers, and are certainly not pain or adrenaline junkies.

But ‘freebirthers’ choose to go through what some call the most painful and potentially frightening experience of a woman’s life with no drugs, no midwife and no medical help.

Delivering their own babies at home, often alone, they dismiss what they say is “fearmongering” by doctors and midwives and confidently catch their offspring as they leave the womb.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Unaided woman dies on the floor of Los Angeles ER

This story has been all over the news this week, though it happened a month ago. Of course, if they close the hopital, it's an even worse situation, because it's in an already under-served community.


Hospital's troubles mount
By Robert Jablon
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, once a symbol of hope in the inner city, struggled Wednesday to survive amid new reports of breakdowns in patient care, the replacement of its chief medical officer and an ultimatum to correct long-running problems or close.

The treatment of a woman who was ignored as she died on the floor of the emergency room last month "was callous, it was a horrible thing," Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke said.

Earlier this week, the county Board of Supervisors grilled health officials about conditions at the public hospital and ordered them to return in two weeks with a plan to deal with a hospital shutdown if it is unable to correct deficiencies laid out in a federal inspection that concluded emergency room patients were in "immediate jeopardy."


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Obamagirl video

I came across this racy music video while searching for something on Obama's current (successful) fundraising efforts (I'd heard some commentary on MSNBC that refutes the "media narrative" that Obama is out of the running).


This web address is a story, but it also provides a link to the actual video. A weird tribute, appropriate for our time - part satire, part exploitation. (The real question - did they Photoshop Obama's head onto someone else's body or does he really have those washboard abs?)


Monday, June 11, 2007

Joe Queenan hates documentaries

I heard this guy on NPR today. He's just being contrarian, IMO, though I suppose he thinks he's funny. Bottom line, his point is completely muddled - he says that Important Movies are, and should be, the source of national debate, but then goes on and on about he and the rest of America would rather watch Spider-Man 3. It's apples (important dramas) and oranges (popcorn movies), though, again, he's trying to be humorous. Below is the link and an excerpt:


June 10, 2007
I can't handle the inconvenient truth
Documentaries are a vital part of the national debate. Just don't make me watch them.
By Joe Queenan

FOR THE LONGEST time, controversial films like "Gentleman's Agreement," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "A Civil Action" and "Do the Right Thing" have helped set the national conversational agenda. Widely discussed, these films have triggered serious debates about where this society is headed, often at times when many Americans would prefer to talk about something else.

The list of movies that have rocked the boat goes on and on: "Bad Day at Black Rock," "The Pawnbroker," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Erin Brockovich" and "Mississippi Burning," to name just a few more. No matter how ham-fisted they are (or how crass Hollywood's motives for making them), these motion pictures have provoked soul-searching about subjects ranging from racism to corporate malfeasance to the treatment of veterans.

But in recent times, things have changed. Increasingly, the national conversational agenda is being set not by costly dramatic films with stars like Gregory Peck and Julia Roberts but by low-budget documentaries starring portly, middle-aged men.

Increasingly, American failings are being scrutinized in films whose primary object is to persuade, not to amuse. To the surprise of many, "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" have enjoyed spectacular success at the box office — at least by the standards of the documentary genre — marking a watershed rupture with the past, when tubby, middle-aged men traditionally stayed behind the camera, writing checks, while spindly young men provided the on-screen entertainment.

Of course, the number of people who will actually pay to see a documentary is dwarfed by the gargantuan audiences who line up to see "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" and "Fantastic Four 2" Documentaries rarely reach the hoi polloi. Marginal profit centers for movie studios, documentaries do not reach the massive audiences that turn out in droves to see "Talladega Nights" and "King Kong"; there is almost no demographic overlap between moviegoers seeking laughs supplied by Will Ferrell and moviegoers seeking laughs supplied by Al Gore.

Why does this matter? Because people who will not pay to see documentaries are being locked out of important national debates. Until Gore came along with "An Inconvenient Truth," few Americans, it seems, were aware of the grave threat to our ecosystem posed by global warming. Likewise, until the release of "Fahrenheit 9/11," few Americans were aware that the Bush administration does not always tell the truth. Yet because only a minuscule number of Americans have actually seen these two magnificent films, and thus remain ignorant of the specific points they make, the serious debate we all need to have about the future of our nation has not truly been joined. Michael Moore and Gore are doing a fine job of preaching, but so far they are mostly preaching to the converted.

Why are Americans so reluctant to turn out for "An Inconvenient Truth," yet willing to wait in line for hours in the pouring rain to see a crummy retread like "Spider-Man 3"? Basically because of the lingering hatred of documentaries that carries over from high school. For millions of Americans, the word "documentary" conjures up hair-raising memories of being locked in a steamy, smelly auditorium for 45 minutes and forced to watch a grainy film about the boll weevil produced by the United States Department of Agriculture.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Great film news

Morgan Spurlock, who created Super Size Me, started a distribution company to get movies from film festivals into theaters. What a wonderful idea! I was lucky enough to live for many years in a city (Philadelphia) with a film festival and I saw some great under-the-radar movies, but it's always been so frustrating to know that so many of those movies, which are exactly the kind of movies that I like - a little offbeat - were never going to get to a wider audience. Hurrah for MS!

The first film that he's picked up is a "mockumentary" about teaching called Chalk. It looks like great fun.



Saturday, June 09, 2007

"Trash the dress"

Heard a funny story on NPR about a website showing photos of women in their wedding dresses . . . the name is a bit misleading - most of the photos are just casual shots, like on the beach or on a motorcycle, but a few show them in fountains or swimming pools and such (I like the one in the car wash, with the red pumps). Fun time waster.


If you really want to waste some time, check out various wedding horror stories at


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Paris Hilton out of jail

I just read the Paris left the L.A. County Jail after only 5 days, due to an "unspecified medical condition." Yeah, I'll bet. It's called "I'm rich so I don't have to." She'll serve out the rest of her term under house arrest (with the ankle bracelet), though the judge in the case specified that house arrest was not an option. Whatever. I think the point was made. I hope she's a tiny bit humbled. And I hope the news can get on with another story already.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Scooter Libby sentencing

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. No, really. He wasn't convicted of outing Valerie Plame, he was convicted of lying. I feel sorry for him - he's clearly a fall guy and he shouldn't take all the blame - it wasn't his idea, after all. But I'm glad he's being made an example of. The Republicans were apoplectic about Clinton's lies, and his didn't involve national security or a war that's killed thousands. The same standard should apply (ha ha!)

Will he be pardoned - absolutely. Maybe later rather than sooner, but there's no way he'll spend two and a half years in jail.

Now I can't wait to see the outcome of the lawsuit that Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson have instigated.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Desperate for a good book

I tried reading Atonement by Ian McEwan last week (the movie is due out this fall) - it's well-written, but so damn slow - I couldn't wait for him to Get On With It. I finally just skipped to the end to see what happens. Pathetic. My shelf is full of Important Books that I've gotten from friends, but they always seem like too much work (The Lovely Bones, The Year of Magical Thinking). Ignoring them, over the weekend I tried to read what looked like an adorable chick lit book I got at the library called The Spinster Sisters, but after a dozen chapters, I just didn't care, so I skipped to the end of that one too, and then took it back to the library. Damn it, Elizabeth Young needs to write some more books! I gave up entirely and have been catching up on Newsweek.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten?"

This excellent article covers several issues, including the way kindergarten has changed, the impact of starting kids later, and the very serious implications for the less affluent. An excerpt and the link to the full article:

June 3, 2007
New York Times Magazine
When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten?


Forty-two years after Lyndon Johnson inaugurated Head Start, access to quality early education still highly correlates with class; and one serious side effect of pushing back the cutoffs is that while well-off kids with delayed enrollment will spend another year in preschool, probably doing what kindergartners did a generation ago, less-well-off children may, as the literacy specialist Katie Eller put it, spend “another year watching TV in the basement with Grandma.” What’s more, given the socioeconomics of redshirting — and the luxury involved in delaying for a year the free day care that is public school — the oldest child in any given class is more likely to be well off and the youngest child is more likely to be poor. “You almost have a double advantage coming to the well-off kids,” says Samuel J. Meisels, president of Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development in Chicago. “From a public-policy point of view I find this very distressing.”


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Self-pay jail

I heard a mention of this during a news story about Paris Hilton starting her jail term and went online to try to find out more. The NY Times ran a story about this in late April, but it's no longer free on their website (since it's more than 30 days old). I don't know how this can be legal and I certainly don't know how this can be justified - inmates pay around $100 a day for special priviledges and improved living conditions.