Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: "The Emperor of All Maladies" by S. Mukherjee

Just finished reading "The Emperor of All Maladies - A Biography of Cancer" by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee. The book got excellent reviews, was one of NY Times 10 Best Books of 2010 and scored Dr. Mukherjee a Pulitzer for General Nonfiction. It was heavy, and not just because it's 570 pages of hardcover goodness. Covered in painful detail is the history of cancer - from the first description of the disease by Imhotep in 2500BC to the sequencing of hundreds of cancer genomes, but mostly the countless, gruesome, revolutionary, often barbaric and mostly failed attempts to cure it. In fact I would go so far as to say that this book may be the authoritative text on the history of cancer treatment research. While homage is paid to prevention, causality and, to an even smaller extent, patient care, you will not find anything in this book to alleviate your anxieties or help you avoid joining the ranks of cancer patients (except maybe STOP SMOKING, you fool!). But it does open with this encouraging statistic - "In the United States, one in three women and one in two men will develop cancer during their lifetimes." Fan-fucking-tastick!

Throughout history there have basically been three approaches to cancer treatment - surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery was first on the field, taking place long before there was anesthetic or antiseptic. In most cases, surgery did you in. I barely made it through the surgical chapters, especially Halsted's radical mastectomies. It must be a testament to the human drive to survive that anyone would consider undergoing such procedures. Radiation on the other hand seems the least intrusive of the three (and also the least discussed) - discovered as a treatment by 21 year old medical student Emil Grubbe who had worked in a Chicago factory that produced vacuum X-ray tubes (he even treated patients in the factory). Chemotherapy, however, takes up the majority of the book. The idea of a poison being used to kill rapidly dividing cells (and it was a looong time still till the biology of cancer was the least bit understood), came to Sidney Farber, a pathologist at the Children's Hospital in Boston, who began to experiment, for a lack of a better word, on children with leukemia, a disease that at the time could be fatal in as little as three days from onset of symptoms.

While interesting, "The Emperor of All Maladies" was a tough read. After I started having nightmares in which I was being diagnosed with cancer, I ended up having to restrict my reading to a few chapters a day. While I learned a lot, my major complaint about this book is it's long-windedness and an overabundance of information and detail. My other complaint, which I feel almost bad stating as it's not the author's fault, is that it's not entirely what I was hoping to read. While a history of research is certainly fascinating, especially after one is done reading about the horrors of cancer treatment, I would have liked to read about how NOT TO GET IT. But I suppose such questions are not yet answered. In fact, I think you will find that most questions are not yet answered about cancer, and we are hardly any better off now than we were a hundred years ago, which is a major downer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

DIY: How to make sauerkraut

I'm Russian, and so have a deep appreciation for all things canned, pickled and otherwise preserved. Every year we make tons of preserves for the winter ahead. The following is my grandfather's (and his mother's before that) recipe for making sauerkraut. I note wherever applicable all possible modifications. Hope you give it a shot and enjoy it!

Here is what you'll need to get started:

- Knife and cutting board
- Large mixing bowl
- A container to ferment cabbage in, such as a large pot or a bucket (we use a 5 gallon bucket from local cafeteria that they buy boiled eggs in). If you want to use a glass jar, make sure it is one that you can fit your entire hand into and also the weight mentioned below. Wide mouthed containers are best.
- Some sort of lid for above container (our bucket comes with a lid, very convenient! but so does a pot)
- a plate a little smaller in diameter than your container
- something really heavy to 'press' the cabbage. Grandpa uses a rock, we use the weights from Husband's dumbbells inside multiple plastic bags
- Jars for storage

For each head of cabbage you'll need:

~2 carrots (optional but I really prefer carrots in my sauerkraut)
~1 tablespoon pickling salt (any salt without iodine will do)
caraway seeds (optional, I don't use them but some people like the flavor)
I would suggest picking cabbages that are as 'white' as possible, avoid greener looking ones. We've used purple cabbage in the past, and personally I didn't like it as much, but it does have a nice color!

I would do at least three heads of cabbage to start with. If you like how your kraut turned out, you can always make more.

Preparing the cabbage:

- Peel the first few leaves of the cabbage and wash it.
- Cut the cabbage. This can be done almost any way. Some people like really thin short strips of cabbage, others like larger chunks, or longer strips of cabbage. The flavor is not affected, but larger pieces will be more crunchy. Do not include the core in your cut cabbage mix (however, my grandpa likes to stick a core or two into the final pot with the cabbage and let it sit there and ferment). Cut all three cabbages and place them in your mixing bowl. (If you are doing a bigger batch like 6-12 cabbages, I would still only do about 3 cabbages at a time, it makes the mixing more manageable).

- Grate the carrots on a large grater. If doing 3 cabbages, you'll need about 6 carrots. Carrots add a touch of color and also a touch of sweetness to your kraut. If you don't like carrots in your kraut however, it is not necessary. Place grated carrots in mixing bowl with the cabbage.

- Add the salt. (Make sure it does not contain iodine!!!) This is possibly the trickiest part. The salt will draw out the juices from the veggies but it will also prevent the sauerkraut from spoiling while it's fermenting. In essence it will create an environment conducive to fermentation of your kraut by non-harmful bacteria. On the other hand, you don't want to over salt your cabbage as it will make kraut that's too salty. I've found that the ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 head cabbage is about right. HOWEVER, not all cabbage heads are created equal! If yours are rather small, then a tablespoon of salt will be too much! What I would recommend, is that you mix in about 2.5 tablespoons of salt first for your 3 cabbages and then if it's not too salty, add the remaining 0.5 tablespoons.

- Add caraway if using. I don't use caraway so I am not sure what a good amount would be. Try sprinkling it on till you like the looks of it, probably about 1 tablespoon per cabbage.

- Mix the cabbage and carrots with your hands, scrunching it a bit as you go. If you don't scrunch the cabbage, it will be a bit firmer and cruncher later, but the scrunching gets the juices flowing. If you scrunch too much and turn the cabbage to mush, the kraut will be non-crunchy/soft/limp. It will still taste good but be sort of flaccid. So I just scrunch a bit as I go. I do not see too many juices at this stage yet so don't scrunch till it's actually 'bleeding'.

- Taste the mixture, the saltiness should be pleasant but obvious. Add more salt if you feel it's necessary, add more cabbage if it's too salty. My ratio of 1 cabbage to 1 tablespoon should guarantee a good taste.

- Transfer the mixture into your fermentation container. If doing more than a 3 cabbage batch, repeat above steps for the rest of the cabbages and give everything a good mix once all the batches are in the fermentation container.

Note: some people add whey to the mixture. Whey contains live lactobacilli and shortens the time it takes to start fermenting. I do not use whey, but if I understand correctly, the appropriate amount is 4 tablespoons per cabbage.

Preparing for fermentation:

- By now you have placed the mixed salted cabbage into your fermentation container. The container should have a lid but it does not need to be air tight. Fermentation will produce gases that will need to escape. The fermentation itself is anaerobic (without oxygen) but the juices will keep the reaction submerged and away from air so don't worry about the air entering the pot.

- Press the mix down with your fists. You should notices some juices starting to form. Take your plate and place it upside down over the cabbage and push down. The plate should be smaller than the container's diameter, with about an inch around the edges. It will keep the cabbage down but allow juices and gases to escape from around it's edges. If doing this in a jar, you may use a small piece of tile or wood for the same purpose.

video of Husband scrunching and mixing, doesn't always play for some reason...

- Place a weight on top of the plate. We usually place our weights in a small mixing bowl and then on top of the plate, but we use a large bucket and have the space to do this. The lid of your container should be able to close so don't stack things too high. The weight needs to be heavy enough to keep the cabbage well compressed and the juices above the plate.


- Leave your container/kraut at room temperature to ferment. Cool fall temperatures are particularly conducive to fermentation. Hot summer days may raise the temperature too high and let your cabbage spoil. Cold temperatures will slow down the fermentation process. A temperatures in the high 60s low 70s is perfect.

- The cabbage will now begin to ferment. The salt will keep bad bacteria from growing/spoiling your cabbage in the first few days. Then the lactobacilli bacteria will have produced enough lactic acid to keep the cabbage from spoiling for the rest of the year. These bacteria are probiotic, very good for your digestive system, and the product is delicious to boot!

- Fermentation will produce gases and your kraut will start to bubble and foam. Once, or better yet twice a day, open up your container's lid and push down on the weight to release the gases. Husband takes out the weight and the plate, pokes the mix with a long knife, then places the plate down, pushes on it really firmly to let the gases out, then replaces the weight. You may also poke around the edges of the plate and not pick it up. You may see a white/milky tint to the juice. This is the lactobacilli and totally normal and good.

- The cabbage is to be kept in this way, poked several times a day, until all the bubbling has stopped. This may take anywhere from three days to a week. You will notice a smell of kraut, which sometimes smells perhaps a bit like fart. The cabbage should NOT smell putrid though. Granted we all have different definitions of putrid, but it will not smell sour, it will smell rotten if something goes wrong. Really, unmistakeably rotten. I've never had kraut NOT work out but I've smelled the kraut-gone-bad of others and it is definitely nasty. You'll know.

- At the end of this fermentation period (3-7 days) the kraut is done. At this point we transfer the kraut into glass jars, pressing it down (but there is no need to beat it up or compress it unreasonably), add some of the juice on top and close the lid. The process is NOT sterile and should not be. The lactic acid will keep the kraut from spoiling. After this we store our kraut in the fridge. If you have a cellar, it's even better. You want a dark cool place for ultimate kraut storage. You may eat the kraut right away, but it will only get better/more sour with time.


Baby Quilt: Part II - Finished!!!

Baby quilt is now officially finished! For inspiration and starting materials check part I.



front detail

back detail

work 'station'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Adrien Brody's Birthday!

Sexiest man alive turning 38 today. I have no idea what he is holding in this picture but it's ok, I'm too distracted by the rest of him. Sigh.....

I think it's supposed to be a chihuahua actually... Aaaww...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The 2012 Budget. Sigh.

With the 2011 budget finally (hopefully) behind us - and surprisingly without a government shutdown - it's time now to argue about the 2012 budget. Arguably, the budget is the very reason Republicans and the Tea Party took control of the House in 2011, as people became more and more concerned over government spending. I'll admit that my understanding of economics and the budget is dodgy at best, so this here is my attempt to understand what has been happening and what the best way forward is.

One thing that we hear a lot about is that there is a great budget deficit. This graph illustrates the federal budget deficit by year as a percentage of GDP.

Also, very handily this website by Stephen Bloch breaks the budget down by year AND by the party that controls the House and Senate at the time. Both charts seem to suggest that the current increase in budget deficit was down from $1.89 trillion in 2009 to $1.65 trillion in 2010. Good but still pretty huge.

So what caused the current budget deficit? It appears that the breakdown of the deficit causes looks like this:

When Bill Clinton left office, there was a surplus. Almost immediately it was reduced by $291 billion due to the stock market crash of 2000, the 2001 recession and the safety net spending and reduced tax revenue during the 2002-03 jobless recovery period.

Then came the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Theoretically, tax cuts in a booming economy would stimulate said economy, which in turn would increase tax revenue, thus paying for themselves. And certainly the CBO in 2001 was projecting a surplus for 2008 equal to 4.5% of domestic product (instead we got a deficit of 3.2% of GDP). Then came the spending increases, especially during 2001-03, which were mostly military and homeland security spending, particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, the Bush years added $673 billion to the budget deficit.

When Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress came into power in 2008, instead of repealing Bush's tax cuts and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they extended them. That's an additional -$283 billion. So much for their radically liberal ways...

Finally came the economic crisis/recession that started in 2007. The decline in revenue and the increase in safety net spending (that's Medicaid, unemployment benefits and food stamps), so called automatic stabilizers (transfer payments, consumption expenditures) were a big part of this particular deficit.

The bailout, stimulus and other Obama programs contributed relatively little to the deficit.

click on image to enlarge. image source

It was news to me, by the way, that the bailout is now considered to be paid back and actually turning a profit for the tax payers. Too bad none of those bankers, CEOs and rating agencies were made to pay for causing this huge crisis, but that's a rant for another day....

So now we have a huge budget deficit (though it does appear to be going down a bit), but most economists aren't too worried about this short term, recession driven deficit. They figure more spending now on these safety net programs and on job creating fronts will level this whole mess out on it's own as the economy improves. In fact, running a deficit right now is the most appropriate action, according to Keynesian school of thought. It's the long term, so called structural deficits that are a problem and a cause for concern. That's the deficits that are "projected to exist in coming years — even when the country is at peace, even when the economy is growing, even when unemployment falls. " Primary culprits are Medicare and Medicaid, but there is also Social Security and infrastructure spending (and of course the interest payments on the debt, which only increase with the debt). Here is a view on the breakdown of spending in 2011:

A more in depth graphic for the 2012 budget proposed by the White House would have this breakdown:

click on image to enlarge. image source

Alternatively check out the NY Times version which color codes spending increases (green) and decreases (red):
click on image to enlarge. image source

The Independent Medicare Advisory Board that was established by the health care reform act might help (source. For an opposing view check out the Christian Science Monitor).

IMAC is a 15-person board of independent experts chosen by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and empowered to cut through congressional gridlock. IMAC will write reforms that bring Medicare into like with certain spending targets. Congress can't modify these proposals, it can't filibuster these proposals, and if it wants to reject them, it needs to find another way to save the same amount of money.

Mind you the CBO is now revising it's estimate as to whether or not the health care reform will cut the deficit over the next 10 years. In fact, the 2012 budget is getting pretty bad reviews from the CBO altogether (source).

The White House's goal is to reach a point where the budget is balanced except for interest payments on the $14 trillion national debt. Such "primary balance" occurs when the deficit is about 3 percent of the size of the economy, and economists say deficits of that magnitude are generally sustainable. But CBO predicts that the deficit never gets below 4 percent of gross domestic product. That means that by the time 2021 arrives, the portion of the debt held by investors and foreign countries will reach a dangerously high 87 percent. And, as a result, interest costs for the government would explode from $214 billion this year to almost $1 trillion by decade's end.

The big, all encompassing, $2 trillion dollar question is how do we fix the future budget deficit? The budget proposal by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would cut almost $6 trillion over the next 10 years in spending. Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly, considering that he is a Republican), there aren't any major defense spending cuts in this budget, but it does plan to repeal the affordable health care act and create block grants for Medicaid. Medicare (which would be privatized) recipients would go from paying 27 cents for every dollar of their care to 61 cents by 2022. While the Ryan budget does cut federal spending dramatically, it basically shifts the costs to states and individuals, especially when it comes to things like federal, civilian and military retirement, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, parts of the earned-income and child-tax credits, and most veterans’ programs. So while the rich get a tax cut, those who can't afford health care and food have to pay more. But it does balance the budget...

I have not yet found a budget plan that I like. Certainly it seems to me that cuts in defense spending are in order, as are higher taxes (or at least closed loop holes for corporations). But I cannot escape the eventuality that Medicare/aid and Social Security will have problems in the future. (I wonder if universal healthcare would have helped at this point?). But for those of you opposed to tax hikes, let me leave you with this little nugget - Bank of America and GE, two American companies that received bail out money from us, and that had tax benefits of $1 billion and $5.4 billion respectively in 2010, paid zero dollars in federal tax. That's loop holes for you.

And then there is this quote that I thought was rather interesting:

As estimated by the New York Times, even if we were to eliminate welfare payments, Medicaid, Medicare, military spending, earmarks, social security payments, and all programs except for entitlements, and in addition stopped the stimulus injections, shut down the education department, got rid of a number of other things and doubled corporate taxes on top of all of this, the budget deficit would still be over 400 billion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CNN interview with Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, was on CNN the other day. His opinion is that we will be arming the Libyan rebels, something that Obama have been saying they won't do, and his concern is that the rebels are primarily Muslim insurgents. In other words, we'd be arming those with whom we have beef in the Middle East. I hope his assessment is incorrect, but I have to say that it makes the most sense.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

US solar industry value grows 67% in 2010

Since I'm on a renewable energy kick lately, here is some good news from Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. In the last year the US solar energy industry value grew by 67%, from $3.6 billion to $6.0 billion.

This growth made solar the fastest growing sector of the energy industry, and a pace-setter for the country's economy -- whose GDP grew less than 3%.

The research points to four major catalysts for the industry's 2010 growth: renewal of the tax incentives offered in the 1603 Treasury program, completion of significant utility-scale projects, expansion into new markets, and reduction in cost.

While China is still the 'leading financier of clean energy' and the 'global manufacturing hub of the solar industry', I hope the US will give it a run for it's money, so to speak. I think we can really capitalize on the green energy market - manufacturing and innovation back in the US - what a lovely thought. And saving the planet in the process.


I'm having a hard time formulating an opinion on our involvement in Libya. On the one hand I understand that Qaddafi was killing his citizens and using mercenary forces to do it. But are we then also going to get involved in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain? And are we only getting involved here because Libya is rich in oil, and Darfur, for example, isn't? That is an inexcusable double standard. And what about the cost? Each one of the missiles fired costs $1-1.5 million dollars. Aren't we supposed to be broke over here? Aren't we cutting the funds to WIC (food for women, infants and children who can't afford it) and Head Start? It's bad enough we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan (why are we there? I don't even remember anymore....) Plus part of me feels that people need to fight there own battles (which is why Egypt was such a heart warming example). You never know if the rebel you are supporting now ends up being Osama bin Laden. Oh wait, didn't that happen once or twice already? Would appreciate your thoughts...

Petition to end subsidies to nuclear companies

So I've decided I'm against nuclear energy. It is not necessary (see my renewable energy post) and when shit goes wrong, shit goes terribly wrong as we are witnessing now. It's disconcerting to be pregnant and to be told that the rain in my town is radioactive (and it will be raining for two weeks), and that the milk is now getting contaminated, not to mention the veggies.... Here is a petition to ask Obama to "discontinue taxpayer subsidies, including $36 billion in loan guarantees, for the nuclear industry." Feel free to sign if you are so inclined.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

100% of world's energy from renewable sources by 2030

I think I found my utopia!
In light of the recent tragic events in Japan and the still unresolved nuclear crisis, there has been a lot of talk about the safety of and the need for nuclear energy. Intuitively I have negative feelings about nuclear power - there is something about radioactivity that is terrifying, and while plants appear to be safe and useful, when things go wrong, they go really really wrong. Lunch with my two coworkers, one Japanese, the other British (and a nuclear power proponent) has been very interesting and informative over the past few weeks. The consensus seems to be that we NEED nuclear energy and that it's the cleanest, most sustainable option out there right now.
So when I heard on the radio that a study determined that 100% of the world's energy can come from renewable sources by year 2030, I didn't really believe it. But having read the study, I now feel like I have a vision of what I would like the world to look like in the future, and a hope that is attainable after all.

The article, "A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables: Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's energy, eliminating all fossil fuels. Here's how" was published in October 2009 in the Scientific American. The authors are Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program, and Mark A. Delucchi, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. The plan uses only WWS energy (wind, water or solar) and would be divided thus:

Wind supplies 51 percent of the demand, provided by 3.8 million large wind turbines (each rated at five megawatts) worldwide. Although that quantity may sound enormous, it is interesting to note that the world manufactures 73 million cars and light trucks every year. Another 40 percent of the power comes from photovoltaics and concentrated solar plants, with about 30 percent of the photovoltaic output from rooftop panels on homes and commercial buildings. About 89,000 photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants, averaging 300 megawatts apiece, would be needed. Our mix also includes 900 hydroelectric stations worldwide, 70 percent of which are already in place.

How much energy would we need and how much will be provided by WWS?

Today the maximum power consumed worldwide at any given moment is about 12.5 trillion watts (terawatts, or TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency projects that in 2030 the world will require 16.9 TW of power as global population and living standards rise, with about 2.8 TW in the U.S. The mix of sources is similar to today’s, heavily dependent on fossil fuels. If, however, the planet were powered entirely by WWS, with no fossil-fuel or biomass combustion, an intriguing savings would occur. Global power demand would be only 11.5 TW, and U.S. demand would be 1.8 TW. That decline occurs because, in most cases, electrification is a more efficient way to use energy. For example, only 17 to 20 percent of the energy in gasoline is used to move a vehicle (the rest is wasted as heat), whereas 75 to 86 percent of the electricity delivered to an electric vehicle goes into motion.

What about cars, planes, appliances?

In our plan, WWS will supply electric power for heating and transportation—industries that will have to revamp if the world has any hope of slowing climate change. We have assumed that most fossil-fuel heating (as well as ovens and stoves) can be replaced by electric systems and that most fossil-fuel transportation can be replaced by battery and fuel-cell vehicles. Hydrogen, produced by using WWS electricity to split water (electrolysis), would power fuel cells and be burned in airplanes and by industry.

Among the hurdles to overcome are: financial, material and political. Financially, this will cost about $100 trillion, world wide, not including transmission. The authors feel that this money will be recovered by the energy companies through the sale of the energy. As far as materials are concerned, there are some minerals involved in the current wind and solar technology that will need to be mined and efficiently recycled (such as neodymium for wind turbine gears, lithium for batteries and tellurium and indium for solar cells). One hope is that new designs and innovations will make these materials less necessary - neodymium free wind turbines are already being designed. Politically, there are many more factors at play. Oil companies will not sit quietly by as their empire is dismantled. A great amount of collaboration is needed between countries in transmission of the energy - Luxembourg, for example, will need to get it's hydroelectric power from Germany and what about poor countries, and those who do not get along with their neighbors (Middle East? Africa?) Also, I wonder, what will happen to the Middle East when no one cares about their oil anymore?

As far as I'm concerned, none of this will happen till we run out of oil (which may be as soon as 2035), but then I see no reason why at least the developed nations can't switch to 100% renewable energy. It would of course be best if we started the transition now, spread out the infrastructure costs over 40 or 50 years for example, but I don't think the oil companies will let our politicians do anything progressive.

A large-scale wind, water and solar energy system can reliably supply the world’s needs, significantly benefiting climate, air quality, water quality, ecology and energy security. As we have shown, the obstacles are primarily political, not technical. A combination of feed-in tariffs plus incentives for providers to reduce costs, elimination of fossil subsidies and an intelligently expanded grid could be enough to ensure rapid deployment. Of course, changes in the real-world power and transportation industries will have to overcome sunk investments in existing infrastructure. But with sensible policies, nations could set a goal of generating 25 percent of their new energy supply with WWS sources in 10 to 15 years and almost 100 percent of new supply in 20 to 30 years. With extremely aggressive policies, all existing fossil-fuel capacity could theoretically be retired and replaced in the same period, but with more modest and likely policies full replacement may take 40 to 50 years. Either way, clear leadership is needed, or else nations will keep trying technologies promoted by industries rather than vetted by scientists.

Somehow knowing that it's possible, makes me feel better about the world my daughter will be born into. So some happy news at last!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Peter King hearings make me feel Icky...

I am against terrorism. I also think that Muslims are as misguided as Christians when it comes to believing in an Almighty, and I'm grateful that in this day and age and in this country I am free to state my atheist views. I also think that the US is doing a good job looking for terrorists and neutralizing threats. And finally I think that what Peter King is up to is unnecessary, counter productive and judging from the reaction it's getting, a way to appeal to the base. The hearing on Thursday was divided starkly along partisan lines, the NY Times reports. Sheriff Leroy D. Baca of Los Angeles, the only member of law enforcement at the hearings, testified that American Muslims do cooperate with the police and that "40 percent of foiled domestic terror plots had been thwarted with the help of Muslims." Congressman Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in the House, broke down in tears while telling a story of a young Muslim medical technician who died on 9/11 trying to help out the victims of the attack but was initially assumed to be part of the plot. (May I mention at this point that crying politicians are cheesy?)

ThinkProgress had this little article full of interesting statistics. Checking King's claim that "it makes no sense to talk about other types of extremism, when the main threat to the United States today is talking about al Qaida," here are some numbers from the 2011 terrorism statistic report:

- Since 9/11 Muslims (US and foreign) have been involved in 45 plots, non-Muslims (US only) in 80

- Right wing extremist and white supremacist account for 63 terror plots

- Nearly 4 in 10 Al-Qaida related plots in the United States have been broken up thanks to intelligence provided by the Muslim community themselves

My point is not that terrorism is a hollow threat, but that singling out Muslims in this way is unhelpful. It is not going to accomplish anything except piss of more Muslims, which is hardly productive.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Busted by the palm trees

This clip of Bill O'Reilly going around the intertubes, where in an attempt to make Wisconsin protesters seem disorderly they used footage from some place with palm trees in their report.

I guess that's why Fox can't get into Canada where it is illegal to lie on broadcast news. Apparently Stephen Harper, Canada's "George W. Bush's Mini Me", tried to overturn said law and failed.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baby Quilt

Husband and I are expecting our first baby this summer and I have decided to try and make a little quilt for my offspring. Yesterday my boss's wife, who is a fantastic quilter, took me to a fabric store and we spent three hours picking out fabrics. This is the quilt that I'm aiming for:

It was done by a Carol, from Indiana based on this pattern.

I have gone with a similar color scheme, though all of my fabrics are batiks. Can anyone really resist a good batik? Here are my fabric choices:

The blues

The reds

All together now!

Next weekend I'm going to my boss's house to learn how to measure, cut and sew a block and then I'm on my own to make it happen. Right now I'm washing and drying the fabric to pre-shrink it. So exciting! I think I'll try to use this week to finish some of my other projects, like that poor little disembodied alien.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hinky Business in Wisconsin

This happens to me all the time. I listen to some argument made by the conservatives and I think, hmm, this makes sense. And then I research the subject and find out that the facts have been twisted or are all together lies and there are weird ulterior motives in place. Case in point, Wisconsin. Governor Walker and his republican state legislature are trying to pass that much protested bill to cut the benefits of state workers. And initially I thought, well, it sucks but the state is in debt after all, so what can you do? Having read more about it though an entirely different picture emerges. For example, why, if the state is in debt, did Walker and the newly elected republican legislature cut taxes that will add $117 million to the state deficit in the next two years? (For comparison, this year's shortfall is $137 million). Why is he also promising a total repeal of the state’s corporate income tax? Source - Ezra Klein article. In fact the shortfall this year in Wisconsin isn't even all that great, something like 1% of the total budget. Source and source. The other interesting point is that Walker's bill only targets unions that did not support him in his election, meaning those that lean liberal I suppose. It is heartening to see though that some of these unions still came out to protest in solidarity. Finally, it would seem that the unions have already agreed to the benefits contribution increases etc and the only issue being protested is the right to collectively bargain. So ultimately, it's not about the money, it's about taking away union powers. And conservatives would have me believe that unions are there to protect lazy workers who feel entitled to their jobs. I am, however, suspicious, considering the source.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wisconsin Protests of Budget Repair Bill

Coming so close on the heels of Egypt's heartening protests, Wisconsin union and school workers are out protesting Governor Walkers (R) bill to freeze their wages, increase their contributions to retirement (from 0.2% to 5.8%) and health insurance (from 6% to 12.6%), and to allow unions collective bargaining only when it comes to wages. Democratic state senators did not show up for the vote today so there was no quorum, Walker threatened to send the police to find them, etc etc. It's all a big hubbub. Many states are experiencing substantial budget deficits this year due to high unemployment rates. Fewer people work and pay taxes, there is less revenue for the state, yet the social programs remain in place and so you get deficit. My first thought is that it is rather obvious that programs must be cut for the moment being to balance the budgets. Sure that means laying off fire fighters, policemen, teachers, but ultimately the math has to add up.

There are other considerations though that are for some reason overlooked. In this situation I think it is equally reasonable to have let the Bush tax cuts expire, at least on those making over $250,000 a year. The increase of just 3% would hardly make or break these families, but would add substantially to the revenues, both federal and state. Additionally, 2/3 of corporations in Wisconsin do not pay any corporate income tax. I suppose one can argue that corporations provide much needed employment, but why are small business taxed? Do they not provide employment? Additionally, many such corporations, like SC Johnson, Harley Davidson and a bunch of cheese corporations are getting subsidies, money that's taken from the tax payers and given to the corporations, which aren't even taxed. I have no love for subsidies anyway, especially in agriculture. It is not what a real corporate marketplace should look like. In my little hippy town a Walmart has gone up, paid for by us and our tax dollars, and forcing a bunch of local stores out of business. I'm sorry, but that is just not right.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joe Republican by Jeff Parker

Joe Republican

by Jeff Parker on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 12:11am

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised. All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry. In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It's noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FDIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression. Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe is home from work.

He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Best commercials of superbowl 2011

I'm sure the superbowl has a number, which I don't know and don't care about. I am pleased to say that I may never have to watch another football game again in my life, which is a lovely thing. I did watch the commercials last night on the intertubes though and here is my opinion of the best ones from this year. (None beat last year's Google commercial though). I broke them down into categories this time.

Best Funny Commercials

Chevy "Tommy"

Volkswagen "The Force"

Best Epic Commercials

Volkswagen "Beetle"

Chrysler "Imported from Detroit"

Best Sexy Commercial

Stella Artois - not even a very good commercial, but it has the endlessly sexy Adrien Brody

"Christianity" by 4chan

I have no love for 4chan but this is awesome and so very true. Made me smile today :)

"Christianity: The belief that some cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense. "

And one of my favorites quotes of all time:

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." HL Mencken, I believe.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Healthcare Reform is a Good Thing

With the Republican Congress doing it's symbolic repeal of the health care reform yesterday, I thought I would take some time to talk about it, yet again. This time with headers!

What is in the health care reform law?

For a full list of all that is in the law, and to read the law itself please visit I'll just mention a few points that I think are most important.

- You and your kids can not be denied insurance if you have a pre-existing condition
- Your coverage cannot be taken away from you once you get sick
- There will no longer be a lifetime limit on your coverage, nor an annual limit
- Seniors in doughnut hole are covered
- Funding for education and training of more doctors and nurses
- Small businesses get tax breaks and subsidies to afford insurance for their employees, same for low income families
- Health care exchange to help you purchase insurance if your work doesn't provide it
- If you can't afford insurance, and don't qualify for the now expanded Medicaid you can either get an exemption or get the funds your employer has set aside for your insurance and use it to purchase cheaper insurance through the exchange

Why is health insurance going to be mandatory now?

I read a really interesting article about this actually that really made it clear to me why this very unpopular provision was added. While most Americans like other aspects of the bill (like being able to get coverage and keep it), they are not so pleased about the government 'telling them what to do'. The problem is that if you like all those other things, then you have to put up with the mandatory bit. In essence, the law is forcing health insurance companies to accept high risk low reward customers. In order for a health insurance to function much less turn a profit, the ratio of health to sick customers needs to be about 80 to 20. Now the new law raises the amount of sick people in the pool, and therefore it is equally necessary to raise the number of healthy individuals. A bunch of young (and usually healthy) people are added by the extending parent coverage to kids under 26. By mandating insurance for everyone else, the amount of healthy people in the pool is increased, allowing this whole thing to function.

Is the Affordable Care Act "job killing"?

Republicans claim that employers will not want to hire more people since they will have to provide insurance, which is an extra cost to them. It may be true that some won't. Some may make use of the tax breaks and subsidies mentioned above. Independent experts don't think it will kill jobs. Not to mention the 200,000 jobs that have already been added in the medical profession since the law was signed. So all in all, probably not job killing after all.

Is the Affordable Care Act "unconstitutional"?

This is something else that is interesting and new to me that I read today. Apparently back in 1798 the 5th Congress of these United States passed a bill that mandated health insurance for privately employed sailors. It was signed by President John Adams. So apparently a bunch of the founding fathers felt it was within their authority to mandate that workers in a private industry pay a percentage of their salary (1% at the time) to go to a government health insurance for when/if they got sick. The program is still around today and is called the "Public Health Service". Who knew? So if the founding fathers thought it was cool, I'm going to say it's constitutional.

Frankly, as I have mentioned many times before, what I would really like to see happen is a single insurance for all Americans from birth to death, a single payer, government run system. I can see how extra private insurance can be bought by those of us with funds for something above and beyond the government coverage, but I think that is the ultimate and most logical solution to all of this. It would be cheaper, more efficient, and everyone is covered. Problem solved.