Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rocking to the science beat

2009 St Louis County Election

I have to love America. In my county to the north, I work in St. Louis County, the county election is happening this coming Tuesday and we have two issues on the ballot. Although I cannot vote in either election (I live immediately across the border in Jefferson County, to the south of St. Louis County), both will have implications to me as a citizen who works in St. Louis County and visits on a regular basis.

One is Proposition N which is our first attempt to put a public smoking ban in place. There are exemptions for Private Residences, Casinos, designate Smoking rooms and the like. However, you would think that the smoking police are going to bash down their door and seize their cigarettes. I do not go to bowling alleys because the smoke is intolerable. Likewise I do not go to many public places because the smoking is unhealthful. If this passes, the City of St. Louis (which is administered separately from the County) will likewise pass a smoking ban. Thus at least a part of the state of Misery will be smoke free, albeit with qualifications. I hope this passes but since there is strong opposition to it I seriously doubt it will pass since only 40% of the voters are expected to vote in this election. Thus is the election in America where 40% decide that I can't go to restaurants and so forth because the cigarette smoke is so intolerable I refuse to go out in many public places.

The other issue is Proposition E 911 which will provide funds to install an Enhanced 911 system to allow emergency services to locate cell phones which call emergency services. Why anyone would oppose a miniscule (one tenth of a Cent) sales tax to fund our EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS is beyond me. When I toured our Emergency Operations center in the course of my Ham Radio class, the center functions on hand-me-down computers which were formerly at the police academy, receives everything on a hand-me-down basis with the exception of a mobile command center which was purchased second hand from a California municipality. The opposition to this is also prevelant as apparently paying a one tenth cent tax would bring down the capitalist system in this country.

I find these attitudes appalling. When we need such services they will not be there or if they are there are functioning at a degraded capability and will not be state of the art. I would hope that we do get items of gear that are top of the line and state of the art. However, some in my county would like to live in the dark ages and when calling for emergency services would hope that they know where they are based on vague directions whenever they call in their cell phones.

Thus is the electorate in America.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

McDonalds is a victim of the recession

McDonald's pulls out of Iceland

McDonalds branch in Chicago
McDonald's is seen as a part of most developed economies

McDonald's is to close its business in Iceland because the country's financial crisis has made it too expensive to operate its franchise.

The fast food giant said its three outlets in the country would shut - and that it had no plans to return.

Besides the economy, McDonald's blamed the "unique operational complexity" of doing business in an isolated nation with a population of just 300,000.

Iceland's first McDonald's restaurant opened in 1993.

'No sense'

For a kilo of onion, imported from Germany, I'm paying the equivalent of a bottle of good whisky
Jon Gardar Ogmundsson
McDonald's Icelandic franchisee

The franchises are run by a firm called Lyst, with owner Jon Gardar Ogmundsson saying the decision was "not taken lightly".

He said that the restaurants imported the goods from Germany, but that costs had almost doubled, with the falling krona making imports prohibitively expensive.

Mr Ogmundsson said the restaurants had "never been this busy before... but at the same time profits have never been lower".

"It just makes no sense. For a kilo of onion, imported from Germany, I'm paying the equivalent of a bottle of good whisky," he added.

He now plans to run the restaurants under another name so that he is able to buy cheaper Icelandic products.

Iceland's banks collapsed at the height of the global credit crisis - wrecking the country's economy and forcing it to rely on an $10bn (�6.1bn) international aid package.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today is United Nations Day

Every October 24th is a day that is supposed to be set aside to honor an organization we created to stop War at the end of one of the most destructive conflicts in Human history. The war just fought saw the first us of many horrible weapons such as the atomic bomb. However, in the polarized world that followed, the organization was largely left behind. Still it managed to pull off a few miracles. With shoestring budgets and hobbled mandates, the UN has done what it can to fulfill its mission of the maintenance of International Peace and Security. One day, maybe we will have the ability to fulfill this mandate. Until we learn that lesson, we will obviously have a long hard road ahead of us.

"Until, man is ready for a new and different life, all this will someday come to pass - in God's good time." James Mason as Jules Verne, Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I don't eat curry

Why I don't eat curry :-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Miniature Earth

Mary had this on her Facebook page and it touched me. I looked it up and it was based on statistics compiled in 1990. They may have changed slightly, but are still in the ball park. Even almost 20 years ago, these are appalling.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More from BBC 4 and World Service; The Niqab, yes or no

I have to wonder about the mentality of someone who wear the niqab. We don't condone the wearing of this in the States. However, there are some religious leaders here who insist that women wear dresses. What do you think?

No covering up Egypt's niqab row

There have been demonstrations by women students in Cairo after a leading cleric backed moves to ban the wearing of full women's veils, known as the niqab, in classrooms or dormitories. Christian Fraser has been hearing both sides of the argument.

It is not often I am summoned to the door of the Supreme Council of the ancient al-Azhar university.

It is, after all, the high seat of Sunni Islam.

Egyptian women wearing the niqab
Wearing the niqab is widely associated with more radical Islam

But this was where the diminutive sheikh who presides on this wise council chose to meet the journalists who wanted to learn more about his ban.

In fact it was more of a sermon than a press conference and the sheikh, who is by the way a government appointee, seemed unruffled both by the unruly scrum of journalists and the commotion his announcement has caused.

He has this unshakeable confidence that he is right. Perhaps it comes from the Koran he holds in one hand and the hotline to President Hosni Mubarak he has in reach of the other.

For some unfathomable reason, given the number of Egyptian press conferences I have attended this year (most of which run for hours with no discernible purpose), I had somehow raised my expectations that the Supreme Council might deign to answer my questions.

Why are an increasing number of young women in Egypt turning to the niqab? What role did the government play in the sheikh's ruling?

And how will it be seen by the politicians of Europe, like President Nicolas Sarkozy who banned the niqab from French classrooms? And indeed the British Justice Minister, Jack Straw, who asked women to remove them in his constituency office?

"You must read my judgment," insisted the sheikh. It was a two-page slab of scripture in classical Arabic, for which a lifetime's education in the halls of al-Azhar would surely not have prepared me.

And so, somewhat ill-informed, I left the supreme scholars in search of my own, more earthly answers.

Increasingly conservative

On Taalat Harb, one of the main arteries through Cairo, the Egyptian clash of cultures is on prominent display.

The Sheikh won't affect my decision to wear it. I feel more relaxed in this. Men aren't looking at me. I feel closer to God.

Heba, shop assistant

There are shops doing a roaring trade in garish fishnet stockings, clothes that belong to a budget production of the film Moulin Rouge, alongside those selling the all-enveloping outfits more commonly seen in this increasingly conservative society.

It is, though, whispered in shadowy corners of this city that prostitutes are in fact customers at both types of shop.

Mar Mohammed runs Nur Moda (Women's Fashions). He has been in business for 20 years.

"I have never sold as many niqabs," he told me. "A hundred, 120 a day," he says, "no problem."

And, as if by magic, Heba the trusty shop assistant appeared.

"The sheikh won't affect my decision to wear it," says Heba. "I feel more relaxed in this. Men aren't looking at me. I feel closer to God."

Her words reminded me of a pro-niqab spam campaign that circulated around Cairo by e-mail last year. "A veil to protect or eyes will molest!" it warned.

Open to interpretation

So can the Koran itself help provide an answer to the question? Is the niqab a modest covering required by the holy book, or is it the dangerous manifestation of extremist Islam that so concerns the Egyptian government?

Well, the verse in question translates along these lines: "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks all over their bodies."

You see, it is rather vague and open to interpretation.

This is a debate as destructive as a lightning bolt on a tree trunk; it splits the country apart

The sociologist Said Sadeq of the American University in Cairo points to the influence of Salafism, the ultra-conservative brand of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

In the Middle East, religion is expanding, he explains. It has morphed with custom and tradition; the boundaries are disappearing.

In Arab society, he adds, the women are socially, politically, economically repressed and they are a soft target for the religious groups advancing a more dangerous philosophy.

But Hossam Bahgat, one of Egypt's prominent human rights campaigners, thinks that is too simplistic.

Two years ago, his group supported the veiled Dr Iman al-Zainy, who sued the American University after she was banned from their library, and she won.

"They are not all coerced into this by their parents or their peers," he says. They are intelligent women who follow a version of Islam that requires them to cover up in the presence of men.

Destructive debate

Some here and further afield will try to give you the impression that the Egyptian government is some monolithic, secular organ averse to any form of radical Islam.

But this is the same government that, a month ago, was alleged to have prosecuted people for breaking their Ramadan fast.

There are all sorts of views in the Egyptian parliament, and this is a debate as destructive as a lightning bolt on a tree trunk.

It splits the country apart.

What it also does is leave the sheikh open to both criticism and some loathing from a number of female students.

And it goes to show, even here in the Arab world's most populous country, just as in Europe, the row over the niqab can no longer be covered up.

From BBC 4 and World Service: The Wild West is no longer wild

I thought this particular report was interesting the other day on BBC. Notice the comment made about the US health care system. Cowboys aren't on the corporate ladder and really don't make that much money. So much for the Wild in the west.

Cowboys of the Wild West live on

Cowboy horses on the Great Plains
There is still rugged terrain on the Great Plains only accessible by horseback

The traditions of America's cowboys are alive and well on the Great Plains despite modern technology encroaching on their way of life on the prairie, as Kevin Connolly found when he visited Montana and the Dakotas.

When I grew up watching old Westerns at Saturday morning pictures back in the 1960s, it never crossed my mind that the age of the cowboy would last long enough for me to meet some of them at work on America's northern Great Plains, where cattle are still roped and branded by tough, taciturn men on horseback.

It is like finding a place where history is still alive and running concurrently with the present.

Walking into a Stetsoned and booted town like Glendive, Montana, feels like walking into a bar in Rome and finding gladiators relaxing over an espresso.

'Horse wreck'

But cowboys are more than merely living reminders of the toughness and determination with which America claimed and tamed the great oceans of land between its coasts.

They are still - for now at least - important figures in American ranching, prized for their ability to follow cattle on horseback over the roughest of ground.

Cowboy Neil Tangen
Neil Tangen lost all his teeth in what he called a "horse wreck"

When you get talking to them though, you quickly forget any romantic thoughts about how their eyes speak of long, lonely days watching the endless skies and rolling plains chasing each other towards the horizon.

They have pretty much the same concerns as any other Americans - one of them, Neil Tangen, gave me a more graphic insight into the healthcare debate than I have got from interviewing any number of doctors and nurses.

He had no front teeth. This was the result of what he described as a "horse wreck", when an animal he was in the process of breaking in, bolted and ran into a fence post. Neil's jaw was smashed and he lost most of his teeth.

When the time came for treatment he said his insurance company agreed to pay for all his back teeth to be fixed because they are unarguably used primarily for chewing.

Front teeth, he said he was told, are essentially cosmetic, at least in part, and were therefore not covered.

Neil is tackling this problem with his trusty ballpoint and insurance form, rather than with the traditional cowboy methods of conflict resolution. The gun fight and the mass brawl in the crowded saloon have been consigned to history.

The main threat to this way of life comes, rather curiously, from something called an all-terrain vehicle which looks a little like a cross between a golf-buggy and a lunar landing craft

Economically, things are not good on the ranches of the plains. Falling cattle prices mean hard times, and the cowboy himself seems a little like an endangered species - a man whose basically 19th-Century skills belong to the age of the sail-maker and the barber who doubled as a surgeon.

The main threat to this way of life comes, rather curiously, from something called an all-terrain vehicle which looks a little like a cross between a golf-buggy and a lunar landing craft.

It can do many of the jobs done by horses on the rough, craggy terrains of Montana and the Dakotas and it can do them without getting tired. It offers nothing of the mystical closeness you sense between horse and rider, but it is cheap and easy to use, and a horse is neither of those things.

'Tough lifestyle'

Add to that the difficulty of selling a tough, lonely, rural lifestyle to a generation reared on air conditioning and computer games, and the future can suddenly seem as bleak as an October day on the plains, when the clouds seep over the horizon and into the sky like sand filling an hour glass.

But the cowboy has been written off before and lived to tell the tale.

And I do not mean in his endless gunfights with quick-on-the-draw rivals in the dusty streets of small frontier towns, or indeed in his long-running confrontation with those original inhabitants of the West who we no longer call Indians.

The cowboy embodies many of the characteristics which Americans see as part of their identity

The cowboys' main enemies in fact have always been economic.

The coming of the railroads at the end of the 19th Century, for example, meant that ranchers no longer needed to pay ranch hands to drive their herds from the prairies to the stockyards of the big cities.

And there was worse to come.

On the Great Plains, many people will tell you that you can date the beginning of the end to the day in 1876 when a businessman called John Gates demonstrated barbed wires to sceptical ranchers in San Antonio, by creating an enclosure in a city square and penning cattle inside it.

Not all of Mr Gates's ideas were quite so good - he once lost $1m betting on which one of a pair of raindrops on the window of a railway carriage would dribble to the bottom first.

Once ranchers realised that barbed wire would contain their animals without injuring them, the era of the highly-paid horseman shepherding cattle around the plains seemed all but over.

Lone riders

However, there are still cowboys all over the West, from North Dakota down to New Mexico, partly because there is still some rugged terrain where the horse remains the best way of getting around.

But it is also partly because the cowboy embodies many of the characteristics which Americans see as part of their identity - the tough, self-reliant figure riding alone who tamed the unconquerable wilderness from which America drew its wealth.

How much longer that lifestyle will survive on the ranch rather than the tourist heritage park is hard to say, of course.

But not for the first time, the cowboy finds himself staring towards a far horizon, wondering what challenges lie beyond it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Letter to my Senator

I must strongly protest your recent no vote on S.AMDT.2588 which prohibits funding to defense contractors "To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims."

This is in response to the rape of an employee of Halliburton while in Iraq who was locked in a shipping container and subjected to intimidation by the company after she stated that she would report the incident. It took the intervention of a US House member in order to get her released from her false imprisonment. The victim also needed reconstructive surgery to correct the damage resulting from the incident. The vcitim of this incident Jamie Leigh Jones, has testified before the Senate concerning what happened in this incident and the subsequent coverup by Halliburton.

How in all decency can you vote against this amendment is beyond me. A defense contractor is not above the law and neither is the government. What you have done is sanction rape or other violations of the law by American contractors. No one is safe if this is the case as your vote would have, if the amendment had not passed, placed such contractors above the law. It is incidents such as this that have caused me to loose any faith in the decency and common sense which may have existed in the Senate or the Republican party. This vote, even if on the matter of principle, is scandalous and should be repudiated. That fact that the Senate even has to vote on this is scandalous. Such companies should have the common sense to have owned up to what its employees did. Instead they resorted to subterfuge and evasion to cover up the activities of its employees. I have to wonder what other activities have been covered up by this company and what actions YOU would take to investigate what other activities have been covered up. However, I would not see you, given your record on these matters, launching such an investigation.

In short, I am deeply offended by your lack of interest and your vote on this issue before the Senate. I would hope that in your subsequent votes in the Senate, you would use more common sense and decorum in such matters.

I look forward to an explanation of your reasoning in voting the way you did on this amendment. As my elected representative and one who speaks for me in the Senate, I would hope that it is a good one.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

and you thought YOUR connection was slow

* Faster Than a Speeding Pigeon?: In South Africa, an information
technology company proved that it was faster for them to transmit data
with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom, the country's
leading Internet service provider. Internet speed and connectivity in
Africa's largest economy are poor due to a shortage of bandwidth and its
high cost. Local news agency SAPA reported that on September 9, an 11
month old pigeon named Winston took 68 minutes to fly the 50 miles from
Unlimited IT's offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of
Durban with a data card strapped to his leg. Including downloading, the
transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds -- the time it took
for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.
SAPA said Unlimited IT performed the stunt after becoming frustrated
with slow internet transmission times. The company has 11 call centers
around the country and regularly sends data to its other branches.
Internet speed is expected to improve once a new 11,000 mile underwater
fiber optic cable linking southern and East Africa to other networks
becomes operational before South Africa hosts the soccer World Cup next

The bold new look of Kohler!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Keep an eye on your military

Conservative Columnist Promotes Possibility of Military Coup

By Steve Benen, Washington Monthly
Posted on September 30, 2009, Printed on October 1, 2009

Just eight months into a Democratic administration, Newsmax is running a piece speculating about a military overthrow of the elected leadership of the United States government. Seriously.

Newsmax columnist John L. Perry encourages his right-wing readers not to "dismiss" the notion of an American military coup as "unrealistic."

America isn't the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn't mean it wont [sic]. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it....

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama's exponentially accelerating agenda for "fundamental change" toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

In April, a common Republican talking point was the notion that Democrats were creating some kind of "banana republic." In retrospect, the irony is rich.

There is an unmistakable trend in right-wing rhetoric in the direction of extremism and violence. It's not at all healthy, and it's a sign of conservative contingents gone stark raving mad.

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."

� 2009 Washington Monthly All rights reserved.
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About Me

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I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.