“Marlboro Earth: Saving the Environment One Customer at a Time”

Mother Earth Needs YOU to Smoke!How do we best save the earth? By heroically decimating humanity, of course. From The Onion, that last bastion of parodic commentary so true it hurts, perpetually raising the bar in fearless journalistic  pursuit of answers:

According to a press release from Philip Morris, the new environmentally friendly cigarettes work by employing powerful carcinogens that accumulate in the lungs of smokers, slowly breaking down their vital organs and eliminating the danger posed to the overpopulated planet by the human race.

I’m a longtime smoker, so I couldn’t agree more. Imagine if all the BP execs and government regulators responsible for the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico had only eradicated themselves decades ago; we’d have a cleaner, healthier planet, today.

NYT Editorial on Medicare Costs

There will likely be no real solution until the American health care system moves away from unfettered fee-for-service payments that encourage doctors to perform unnecessary and costly tests and procedures and pays them instead for better management of a patient’s care over time.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

The article notes that the assumptions behind the formula are based on health care in 1997, and are hampered by an overwhelming trust in the divine wisdom of physicians; the formula has no checks to limit the services doctors provided or distinguish between valuable and needless treatments. Individual doctors poor decisions affect the aggregate costs of everyone. Driven by natural greed, and by fear of making a mistake, there’s a tendency for some physicians to try everything, whether or not it’s medically appropriate.

Grilled Fresh Pacific Northwest Salmon

I admit that I’m really loving easy access to fresh, locally caught, salmon. At this time of year in particular, when it’s simple to buy a fillet or a couple of salmon steaks, and take them and a bottle of wine to a local park for grilling, it’s pretty hard not to love salmon. For those of you interesting in grilling your own fresh salmon in a simple, but delicious fashion, go read MacAllister Stone on do-it-yourself salmon grilling:

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I could not eat enough salmon to suit me, and at the time, salmon was extraordinarily reasonably-priced, in-season.

Salmon cooked outside, in the fresh Northwest air, on a charcoal grill has to be one of the finest culinary experiences available, anytime, anywhere. If you’ve been in the Pacific Northwest for any amount of time, you’ll already be familiar with the popularity of good local fresh “salmon bbq”—it took me a little while to realize that doesn’t actually mean salmon smothered in a tangy catsup-based sauce; rather, barbecued salmon is simply salmon cooked on a barbecue grill. The best part of that, of course, is that there’s no need to wait for a special occasion. Salmon is healthy, delicious, and remarkably easy to prepare.

Read more here.

Pompeii and Herculaneum: Abandoned to the Ravages of Time

Peter Popham of Prospect Magazine asks:

Pompeii and Herculaneum have been listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1997. So why isn’t the world’s culture policeman keeping the world’s most important Roman sites in order?

Popham details the rapid decay of two of the richest and most important archaeological sites in Italy—including the virtual abandonment by the Italian government, and the efforts of a millionaire donor to make the sorts of structural repairs that forty years of neglect—and two million tourists a year—mean to an ancient site. Less than half of the 70 or so excavated buildings are open to tourists, or even safe to enter, since they are in advanced stages of decay.

Whedon, Rimbaud, and Cicero: Introduction to the Angel Rewatch

The central question informing the character of Angel is asked during season 3, first in the episode “Amends.” Angel’s been having really bad dreams. Except they’re also teh sexy and over-the-top with all the blood and pain and dying and the—wait for it—decadence of Angel’s sordid past. So a suicidal and tormented Angel asks Buffy (BtVS, season three, “Amends”), “Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man?

You can read MacAllister’s response in this introduction to a series of re-watching Joss Whedon’s Angel.

James Fallows: “If the TSA Were Running New York . . .

James Fallows at The Atlantic writes:

The point of terrorism is not to “destroy.” It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous “orange threat level” announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It’s not just that they’re pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it’s that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.

Read the rest here.

EFF on FaceBook’s Eroding Privacy—And Rights Grab

The EFF has published two important discussions of recent changes regarding who controls your data on Facebook; first, a timeline of the changes to the Facebook privacy statements:

Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information. Read more . . .

Earlier, the EFF’s Tim Jones noted that Facebook has deliberately created a user interface from hell, in order to make it more difficult for users to control their data:

As Conti describes it, a good interface is meant to help users achieve their goals as easily as possible. But an “evil” interface is meant to trick users into doing things they don’t want to. Conti’s examples include aggressive pop-up ads, malware that masquerades as anti-virus software, and pre-checked checkboxes for unwanted “special offers”.

The new Facebook is full of similarly deceptive interfaces.

Mind the “new” Facebook UI is so idiotic and poorly implemented and documented that I find it exceedingly difficult to share the information I want to share; there are six separate settings to modify in order to present an RSS feed on a “Wall” that is universally available, while still restricting other kinds of data.

One of the first responses users make to this kind of UI and policy is to deliberately pollute the data stream, to create false IDs, and fake metadata. This policy will adversely affect Facebook.

Spin that Story!

Blatant examples of media agenda and spin as seen in the coverage regarding the GM Payback . . . Wow. Just wow.

MSNBC

Fallen giant General Motors Co. accelerated toward recovery Wednesday, announcing the repayment of $8.1 billion in U.S. and Canadian government loans five years ahead of schedule.

The Obama administration crowed about the “turnaround” at GM and fellow bailout recipient Chrysler LLC, saying the government’s unpopular rescue of Detroit’s automakers is paying off.

NPR

The American auto industry is showing signs of revival. The question is how that’s being played. Chrysler posted improved quarterly results this past week, and sales to auto fleets have surged. But some are saying that General Motors CEO Ed Whitaker went too far with television ads that have been playing constantly this week.

FOXNews

General Motors Co. has repaid the $8.1 billion in loans it got from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign automaker is on the road to recovery.

GM CEO Whitacre formally announced the loan paybacks Wednesday at the company’s Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas, where he also announced that GM is investing $257 million in that factory and the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, both of which will build the next generation of the midsize Chevrolet Malibu.

GM got a total of $52 billion from the U.S. government and $9.5 billion from the Canadian and Ontario governments as it went through bankruptcy protection last year. The U.S. considered as a loan $6.7 billion of the aid, while the Canadian governments held $1.4 billion in loans.

The Chevy Volt

photo courtesy of chevrolet.com

But is the news really that simple, or anywhere near that positive? Rather a lot of people don’t seem to think so:

Newsvine:

So the taxpayer funded their bailout, and now we will repay the loan via stock purchases, GM never actually feeling the total bite of the 52 billion? That loan never coming out of their pockets, never facing the responsibility for their actions?

They cut nearly 70,000 Union jobs and reductions in the Pension, and moved more manufacturing over seas which had generated enough profits to pay this back. The truth is that GM is a taxpayer funded sinking ship, and not viable as it iscurrently structured. We are just funding the same behavior, the same failed business plans by being their crutch.

TTAC Bailout Watch

PDF of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R, Iowa) letter to Secretary Geithner

NYT Op Ed Piece

Moreover, G.M. is not, in the strictest sense, paying back taxpayers at all. Rather, it is refunding $6.7 billion of an $18 billion escrow account that was given to it by the government when it emerged from bankruptcy. The rest of that account will be used to cover fourth-quarter losses (including $2.8 billion pledged for the rescue of G.M.’s major parts supplier, Delphi), repay loans from the Canadian government, and possibly prop up the automaker’s shaky European operations. That escrow account is due to expire in June, at which time G.M. will repay what remains of the $6.7 billion from this week’s pledge — and then pocket the estimated $5.6 billion remainder.

In fairness, G.M. was clear up front that it would not be able to make the taxpayers whole through cash payments alone. Rightly so: for all the talk of slimmed-down cost structures and booming sales in China, G.M. isn’t making any profit with which to repay its debts.

Ultimately, I find myself much less concerned about partisan politics these days, and much more concerned about this kind of ultra-rich and corporatist warfare on the working classes.

By the way, GM seems to be pinning their hopes of a return to profitability on the upcoming and much-hyped Chevy Volt, reportedly being built in GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck facility.

Slacktivist on Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Tribulation Force

Fred Clark has been doing a close analysis of the Tim LeHaye “Left Behind” books about on life after the Apocalypse for those “left behind” by the Rapture. MacAllister calls the books “post-rapture revenge fantasy,” and that’s the best description I’ve seen yet. Currently, Clark, aka Slacktivist, is up to Tribulation Force: The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind. Tribulation Force is the second novel in the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Clark in addition to being a fine writer and blogger, holds a M. A. T. S. cum laude in Theology and Public Policy from Palmer Theological Seminary. He’s hardly hostile to Christianity, or Protestantism. In his latest entry Clark offers an analysis of pp. 192–205 of Tribulation Force, noting:

The Good Christian Dad ought to, like Rayford, pray for his daughter while distrusting her, belittling her opinions and conspiring with the man who appears to be two-timing her. The Good Christian Young Man ought to be, like Buck, stern and parental in his conquest of his intended. And the Good Christian Young Woman ought to be, like Chloe, submissive, distraught and humiliated.

You can, and should, read the entire post. Clark is reliably intelligent, caring, and thoughtful. In an earlier post on the late Evangelist Francis Schafer in which Clark traces the roots of current extreme Evangelists, Clark notes that

. . . by the 1980s, Graham had been eclipsed by new faces and very different voices with a very different agenda — men like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Evangelicalism had become fiercely partisan, polarized and polarizing. It had become more a political movement than a religious one and the dominant issue—the only shibboleth or litmus test that seemed to matter—was opposition to legal abortion.

The founding myth of this new, stridently political faith says that this politicizing arose in reaction to the Roe v. Wade decision acknowledging the legal right to abortion.

Clark demonstrates that this politicizing of the new Evangelism was in fact not inspired by Roe v. Wade. He links to a piece in Huffington Post by Francis Schaffer’s son, Frank Schaffer, author of several books on evangelism in America. Frank Wade, writing about current American extreme Evangelicism in the context of the Hutaree militia obsessive [alleged] conspiracy madness notes that “The rhetoric we in the early pro-life movement unleashed combined, with the apocalyptic fantasies of the fundamentalist evangelicals, is a deadly brew.” He sees the Left Behind books as a distinct ingredient in that “deadly brew,” and notes that the new evangelicals “have cultivated a following among the terminally aggrieved based on ceaselessly warning them about ‘the world.'” Schaffer points out that merchandising is the least of the effects of the Left Behind books, and the aggressive evangelicism they espouse as the religious Right:

Such products as Left Behind wall paper, screen savers, children’s books, and video games have become part of the ubiquitous American background noise. Less innocuous symptoms include people stocking up on assault rifles and ammunition, adopting “Christ-centered” home school curricula, fearing higher education, embracing rumor as fact, and learning to love hatred for the “other,” as exemplified by a revived anti-immigrant racism, the murder of doctors who do abortions, and even a killing in the Holocaust Museum. And now we have a cult/militia dedicated to the same idea.

This New Evangelism, as much as it scares me, does seem to be having some resistance in the under 25 crowd. As Pastor Carol Howard Merritt notes:

There are three major reasons that a younger generation is leaving Evangelicalism: pernicious sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics. The term “Evangelical” is a broad brush that colors a large and diverse movement, so these characteristics may not be true of every Evangelical. But as long as those in the movement allow themselves to be represented by Pat Robertson and James Dobson, then these spokesmen will continue to whitewash the entire group’s values.

In other words, many of these new Evanglists are in fact not evangelizing Christ as much as they are preaching a new world order under the aegis of the Religious Right:

For the last couple of decades, a majority of the movement began to find great power as the Christian Right. Partnering with the Republican Party, they began to extol an idealized view of the family, rallying against abortion and homosexual rights. Often the fixation on these two issues came at the expense of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Many Christian Right leaders brushed aside caring for the earth and mocked global climate change. Health care became demonized and wars glorified. So many Christian teachings became sacrificed for the Republican agenda that we hardly recognized our faith any longer. And so we left our congregations.

I’ve added Slacktivist to the blogroll under Nonfiction.

Veteran Marine, Mainer to Meet Obama

Leroy Peasey, an 87 year old resident of Rockland, Maine who served in the Pacific theater during WWII, was wounded in action on Guam, and waited on reserve during the invasion of Iwo Jima, has been invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during the President’s visit to Portland, Maine, this week.

The pacific island of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima

Mr. Peasey has rather amazing history with American presidents. He was part of the Marine Guard for President Roosevelt at Camp David, during FDR’s administration. Mr. Peasey was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, as evidenced by this yard sign posted a few years ago.

Mr. Peasey unabashedly admires President Obama, and according to this article by Daniel Dunkle in The Herald Gazette, Mr. Peasey is quoted as saying, “I’d follow him to hell and back as a Marine.”