Monday, March 26, 2007

Gov. of MO is Pro Breast Cancer

The culture wars around abortion are continuing to rage. Planned Parenthood, the decided face of abortion for the conservative right, is about to be starved to death out of Missouri. Governor Matt Blunt announced this weekend that he will be cutting off all funding to the state program and redirect it all to specific health clinics.

Here are a couple red flags: First, fewer than one in ten clients who show up at a PP clinic actually come in for an abortion and less than 30% of the 860 clinics actually provide abortions. Second, the PP clinics in Joplin and Springfield don't offer abortions to clients. However, what they do offer are free breast and cervical cancer screenings as part of a state health program. So why in the hell is Matt Blunt shutting them down?

"Patients should not have to go to an abortion clinic to access life-saving tests," Blunt declared. Refusing to fund cancer screening at the clinics, he said, "ensures women may access important preventative care without contributing to abortion providers' goal of facilitating the destruction of innocent life."

I'll let Finley say the rest:
This is how it goes now. Planned Parenthood clinics lose money to help fight cancer because their parent organization has an image problem: Every time they have to step in to defend abortion rights, it reinforces the impression that that is their main mission. This makes them an easier political target, since overwhelming majorities of Americans favor access to contraception: a Wall Street Journal poll last summer found that 81% of Catholics and 75% of born-again Christians favored providing access to birth control as a way to reduce the need for abortion.

Meanwhile the Governor who cuts the funds himself is slapped for compromising on stem cell research — even though some staunch abortion opponents have more textured feelings about where to put up the guardrails around research. One ABC news poll found that only half of all opponents of legal abortion oppose stem cell research. Blunt may want to think twice about playing the politics of guilt by association.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Impact Living...on 5th Avenue

Just when you thought you were taking a stand for the health of our planet by recycling all your recyclable materials, composting all your compost-ables, and buying only organic foods at your local Whole Foods, you find out about Colin Beaven and Michelle Conlin.

Living in a bourgeois 5th avenue apartment is a far cry from a strawbale house in Colorado. But the new face of urban environmentalism has just taken a new turn. The Beaven-Colin family (including 2 year-old Isabella) has committed themselves to a year-long experiment in living a life that leaves no imprint -- or at least one that leaves very little -- one they call No Impact. Since, Mr. Beaven is a non-fiction author he is writing a book chronicling these experiences and has already secured a book deal as well as a documentary filmmaker who will track their every move over the course of the year. Could this be the first ultimate reality-show for No Impact style living?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Al Gore goes to Washington

Al Gore is taking his fight to the U.S. Congress. He's testifying before two committees that he once served on, the House Science and Energy Committees. Here's part of his opening speech. Thanks to Nancy Pelosi's office for posting (I think...who really knows). What's your favorite quote?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Edwards Keeps Impressing

This is amazing. Edwards is really becoming the "green" candidate for '08. Edwards committed to an 80% carbon reduction by 2050, by far the most dedicated and patriotic answer among any of our current politicians. No one has gotten this serious about global climate change.

Nicely done, senator.

Another Coal Mine Accident

This one wasn't in the U.S. but it was much more devastating than anything I've heard before when it comes to coal mine accidents. A methane explosion killed 106 people in a Siberian coal mine and they are currently trying to rescue 4 trapped miners who at 885 feet down.

Do we really need to keep digging this crap out of the earth? I haven't heard of any windfarm engineers or solar panel installers dying from work-related accidents. This mine was relatively new, had a brand new safety system installed was supposed to be a modern marvel for the Russian government.

China just recently closed down 4,000 coal mines because of the threat of accidents like the one in Siberia.

How has the U.S. treated mine safety? The Bush administration ignored warnings from "whistleblowers" about the lack of consistency around safety checks and went a step further by refusing to collect penalties on mines and companies that were not up to snuff. Ken Ward Jr., a reporter for the West Virginia Gazette had a great write-up of administration coal mine policy in the Washington Monthly early on in 2006.

Obviously, if you stop handing out fines for unsafe mining practices, those practices will continue unchecked. But the bigger question that isn't being asked is, do we really need to keep mining the earth for a dirty energy that happens to kill some of our hardest working men and women? There are other ways of obtaining energy for our society and what is so amazing to me is how tightly our world's traditionalists are holding on to a practice that dates back to the middle ages -- burning coal for energy. Its high-time we start actually implementing our knowledge and have a little faith that solar and wind power can meet our energy needs today.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Edwards '08 Goes Carbon Neutral

Along with Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who has since dropped out of the race, Edwards gets on board the Carbon-neutral train:
Stumping in NC 3/13, Edwards pledged to run a "carbon neutral" campaign. Speaking to a crowd of college students at Bennett College" in Greensboro, NC, Edwards "urged all Americans to help reduce" their emissions. Edwards: "It's time for the president of the United States to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than war." Edwards "said his campaign will consult with experts to calculate its total carbon emissions -- covering everything from his" travel to the energy used at his HQ. Along with taking a series of steps to improve its energy efficiency, the campaign will buy carbon offsets." Before dropping out of the race, Tom Vilsack also made a carbon neutral pledge. Vilsack "said his campaign would offset its carbon dioxide production" by paying a VT "company that invests in renewable fuels such as wind power. Edwards plans to work with the same company."

This is tremendous news as the amount of carbon a Presidential campaign puts out is incredibly high. The amount of air-travel and driving that campaigns do is enormous and offsetting that will be a fabulous undertaking. My only concern is that they do an effective job of tracking down exactly how their offsets will be implemented. Planting mango trees that die within a year due to lack of care is not an offset. The amount of ways we can all get screwed is amazing. Think about it: you pay someone $50,000 to offset your yearly flight travel. In return they say they'll plant some trees, invest in wind companies and start a bio-diesel company. Only, they don't. The bottom line is, if you're going to go carbon-neutral, realize two things:

  1. Its not really the silver bullet solution to emissions so treat it as a bridge to what's next.
  2. You can get screwed by the hundreds of different "schemes" out there that aren't really doing anything, or are ill-equipped to handle your demands, so don't be afraid to thrown on your investigative hat when hunting for carbon offset companies.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dodging the Storm

Here's a great clip of the Fedex radar around Memphis, TN during a thunderstorm. It's sped up but shows a ton of Fedex planes trying to land before it hits the city. It kind of resembles an ant colony searching for the entrance back home.

FedEx Planes Dodging Storm - Click Here for more great videos and pictures!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Speaking Truth to Power

Dan Rather addressed the SXSW crowd today in the Hilton Ballroom here in Austin. It was my first time seeing the man in the flesh and he's one of the few TV personalities I've seen who actually look larger in real life than on the tube.

Rather, whose ultimate career at CBS was dealt a deathly blow by the hands of the more conservative wing of the blogging party, had a stern message for the journalism industry: stop the go-along get-along attitude and start speaking truth to power. Rather went on to say that journalism has entered into a perilous state due to the "access game" they continue to play with those in power; information and access in exchange for integrity of reporting.

Rather talked briefly about his days covering the Nixon administration, being stone-walled during the uncovering of the Watergate scandal, Vietnam, and what he learned from all these experiences. "I made a lot of mistakes but I always tried to be the honest broker of news for the people who couldn't be at the White House or in a place like Vietnam."

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

"We've lost the sense that patriotic journalists will be the ones asking the tough questions. Speaking truth to power is part of the job. Follow-up tough questions -- this is now a rarity in American journalism. What we need is a spine transplant."

"We should be asking ourselves tougher questions. For instance, do we still believe in asking the hard follow-up questions? Do we still believe that the documents of the Constitution belong to "we the people" and not the people in power? Do we still believe in journalists being investigative? I've always thought it was redundant -- the term "investigative journalist" -- shouldn't all reporters be investigators? Shouldn't they be digging for the truth, the real story? By its nature, investigative journalism will make someone, usually someone in power, uncomfortable. It puts them in conflict with their constituencies which can be difficult for both the reporter and the contact...."

"A watchdog is not an attack dog. An attack dog goes for the kill, targets the throat. A lap dog just wants to hear "Good pup...". A watchdog barks at anything that seems suspicious and raises issue with odd strangers. We have plenty of lapdogs in American journalism. What we need is more watchdogs."

"As corporations buy up and continue to control the mass media market, and its gotten to the point that only 3 or 4 actually do own the news, the news will continue to get smaller. These are corporations that own record companies, millions of billboards, radio stations, newspapers, professional sports teams, etc. News is not their interest and neither should it be."

"Do we still believe in a constitutional republic where the most important thing is to have an informed citizenry that will judge the decisions of our leadership? I think we like to think we do, but we sure don't act like it."

Starbux on Lockdown

This is what happens when you attend a conference full of computer geeks and Warcraft addicts...

Obviously, during certain times of the morning and day these beauties are unlocked for our mass consumption but usually they're on lockdown.

However, there a few people who are adamantly against the coffee mega-retailer but honestly, they're just not enough to make a dent in the amount being slammed down between 8 am and 8 pm. I've seen folks who are on their third cup of 'bucks at 11 am. How they don't end up speeding off into next week I'll never know.

I'm more amazed at how many people in this good life are going everyday from alcohol buzz to caffeine buzz and not really spending much time in between (which I guess normal people call "reality.")

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Ultimate Outsource

Halliburton, VP Dick Cheney's favorite private-sector employer and one he still receives paychecks from, has pulled the ultimate outsource: they're reportedly moving their C.E.O to Dubai, one of seven emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates. Dubai, receieves an economic benefit not from oil but from the Jebel Ali Free Zone which offers lucrative incentives and tax breaks to corporations.
Halliburton's corporate offices will remain in Houston, Texas but CEO David J. Lesar will move his personal offices to Dubai. There are a number of issues that Halliburton currently faces:

1. Breaking away from its military contracting unit KBR to focus on oil drilling and
2. an investigation by the SEC and Justice Department because of questionable
dealings in Iraq, Nigeria and Kuwait.
3. has agreed to pay billions in an recent asbestos litigation suit.

A spokeswoman for Halliburton said:
Ms. Norcross added, “As companies usually refer to the C.E.O.’s office as the corporate headquarters, that’s what we are doing. Basing the C.E.O. in Dubai to focus on our Eastern Hemisphere growth makes good business sense, as it is the center of our Eastern Hemisphere operations and a global business hub. We will maintain our company’s legal registration in the United States and we are not leaving Houston.”

This move is symbolic but also points to a key shift in the energy epicenters of the world. Now, a major energy firm of North America is moving it's corporate "headquarters" to Dubai, a Middle Eastern economic power house that is fast-becoming a powerplayer in the global energy business. Houston once served as a center of energy deal-making and commerce, but does this move say Dubai has taken over? The younger oil fields of the Middle East trumping the aging fields of North America. Last year, Halliburton reported $2.3 billion in overall revenue, 60% of which was in North America.

The loser in this deal appears to be American business, who once again is having jobs chipped away and sent overseas. The winner looks to be Lesar, Halliburton and of course, Dubai who continues to establish itself as a "regional commercial center rivaling Singapore and Hong Kong."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

World Domination by Collaboration

The last two years of Web 2.0 discussions have been a good foundation for watching it actually unfold. For those of you unaware of Web 2.0 you can read a brief description here.

Many of the panels here at SXSW have to do with organizing communities, managing communities, and dealing with a lot of the hassles that comes along with such an "job." First, a little background. These communities can form around hundreds of thousands of different issues, items or interests. Blogs like dailyKos and Wonkette, who have large consistent followings, are one form these communities take. Second Life is another. Or Facebook and Myspace communities that have since sprung up with thousands of "friends" and supporters.

What's different about these new online communities is that they are increasingly pushing transparency, user empowerment and a strong collaboration with their community members and users. How do you get users?

Jenna Woodul, Co-founder of LiveWorld says that, "its the people stupid."
At the very beginning you HAVE to know your people. If you do establish that rapport with folks when you do hit problems they will step forward to help fix them.

It's also about the conversation you have with your community members. So often, we forget that a relationship is built on a conversation that is goes both ways. You can't simply talk at your members, you have to include them in the conversation and hear their opinions, perspectives and concerns, even if it hurts you to listen. Betsy Aoki of Microsoft (hold your hisses for a moment please) says:
"you can find people who have huge opinions, and they want to share them. They are the ones you want talking to folks, i.e. your customers and supporters. Its not so much incenting people to write, as much as its allowing them and giving them tools to express their ideas, concerns and beliefs around the topic."

By ushering in all perspectives (whether or not they are deemed legitimate or spam is up to the community or the host) the community gains a sense of trust. That's when the community starts to create its own rules or laws which further builds trust and camaraderie. And trust is a key building block to any relationship, online or off.

As the community elects leadership, for instance in the form of a rotating advisory board made up of dedicated community members, the community may also begin to gain power and be legitimatized outside of its niche. For instance, the DailyKos community (who refer to themselves as Kossacks) has emerged as a key power among the liberal left for fundraising progressive candidates running for office. In this way these communities begin chipping away at the power that normally would be held by someone or something else.

Maybe not world domination but collaboration for sure.

Friday, March 09, 2007

SXSW: Re-entry

Our webteam headed off to South by Southwest in Austin, TX this 12:45 a.m. SXSW is a 3-part conference that stretches out for 10 days bringing all sorts of filmmakers, music lovers (this is Austin -- Live Music Captial of the World) and techies together for a clustergasm of creativity and shareware. Stan, Luke and myself are here for the Interactive portion of the conference along with about 2,000 other bloggers, hackers, web-designers and internet gurus. Just this afternoon, upon arrival and sitting in comfy couches while checking email, Bruce Sterling sat next to us. Last year I met with Markos and Jerome Armstrong of DailyKos and MyDD. Needless to say, its a great crowd to be around and talk with.

I'm hoping to continue a conversation with Treehugger founder Graham Hill and see my buds from EchoDitto. I'm also looking forward to Dan Rather's keynote presentation on Monday.

If you're really interested in the types of panel discussions being staged you can see a complete listing here:

Zillion Pillows....or Zillow

Or, more importantly, how much is your friend's house worth? Your boss'? How about that musician you used to stalk? If you have an address Zillow will tell you the relative value of any home in the United States. Created by the two fellows who brought us, its purpose is to "help[ing] you get an edge in real estate by providing you with valuable tools and information." Yeah, like how much the houses on your block are worth, what they are selling for and ones that are currently for sale. Let's just say that it proves to be a much more fun information tool for knowing how the value of Jimbo's home is, than for finding houses for sale in your future dream city.

Zillow combines already known services within the online real estate market, mainly the ability to look for homes that are for sale, advertise your own real estate for sale, and assess the value of your home. However, Zillow adds a few more tools that make it stand out.

It allows owners to create "homepages" that display all the nitty gritty buyers might want to know. Owners can update these pages and continue to post the latest news on the property whether it be additions or major upgrades or fixes. There is also a real estate Wiki which seems to serve as a virtual classifieds for current homes for sale.

All in all Zillow has taken the standard in online real estate tools and expanded them, which seems similar to what did for internet travel.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Voting Like its 1984

Wow. This is a direct hit on Hillary and although its recycled content from an old Mac commercial, its compelling. A vote for Hillary is a vote for the "system." A vote for Barack, is a vote for the people. It also speaks to the "blather" that Hillary tends to speak but rarely really understands or means. The whole "Start a Conversation" campaign is about as real as any other token politician looking to embrace the web's true democracy but failing to check her ego, power and plans at the door.

I don't think she'll ever really get it. She doesn't hear the American public because her own pride is screaming bloody murder.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Romney Back in the Hunt

Its been a tough week for GOP candidates between McCain announcing that he was going to announce his candidacy and Romney stepping quietly away from Ann Coulter's incredibly ridiculous flamethrowing. But now Romney appears to have hit one one out. Via RealClearPolitics:
Almost everything now being written about the 2008 race should be prefaced with "It's still early but..." With that in mind, Mitt Romney, who's had a tough couple of weeks fending off flip-flopping charges, apparently just dazzled the CPAC crowd, according to some conservative folks in attendance.

Nice. McCain only a week ago turned down the opportunity to speak at CPAC and he took two in the gut for it after Romney hit this grandslam.

Racket Grade

This is a tough point. If badminton is always this exciting I'm getting season tickets.

Badminton gets serious


A fabulous little bracket (similar to the NCAA bracketology) showing classic "mondegreens" or misheard lyrics. Haven't we all sung a little lyric from our favorite pop song only to be flagged by friends with, "How do you think that song goes?!" I didn't feel so bad after reading some of these doozies.

Apparently, the biggest and best mondegreen out there is "A piece of Momma Daddy never had." However, my favorite is "All we are saying, is give Jesus pants."

Green Thumb Epic

What is it with British and gardening? The BBC put up a 4-hour video on "How to be a Gardener." I watched the first few minutes and there really is something about a British fellow talking about gardens...but that "something" starts to wear out after about 8 minutes. What you decide to do with the other 3:52 is up to you.

"Before we go any further, I'm afraid we have to talk about sex. They may look pretty and innocent to you, but in reality that is all they're interested in."


Hat tip: kottke

Youtube and '08

Youtube has gone political. By creating a hub of all the video content posted by various candidates and their campaigns, YouChoose has made it that much easier for all of us to see our possible future president in his/her finest/worst moments on the campaign trail. The content is put up by the campaign and you can subscribe to each candidate's channel in case you can't get enough of Obama making us all feel warm inside, or Hillary making us all feel empty and cold inside. If you can't bring yourself to watch either one of them, there is always room for Dennis Kucinich.

I like to see/judge which campaign is using this technolgy the best and for that I have a brief set of criteria that I spit out in no particular order or importance:

1. Experience: how many months or days has this candiate's campaign been posting to Youtube?

2. Quality: are the videos all shot on a Treo camera or is there actually some sign of someone who knows what they're doing.

3. Subscribers: who's committed to watching and how many?

4. Diversity: if you put just the campaign speeches up there I'm gonna unsub in a few weeks. Show me different aspects of the campaign trail -- Mitt Romney eats what everyone morning for breakfast? Or how about whats the last thing each candidate does before hitting the sack after a long day of speaking? Keep it colorful....but not a rainbow.

Based on this criteria I'd say Obama is doing really well. He has by far the most subscribers (2,268 -- the next closest is Edwards with just shy of 1,000), has a ton of quality video footage available and its all different stuff. Some of it is created by the campaign and some of it is created by grassroots activists. Other campaigns just don't seem as committed to getting themselves online in a big way. Even Hillary, who received much press on the fact that she announced via a taped webvideo, only has 400 subscribers.

Granted, Obama is quickly wrapping up the student vote and as we all know this generation of students get everything online. Its not surprising that the candidate with the largest Facebook group in history is also the most-subscribed to Youtube channel of any '08 candidates.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Effects on Rainforests: A History

Apparently, clearing vast swaths of rainforest isn't a new idea.

Salon's "How the World Works" is carrying an intriguing story covered on Rhett Butler's Mongabay that speaks to some of our more hidden assumptions when it comes to rainforest destruction. However, there are numerous responses that can spin off as a result of an article like this so I'll try and parse it without gravitating toward wild conjectures and unqualified statements.

Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, found evidence of widespread fire use for land-clearing by pre-Colombian populations in Latin America. This evidence further supports other research that suggests the impact indigenous populations had on tropical forests before European arrival.

Even more interesting is her claim that there is a clearly defined "forest resurgence" upon the arrival of European explorers and conquistadors due to the "terrible decimation" they caused indigenous peoples through disease, warfare and slavery. Piperno goes on to say that had Europeans not arrived on the scene 500 years ago, the forests of Central and South America would bear little resemblance to what we see today making the point that the continued impacts of indigenous populations could have severely altered the forests in ways we will never know.

On first analysis, it's easy to write this off as utter least thats the initial response for me. Could it be that we, one of the most materialistic societies the earth has ever known, are superseded in rainforest destruction only by indigenous populations from centuries ago? That's the initial response. In a different way it's easy to jump to the island of self-justification: "See! I knew our culture wasn't the only one screwing the earth!" Suddenly, I feel as though I can let go of any guilt I may harbor for the depletion of the rainforests, or other ecological wonders, in my time. If we aren't the only ones doing it, who cares? Just as misery loves company, guilt can't stand to be left alone.

Let's dive a little deeper. What does this really mean? To me, it begins with recognizing the potential of our time, the energy of this moment. To write off or ignore this study is to dodge responsibility. To justify our way around it with comparisons to cultures long dead and gone that survived a level or two above hunter-gatherers, is to ignore our progressive history as a human species and to sell ourselves short when it comes to our potential.

It doesn't really matter to me whether or not past cultures, centuries ago, removed more trees than we previously thought. What matters to me is that we have an opportunity to change our own actions, actions we know to be harmful to a necessary ecological resource. We are the culture of now, and we can choose to do something about it, or stand by and become another pillar in history that future civilizations will read about and wonder why we weren't smart enough or organized enough to stop the train of destruction before it was too late. Indeed, Piperno says it best at the close of her research:

"As with the forces associated with 'development' today, these prehistoric advances probably came with negative consequences for the native flora and fauna. Profound human alteration of the tropical landscape with substantial loss of biodiversity is hardly new, but we are the first societies with the wherewithal to do something about it."

On a more basic level this article and Piperno's research does achieve its intended means: to break the scarlet-hued vision of conservationists everywhere who fail to acknowledge the impacts of indigenous people's pasts on the land. The danger of this message, however, is the ease in which we, in an effort to justify our own actions, ignore the much greater impacts of ourselves on this earth. While Piperno enlightens our understanding of the historical indigenous impacts on Central and South American tropical forests, she does not vindicate the current impacts of forest clearing and destruction. If anything, she empowers us to do something about it.

Arthur Schlesinger Dies

He died on Tuesday night. He was 89.

Language of the Future

When I was in high school French or Spainish were the two languages we, as blossoming young linguists, were given to study. If you were really into learning the root of the English lanugage you could also take Latin. But that was for the geeks. Like me.

You thought deciphering the accents of the French language or the rolling 'r's of Spainish were difficult, trying learning an alphabet with 10,000 characters. More and more oftoday's public schools are putting America's young tykes through Mandarin immersion courses. Why now? China's booming economy. Not only is it now the world's most populous country it's also the world's largest potential market of untainted consumers. So, as you can imagine it would help if we spoke their language. Or at least tried.

In California, 41 public and private schools offer Chinese language training. Sentaor Joseph Lieberman co-authored a bill that would bring in a flood of $1.3 billion to augment Chinese classes in school. Parents are lobbying school administrators and local leaders to put a Chinese program in their children's school. Gov't, schools and parents all fighting for the same thing? Now that's new.

Suddenly, all those Chinese language programs, once quiet and gathering dust, are bursting at the seems with interested young 6th graders (or rather, the parents of 6th graders). Asia Society has a program and opportunity webpage as a resource for Chinese teachers to get jobs in American schools. But even that isn't meeting the need. The Chinese American International School (CAIS) here in San Francisco has programs that start as early as kindergarten.

``I think what all of us in the profession are trying to do is dramatically increase the study of Chinese,'' said Andrew Corcoran, head of the school and executive director of the institute. ``The latest figures indicate that only 24,000 students study Chinese in the United States and 200 million Chinese students are studying English. We don't even get a line on the graph, that's how small it is.'
Is it possible that economic explosion that 1 billion people represent is the driving force behind this? Or is it actually a product of the Chinese government's effort to make Chinese the world's #1 language? Regardless, being able to order from my local Chinese restaurant in Mandarin would be sweet.